The Plano ISD board of trustees picked Theresa Williams in March to take over as the district’s next superintendent following the retirement of former Superintendent Sara Bonser at the end of the 2021-22 school year.

Williams began her professional career in Garland ISD where she taught high school Spanish and held various campus and leadership positions. Williams moved to PISD in 2018 as the district’s deputy superintendent and chief operating officer. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you want to become an educator?

Teaching is my passion because I have always had a love and appreciation for learning. I am a first-generation college graduate, raised by two brilliant people who didn’t have a formal education. When I heard stories about my mom’s challenges in school as an English language learner, it made me sad because her experience was so different from my own positive experience as a student. This is what first sparked my interest in wanting to become a teacher. My calling also came from my experience as a teenager who almost fell through the cracks. It was a very special teacher who saw my struggles and helped me reach my potential. It was then that I knew I wanted to be an educator and make a difference in the lives of students.

What’s the biggest thing you’re taking into the superintendent position from your time in Plano ISD leadership roles?

As Plano ISD’s deputy superintendent for the past four years, I’ve had the unique opportunity to learn every facet of this organization and am so proud to have been a part of the development of our current mission, vision and strategic plan. Because of my prior experience with the district, there is less of a transition—we know our mission, our vision [and] our plan. As I assume my new role as superintendent, we will continue to build on our strengths, refine our current work and address new areas of need.

What are your priorities for Plano ISD for the new school year?

My priorities for the new school year align with my foundational priorities for students. I believe students deserve, [No.] 1, safe and welcoming schools with a sense of belonging; [No.] 2, the support of caring and nurturing adults; and [No.] 3, opportunities and learning experiences that will successfully inspire and elevate them to their future.

What that looks like in the new school year is prioritizing the safety of our community’s most precious gift—our children. We are continuing to audit facilities and refine protocols for keeping students, staff and facilities safe. School safety is multifaceted and requires a layered approach, which includes collaboration, cooperation, teamwork and partnerships across the district from both internal and external stakeholders.

What are the biggest challenges facing Plano ISD in the year ahead?

Some of the challenges facing Plano ISD mirror challenges we are seeing around the state and nation.

Among the biggest challenges specific to Plano ISD is recapture—now renamed as excess revenue. Since the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3, Plano ISD’s recapture payment to the state has increased significantly and will continue to increase under the current state funding structure. Amid changing demographics and growing student needs, Plano ISD is paying $214 million to the state in recapture this year, which means more than 35% of every tax dollar collected in Plano ISD is going to the state rather than to our schools and students. After making more than $1 billion in recapture payments over the last six years, it grows more challenging to maintain the level of programming, support and excellence that our community knows and expects.