During the December 18, 2023, meeting of the DeSoto Independent School District Board of Trustees, Texas Education Agency-assigned conservator AJ Crabill announced his intent to recommend the closure of his tenure in the district which began in 2020 to the agency.
“Over the past three years, DeSoto ISD has grown significantly in the areas of academics, talent, and governance. While the work of uplifting DeSoto ISD remains an ongoing endeavor, the portion of that work for which I, personally, can be most helpful — restoring acceptable levels of effectiveness in these key areas of school system leadership — is complete,” said Crabill. “The task of improving from acceptable performance to optimal performance in these areas is best accomplished by an effective, independent local board and superintendent team, not a conservator.”
Assignment and Introduction As Conservator
On September 2, 2020, the DeSoto ISD Board of Trustees received a follow-up letter regarding the Texas Education Agency’s final report regarding its investigation into the district. In that letter, the TEA informed the Board of its decision to appoint a conservator.
A conservator assists in the reorganization of staff and resources; reduction of budget and spending; and guidance of district preparations to rebuild a fund balance. Additionally, the conservator provides guidance and support to an administrative body and the Board of Trustees in pursuit of these efforts.
After a period of review and based on observations of the assigned conservator, TEA has the option to issue one of the following actions:
- Maintenance of the conservator
- Withdrawal of the conservator
- The addition of more conservators
- Replacement of the Board
- Or dissolution of the district
In his role, Crabill’s role was defined to encompass:
- working with the district to identify the issues that led to the non-compliance and report to the agency on the development of a corrective action plan to address identified issues;
- directing the Board of Trustees regarding personnel actions for district employees as necessary to ensure effective leadership;
- and ensuring that the district’s Board of Trustees conducted hearings to notify the public of the district’s insufficient performance, the improvements in performance expected by the agency, and the interventions and sanctions possibly imposed if the district’s performance did not improve.
Reduced Oversight Following Improvement in District Governance
During the September 26, 2022, business board meeting Crabill announced a shift from a role of active conservatorship to a passive conservatorship stance. In this capacity, Crabill continued to support the work of the administration and the school board while monitoring district progress, updates, and observations to TEA as required.
During the Sept. 26 board meeting, Crabill explained the rationale for not withdrawing from his role as a conservator.
“DeSoto ISD has made significant progress over the last two years,” Crabill said. “ [….] but there is a long journey ahead,” Crabill explained that the passive approach will afford an opportunity for continued monitoring and support in the four areas of oversight for which he was assigned to support the district which include governance, finance, talent, and student progress.
Crabill noted the following regarding each of those areas of responsibility:
- Governance: Provision of coaching, support, and training for sound and consistent leadership and governance at the board level.
- Progress Note:During its initial self-evaluation, the DeSoto ISD Board graded itself at a 12; the Board’s most recent performance scored an 80.<
- Finance: Support and development of strong governance of district finances and fiscal operations inclusive of the development, training, and reinforcement of internal controls and systems.
- Progress Note: The district’s FIRST Rating improved from an F in 2018 to a C in 2021.
- Talent: Reinforcement of the development of structures for coaching, instruction, and provision of professional development and systems of support for district staff
- Progress Note: The District has developed roles, systems, and structures to support coaching and professional development for educators to strengthen Tier One instruction and create content and grade-level alignment.
- Academics and Student Progress: Proven and strategic growth of student academic achievement as based on board goals.
- Progress Note:In 2018, the district received a TEA accountability rating of a “D” and had campuses rated as D and F; currently, all district campuses have passing accountability ratings and the district recently announced its 2021 accountability rating of a “B.”
At the time, Crabill said,“ The Eagles are soaring in a way that we have not in a number of years.”
In a closing statement at the December 18, 2023, board meeting, Crabill said, “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together — improving student outcomes significantly since the pandemic, powerfully overhauling our supports for our classroom educators, and making DeSoto ISD a model of governance for Texas and the nation — and I’m deeply grateful for having been afforded the opportunity to serve. You all did not have to embrace me as a partner in this work, but you did and I have been blessed because of it. I was Green & Gold before my time as conservator and I will continue to be after. Go Eagles!”
The DeSoto ISD Board of Trustees has advanced on state governance header boards and facilitated presentations and training on the board’s growth and progress under the Lone Star Governance framework.
While Crabill has expressed intent to recommend his removal from DeSoto as a conservator to TEA, the District will, for the current period, retain the placement of its financial conservator.
About DeSoto Independent School District
DeSoto ISD is a public independent school district serving more than 6,000 students and 800 employees. The district comprises 10 campuses serving students from early childhood through graduation. DeSoto ISD’s mission is to ensure students, without exception, learn and grow at their highest level. The District’s 2021 Be The Future Strategic Plan focuses on equity, access, and excellence to provide a holistic and well-rounded educational experience to students and families in DeSoto, Glenn Heights, and Ovilla.
For more information about DeSoto ISD, visit www.desotoisd.org.