3 vie for open LHISD Trustee seat

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

With the retirement of long-time Liberty Hill ISD Board member Clay Cole, the door is open for a new face in Place 2.

Cole, first appointed in 2007, served for 13 years before deciding to step away.

Three candidates – Antonio Canas, Kendall Carter and Dana Munguia (no photo available) – are looking for the opportunity to fill that seat.

Canas
A recently retired 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Antonio Canas decided to make Liberty Hill his home, and he believes in being involved where he calls home.

“I’m doing this mainly because my kids are in school here, and being retired from the military I will have time to support my community,” Canas said. “I like serving people.”

After enlisting at age 18, Canas has been on a military journey of more than two decades, earning two bachelors degrees and one master’s in the process. He began as a tanker, but finished his career as a human resource officer.

“I definitely had a diverse experience in the military,” he said. “The broad view I have of the world will be good on the Board. I have additional skills the community needs. This community is growing really fast and with my diverse background in small areas and big cities I can see the impact the growth has on kids.”

He was stationed at Fort Hood on multiple occasions, and decided to make Central Texas his home, with his children first going to school in Round Rock before settling in the Liberty Hill area. He is now working for the State of Texas, but said his focus has always been on volunteering.

“When I was in Round Rock with my kids I was very involved in the schools,” he said. “I volunteered for a program called PAW Patrols, and I recently started volunteering here in Liberty Hill schools. I also volunteer on Fort Hood and at my church.”

What Canas sees in Liberty Hill ISD impresses him, but he believes with fast growth comes a heightened need for solid decision making.

“It is expanding pretty fast, with new schools opening and I just see in a way it is a very tight community,” he said. “The challenge in the district will be learning how to put strategic priorities in place. Sometimes when you grow so fast you might think something is a priority, but it might not be. That will be a challenge. That is any place if you don’t keep priorities in place and in order.”

The key to making those right decisions and choosing the right path is simple for him.

“Being engaged with the actual people who will be effected instead of being engaged with the top people,” Canas said. “Getting feedback from the community before we start doing things we think is the right thing. We can’t make commitments that might not benefit the community.”

Like every parent in the school district, Canas has watched and experienced firsthand the district’s response to COVID-19, and he applauded everyone involved from the top down, saying the only thing he might put even more focus on would be communication.

“The key to it is communication,” he said of the district’s response. “The more engagement and the more preparation parents had, this is something that nobody planned for or expected, was the key. I give my total appreciation to the teachers and school district. I know this is a hard time and I appreciate all they’re doing for our kids.”

Carter
Originally from North Texas, Kendall Carter and his family came to Central Texas after a brief time in Florida. He has been in Liberty Hill for just over nine years, with two children in Liberty Hill schools.

Carter works in the building and construction industry and his wife is a teacher at Burden Elementary.

“I hope my career experience can help bring something to the board,” he said. “I’ve been a national account manager calling on builders for over 10 years, local, medium-sized and national builders. I manage sales and manage people as well as contracts.”

Whether it has been volunteering for campus programs or his participation with the Panther Pit Crew, Carter hopes that involvement has better prepared him to serve.

“I’ve been involved in the schools quite a bit, being a volunteer for Watch Dogs the last three years and have been around the school seeing what all is going on,” Carter said. “That’s the main reason I’m running is the future betterment of the policies and procedures the board has in place right now.”

The role of the Board is a unique one among elected officials, Carter said, adding that he has a point of view not many on the Board have today.

“The board helps enforce and review policies in place, and I feel like I would be good at that, helping manage that side of things,” he said. “I feel like I bring a unique and different aspect when you look at the people on the board now because my kids are younger, so I feel like I would bring a slightly different perspective.”

Questioning everything is the key to making sure

“When I think of the district I look at campuses and think, is one campus better than another? Is anything unfairly zoned? Are teachers overworked?” he said. “I don’t know the answers to all those, but those are the kinds of things I think about. Are there chances to look at something not in place today that could be in place to help improve or is there something in place that might have a different review process that could be better for the whole district?

“There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “Over the last couple of years there’s been a lot of change, and a lot of positive change. You take (Board member) Megan Parsons for example. Last year one of the things she was focused on was communication and you saw how the Board helped with the communication process. There are always ways to improve things.”

Like for many involved in LHISD, Carter points to growth as the biggest challenge.

“Liberty Hill has had huge growth over the last 10 years and people move here and they say it’s because of the school district,” Carter said. “That’s what stands out the most is people outside know this is a great school district.”

He volunteered on both the last bond election committee and the district’s recent strategic planning committee.

“That was very enlightening,” Carter said of the bond committee work. “As far as cost goes, the procedures of how it’s run, how many different people have to be involved just to get it submitted and then get it to an election was very eye opening.”

He also had a lot of praise for the school district in its response to COVID-19.

“Do I think it’s perfect? No,” Carter said. “Do I think it’s really good? Yes. Are teachers nervous? Sure. I still think people are nervous out there, but I think we’re headed in the right direction and I think (the district) has done a great job in being prepared to handle the situation.

“I’ve heard and seen firsthand that they are putting in more hours and energy than they ever have before,” he said. “Mr. (Steve) Snell has done a fabulous job and that’s one of the reasons I’m interested in becoming a school board member. I’ve seen his leadership and I’ve seen the changes he has made.”

Munguia
Dana Munguia has been in Liberty Hill a little over a year, saying – like many others who make their way to the area – she wanted to get out of Austin.

Her career has included time as an Austin Police Officer, an investigator with the State of Texas, and is now working as a risk manager.

Her two daughters are both grown and out of school, but that hasn’t stopped her from looking for a way to give to the community.

“I wanted to be involved in the community,” she said. “I think that’s so important and I wanted to specifically be involved in the education process, again because it’s so important, and I thought this was the best opportunity to be able to do both.”

The combination of her past work with schools and her career are experiences Munguia believes make her a good candidate.

“When my kids were in school I was PTO president and very involved, and I just think that my professional background has enabled me to look at things objectively and see the best course and weigh options,” she said. “I think on the school board, to be able to sit back and look at all the options would make me a true asset to the community.”

When she talks about the biggest issues facing Liberty Hill ISD, COVID comes up first, only because it is the most looming challenge for everyone everywhere.

“That’s difficult, because I think for all districts, it’s dealing with the current situation with COVID and how to navigate that,” she said. “I think (the district) is doing a great job navigating an unknown environment in terms of the virtual piece and the in-class piece. I know this is new for everyone and I think everyone is doing the best they can, but I think Liberty Hill is excelling in that.”

Citing her background, she also pegged school safety as a critical issue.

“It’s a number one priority in this day and age,” Munguia said. “I think (the district) has done a really good job, especially now that they’ve added a K-9 unit to the mix. I think they’re trying to be proactive, which is super important when it comes to safety issues.”

She has no doubt coping with growth is a challenge, but Munguia hopes that looking at other communities who are or have dealt with similar issues will help make it smoother for Liberty Hill.

“Growth is always difficult but I think looking at how others have dealt with it in similar situations is always the best way to navigate that issue,” she said. “In putting together a bond package it is really important to get input from the community in terms of what they feel is a priority and then pushing it through based on that priority. I’d like to get in and see what is happening and see what they’ve dealt with in the past and look at what the current underlying issues are that maybe I am not aware of.”

Understanding that school board members have a limited role, Munguia said she is excited about the opportunity to learn more about the inner-workings of a school district.

“I see it as an advisory role and know there are a lot of things they can’t do, but I think the role is to help guide the educational process in an overarching role,” she said. “I’m ready to learn and look at issues hopefully from a different perspective than maybe in the past and I see that as an asset.”

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