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INSIGHT

TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS PROFESSIONAL JOURNAL

FALL 2021

Plus - Meet TASA’s Inspiring Leaders pg.12


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FALL 2021

INSIGHT

Volume 36 No. 3

FEATURE ARTICLES & COLUMNS

Meet TASA’s Inspiring Leaders 12 Get to know TASA’s executive superintendents

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Introducing the 2022 Texas Teachers of the Year!

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LEADERSHIP PERSPECTIVE The winds have changed By Quintin Shepherd

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HIGHER EDUCATION University-school partnerships support Texas K-12 student mental health By Erin M.West,Wesley D. Hickey and Leigh Anne Barber

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TSPRA VOICE Feelings, then facts By Megan Overman, APR, CPC

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TECH TAKE Superintendent/school board teams governing in COVID-19 times By Leslie Garakani

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OFFICERS

Doug Williams, President, Sunnyvale ISD Gonzalo Salazar, President-Elect, Los Fresnos CISD LaTonya Goffney, Vice President, Aldine ISD Brian T. Woods, Past President, Northside ISD

DEPARTMENTS

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

Rene Gutierrez, Region 1, Brownsville ISD TASA Professional Learning Calendar

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Sharon McKinney, Region 2, Port Aransas ISD

President’s Message

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Jo Ann Bludau, Region 3, Hallettsville ISD

Executive Director’s View

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Martha Salazar-Zamora, Region 4, Tomball ISD Donny Lee, Region 5, Buna ISD Chris Moran, Region 7, Whitehouse ISD Judd Marshall, Region 8, Mount Pleasant ISD Michael Kuhrt, Region 9, Wichita Falls ISD Kevin Worthy, Region 10, Royse City ISD Jeremy Thompson, Region 11, Ponder ISD George Kazanas, Region 12, Midway ISD Steven Snell, Region 13, Liberty Hill ISD

INSIGHT EDITORIAL STAFF

David Young, Region 14, Abilene ISD Joe Young, Region 15, Brownwood ISD Kevin Brown

Donna Hale, Region 16, Miami ISD

Deputy Executive Director, Member Engagement & Support

Charles Dupre

Michelle McCord, Region 17, Frenship ISD

Associate Executive Director, Internal Operations

Ann M. Halstead

Director, Communications and Media Relations

Executive Director

Amy Francisco

Design/Production Marco A. De La Cueva

Editorial Director

Dacia Rivers

INSIGHT is published quarterly by the Texas Association of School Administrators, 406 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas, 78701-2617. Subscription is included in TASA membership dues. © 2021 by TASA. All rights reserved.TASA members may reprint articles in limited quantities for in-house educational use. Articles in INSIGHT are expressions of the author or interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of TASA. Advertisements do not necessarily carry the endorsement of the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Ariel Elliott, Region 18, Greenwood ISD Veronica Vijil, Region 19, Fabens ISD Michelle Carroll Smith, Region 20, Lytle ISD

AT-LARGE MEMBERS

Hafedh Azaiez, Round Rock ISD Gary Bates, Fort Sam Houston ISD Robert Bayard, Clear Creek ISD Tory Hill, Sweeny ISD

COMMITTEE CHAIRS

Keith Bryant, Legislative Jodi Duron, Member Engagement Tanya Larkin, Professional Learning Roosevelt Nivens, Advocacy

EDITORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE

LaTonya Goffney, Aldine ISD, Chair Roosevelt Nivens, Lamar CISD Stacey Edmonson, Sam Houston State University Jodi Duron, Elgin ISD Tanya Larkin, Region 16 ESC Keith Bryant, Lubbock-Cooper ISD

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TASA Professional Learning Calendar For details on our professional development events, please refer to the TASA Daily e-newsletter, or call the TASA office at 512.477.6361 or 800.725.TASA (8272)

Date

Event

Location

November 10-12

CMSi Curriculum Writing Workshop

Austin

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TASA/TASB/TASBO Budget Cohort for Texas District Leaders November Event

Virtual

30-Dec 1

N2 Learning Principals’ Institute, Session 3

Houston

30-Dec 1

N2 Learning Executive Leadership Institute, Session 2

Houston

December 1

N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 3 (Austin/San Antonio Cohort)

