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In the search for a Hispanic educator

HISD Superintendent Kaye Stripling is expected to announce her retirement as soon as this week, a top HISD official said Tuesday, opening the door for Houston to hire its first Hispanic school leader.

"Well, good luck in trying to find one," said Carlos Garcia, who runs the nation's sixth-largest school system, in Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas.

Garcia is one of only four Hispanics in top jobs among the nation's 64 largest school districts. In Texas, Hispanics hold fewer than 100 of the state's 1,000-plus superintendent jobs, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Houston, the seventh-largest school district in the country and the biggest in the state, has never had a Hispanic leader even though 57 percent of its 211,000 students are Hispanic. In what will likely be a national search for Stripling's replacement, the pressure to hire a Hispanic is expected to be intense.

I truly want it to be a Hispanic so we can take care of the dropout problem," said Mary Ramos, the League of United Latin American Citizens' state deputy director for youth. "If it's not a Hispanic, there will be a tremendous outcry, I can guarantee you that."

The pool of candidates, however, will be shallow. Unlike black school administrators, Hispanics haven't yet created an organized professional network to groom leaders. The Houston-based Texas Association of Hispanic School Administrators has gone dormant. And the newly formed national Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents will hold its first national conference in Chicago in October. The fledgling organization still doesn't have a Web site and is operating out of the Tucson, Ariz., school district's headquarters.

"Our goal is to start mentoring more people and bringing them into our ranks," said Garcia, who sits on the association's board of directors. "Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States, and we haven't been doing anything to cultivate school leaders."

But not all of Houston's Hispanic education leaders believe the district must hire a Hispanic. Roberto González, who chaired a task force that studied HISD's dropout problem, said ethnicity is one of many factors that should be considered.

"HISD is the largest employer in Houston. It has more buses than Metro, serves more meals than McDonald's, is engaged in more construction jobs than anyone in Houston," he said. "As we look for a leader, it's important that they not just understand education but also the business the school district is in, and that makes it a complex job."

Read more in the HoustonChronicle.com

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