Jeff Arnett named lone finalist in Westlake superintendent search

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Eanes Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnett, seen here in a 2018 board meeting, has been named the sole finalist to replace Tom Leonard as the leader of the school district.
Eanes Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnett, seen here in a 2018 board meeting, has been named the sole finalist to replace Tom Leonard as the leader of the school district.

Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnett is looking at a promotion after being named the sole finalists in the Eanes school district’s search for a new superintendent of schools. Board president John Havenstrite said the board will finalize the terms of Arnett’s employment and vote on his contract in February.

Arnett joined the district in 2016 and has spent time as both a classroom teacher and administrator — in fact he is still certified to teach at the high school level and can sometimes be found filling roles from lunchroom line server to recess monitor at elementary schools in the district when staffing is short, Havenstrite said.

Arnett expressed his thanks for the staff at the district and campus levels for their dedication to Westlake’s schools.

Jeff Arnett
Jeff Arnett

“Gratitude, like leadership, is a group effort. I am immensely grateful to the Eanes ISD community of outstanding students, staff and families who are so invested in the success of our schools,” Arnett said. “I look forward to our conversations about furthering excellence for which Eanes is so well known, finding equilibrium and bringing our community together during these interesting times.”

More: Westlake school district faces lawsuit from parent over diversity and inclusion initiative

Tom Leonard, who currently leads the district, announced in October that he plans to retire in January 2023. The goal was to hire a new superintendent to start next summer and take the reins next school year, and for Leonard to stay on into the fall as an advisor to help with a smooth transition.

To aid in the search, the school board hired Thompson & Horton LLP, and members of the firm held focus groups to gauge what residents want in the next superintendent.

The school board brought together 71 community members, which included students, parents, teachers and auxiliary employees, to discuss with the firm the school district's strengths and upcoming challenges, along with attributes they are looking for in the next superintendent. Board Member Ellen Balthazar said that Arnett embodies the qualities that the community said it wanted to see in the district’s next leader.

Several other new hires and promotions within the district were announced at Tuesday’s board meeting, including incoming Athletic Director Callan Nokes. Nokes has served as the assistant athletic director under Todd Dodge, who is retiring this year, since 2014 and is also the head golf coach in Eanes. Kristy Sailors, who has been serving as the interim chief technology officer, was hired to take on that role full time, and Abby Bridges is being hired as the director of human resources.

The school board also voted to approve a contract with Maryland-based LessonCast to help shape curriculum related to the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. The founder of LessonCast worked with the district in 2019 on its universal design for learning program, which included developing flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.

More: Westlake school board discusses vendor for diversity initiative curriculum consulting

LessonCast will not dictate which resources staff use but will help the district build a list of appropriate resources for teachers and help staff create a framework for units and lessons that help teachers understand how and when those resources should be used, Chief Learning Officer Susan Fambrough said this month. This will help teachers ensure they are reaching all learners day-to-day, as well as provide staff with help if difficult topics come up in class that need to be addressed, she said.

The board also called an election to be held on May 7 for places 6 and 7, currently held by Heather Sheffield and Balthazar, respectively. Candidates can file for a place on the ballot until Feb. 18 and early voting starts April 25.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Jeff Arnett named lone finalist in Eanes superintendent search

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