On the surface, newly appointed Waco Independent School District trustees Robin Houston and Jose Vidana appear monumentally different.
Vidana, 41, is a bilingual mail carrier who immigrated to Waco from Mexico at a young age. He became a U.S. citizen at 18 years old and has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 15 years.
Houston, 48, is an assistant district attorney in the juvenile division of the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, where she has worked for more than a decade. She was born in the Netherlands, while her parents were stationed in Germany during their Air Force service. She grew up in Waco, South Dakota and Wyoming.
But dig beneath that surface, and the two trustees share plenty of common ground. Both have children who attend Waco ISD schools. Both strongly support the paths the school district offers its students, and both want to see the school board hire a superintendent who will build on the progress the district has already made.
The Waco ISD Board of Trustees unanimously voted Wednesday to appoint Vidana and Houston to the board. Vidana replaces Larry Perez, who represented District 3, and Houston replaces Pat Atkins, who served in an at-large seat, representing the whole school district. Both Perez and Atkins served on the board for 17 years.
The five trustees reviewed letters from 20 candidates interested in filling the vacant positions. They interviewed several applicants Wednesday during closed session before voting to appoint Vidana and Houston.
“It’s something me and my wife talked about before Larry even announced he was stepping down,” Vidana said. “With the two oldest kids leaving school, I figured I’d have more free time, and we talked about it and thought one of us should do it.”
Vidana or his wife, Letitia, planned to run for the District 3 seat if the school board did not appoint Vidana on Wednesday. The trustee plans to run in the May 2020 election, when the term for his position expires. Trustees serve for three-year terms.
Houston also plans to run for office in the May 2020, when a special election will be held for the final year of that position’s three-year term. She said she was interested in serving on the school board because she has a son in seventh grade in the district and a daughter who graduated from Waco High School last week.
“I do still have a kid who’s a student in the district, and I think it’s important for people who are in the schools to have a little bit of input,” she said. “Sometimes we have some insight that people who don’t have children going to the school might not have.”
All of Vidana’s six children either attend or graduated from Waco ISD schools. His eldest son and daughter both graduated from University High School, in 2013 and 2016, respectively. The daughter, Tiffany, was No. 4 in her class and took advantage of the dual credit program the district offers. She graduated high school with 31 college credit hours that transferred to Oral Roberts University, where she graduated from this year. She also participated in the health science academy at University, which paved a path for her to earn her bachelor’s in psychology.
Likewise, Vidana’s twin daughters graduated from University High School last week. Savannah was the salutatorian, and Gabriella was third in her class. Both also received an associate’s degree through the district’s dual credit program.
But Vidana’s two youngest children are still in Waco ISD schools. His son Thomas will be a seventh grader next school year, and his daughter Apollonia just finished second grade.
Houston said her daughter also took advantage of the district’s “excellent academic offerings,” including extracurricular activities. She said that was one of the reasons her family chose Waco ISD when they moved back to Waco after 14 years in Austin.
“When I was really looking at the things that we wanted for programs, I really thought they had the best offerings,” she said. “We felt like this was the best fit for our family.”
Both trustees want to ensure students continue to have access to the type of opportunities their older children benefited from, and they want the next superintendent to recognize how vital the programs are to students’ success.
“There’s a lot of good things going on at Waco ISD, and we need to make sure that whoever comes in recognizes places that there’s been progress made or places that are working really well, while also realizing that there’s some things that need improvement,” Houston said. “I would like to find somebody who’s going to build on the successes the district already has.”
Similarly, Vidana wants the next superintendent to support students, but he also would like to see the district’s new leader listen to students and staff and get to know each school’s personality.
“Each school is different. Each school has different problems,” he said. “We don’t listen to the students enough. We listen to teachers and staff, but we also need to listen to some students because they’re the ones who have the most contact with WISD.”
The Vidanas met with former superintendent A. Marcus Nelson a couple times when they had parental concerns and would like to see that kind of openness and accessibility from the next superintendent, as well. Vidana said he plans to be accessible to his district, and he plans to start by meeting with faculty at each of the schools in his district.
“The South Waco community to me doesn’t support their kids as much as they should. Especially the Spanish-speaking people, they don’t come out to meetings because half the time there’s no translation and they get lost in the translation,” he said. “They just stay silent. I want to try to get them involved and try to get them to understand that we want to try to get you to communicate with us so we can see what we need to do and relay that to the school board.”
Houston said she believes her experience dealing with juveniles in crisis or with trauma will help her serve her constituents well.
“I’m a listener. I really believe in consensus- and team-building and listening to everybody’s voice,” she saaid. “I work with families that are from all over the county and all over the district, both through kids who have had some problems and also through people who have been victimized. I see a lot of different families in crisis. I like to listen to people and I work with a lot of different kinds of people so I think it’s important to have all voices come to the table and say what they want to have happen.”
The newly appointed trustees will be sworn in at the board’s next meeting on June 24.