Canales out, Valdez in as Weslaco ISD interim super

Priscilla Canales and Criselda “Cris” Valdez

WESLACO — The Weslaco ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved the voluntary resignation of Superintendent Priscilla Canales Thursday evening and named Criselda “Cris” Valdez acting superintendent — although there was initially less consensus on that front.

No discussion on Canales’ retirement happened in open session. Last week the board discussed Canales’ future with the district, along with the preliminary findings of a long-awaited forensic audit.

Those findings have yet to be released to the public and Board President Armando Cuellar characterized them as a rough draft.

The outgoing superintendent did take the opportunity to address the community after her retirement was approved.

“There comes a time when there’s a season and there’s changes in life, and I’ve been blessed to have many changes in my life,” she said. “One of the most memorable one’s is gonna be my time here in Weslaco ISD. To our teachers, our administrators, all faculty and staff; for our parents and to our students — thank you for letting me be part of Weslaco ISD’s legacy for almost five years. The children of Weslaco ISD stole my heart from day one.”

Canales thanked current and former board members, and left her students with a final charge, telling them to read every single day.

The rest of the meeting was all about succession. The board approved releasing a request for qualifications for superintendent search firm and Trustee Andrew Gonzalez nominated Abel Aguilar, an assistant superintendent in the district.

That proved to be a controversial choice.

Although Trustee Marcs De Los Santos complimented Aguilar’s abilities as an administrator, he said severe staffing shortages have him filling in for too many positions already. Specifically, he said Aguilar is serving assistant superintendent for secondary education, assistant superintendent for elementary education and in a human resources administrator capacity.

“And at this time right now, now you’re gonna go ahead and you’re gonna move forward, even though we have critical vacancies,” he said. “We’re gonna go forward and add on there, so he’s gonna be the acting superintendent, the assistant superintendent of elementary and the assistant superintendent of secondary, and then he’s also gonna be filling in the gap in human resources. Like I said, Mr. Aguilar is probably one of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen, but he’s human.”

De Los Santos said there were other qualified options for the post, options that wouldn’t burden Aguilar.

There was no argument for appointing Aguilar from Gonzalez. He called the question, cutting off discussion and compelling the board to vote on the motion.

That move frustrated De Los Santos.

“You can go ahead and try to mute as much as you want, but the facts are what they are,” De Los Santos said. “That I think it’s highly irresponsible, and these are facts.”

Although freshmen trustees De Los Santos, Jacklyn Sustaita and Jesse Trevino voted against the motion, the rest of the board voted in favor, securing Aguilar’s appointment.

That vote and the disagreement surrounding it was largely moot. Just before the meeting adjourned, Aguilar spoke up and turned down the gig.

“My passion is for the students, the staff and the Weslaco ISD community, and I wanna do what’s in the best interest for the district,” he said. “And I am humbled, I am thankful that you even considered my name — and that, I say it wholeheartedly, I do, from the bottom of my heart. I respect your decisions, but I want to make sure that we are doing what’s best for the district and what’s gonna be best for our students.”

The board returned to the item, voting unanimously to approve a motion from De Los Santos to appoint Criselda Valdez to the position.

Valdez, 54, is a Weslaco native who began her educational career with WISD. She worked there 22 years, serving at different times as a teacher, coach, cheer coach, assistant principal, principal and a director at the elementary, middle school, high school and central office levels. 

In 2014 Valdez joined Mission CISD as its assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, stepping in as interim superintendent for an academic year.

She moved to Garland ISD after that before taking a year off to finish her doctorate in 2020.

“This is home. This is the school district that made me,” Valdez said after Thursday’s meeting. “I’ve done most of my life’s work in Weslaco, and in the Rio Grande Valley. What an honor, what a blessing to continue to do my life’s work in my hometown, and in the school district that made me.”