After next Tuesday, Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa will officially walk out of its headquarters on North Central Expressway and be done leading the state’s second-largest urban school district for good.
If you’ve been halfway following along with what has happened between the time Hinojosa announced in January he would resign and now, you might be confused. The original idea was that he’d stick around until December 31, acting as a consultant and “superintendent emeritus” to help his successor get his or her footing during what is a pretty delicate time for a school district emerging from pandemic learning.
“I could’ve finished my contract,” he told reporters at a press conference following his announcement. “But they [school board trustees] need to find someone who can keep this magic going for 10 years and 20 years.
“I am going to exit as superintendent. My last official day will be December 31, 2022. I will be around for the foreseeable future, certainly through that date.”
At that point, rumors were already swirling that he was eyeing a mayoral run, but he demurred, saying that his focus was on “landing this airplane in the next six months.”
Last month the school board named Austin ISD superintendent (and former Dallas ISD chief of school leadership) Stephanie Elizalde its lone finalist for superintendent and then 21 days later voted to offer her a contract. Elizalde’s first day is Friday.
The last school board meeting before the district takes its July break happened last Thursday. There was an inkling that something was up when an agenda item that would’ve turned Hinojosa into a consultant was removed. An item calling for an executive session to discuss the resignation of the superintendent was on the agenda, as was an item to vote on that resignation.
That night, the board went into that executive session, and upon returning to open session, launched into the superintendent’s report. Instead of discussing the usual district accolades, Hinojosa announced (rather abruptly) that he would be departing his job early.
He thanked the board for the “opportunity to serve” and talked about how long he’s been associated with the district—first as a student from second grade to graduation, then as a teacher and coach for several years, and then 13 years at the head of the Dallas ISD.
“[It] has afforded me a lot of opportunities to really love the city, and I want to thank you for your support,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way. It hasn’t been perfect, and there’s still a long road to go yet, but I think if you ask around the country now ‘who are the top urban districts in the country?’ urban is not even a qualifier. HEB named Dallas ISD the best large district in the state a couple of years ago. And now if you ask, the conversation about who are the best urban districts in the entire country, it’s Dallas and Miami that are in that category.
“I want to thank you for your support, thank you for courage, and there’s been a lot of great work done, and I want to thank you for having the wherewithal to go through some difficult times, to now be able to help our students improve their success significantly,” he said. “Thank you for the opportunity to serve, and I always like to say that the superintendent of Dallas again, still, but not for long, baby. Just one more week and I’m gone.”
And not long after that, the board unanimously (and with pretty much zero fanfare) voted to accept his resignation.
Hinojsa told the Dallas Morning News that he was leaving because his successor knows the district and really didn’t need him to hang around.
“Stephanie worked for me for five years. She knows all my sayings,” he said. “I’ve been talking to her every two or three days, trying to make the transition smooth.”
While Hinojosa so far hasn’t announced a run for office, the timing of his departure is curious.
His original agreement in January with the board prevented him from running for office while he was an employee of the district. If he wanted to do that, he’d have to leave earlier.
And now he left earlier.
In January, he was equally cagey about that potential run. “I’m not stepping down; I’m stepping up,” he said, adding that stepping down seems negative. “I’m not dying.”
But he also said he wasn’t sure what he’d be “stepping up” to, insisting that “this is not about me, and not about my future” but also hinting that he wasn’t retiring from the district either. His wife, he said, wouldn’t let him retire. “I tried that one time, and she said, ‘Get a job!’” he said, laughing.
In a recent poll conducted by the Dallas Morning News and Suffolk University had Mayor Eric Johnson with a nine-point lead over Hinojosa on a 2023 ballot. That sounds like a lot, until you realize that both were beaten by undecided voters, who accounted for 34 percent of the responses (Johnson had 33 percent and Hinojosa had 24 percent).
Election math can be a funny thing, but 34 percent is a lot of ground to cover between the two candidates. And they might not be the only ones, either. We had a CVS-receipt of a mayoral ballot with 10 candidates in 2019.
There’s a chance that Hinojosa could examine the political landscape and decide that being at the top of a respected urban school district is going to afford him all kinds of opportunities to potentially consult with other districts. He might even decide to take up fishing or baking.
But if someone was going to run for mayor, and if he or she needed to get his or her ducks in a row to do so, and also his or her current gig didn’t allow that, one might resign on a Thursday night, right before the school district goes on break for the summer.