Debra Cantu

Debra  Cantu
UT Austin Principalship Program Assistant Professor of Practice, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

Phone: +1 512 471 6137
Office: SZB 310N
Office Hours: By appointment
View Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Debra Cantú serves as an Assistant Professor of Practice at the University of Texas in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. She serves as the Co-Director of the Texas Principal Leadership Academy at UT. In her current role, she collaborates with district partners to support, develop and retain effective secondary level principals in partner districts. Dr. Cantú assists the process to recruit, assess, select and prepare candidates who have the potential to become effective principals of elementary and secondary schools. She works with the University of Texas Advisory Committee to support the improvement efforts of the program and is developing a UT Principal Program Alumni to support current students, as well as organizing future leadership development events to provide learning opportunities for graduates of the program. Dr. Cantú serves as an advisor for the graduate students during their college experience.

She teaches six courses graduate courses and supervises, advises and mentors the graduate students in their internship and residency experience. She meets with each of the students and their principal and observes students conduct an in-depth campus study to identify areas of inequities and complete extensive research to determine how to best address these needs. Dr. Cantú supports their authentic experience to lead a participatory action research project to implement school improvement efforts in collaboration with their principal and community, which provides students with an optimal blend of theory and practice.

Dr. Cantú is the recipient of the UT Principal Program Servant Leadership Award in 2018 and 2020, given to a faculty member who demonstrates exemplary service and committed leadership to the principal program. She served as Interim Director of the Principal Program for a year and led the curriculum redesign to address the new state and national standards.

Dr. Cantú serves the community as the UCEA plenum session representative for UT Austin and is also an Executive Board member for the UT Hispanic Faculty Staff Association. She served the university as a Co-Chair of the COVID-19 Task Force Professional Education/MA Programs/Continuing Education Committee. Dr. Cantu is a member of the SACs committee for the Department of Educational Leadership Policy and Planning. She serves as a Chair for the Principal Program Admissions Screening Committee, the AISD/UT Collaborative Task Force, the UT Principal Program Assessment Center Planning Committee, Leadership in Action Planning Committee and the Principal Program Certification Compliance Committee. Dr. Cantú has chaired the UTAPP Curriculum Redesign Committee in 2018 and currently serves on GSC, Grant Writing Committee, Master Schedule Committee, National Search and Interview Committee for the Principal Program and Public Schools Executive Leadership.

Supporting school districts and other colleges/universities as a mentor and colleague is a passion of hers, as it supports professional growth. Dr. Cantú has been invited to participate on district interview committees, mentor principals, provide feedback on organizational redesign at the district level, provide guidance on college/university curriculum planning and redesign and mentoring alumni.

Prior to joining the UT College of Education faculty, Dr. Cantú supervised principals and identified critical areas regarding leadership development that is addressed in the UTAPP program. She is a former teacher, assistant principal, principal, Director of Middle Schools, Director of PK-8 and Chief Academic Officer and enjoyed working in the Austin, Manor and Round Rock Independent School Districts, as well as in the Diocese of Dallas. She served as a Regional Director for Agile Mind, Inc. in collaboration with the Dana Center and supported multiple school districts in Texas and Arizona and supported leadership development in other states in collaboration with the team. She valued this experience to engage in national practices regarding school governance, hiring practices, school finance, leadership development, aspiring principal programs, curriculum and instruction and assessment (Common Core and Texas accountability) and outside resource agency partnerships.

Dr. Cantú attended the University of Texas at Austin with the opportunity to earn her Bachelors, Masters in Educational Administration and Ph. D. in Policy and Planning. Her interests include leadership implications, social justice, American race policy, English Language Learners, leadership development and instructional improvement systems that contribute to eradicating inequities. She is a repeated guest speaker at the University of Texas, Texas State University and Huston-Tillotson University and collaborate with other Principalship preparation programs. Dr. Cantú presented at district, state and national conferences and serves as a consultant for school districts to support leadership development.