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Arlington ISD announces lone finalist for superintendent from Belton ISD

Arlington ISD is gearing up for its next chapter.

The district unanimously voted 7-0 to name Matt Smith as Arlington ISD’s lone finalist for superintendent at a Dec. 12 meeting. Smith is currently serving as the superintendent at Belton ISD, a position that he has held since January 2020.

“I’m just humbled and honored to be here,” Smith said. “It’s a little overwhelming because it’s such an amazing district, and I am just glad to be a part of this team.”

There will be a state-mandated 21-day period before Smith officially begins his duties. After that, the board is expected to offer an official contract, which Smith is scheduled to sign Jan. 8.

The new hire will succeed Marcelo Cavazos, who retired Aug. 31, 2023, after 11 years as the district’s superintendent and a total of 23 years with Arlington ISD. Steven Wurtz has worked as interim superintendent since Cavazos stepped down.

In May, Arlington ISD unanimously named Michelle Cavazos as the lone finalist for the district’s superintendent position. But she signed a new five-year contract with Gregory-Portland ISD, where she serves as superintendent. Michelle Cavazos has no relation to Marcelo Cavazos, the district said.

Wurtz, who has been with the district for over a decade, did not apply for the full-time position. He accepted the interim position with the intention of bridging the gap between one superintendent and another. Now, he’ll return to his position as the district’s chief academic officer, Wurtz said.

“I’m really excited about working with Dr. Smith,” he said. “He has a wealth of experience and talent that I think is going to add a lot of value to our school system, help us generate new ideas and help us keep going down the positive trajectory we’ve already started.”

Board President Melody Fowler expresses appreciation to Interim Superintendent Steven Wurtz on Dec. 12, 2023, at the Arlington ISD Education Institution. Wurtz said he will go back to being the district’s chief academic officer. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

The superintendent search attracted a variety of candidates, board President Melody Fowler said. The board first selected six candidates to interview. Then, they narrowed down their selection to three candidates before eventually selecting Smith.

“He’s very much a visionary. He gets the big picture, and he pays attention to the details. So it just really made him stand apart,” Fowler said.

Demographics difference

As the Arlington ISD superintendent, Smith will lead a district of nearly 55,000 students and 8,500 staff members. The district is significantly bigger than Belton ISD, which has over 13,000 students.

Although Belton ISD is a medium-sized district, Fowler said the board also considered Smith’s experience as the chief academic officer at Leander ISD, which has over 40,000 students.

Smith has had a glimpse into bigger districts throughout his two decades in academics, he said. But he will still need to rely on his team to ensure that he’s running the district effectively.

“I think we’ll make it work,” Smith said.

Matt Smith, the lone finalist for Arlington ISD superintendent, listens to board President Melody Fowler’s address Dec. 12, 2023, at the Arlington ISD Education Institution. Smith is scheduled to sign his contract Jan. 8. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

Academic improvement

At Belton ISD, Smith is credited for passing a $174 million bond to improve student outcomes and keep up with the district’s growing population. He also brought a Penguin Project chapter to the district to give special needs students a chance to star in theater productions.

Smith’s experience at Leander ISD also will help Arlington ISD achieve the district’s five-year growth model to get back to the pre-COVID-19 academic level, Fowler said.

Arlington has already had a great pathway to recover from the pandemic, Smith said. He will continue to expand options for students to help them engage in learning beyond the regular school day. He also wants to make sure teachers are well supported.

Matt Smith, the lone finalist for Arlington ISD superintendent, talks to Christi Bell, the district’s interim chief academic officer, Dec. 12, 2023, at the Arlington ISD Education Institution. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

Teacher support

Arlington resident Roger DeFrang, 78, said he thinks Smith will offer good support to teachers in the district. DeFrang has lived in the community since 1976 and spoken with multiple community members about public education and the district.

To him, the biggest challenge for Arlington ISD is the morale among teachers.

“The fascinating thing about this superintendent they just named — he’s got a background of being a teacher, being in the building. He was a principal,” DeFrang said. “He’s all those things — that makes him more unique than a lot of the Ph.D.s that just have a whole bunch of degrees, but they don’t really understand what’s really going on in the classroom.”

Smith has a strong desire to get to know the faculty and was very active in both Belton and Temple, the two cities Belton ISD serves, board President Fowler said. She’s confident that the Arlington community will understand why Smith is the lone finalist once residents talk to him.

Smith’s first order of business is to do a lot of learning and listening, he said.

“After that, we’ll continue to work on our teamwork and grow together and learn together and make plans for the future,” Smith said.

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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