DALLAS — When Dr. Michael Hinojosa was a student at Sunset High School in Dallas, he had no idea he'd eventually go on to teach in the city's school school district. He certainly didn't have dreams of the leading Texas's second largest school district.
“I have two very vivid memories," Hiniojosa said. "One, my high school basketball coach saying, 'Hinojosa, you’re slow, but you’re short too'. I said, 'Thanks, coach. That’s very inspiring'. He said, 'Well, you’re the smartest kid I ever coached and you work hard. You’re going to be somebody, just not college basketball…you need to find something else to do.'"
His second memory is of a teacher encouraging him to apply for a scholarship for a future teacher's program.
"That 500 dollars bought me a dream," Hinojosa said. "Someone believed I could be an educator, and that was a game-changer for me. I really didn't have college on my mind until these two incidents. I always did well at school, but those two incidents sparked me."
Fast forward nearly five decades. Hinojosa not only became an educator, but he's spent nearly 30 years leading school district, 13 of those years as superintendent of Dallas Independent School District.
In January, he announced he will leave the district.
“For me, it’s personal and I do know it from top to bottom," Hinojosa said. "I know this city from top to bottom, and I’m just glad I was able to add a little value along the way.”
This is not the first time Hinojosa has parted ways with the position. He resigned in 2011, after serving as superintendent for six years. In 2015, Dallas ISD school board voted to bring him back. He referred to the two time periods as "Josa 1.0" and "Josa 2".
“1.0, we had to do a lot of blocking and tackling," Hinojosa said. "We had to put systems in. We had 1,300 classrooms that did not have a bilingual teacher in them. We were violating the state law. We had all these scandals. We had to get rid of those kinds of things.”
Hinojosa said, when he returned, the focus was on implementing good ideas.
"During 1.0, I don’t know if people wanted us to succeed," Hinojosa said. "I don’t know if they believed we’d succeed. The difference with 2.0, now we get a lot of help. People are coming in.”
The success of his second season was tested by the pandemic natural disasters, and their specific impacts on a large diverse school community with varying needs.
“You go back two years, so October of '19, we had a tornado," Hinojosa said. "Then, we had pandemic 1.0. Then, we had pandemic 2.0. Then, we had snowmageddon. Then, we had pandemic 3.0. And none of those were on my calendar.”
Hinojosa was one of a few superintendents in Texas that came under fire after the district implemented a mask mandate, despite an order from Governor Greg Abbott prohibiting such mandates.
"In our context, our parents need to work and our kids need to learn," Hinojosa said. "And they weren’t learning at home, and our parents weren’t able to work, so we had to whatever it took to make it work here. I’m very proud of our employees. I’m proud of our school board. I’m proud of all of our principals."
After multiple weather events, the pandemic and heated debate about so-called critical race theory fueling an ongoing battle about library books and curriculum, Hinojosa admits it's been a hard time to lead schools.
Hinojosa was one of 10 superintendents in North Texas to announce they're stepping down in just four months.
“Its been really hard," Hinojosa said. "In urban districts, we’re used to taking a lot of heat. We usually have a lot of people come yelling at us, but that doesn’t happen in the suburbs. Now it’s starting to happen, and it’s starting to wear down on people."
Hinojosa said the debates at board meetings have been heated and personal.
“The abuse is just unacceptable," Hinojosa said. "The vitriol has been significant, and certainly that’s not the reason I’m moving on, but it is very real for a lot of those individuals."
There are have been rumors that Hinojosa will run for mayor, but he said he's not ready to discuss that until he's finished up his work with Dallas ISD.
"That election is very far away, and so there will be a time at some point to talk about any future elections," Hinojosa said.
His focus through December will be helping set the district up for success and keeping the transition to his next successor smooth. Like districts across the country, Dallas ISD will need to work to recover from setbacks caused by the pandemic.
"There’s going to be a significant impact, but you can’t worry about things that are out of your control. You have to accelerate," Hinojosa said.
Dallas ISD has multiple programs in place to help students catch up and minimize learning loss. They're also facing the same shortage as districts across the country when it comes to teachers.
“I am worried about going forward. The people who can move on, are moving on. And that’s something that’s going to be a big worry for my successor," Hinojosa said.
He said teachers are desperately needed, and as his time as an educator comes to an end, he encourages anyone interested to take the leap.
"You can make the biggest difference in an urban setting. We need you desperately. We’ll work with you on learning the art and science of teaching, but you are desperately needed in these classrooms.”
Hinojosa delivered his annual, and final, Dallas ISD State of the District to the civic and business community on Friday at noon at the Fairmont Hotel. Watch full speech below: