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EPISD taps new search firm to restart superintendent hiring process

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A new firm was selected Thursday to lead the search for the El Paso Independent School District’s superintendent after the school board ended a previous contract last month.

The EPISD Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to hire Austin-based Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle P.C. to find the person who will take charge of the region’s largest district following Juan Cabrera’s November 2020 resignation. Trustee Josh Acevedo cast the dissenting vote.

Walsh Gallegos was one of three firms trustees considered back in March, when the board ultimately decided to enter into a $21,500 contract with the Texas Association of School Boards Executive Search Services. Trustees nixed that contract Aug. 17 after learning an Executive Search Services employee’s relative was interested in the position.

Walsh Gallegos will be paid $40,000 for the search.

Though the firm primarily handles school law, it conducts a handful of superintendent searches annually. Recent searches include the Midland and Midlothian independent school districts. EPISD would be its largest client to date for a superintendent search.

Paige Kyle, a firm shareholder, said Walsh Gallegos differs from other firms because its searches “are entirely driven by the board.”

“You’re going to have full support from us, but you are going to give us direction about what we need in El Paso,” Kyle said during a presentation to trustees Thursday. That includes having the board set the search timeline, deciding what type of community input it would like during the process and developing candidate interview questions, she said.

A proposed timeline from Walsh Gallegos indicated a lone finalist could be named by late November, Trustee Leah Hanany said. Per Texas law, there is a 21-day waiting period between when a district names a lone finalist and when that person can sign a contract and officially begin work.

The board, however, has yet to agree on how quickly they aim to make a hire.

Trustee Daniel Call, who represents the Coronado High School feeder pattern, wants someone in place by the end of the calendar year.

Leah Hanany

Hanany, who represents Bowie and El Paso high schools, urged patience. “I feel so strongly about making sure that we get it right that I don’t want to rush something that’s not going to pay off for us in the end,” she said.

Hanany expressed support for waiting until the end of the fall semester to begin the search because this early in a school year is not the typical time districts look for superintendents. This fall is particularly difficult for districts, which are grappling with keeping students safe amid a resurgence in coronavirus infections.

“There’s going to be superintendents that are not willing to abandon their school districts and would we want a superintendent that’s willing to abandon their school district in the middle of the year?” Hanany said.

Vince Sheffield has been serving as interim superintendent since early November 2020.

District spokesperson Melissa Martinez has yet to confirm whether Sheffield intends to serve in the interim capacity until a permanent hire is made and whether he plans to apply for the position.

Cover photo: Vince Sheffield, El Paso Independent School District’s interim superintendent, watches as students change classes during the first day of the 2021-22 school year at Don Haskins PK-8 School. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Molly Smith

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014, with stops in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and now El Paso. She can be reached at mksmith@elpasomatters.org or 915-247-8857.

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