Three months into his new job, Anthony Mays takes seriously the fact that he is the first Black superintendent of the Alief Independent School District, whose student body is 90 percent “minority.”
“I don’t take it lightly. Being responsible and being a good steward, I own it. I believe it conveys hope for people, who can see me, and can look to having a leadership role one day,” said Mays, who earned a doctorate degree in higher education leadership from Tarleton State University in 2018.
Mays, like many school district leaders, is facing budget shortfalls, falling enrollment numbers, teacher recruitment challenges and student learning disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic.
To address the obstacles, he has been meeting with his staff, parents and community leaders in a series of events at various campuses called Soda with the Superintendent and Coffee and Conversation with Superintendent Dr. Anthony Mays.
One of the biggest challenges is the district’s recently announced $19 million budget shortfall. He stresses the need to communicate with district shareholders so “people understand the scope of the challenge and understand the impact of the deficit.”
He said his priority is to continue a commitment to providing students with a high quality education that can “break the cycle of poverty” and prepare students to enter the workforce with job skills through hands-on experience and job certifications. Meanwhile, AISD itself is one of the largest employers in its area.
“Alief ISD has made the investment that students get a quality experience here that easily transfer over to the public side to people that work in our community,” Mays said. “Not every school district has those quality facilities for a student to walk into something that looks just like a hospital or like an auto shop, restaurant or vet clinic. These facilities provide vital hands-on experiences for our students.”
What may from the street view look like a simple modern day high school campus houses various programs that have students working with industry experts to give them working knowledge in a field of their choice. At the Alief ISD Advanced Careers Center at 12160 Richmond Ave., are:
- an automotive facility (that’s open to the public for repairs conducted under supervision) with the latest in computer technology able to diagnosis and assist in serving vehicles
- a working bistro that is open to the pubic customers and equipped to create delicious culinary favorites from award winning soups to fresh pastries
- a veterinary and grooming clinic (that provides micro-chipping of pets as required by city ordinance) to care for our four-legged friends, and
- a medical teaching lab furnished with everything needed to train the next generation of medical professionals.
The hands-on experiences also provide students opportunities to meet industry needs and skills that transfer into job opportunities at hospitals and pharmacies. Students also can earn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) credentials for various professions.
Mays has already met with local businesses and community leaders to begin working in partnership in achieving AISD’s goals.
“Often business and industries can do what we (school districts) cannot do or can do it faster. So having those robust partnerships is just essential. If we didn’t have those relationships how much would our students go without,” Mays said.
“We are not the only school district facing challenges, school districts will continue to struggle with filling in the gaps, our business and industry partners can help with those gaps,” he added.
Beyond student support, local businesses provide services and resources for the staff as well.
Mays stresses his plans in “working with everyone and being inclusive.” For instance, he said, “I understand our district is serving a large Asian community. In reviewing our language surveys it became apparent that I needed to ensure that my messages were translated to include Vietnamese.”
Mays’ predecessor was HD Chambers, who retired after 12 years as superintendent. Mays previously held administrative jobs at the Austin, Dallas and Ft. Worth independent school districts.
Overall, as he faces the Alief budget shortfall and other challenges, Mays said, “We are going to work together and stay focused on the main thing… student achievement. We will be alright.”
— by Jessika Leal