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Texas educator takes the helm at Asheville City Schools

Asheville City Schools named an educator from Texas as the new superintendent for the system.

On Monday, the City Board of Education unanimously approved Dr. Rick Cruz for the top position. Cruz joins the school district from Houston, where he began his 15-year career in education as a fifth-grade bilingual teacher. He currently serves as the Deputy Superintendent of Houston Independent School District. After the board vote, Cruz acknowledged and thanked his parents and told the board that he’s looking forward to being in Asheville for a long time.

“For me, the work is really all about ensuring that we work together as a community, that we are in partners in the work, and that we're making sure that every single student in Asheville gets the support, the resources, and the guidance they need to be successful,” he said. “That, for me, is equity. That for me is what this work is about. That's what brought me here.”

Cruz’s first day on the job will be July 1. He replaces Gene Freeman, who left in the summer of 2022, after just two years on the job. Dr. Jim Causby is serving as Interim Superintendent.

A press release from Asheville City Schools included more details about Cruz’s background and education career in Houston:

Dr. Cruz has a significant track record of boosting academic achievement for all students. During his time in Houston, there was a significant increase in the proportion of schools categorized as "A" or "B" based on academic achievement, rising from 50 percent to 78 percent according to state accountability results. This period also witnessed a significant surge in the number of students graduating from high school with college credit and industry-based certifications, while college scholarships more than doubled. Under his leadership, all student groups have seen significant gains, and the achievement gaps for those students who historically have been farthest behind, including low-income and minority students, have reduced significantly.

He helped lead the expansion of HISD’s wraparound services initiative, through which the district has partnered with over 170 community-based organizations to ensure that students’ basic, mental, social, and physical health needs are being met. He also played a pivotal role in establishing a new compensation system for employees, resulting in the largest salary increase for teachers in the district's history.

Originally from Mexico, Dr. Cruz began his journey in the field of education as a fifth-grade teacher in a school where 98 percent of the students faced economic challenges. His exceptional teaching abilities garnered him the Teacher of the Year award on two occasions. As a teacher, he founded and led EMERGE, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that now operates in multiple school districts and helps thousands of low-income students prepare for, attend, and graduate from the nation’s top colleges.

Dr. Cruz has a doctorate in educational leadership and policy, as well as a master's degree in education administration, both earned from the University of Texas at Austin. He also holds a bachelor's degree, with distinction, from Yale University. He has served as an adjunct professor in the education programs at the University of Houston and Rice University. He is actively involved in the community and has served on the boards and advisory boards of several education and arts related organizations.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.