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Dr. Stephanie Elizalde : The Epitome of a Servant Leader Returns to Dallas ISD

When I heard that not only another Latinx had been elected to serve as Superintendent of Dallas Independent School District, but a woman, I was ecstatic. Then I had the honor to meet Dr. Stephanie Elizalde for this very special interview, and well, I was beaming with pride. There is just something great about seeing our people as leaders, serving others, knowing our future generation has someone to look up to, someone to inspire them.

A fellow Texan, Dr. Elizalde grew up in the border town of Laredo, the older of two daughters. “I come from a truly multicultural home. Sometimes I tell people I was raised by Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, nomas que my dad was Mexicano, not Cubano,” she states with a smile.

In many ways, Dr. Elizalde relates to the parents and students in her district. “Like all the parents that I get to serve, my parents wanted us to have the best quality life, so they always pushed education. I went to public schools, and
my parents were very involved, so I had a wonderful educational experience. My dad was a teacher, so he taught me many things before I went to school,” states Dr. Elizalde. And like many parents at Dallas ISD, her family was not financially advantaged. Although they lacked for none of the necessities, anything “extra”, such as piano lessons and ballet, was not easy to come by – her mom had to get an extra job to pay for those things. “I’m thankful for that, because the skills I learned doing those activities, studying flamenco, or even classical ballet, I can apply to any position of responsibility – always remembering we’re on “stage,” always being watched even when we think we are not.”

With so many accomplishments in education under her belt, where she has clearly thrived, it’s hard to imagine she had other career plans. “After getting my bachelor’s degree in Biology, I decided to take a year off before enter-
ing medical school, but I needed to work in the meantime. So, I took a job teaching at a high school, and once there, I just knew that is where I was sup- posed to be,” states Dr. Elizalde. In a span of almost 24 years, she has served in different districts – in San Antonio, Southwest ISD, Austin, and Dallas ISD, and ascended in those organizations. “I started working on my doctor- ate at University of Texas at Austin, which lead me to meeting people from Dallas ISD. So, in 2011 I moved to Dallas where I was until 2020, when I got the superintendency at Austin ISD. Two years later, I am back, and super humbled to serve in this new role. I feel like I am back home again.”

Despite her very impressive resume, Dr. Elizalde says, it’s the people, who she believes are responsible for her achievements.Without the dedicated principals focused on guiding teachers, there is no success. Without the committed teachers instructing our children, there is no success. The work happens every day inside the classroom, not from where I sit. It’s important people know recognition received in my seat is only because of the hard work happening at campuses,” states Dr. Elizalde. “It was the record of success under Michael Hinojosa’s leadership that allowed someone to even pull my name out of the stack. So, I am eternally grateful to the team, to all the individuals – from students to parents to community to staff, to leadership and partners, and the entire Dallas ISD community.”

As Dr. Elizalde speaks of the team and mentors who have helped get her where she is today, I encourage her to discuss her achievements a little further. “What are you most proud of?” I ask. “I don’t want to use the word ‘pride’, maybe it is the Latina in me, but I’d rather talk about the things that give me a sense that I’m making a difference,” states Dr. Elizalde fondly. “First, that we can demonstrate that our students, regardless of background – Latinxs, African American, poor, or rich – that in Dallas we have been able to show that all students can accomplish at high levels, whatever their dreams are. The second one is seeing the people I work with become leaders. You rise by lifting others –whether those others are students, or they work with me, to see teachers become administrators, or to see teachers become master teachers, or principals become executive directors or assistant superintendents, chiefs or ultimately superintendents – that is what it is all about, because the best leaders create other leaders.”

For those wondering what goals she has for the district as the top leader, do not expect her to pull out a checklist. “The real goals must come from our community. It must be ‘for’ our community, not something we can do ‘to’ them,” affirms Dr. Elizalde. “While I have confidence in my abilities, nothing gets done by any one person. I have a 90-day entry plan, where I want to begin by spending some time listening – soon I will be holding individual

as well as group sessions where I will ask questions to gather information on things like what our community feels proud of. What are some of the things would like us to do differently, and how would they like to see us do that? Dallas is in a wonderful position, and it is a great time for me to be re-join- ing!” exclaimed Dr. Elizalde. “Things are going well but know there is always room for improvement. That is what we do as educators – we constantly ask ourselves if we can do better, and how,” continued Dr. Elizalde. “I would say an important thing is to recognize, Dallas is not in the need for transformation, or reformation, really, it is a time for us to refine. How do we polish some of the things that are going well? I always want to stay focused on what our board’s goal is – to become the premier urban school district. The only way we do that, is to ensure that we have the best student academic outcomes. That sounds simplistic, but there is a lot that goes into making sure we accomplish that mission and that vision.”

Although most should be excited and look forward to her involvement with the district and community, it is understandable that some parents may still feel uncertain of a future without Dr. Hinojosa as superintendent. “What would you like to say to those parents anxious about someone else replacing Dr. Hinojosa?” I ask Dr. Elizalde, curious about her response. “First of all, there is no replacing Dr. Hinojosa, there will be none of that,” exclaimed Dr. Elizalde with a laugh.

“First of all, there is no replacing Dr. Hinojosa, there will be none of that,” exclaimed Dr. Elizalde with a laugh. “During his time here, Hinojosa 2.0, as he likes to call the 2nd time he came back, I worked directly under him for many years. He was my mentor, and I was part of the team that helped develop some of his key initiatives and completed a lot of those projects. I will be refining and repolishing a lot of the great things already taking place at Dallas ISD. I want to reassure these parents – the district in in good hands.”

When asked if she has any advice for our future leaders, Dr. Elizalde replied with her favorite Mexican dicho: “Dime con quien andas, y te dire quien eres.” Per Dr. Elizalde, it is one quote with so much truth in it. “I would like to also tell our youth – be confident, have goals, and serve your community. Representation is important, so be purposeful in all you do.” It is safe to say Dr. Stephanie Elizalde will serve Dallas ISD well, and we at Infórmate DFW are excited to see what the future holds for the district under her tenure.

Welcome back, Dr. Elizalde!

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