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EducationNorth Texas

Arlington ISD hires new superintendent from Belton ISD, sets salary at $335,000

Matt Smith had one word on his mind as he signed the contract to become superintendent at Arlington ISD.


“Since the beginning of the interview process, I have been doing my research, looking at data, watching board meetings online, trying to find out more and more about the school district, and that definitely continued during the 21-day waiting period,” Smith said. “It’s an awkward time because you just want to get started.”

At the Jan. 8 special meeting, Arlington ISD trustees unanimously signed a three-year contract with Smith to officially make him the district’s superintendent. Smith, who will begin his position Jan. 30, is set to receive an annual salary of $335,000 to lead a district of 76 campuses and over 54,000 students.

His main priorities: Listen and learn. Smith doesn’t have set plans for his first official day, he said, as he will work with the trustees and staff to figure out the best approach. However, he said not to expect immediate waves of changes.

“We’re going to start talking about an effective transition plan, and I’ll craft that together with them,” he said.

Smith was named the lone finalist Dec. 12. Before assuming his new role in Arlington, he was the superintendent at Belton ISD, a position he had held since January 2020. He was also the chief academic officer at Leander ISD, which has over 40,000 students, and had experience both in the classroom and in administrative roles.

Matt Smith, Arlington ISD’s new superintendent, sits with his father while waiting for trustees’ decision to approve his contract Jan. 8, 2024, at the Arlington ISD Administration Building. Smith succeeds Marcelo Cavazos, who retired Aug. 31, 2023. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

Search background

Smith succeeded 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 was the interim leader when Cavazos stepped down.

In May 2023, 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.

Board Secretary Sarah McMurrough said Smith has strong communication skills and is a leader and a man of integrity who values diversity, collaboration and innovation — all attributes that both the board of trustees and district staff and parents were looking for.

“You’re a champion of staff morale, and we all know that,” McMurrough told Smith at the meeting.

Smith’s $335,000 salary is $41,061 less than Marcelo Cavazos’ base pay. Cavazos signed a new five-year contract in 2022, which gave him a base pay of $376,061 and annual “longevity payments” intended to “encourage continuity of leadership in the district.” He announced his retirement a month after the new contract was signed.

Cavazos’ bonus gave him an additional 13% percent of his monthly salary per month. By the time he retired, the bonus amounted to over $32,000.

Smith received an annual salary of $239,292 at Belton ISD.

Matt Smith, Arlington ISD’s new superintendent, signs his contract in front of the trustees Jan. 8, 2024, at the Arlington ISD Administration Building. Smith’s base pay is $335,000. (Dang Le | Fort Worth Report)

Targeting areas

Smith joined Arlington ISD as the district carries out its 2022-27 strategic plan, which focuses on prioritizing students’ learning experience; increasing student achievement; looking after the well-being of students, teachers and staff; and guaranteeing equitable access to resources for students, staff and parents.

The district is expecting a 2-percentage-point increase — from 46% to 48% — in the number of students who read at grade level on the next State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test.

Arlington ISD is halfway down a projected runway, so Smith doesn’t have to figure everything out from the beginning, board member Brooklyn Richardson said.

“He gets to captain a ship that’s already in motion and helps us achieve our hopes,” Richardson said.

Smith understands the value of not coming in with his own plan, instead choosing to observe where the district is over the next 90 days. Then, he will consider whether the current pathway best serves Arlington ISD or needs adjustments.

The important thing, he said, is to keep students at the center of his work.

For challenges such as school funding and the results of the state standardized tests, Smith has shown plans to improve graduation rates, test performances and the trajectory of dual-language programs at the district, board President Melody Fowler said.

“All the parents, faculty and staff members are going to be very happy to get to know him,” Fowler said.

Smith wants to deliberately communicate with elected officials about the current funding issues. He wants to look at how each student is learning and whether they will apply the knowledge in the workforce. He also wants to support teachers and provide them with the best resources.

But he’ll continue to listen and learn for now.

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at [email protected] or via @DangHLe. 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 Arlington Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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