A lack of transparency was a common thread in more than an hour of public comment given by parents and community members during a June 14 meeting, when Round Rock ISD's board of trustees voted to hire Dr. Hafedh Azaiez as superintendent for the district.

Those concerns echoed previous sentiments expressed during the board’s June 10 regular meeting.

The contract approved by the board is for three years with a $350,000 annual salary.

The vote was 5-2, with places 2 and 7 trustees Dr. Mary Bone and Danielle Weston, respectively, voting no.

At the June 10 meeting, concerns that Azaiez had not been made available for a public town hall to learn more about his teaching philosophy and vision for the district took center stage.

Fears regarding the new hire were amplified over the weekend, when information regarding Azaiez’s time in Donna ISD, his former school district near McAllen, circulated online among community members and parents. DISD has been under a conservatorship since March 2018, which was upgraded from being monitored by the Texas Education Agency in 2017. Some parents expressed worry that being under a conservatorship made Azaiez unqualified to serve RRISD.

However, Azaiez was not announced as a finalist for superintendent in that district until later in the year, according to a June 1, 2018 press release from DISD.

The TEA conservatorship predates his hiring, but during the June 14 RRISD meeting some parents stated Azaiez being unable to fix the problems of DISD during his three years in the district were concerning.

“It's not our job to rescue him,” parent Leslie Winters said. “Let him take three to five years to do the job there [and] take care of the mess that is there. Then let him come back and show us with data, with facts, what he truly can do, not what he intends to do, not what his wishes, not what his goals are.”

Other speakers mentioned that they had been accused of being racist for speaking against his hiring, while another suggested incorrectly the DISD conservatorship was directly over him and not the district itself, implying that a conservator would follow him to RRISD.

Parents also spoke in favor of Azaiez’s hiring, saying that his track record at DISD reflected a man who looks out for students.

“We need somebody in a position of authority who's going to look out for all students ... who don't have parents that have the privilege of being in meetings like this, because they’re working,” said Cornell Woolridge, RRISD School Health Advisory Council member. “I am privileged to have a job where I can come in and speak on this.”

Trustees Bone and Weston cited different reasons for their decisions to vote against hiring Azaiez.

Bone said she was unsatisfied with the process—that it felt rushed and that not enough information had been communicated to the public.

“My vote for this contract will be no, but it will not be a vote against the finalist, but a vote of no confidence in the process that was used by this board,” Bone said.

Weston said she felt what Azaiez has in experience and what parents and community members asked for were too incongruent.

“The gulf between his professional experience and what our community told us they wanted in the next superintendent is just too vast,” Weston said. “Especially for our students with special needs. This is a leap of faith I cannot make.”

Azaiez said he will be addressing concerns expressed by parents during later meetings and other applicable opportunities.

“What I told the parents and the community, and also the board members, is I'm going to engage with everyone who was in the room, whether [they said] something positive or negative about the process, or about me,” Azaiez said, adding all stakeholders in this situation need to work together.

Once in place at RRISD, Azaiez said he plans to expand opportunities for students with local partners, similar to what he did at DISD by providing all-day Pre-K. He said he also plans to focus on goals centered on equity.

“Some of the ideas, as I said, is to add more, expand the offerings that we have in our schools,” Azaiez said. “And we have a lot already, I mean, we have tons, but expanding a lot of those offerings, ensuring that equity among all our students. And, I'm meaning by equity, like working on that achievement gap in particular, making sure that means students are all successful.”