Dr. Rick Cruz is deputy superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (ISD), the nation’s eighth-largest school system with more than 190,000 students. In this role, he assists the superintendent in leading all areas of the district. Cruz also has extensive experience directly overseeing Houston ISD’s major departments, including strategy and innovation; college and career readiness; advanced academics; student support services; federal and state compliance; family and community engagement; major projects; wraparound services; and equity and outreach.

During his tenure, the percentage of schools designated as “A” or “B” based on academic achievement increased from 50 percent to 78 percent on state accountability results; more students than ever before have graduated from high school with college credit and industry based certifications; and college scholarships have more than doubled. In addition to supporting academic performance, Cruz led development of the district’s strategy for how to effectively use more than a billion dollars in federal Covid relief aid. He also helped create a new employee compensation structure that gave teachers the largest salary increase in the district’s history and designed a grow-your-own teacher pipeline program for high-achieving students of color in partnership with a local university.

Cruz founded and led EMERGE, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that helps students from low-income families attend and graduate from the nation’s top colleges. EMERGE now serves more than 3,000 students across five school districts and more than 100 colleges. Students have received an average of $150,000 in college scholarships. Eighty-five percent of those who participated in the program have graduated from college within four years or are on track to do so. Cruz oversaw all elements of program operations and growth, including strategy and vision; curriculum development and programming; volunteer and staff recruitment; marketing; nonprofit incorporation; establishing a board of trustees; and fundraising. Under his direction, EMERGE raised more than $12 million in private funding to expand the program.

A native of Mexico, Cruz began his career in education as a fifth-grade bilingual teacher at a school where 98 percent of the students were economically disadvantaged. He was recognized twice as Teacher of the Year, and his students achieved the highest results on state standardized testing in that school’s history. Cruz holds a doctorate in educational leadership and policy and a master’s in education administration, both from the University of Texas at Austin. He earned a bachelor’s degree, with distinction, from Yale University.