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Leadership personnel change at McAllen ISD prompts one-month superintendent search

McAllen Independent School District trustees launched Tuesday a speedy superintendent search on the heels of a significant number of personnel changes at the top of the district.

The district is conducting the search itself, with aid from legal counsel, and hopes to name a lone finalist for superintendent with at least some Texas education experience by early October.

The board described a speedy search and candidates with an understanding of local issues as top priorities at a workshop on Monday.

“We need stability,” Trustee Sofia Pena said.

The district currently lacks personnel stability at its administration’s upper level; there were some notably less familiar faces in the boardroom Monday.

Of the six positions at the top of district leadership, only two are currently occupied by a permanent employee — one of whom the Edinburg school board offered a job Tuesday.

The district has been without a permanent superintendent since J.A. Gonzalez exited the position in July to helm Harlingen CISD after 25 years with McAllen schools, seven as superintendent.

McAllen ISD had, earlier this summer, four assistant superintendents.

One, Rosalba De Hoyos, the board named acting superintendent following Gonzalez’s departure, and her post was filled by an interim.

The role of another, Alejandra Gonzalez, was filled by an interim sometime after the superintendent’s departure. Though the district says Gonzalez remains an employee, it declined to comment further on the future of that role.
Just Tuesday, Edinburg school board trustees named McAllen assistant superintendent Adel Felix to an administration post there.

Finally, during budget struggles earlier this summer McAllen ISD left its sole associate superintendent post — effectively a second-in-command position — vacant.

All those changes leave Todd Miller, McAllen’s assistant superintendent for human resources, poised to be the last permanent employee left standing at the top of the district’s organizational chart.

Those higher-level shifts, Board President Debbie Crane Aliseda said Tuesday, make establishing a permanent superintendent quickly a priority.

“Our goal is to find the most qualified candidate that aligns with our district’s goals and values, and do it quickly,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to fill that job in March or April, and the new superintendent wouldn’t have had any impact on the school year.”

Why all the personnel changes? Without referring to specific employees, Crane Aliseda says she suspects Gonzalez’s departure and McAllen ISD’s inability to pay administrators competitively is playing a role.

“They knew him like a brother, and they were loyal to him because of that,” she said. “They didn’t stay here because of our salaries; they stayed here because of him. We don’t have the money that other districts do, and we can’t afford to pay as well. When he left, a lot of people started looking around.”

Trustees hope to name a lone finalist for superintendent as fast as possible.

The district posted an opening for the position Tuesday that it intends to leave up for 10 days.

After a community survey, the board intends to conduct a first round of interviews on and around Oct. 2, and potentially a second round of interviews on Oct. 6.

A required 21-day waiting period could leave the district with a permanent superintendent installed by Oct. 27.

A cultural understanding, board members indicated, would be ideal for naming a lone finalist in that timeframe.

“We’re trying to get someone by October,” Trustee Lizzie Kittleman said Monday. “I mean, what’s the likelihood of grabbing someone nationally who can come here within a few weeks and be ready to go as opposed to someone who’s local or even at the state-level who is familiar with South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.”

The board seemed largely confident that the district’s reputation would draw quality candidates.

“We are nationally ranked, we’re a great school district, and I think that people who are interested in McAllen ISD are waiting for us to post this position,” Trustee Pena said.

The last superintendent search McAllen trustees conducted, in 2016, was a months-long, nation-wide process that ultimately ended in J.A. Gonzalez — the interim — being selected despite previously saying he didn’t want the job.

A one-month superintendent search isn’t unheard of — Santa Rosa ISD embarked on a search with a similar timeline in August — but it certainly is on the shorter end in general.

Other Hidalgo County school districts have embarked on a variety of timelines in recent years.

Weslaco ISD launched an intensive, months-long, nation-wide search for superintendent in 2021.

The superintendent selected through that search lasted less than a year before parting on controversial terms and being replaced by a district veteran.

Recent searches in the county have tended to favor interim superintendents.
La Joya ISD’s fairly low-profile — and somewhat controversial — search took most of this summer, and resulted in the district’s interim being named lone finalist.

Trustees in Mercedes conducted a similarly low-key search after their superintendent’s departure before naming their interim to the role after weeks of board discussions last semester. Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD trustees tapped their interim superintendent as lone finalist in June.

McAllen ISD’s interim, De Hoyos, said Tuesday that she intends to apply for the permanent job, citing her long tenure with the district.

“Because I know the district and I know I’m the best choice for the district,” she said. “I have been in the system for many years, and I know what works best in it.”

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