Eduardo Hernandez, Edgewood Independent School District’s finalist for superintendent, is expected to be hired June 19 for the chief job atop a district recently jolted by the resignation of its previous leader following harassment allegations by an employee.
Since the resignation of Emilio Castro as superintendent in March, interim Superintendent Phillip Chavez has led Edgewood and its 10,800 students. On May 24, the district’s board of managers named Hernandez as its lone candidate for the top district job.
By law, the district’s board must wait 21 days before voting to officially approve Hernandez’s hiring.
Hernandez currently serves as the chief academic officer in Duncanville ISD, near Dallas. He spoke with the Rivard Report about the values he would bring to Edgewood ISD and the customer service model he emulates in everything he does. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rivard Report: Describe how your career in education led you to your current role.
Eduardo Hernandez: Nineteen years ago, I started in Dallas ISD as a general [education] bilingual teacher. I taught all subjects. I taught kindergarten one year, I taught third grade, I taught sixth grade and I taught mostly math and science. … Most of my teaching career was in Dallas ISD, and I spent some years doing that.
Then I moved into administration in Dallas as an assistant principal and was over the math department at the high school I was at, and it was a low-performing high school. I was there for a year and we did really well in the math department and I was charged with the head principal job at the biggest elementary [school] in Dallas at the time. That was also a low-performing school and it came out of lower performance, so then I [became] the assistant principal at a middle school.
Every school I received was low-performing when I got it, and when I left the team, I moved it to being exemplary or recognized status.
I moved into central administration and became a director of secondary education for Crowley [ISD] and then I became the chief academic officer in Crowley. Then I was there for a few years and I came here to Duncanville and became chief of schools. I now do all the innovative programs here.
RR: Why did you want to become a superintendent?
EH: I remember hearing John F. Kennedy’s speech when I was a little kid in school and he talked about education being the great equalizer. As I was a little bilingual kid in East Dallas, some of the kids around me couldn’t even speak English. I grew up in a neighborhood that is almost the exact same set-up as Edgewood. When I spoke to the [Edgewood board of managers], I relayed to them where I was coming from. Education was the way out of my circumstances.
When I became a teacher and when I was a principal, [education] is always what has guided my heart. … I knew I wanted to be in a position to affect children’s lives and affect teachers and principals. They are the key to reform.
RR: What are your first priorities if approved as the new superintendent?
EH: I think it is a comprehensive approach. Most people want to look at changing AP scores at just the high school level, but I think you have to do two things. [The first] is work with teachers at the high school and middle school level. What kinds of training are we providing them for the College Board? We need to work with principals on how they can lead and work with classrooms on developing high-quality instruction, not just advanced academics.
[The second is] you have high-quality early childhood programs. Research has told us the better quality instruction we have in early grades, the better [the] abilities of the students. … It has to be a comprehensive approach where you are working on the whole pipeline, and by that I mean pre-K to 12.
I am going to be on a listening tour during my first 100 days. My transition plan is coming in, sitting down, doing lots of listening – very little talking and lots of listening. I really want to get to know the people in the schools and throughout the district.
I have three questions I am planning to ask people and it is a start, but by no means an exhaustive list. What do we need to continue doing in Edgewood ISD? What do we need to start doing? And a question that I sometimes don’t think we ask enough: What do we need to stop doing? Sometimes there are things that are not working or are not cost-productive. I want to hear from teachers and students. I want to hear from the maintenance people, cafeteria people, bus drivers.
RR: What is your thinking on tackling the out-of-classroom challenges students face?
EH: Having core values is essential. Traditionally where I have gone, I have a very clear message of how we are going to engage and work and what I have done is three core values – PAC. That is professional, accountable, communicate constantly. That’s why I call them Dr. H’s PAC. … I think those three things are important. Everywhere we go we are going to be professional, accountable, and need to communicate. Those become our core values.
RR: How do you plan to ensure that professionalism prevails not only in the superintendent’s office, but also on campuses and throughout the district?
EH: I think you have to [communicate] with intention and purpose. [The idea of professionalism] should be communicated at all levels of the organization. To your central office people, your campus administration, teachers, that becomes the message that I, the superintendent, am working on developing outside and everywhere. … You also have to develop the metrics. … How do we prove it? Because my second core value is accountability. Education is a results-driven organization, and so I believe in effort, but I sure do value results. Efforts are good, but results are better.
RR: How would you develop those metrics to measure professionalism?
EH: I think you can look at a myriad of things – academic progress, customer service surveys. I also think those need to be intentional conversations on how you provide customer service. I am a big proponent of the Chick-Fil-A customer service model and you can study their model. In my current role, I supervise principals and we have actually gone to that and studied their model and been very intentional about how we provide customer service.
We need to look at how we treat our employees and what people say when they do leave. What does that data look like? … What do students say in student surveys? I am not aware that is being done yet, but that is something that is very important to me. At the end of the day they are our customer. … Our kids are our No. 1 customer.
RR: Schools in Bexar County are facing enrollment declines. How do you plan to maintain student enrollment or attract new students to the district?
EH: That is actually what I do now … in Duncanville. We are in an age of choice and … that is a conversation that I plan to lead with our board and folks inside the district. We have to start changing the manner in which we serve kids. … No longer will they say, “We have to go to the local public school.” Whether they know how to broker the choice or not, they know enough to go to the other school district or a charter school that is marketing very well.
We have to do a better job of thinking together and thinking differently, creating a system that values different ideas, and create different programming that attracts them back to the district and keeps them in the district. [We need] pipelines for our kids to start their overall education, a career pathway at a very early age that will later move them to university level. We should also do a better job of telling our story, creating innovative programming, addressing our parents early and really letting them know what we have to offer and getting their input.
RR: What did you do in your role leading innovation in Duncanville ISD?
EH: We opened up a collegiate high school last year that has attracted back a lot of kids to programming, and opened up a STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math] program at our middle school. Most school districts started [a college pipeline pathway] at seventh, but we started at sixth grade and our pipeline goes all the way to college.
We also place an emphasis on having our kids graduate from a partner university, University of North Texas-Dallas. They leave us at 18 with an associate degree and only need to go to UNT-Dallas and finish up the last two years, which will be free and they will have a bachelor’s degree. … We also did elementary programming for a child’s exploratory years, [showing them] what STEAM is and helping our kids go through that and the dual-language model. I did the same thing in Crowley ISD, that’s how I got my job in Duncanville.
RR: If you are approved as superintendent, when do you plan to come to the district?
EH: I’m hoping to be there by the beginning of July, but am transitioning out of my current role. … I’ve also got to pick up and move my life, so I can’t give a specific date, but it would likely be beginning to middle of July.