After a more than four-month search for a new superintendent, the Asheville City Schools Board of Education unanimously made its selection May 15 in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
Rick Cruz will start as the ACS chief July 1 after leaving his role as deputy superintendent for Houston Independent School District in Texas, where he worked in numerous roles for 15 years, according to a press release from ACS spokesperson Dillon Huffman.
“For me, the work is really all about ensuring that we work together as a community, that we are partners in the work and that we’re making sure that every single student in Asheville has the support, resources and the guidance they need to be successful. That for me is equity. That for me is what this work is about. That’s what brought me here,” Cruz told the crowd in the ACS board room at 85 Mountain St.
ACS has had five superintendents over the last 10 years, the latest being Gene Freeman, who left abruptly in June 2022, more than five months before his previously announced November retirement. Interim Superintendent Jim Causby has served since then.
Cruz is slated to make $215,000 annually, paid through state and local funding sources. His contract runs through June 2027. For comparison, Causby makes $183,000 a year. Freeman made about $188,400, Huffman said.
Cruz currently oversees operations in his role as deputy superintendent but has worked as chief of strategy and innovation, chief of major projects and assistant superintendent of college and career readiness for the nation’s eighth-largest school district, according to the release.
Cruz also helped lead an expansion of the Houston district’s wraparound services department, an initiative to connect students and families to community resources that help them address noninstructional challenges affecting their ability to learn.
A graduate of Yale University, Cruz has a master’s degree in education administration and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from the University of Texas at Austin.
A Mexican immigrant, Cruz began his career as a fifth-grade teacher at a Houston school with a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students, where he was recognized as teacher of the year twice. As a teacher, Cruz founded and led EMERGE, a nationally recognized nonprofit that “empowers and prepares high-performing students from underserved communities to attend and graduate from selective colleges and universities,” according to its website.
He said he plans to use his experience building community partnerships to focus on equity in Asheville City Schools.
“My commitment to you all is that I will work with you all, I will listen to the community, I will stand side by side with each and every one of you in this room, in the community, in our schools, [with] our teachers, [with] our principals, and provide all of the resources and support so that together, we can move this district and make it even better than it already is,” he said.
Board Chair George Sieburg said that the board, in its selection process, found Cruz’s passion for community instrumental to his selection.
“His commitment to the children and educators of his district was apparent to us from the first moment that we met him. And the tireless efforts he has in bringing the community together in support of the schools is really one of the defining things that helped us know that he was the right person for the job,” Sieburg said.
ACS paid Summit Search Solutions $30,000 to conduct a superintendent search that yielded 49 applications. Along with the board, they whittled the list down to nine semifinalists and four finalists, making choices based on more than 1,000 responses garnered from numerous public input sessions.
As part of its contract, Summit guaranteed that it would repeat the search process for free if the hired superintendent left for any reason during the first year of employment or was terminated or resigned based on performance-related issues within two years on the job.
For his part, Cruz said he planned to make Asheville home for the “long term.”
“I know that this work takes time. It’s about relationships, about building trust. It’s about figuring out how we work collectively to make things better for kids. And I am really looking forward to being here for a very long time with each and every one of you as we work together toward excellence.”