San Antonio

1-2

Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network Event 2

DFW Area

2

N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 3 (Dallas Cohort)

McKinney

8

N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 3 (Houston and Virtual Cohorts)

Cypress/Virtual

8

TASA/TASB/TASBO Budget Cohort for Texas District Leaders December Event

Virtual

9

N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 3 (Corpus Christi Cohort)

Corpus Christi

11

TASA Breakaway Leadership Opening Session Part A

Virtual

13

TASA Breakaway Leadership Opening Session Part B

Virtual

30

TASA Budget Bootcamp

Austin

30-Feb 2

TASA Aspiring Superintendents Academy

30-Feb 2

TASA Midwinter Conference

Austin

30

TASA/TASB/TASBO Budget Cohort for Texas District Leaders January Event

Austin

2

N2 Learning Principals’ Institute, Session 4

Austin

2

N2 Learning Executive Leadership Institute, Austin Session 3

8

N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 4 (Dallas Cohort)

McKinney

8

N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 4 (Austin/San Antonio Cohort)

San Antonio

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N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Cypress Session 4 (Houston Cohort)

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TASA/TASB/TASBO Budget Cohort for Texas District Leaders February Event

Virtual

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N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 4 (Corpus Christi Cohort)

Corpus Christi

January

Austin

February

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New Data: AP Computer Science Principles Is Helping to Diversify the Computer Science Pipeline Students who take AP Computer Science Principles are ~3x more likely to major in computer science in college.

NON-CSP TAKERS

AP CSP TAKERS

NON-CSP TAKERS

AP CSP TAKERS

Differences are as significant for female, Black (shown above), Hispanic, and first-generation students.

For more information on how to bring AP CSP to your school, go to collegeboard.org/apcsp. 6

INSIGHT


DESIGNING ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOUR COMMUNITY

D

uring the first week of October, 40 districts from across the state joined us in Sunnyvale for a meeting of the Texas Public Accountability Consortium (TPAC). These districts met in person for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic for two days of productive dialogue and design.

Doug Williams

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE The 1,100 school

This group of school districts has been working together since 2017 to craft an accountability system aimed to carry out the vision of the authors of Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas. This publication, known as the Visioning Document, states: “Districts should be allowed to design their own internal systems of assessment for learning and accountability, as long as they meet certain specified state standards.” The phrase community-based accountability systems (CBAS) was coined as schools seek to design measures that reflect the values and characteristics of their district and community.

districts in the state are each unique in nature and should not be measured with the same instrument.

Our journey toward development of a CBAS started in 2012 at a summer board workshop as we discussed our path forward for Sunnyvale ISD. We were excelling at the state-designed accountability system, but we felt like there was so much more we could do to prepare our students for college and the work world ahead of them. I contended that a move away from solely measuring our success on the state standards and developing our own system of district accomplishments would allow us to change focus and conversations toward student achievement and preparedness. The call to action that day was to develop our own accountability system along with an annual report to the Raider Community. To start the process, I reached out to other schools that were pacesetters in CBAS efforts. Highland Park, led by Dr. Dawson Orr, had designed a framework to aid districts in development, along with a series of questions toward obtaining an understanding of community beliefs and values. Clear Creek ISD and Dr. Greg Smith had crafted an annual report to their community that became a guide for the SISD Community Report, now an annual feature distributed to our entire town. Our next step toward developing a CBAS included parent/stakeholder meetings that we called Community Summits. To create engagement and obtain feedback, we asked two questions at each of the summits: (1) What future do you want for your students, and (2) What skills do they need to be prepared for that future? After those summits, the board members and our administrative team recommended members of the faculty and staff, along with community members, to serve on the SISD Rating System team. The team met over the next 18 months, armed with the responses from the summits, and developed indicators to be used to evaluate the effectiveness of SISD in preparing our kids for post-graduation success. The indicators included everything from ACT/SAT performance, fine art offerings, CTE programs and STEM education. Most importantly, it reflected the voice of our Sunnyvale community about what was, and still is, important to them.

