The lone finalist for superintendent of the Texas City Independent School District met Friday with residents at a chamber of commerce event where opinions about his hiring mirrored ongoing conversations in the community.
About two dozen people showed up to greet Rodney Cavness, the current superintendent of Port Neches-Groves school district, who is likely to have a contract with the Texas City district approved Tuesday.
Cavness had support from most in the chamber crowd, but some attendees voiced concerns about how the superintendent would fare in a majority-minority school district after coming from a school district with nearly 80 percent white students.
In his meetings with different groups in the district over the past few weeks, he said he’d heard that concern and his main priority would be promoting unity.
The concerns among community members stem in part from comments Cavness has made bashing former President Barack Obama over a bathroom directive aimed at supporting transgender students and his comments about “liberal extremists” over a request to remove a Native American statue at his former district, said Terry Pettijohn, a former La Marque school board member.
On Friday, Cavness repeated that he regretted the comments and sought to move on.
“Out of hundreds of interviews I’ve done it’s one where I was talking off-the-cuff and I’ve explained myself,” he said. “It’s time we put it behind us and move on.”
There were lingering concerns from some about the superintendent’s experience with working with students coming from different backgrounds, including those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, which is the majority of Texas City school district students, unlike in Port Neches-Groves, Pettijohn said.
“We’re afraid what works there might not work here,” Pettijohn said. “It takes a different set of skills.”
Other attendees said they were impressed with Cavness’ background. Don Gartman, a newly elected member of the College of the Mainland board, also liked his experience as a coach, he said.
“He is the right person at the right time for the right job,” Gartman said. “A coach can relate to the boys. Being a coach and a superintendent makes him more of a well-rounded candidate in my book.”
Cavness seemed personable, friendly and principled, said Jose Boix of the Texas City Independent School District Foundation for the Future. Boix had not been privy to the candidate pool as a foundation member, but said he knew the board had interviewed many diverse candidates and trusted their selection.
“We elected seven people to the board that I think are well-qualified and want the best for the district,” Boix said.
Cavness was attracted to the area in part because he grew up visiting Texas City from his home in Deer Park. He also was impressed with the facilities, the academics and saw the neighboring refineries as an opportunity for partnerships, similar to those he’d formed in the Port Neches-Groves school district, he said.
In the past weeks, he and his wife had had a warm welcoming and were looking for a home, he said.
“And I’ve had some tough meetings with some good people,” Cavness said. “I think people will find out I’m a very compassionate and caring man.”
The school board will vote Tuesday on Cavness’ contract.