After stepping into an interim role in December, Tabitha Branum was named the lone finalist for the full-time superintendent of Richardson ISD during a July 18 board meeting. She was officially hired as superintendent Aug. 9.

Branum joined RISD eight years ago as assistant superintendent before becoming the district’s deputy superintendent.

Branum spoke with Community Impact Newspaper in early August about her goals heading into the 2022-23 school year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your main goals for RISD heading into the 2022-23 school year?

I think my No. 1 priority for RISD as we launched this 2022-23 school year is to ensure that we have a successful transition in leadership. ... I want to continue to provide a level of certainty to our staff and our students in our community.

Outside of that leadership transition, I think our main priorities are safety and security. It’s important to ensure that our community has trust in the measures that we’re putting in place so that they [feel comfortable] sending their students to school.

I’m also hoping to continue addressing academic recovery in terms of COVID[-19]. Our [State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness] scores saw a lot of increases, but we still have work to do to ensure that we are back to where we were in all areas.

How important is it for the district to establish a leadership position, given the fact that the board members are all relatively new?

I think consistency in leadership is important for staff and for the community. They want to know who their leader is, and they want to know the vision of the leadership team, including what’s going to be expected and what the priorities are going to be. [RISD] has to have that environment where district officials can focus on what they need to do, which is designing an engaging learning experience for our kids.

What are the biggest challenges Richardson ISD is currently facing?

We are in a time where it is tough to find teachers. We still have over 100 teacher openings with about 10 days left before school begins. Because of that, we’re going to have to continue to recruit staff and compete for teachers. We also still have work to do in terms of recovering our academics to pre-COVID[-19] levels. We made great gains in the spring, but in the area of mathematics, we are not at that level yet. Ensuring that we have curriculum teacher support in place, providing interventions for students who need additional support and time to get to mastery, is a challenge I hope to overcome.

How do you plan to address the biggest issues facing the district?

We will continue to analyze our security throughout the full year by ensuring our staff and our students are fluent with all of our fire drills and lockdown drills.

In terms of our academic recovery, we have worked all summer to provide refinement in our curriculum, to make it more user-friendly for teachers. We have a strong intervention program where every one of our elementary schools has an elementary math and reading interventionist that is helping with that COVID[-19] recovery.

How do you view the role of a superintendent in relation to the board of trustees and the district administration as a whole?

One of the greatest pieces of advice ever [given to] me was to always remember that a school district is not the superintendent’s school district; it’s the community’s schools. They have elected seven individuals to hire the superintendent, set the policy, adopt the budget and create a vision. They’ve hired you as superintendent to help execute that vision; I think that is something that I’ve always kept really close to my heart. Because of that, I think the board of trustees and the superintendent have to have a strong collaborative relationship.

What is something you have learned about the position/district since taking over the interim role?

I don’t think anyone really can understand the complexities of the role of the superintendent until you are in that role. Ultimately when you are the one that is carrying the weight and is making the decisions or recommendations for a district of 37,000 students and 6,000 employees, it’s a lot of responsibility. I didn’t fully anticipate the amount of time you are committing as a full-time superintendent. ... But I will also say that I was surprised at how much I love [the job]. I love this district, and I am passionate to have the opportunity to lead as a superintendent.