President’s Message continues on page 10

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SHOWING UP FOR YOUR COMMUNITY

F

or the past 18 months, I have had a bit of survivor’s guilt. After 28 years of serving in public schools, the last 10 as a superintendent, I left school district work to serve at TASA in 2018. In the best of times, being a superintendent is barely sustainable, though the intrinsic rewards are remarkable. Since March 2020, “sustainable” is not a word I would use to describe your job. I have felt enormous empathy and appreciation for those in public schools who have endured COVID-19, multiple hurricanes, Snowmageddon, and the divisions that have percolated down from national and state politics into local communities.

Kevin Brown

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S VIEW Our students need you, our communities need you, our country needs you.

Texas educators and administrators have been nothing short of heroic during this challenging time, going far beyond the normal expectations of their jobs as they put their own lives on the line to help our children and communities get through a historically challenging time. In my opinion, you should get 10 years of TRS credit for the past year and half served, and have the initials ILdC (“I led during COVID”) added after your name in perpetuity (kinda like a PhD). I’m only half-joking. Many of our state and national leaders have a lot to learn from school leaders and educators. Each day, you show up to work and you serve everyone. Regardless of ability, race, political affiliation, religion, gender, etc., you welcome all and serve all. Instead of finding issues that divide a community, you try to unite them around doing the very best for children. You practice good governance, great leadership, wise stewardship and accountability to your entire community. You build positive, personal relationships. You build community. Rather than blame others, or pit half of your students and staff against the other half, you dig in to solve real problems that make a difference in your community. That doesn’t mean everyone loves every decision you make (an impossibility the past 18 months), but it does mean that you lead with a servant heart through a selfless mission. You know it ain’t about you. No doubt, it hasn’t been a perfect year; and, no doubt, you have questioned your own leadership, asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” So, let me say emphatically that our students need you, our communities need you, our country needs you. And for whatever it is worth, millions of us admire and give thanks for you. I will pray that our nation is deserving of you, and more leaders like you.

Kevin Brown TASA Executive Director

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President’s Message continued from page 7

That, in essence, is what is so important about the need for CBAS development and expansion. The 1,100 school districts in the state are each unique in nature and should not be measured with the same instrument. We must continually evaluate and refine the programs that our communities deem to be important for our students. SISD has used our rating system to not only communicate levels of success for our programs, but also as a metric for individual program analysis. A few years ago, our annual rating system determined that we needed improvement in the area of STEM education. A renewed emphasis, including the addition of STEM labs at the elementary level and STEM teachers at the middle and high school levels, has paved the way for great improvement. STEM is now one of our strongest areas, annually producing students who are entering college engineering programs. Community-based accountability is an important aspect of local control for which we must continue to advocate. We must be provided with an expanded opportunity to work with our board of trustees and our community members to incorporate the values, beliefs and needs of our districts. And then, in turn, be held to a high level of accountability by our constituents in order for our students to receive the best possible education and to increase the level of preparedness of each graduate. I encourage you to join in this vital mission. What future do you want for your students? What skills do they need to be prepared for that future? To what degree is your district fostering student development of these skills?

For more information on community-based accountability and the Texas Public Accountability Consortium (TPAC), visit futurereadytx.org.

Doug Williams TASA President Superintendent, Sunnyvale ISD

87th Legislative Session

Final Bill Reports 2021

Download the final reports at https://bit.ly/tasa-final-bill-reports

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Lanier High School | Completion Fall 2021

East Central Performing Arts Center | 2019

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Meet TASA’s Inspiring Leaders Now more than ever, Texas public school staff members are looking to leaders to inspire them in their day-to-day work as we all cope with an ever-changing educational landscape. TASA’s “Inspiring Leaders” tagline is not just a reminder of TASA’s commitment to leadership development — it describes our members themselves. In this and future issues of INSIGHT, you’ll meet some of those Inspiring Leaders, and it’s our hope that they will guide you and invigorate you in the work that you do. To nominate a leader for inclusion, email drivers@ texasschoolbusiness.com.

