Justin Chapa attended Arlington ISD schools
January is School Board Recognition Month and this year’s theme is Rising Above. Our Arlington ISD Board of Trustees has been rising to meet challenges throughout 2021 and into 2022. We wanted to get their thoughts on what they’ve learned in helping lead a district of more than 56,000 students and 8,000 employees.
Name: Justin Chapa
Board member since: September of 2017
〉What are your ties to the Arlington ISD?
My family has deep ties to Arlington ISD. I grew up on Arlington’s eastside and attended Crow and Atherton elementaries, Hutcheson Junior High and Sam Houston High School. My wife attended Starrett and Atherton, Workman Junior High and Sam Houston. My parents, aunt and uncles also are Sam Houston alums. My kids all attend Arlington ISD schools and three of my family members teach in the district.
〉Why did you run for the school board?
As an Arlington native and Arlington ISD graduate, I’ve always wanted to give back to the community. When the opportunity to serve on the Board arose, I thought my background as an attorney, classroom teacher, parent, former educator and first-generation college graduate would allow me to do that while bringing a diverse and unique set of experiences to the table. By day (and often night), I serve my clients as an advocate, primarily in disputes against—ironically—government regulators, mostly in federal courts and in non-public proceedings. So, I am sensitive to the possibilities and limitations of government. While in law school, I worked in an education-related legal clinic advocating for special-needs students involved in disputes with school districts, and I also earned an MA in Education. But before I went to law school, I taught 12th-grade government and economics in the Rio Grande Valley. This gives me an appreciation of how board decisions can affect students and educators. I also have a history of service in education-related non-profit boards and youth-focused volunteer organizations, giving me insight into education from a community member’s perspective. Finally, I have the perspective of a public-school parent, as my three kids attend Arlington schools.
〉The theme for School Board Recognition month this year is Rising Above. How are we as a district rising above, even as we face unprecedented challenges?
There are a lot of potential answers, but I am proud that the district has not let the pandemic be an excuse to delay important and long-term transformative projects. To name just a few: Since the pandemic began, the district completed the 2014 Bond program (on time and under budget), started numerous 2019 Bond construction and renovation projects and committed to a comprehensive review of district operations and performance (including how students and parents experience education in Arlington ISD). The district expanded the number of campuses receiving free breakfast and lunch through the Community Eligibility Provision, which has temporarily been supplanted by extensions of the USDA’s free-meal program since 2020. The district also made good on a commitment to maintaining competitive compensation by calling a Voter-Approval Tax Rate Election (VATRE) to unlock additional state funding and to provide teachers and staff with back-to-back historic raises, including the first employee “bonus” in recent memory. The board also recently adopted a new five-year strategic plan.
〉The board has been working on a new strategic plan for the district. Is there an aspect of the plan or planning process that you are particularly excited about?
The entire plan is excellent and was created with a great deal of staff, parent and student input. To pick one part: I am excited to see what comes long term of the plan’s focus on ensuring equitable access to education. As a former educator, it’s not enough to provide equal resources and opportunities. If, having done that, we continue to see disparities in students’ educational experiences, I believe we have a duty to explore those inequalities and find solutions, even if that means deploying different resources to different campuses based on need.
〉As you have visited schools and attended district events this school year, what has inspired you?
I’ve been inspired by our staff and students. For almost two years, they have persevered through one of the most challenging times in American education. Besides constant changes in policies and the first mass attempt at virtual education in 2020-2021, employees are now dealing with an understaffed environment that requires many of them to essentially take on multiple jobs in addition to the one that they were hired to perform. This has been a challenge throughout the pandemic, but I have heard from many that the last few months have been especially difficult. All of this affects students too, of course, and I am impressed with how most students have rolled with the punches and are trying the best they can. I get the sense that many think that things are “back to normal” in schools, but they certainly are not.