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New Dallas, DeSoto and Richardson superintendents lay out priorities for the new school year

When it comes to specific goals for the year, all three are really focused on safety, academic acceleration and community satisfaction.

DALLAS COUNTY, Texas — As students head back to school across North Texas, a handful of the districts are under new leadership.

Last school year, 10 North Texas superintendents announced plans to leave their positions. Most of those districts have already selected superintendents who will lead them into the 2022-2023 school year. 

RELATED: Superintendent openings: Which ones are open or filled in North Texas?

After serving as an administrator for Dallas ISD for 10 years, Dr. Usamah Rodgers will lead DeSoto ISD. 

Dallas ISD's new superintendent, Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, was formerly the superintendent for Austin ISD but spent nearly a decade in administration in Dallas prior to working in Austin. 

Tabitha Branum served as interim superintendent from Richardson ISD last school year and has worked as an assistant and deputy superintendent in the district for eight years. 


All three superintendents shared that safety and security are the top focus going into the school year. While keeping students safe is always a priority. The tragic mass elementary school shooting in Uvalde at the end of last school year brings safety ever more into focus. 

"There’s a lot new because the state has required it," Dr. Rodgers said. “We’ve numbered all of our doors. We’ve checked all of our doors. We’ve had joint meetings with the City of DeSoto Police Department and the City of Glen Heights."

All three said their districts were already implementing a number of safety measures on the new list of requirements from Texas Education Agency. 

"We’ve installed a new software program that will alert our front office if there’s an exterior door that is open," Branum said. 

Dallas ISD already had metal detectors at all of its secondary campuses. Dr. Elizalde said the district spent a lot of money and time this summer making sure they are up-to-date and able to serve their full purpose this year. 

“We made sure that we are upgrading the systems. That we are calibrating it. That we have people trained," Dr. Elizalde said. 

She said she has one goal for safety and security. 

"That we don’t have any horrific, catastrophic safety security situations happen at all. It should be zero. It’s not lost on me that it can happen in a moment," Dr. Elizalde said.


After two years of navigating learning a pandemic, districts around the state are grappling with getting students caught up. 

“What we learned is that virtual learning isn’t what’s best for our students, and them being back on campus in classrooms increased learning," Dr. Rodgers said. 

When it comes to where the greatest gaps exist, all three superintendents pointed to areas where learning is typically more interactive and built on specific, hyper-focused teaching. 

"It was with our pre-k 2 students and early literacy," Dr. Rodgers said. “For upper students, it was math and those hard sciences.”

Branum and Dr. Elizalde also identified math and science as areas for growth. 

“We’re working not to use the words 'learning loss,'" Dr. Elizalde said. "You can’t lose what you never had, so what we have is we have learning gaps because we didn’t provide that instruction to our students during certain periods of time.”

All three superintendents said they are very focused on acceleration and are feeling confident after watching fast growth, particularly in reading, during the second half of last school year. 

“We deployed a math and reading interventionist at every one of our elementary campuses, and their jobs were to have a laser-like focus on identifying where a student gap was, providing additional time, small group instruction and opportunities for that student to practice those skills to get them to mastery," Branum said. 

A major strategy in maintaining academic achievement for all the districts is retaining quality teachers- a struggle for districts across the state. 

"There’s not enough teachers coming into the pipeline, and then we have teachers that are leaving at an alarming rate," Branum said. 

While she called teacher retention a "struggle" for Richardson ISD, Branum said the district is heading into the school year in a good place. 

“We’re going to have a high-quality individual in every one of our classrooms on Aug. 16 so that our focus can be on student learning," Branum said. 

Dr. Elizalde said Dallas ISD is about 98% staffed. 

"Our reality still is, if it’s my child’s classroom that doesn’t have a teacher, that statistic doesn't really mean anything to me," Dr. Elizalde said. 

She said certified central office staff are being deployed, by their choice, to fill in the classroom gaps that remain so that every classroom has a qualified teacher in place. 

Dr. Rodgers said DeSoto ISD is about 90% staffed and that while the district is actively searching for high school math and science teachers, they were able to hire more than 100 teachers over the summer. 

"About 50% of our faculty are new or novice teachers, so it’s been a big lift even this summer. I won’t discount that, but the fact that we raised salaries, it created opportunity for a lot of teachers to return home to DeSoto ISD," Dr. Rodgers said. 

She said they realized there were many qualified educators living in the district who weren't working for DeSoto ISD because of the pay. She called the school board courageous for moving to raise teacher salaries this year. 

"We had to cut things, and we had to make the adjustments, but we say our priority is to put the students first and the way that we ensure that our students have a high-quality education is that they have a highly competent and qualified educator in front of them," Dr. Rodgers said. “You put your money where your mouth is.”

Dr. Elizalde also applauded Dallas' board for raising teacher salaries recently, under former superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa. 


DeSoto ISD will start the school year with a mask mandate in place for students, faculty and visitors at all of its facilities.

"We will be masked because that is something the board has mandated, and there hasn’t been a change," Dr. Rodgers said. "Until there is a change in that mandate, we will be in masks."

Dr. Rodgers said the hope is that masking will prevent any surges on campuses so students can safely remain in the classroom for in-person learning. 

While all three districts implemented mask mandates at some point last school year, despite an order from Governor Greg Abbott prohibiting them, Dallas and Richardson are holding off on district mask mandates. However, they're not completely off the table. Both Dr. Elizalde and Branum said they will be handled on a campus-by-campus basis. 

“I’m going to continue to probably always follow the experts' advice," Dr. Elizalde said. "We're going to really hope that it goes along with what some of our legislators are hoping we do. At the end of the day, we are responsible for the health and well-being of every single member of our team. Staff and students.”

Richardson ISD has its framework posted online. It lays out what threshold the district and individual campuses would have to cross for different protocols, including masks. 

"If we identify a campus that has a certain level of transmission of COVID, then we know that further protocols would be implemented at that campus," Branum said. 

The districts will also keep and maintain their COVID-19 dashboards, parents can monitor cases at their child's school and district-wide. 


When it comes to specific goals for the year, all three are really focused on safety, academic acceleration and community satisfaction.

“Our goals ensure that our students are safe. To ensure that our students are learning. And to ensure that our community is really proud of the work we do each day," Dr. Rodgers said. 

Branum shared a similar sentiment, with a heavy focus on getting feedback from the community and staff to make sure they're getting what they need from the district. 

“How do we appreciate? How do we lift up our teachers, So that they want to stay with us and so that is not a hole that we’re filling for the 23-24 school year," Branum said. 

Dr. Elizalde said it's time to give educators a chance to breathe, give important feedback and focus on what's important after a very distracting two years. 

"Circling back to the reasons we exist," Dr. Elizalde said. "At the end of the day, no matter what is going on, we exist to ensure that we create our leaders of tomorrow through high academic achievement and through social and emotional learning.”

WFAA requested interviews with the new superintendents from Dallas, DeSoto, Richardson, Plano and the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School Districts. HEB's communications department said the district's new superintendent, Joe Harrington, did not have time for an interview leading up to the start of school. Plano ISD did not respond. 

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