Diane Frost Dr. Diane Frost has served as superintendent of Corsicana ISD for the last 11 years, with a vision of addressing the needs of all students while supporting them so that they can someday accomplish their dreams. During her time leading the district, Frost brought The Penguin Project to Corsicana. The Penguin Project is a national program that involves students with special needs in theater programs. Through the program, students of all abilities performed “Annie, Jr.” for an audience of 1,400 in the spring. “The support of Dr. Diane Frost regarding this initiative has empowered students of all abilities to make new friends, build confidence and defy stereotypes often tied to special needs students,” says Corsicana ISD’s executive director of communications, marketing and PR, Susan Johnson. “This unifying initiative has made a significantly positive impact in our school district as well as our community.” Frost says that what makes her most proud of Corsicana are the staff members and their dedication to the students in the district. “Despite having their own obstacles and personal struggles throughout the pandemic, they continued to support our students and respond to their needs academically, socially and emotionally,” Frost says. “They are the unsung heroes for prioritizing the well-being of our students during such challenging times both personally and professionally, and their resilience has served as a model for our students.” Leading a school district is never an easy job, especially over the last couple of years. Frost says what keeps her going when things get challenging is to remember that her actions serve as a model for others. “Our collective response to adversity helps us as a team to encourage one another and achieve success, even when it at first may seem unreachable,” she says. “In Corsicana ISD, our staff chooses to respond with positivity every day in ways that support our students.” For Frost, mentorship and collaboration between administrators is key to becoming an inspiring leader. She believes that the best leaders work to develop new leaders through growth, giving and sharing. “I am in the position I am today because of great leaders and mentors who cared enough to help me see my future. My greatest honor is to do the same for someone else.”

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Brian Greeney In 2017, after spending 23 years in Klein ISD working as a teacher, coach and an assistant principal, Dr. Brian Greeney made the move to Willis ISD, where he has since served as assistant superintendent of innovation, teaching and learning. In his time in Willis, Greeney has worked to implement the PLC (professional learning community) process in the schools, in an effort to grow student and teacher efficacy. The process has paid off, and two Willis ISD campuses have since been named Model PLC campuses by Solution Tree. Greeney’s colleagues in Willis see him as a passionate and innovative leader who inspires his colleagues through close working relationships and collaborative team coaching. “Dr. Greeney’s visionary C&I leadership has transformed our mission, vision, values and goals through constant reflection and improvement for student success,” says Sara Goolsby, Willis ISD’s executive director of secondary education. Greeney is quick to credit teachers and administrators with leading Willis to success by living out the district’s motto: “One Team, One Purpose.” Despite recent challenges related to COVID-19 and all the headaches the pandemic has brought along with it, Greeney says that staff in Willis has been able to persevere by keeping their sights on the needs of students in the district. “Our staff comes to work every day and stays focused on our students. I have seen other districts that have had struggles with staff around these issues, but in Willis we are focused on the kids, and every day we have with them is a blessing.” Collaboration is key to the work Greeney does in Willis, and he believes that the biggest impact on teacher growth comes from other teachers. “We have been intentional about creating a model where we are focused on coaching collaboration rather than individual teachers. This work is not easy, but we have seen the impact especially on student learning with our most high-functioning collaborative teams.” Greeney credits several of his own mentors with helping him get to where he is now. He says that being a leader will always be tough, but having a group of collaborative colleagues and mentors can be a tremendous help. “I owe so much to Bill Goudeket, Kelly Schumacher, Ron Webster, Dr. Jim Cain and Dr. Tim Harkrider for the time and wisdom they have always provided me. They taught me about empathy, listening to others, and about being decisive and not letting negativity impact your vision of your organization. Therefore, I feel the best thing I can do is try and do the same for others. Because without great leadership it is impossible to have great organizations.”

Sheleah Reed School district communications teams serve as a district’s voice, whether sending information to the local community, or responding to the press. It’s a job that requires a strong leader, and in Aldine ISD, that leader is Sheleah Reed, APR. Through her work, Reed aims to elevate the district’s image while growing her own team of communicators. “I have watched her coach and encourage our district executive leadership team and administrators to be the best they can be for the organization and for themselves,” says Valonia Walker, communications specialist in the district. “She takes time to listen to the issues, and she helps the staff and leadership team come up with strong solutions and strategies. She’s a breath of fresh air.” With Reed’s leadership, Walker was able to complete her APR, an “accredited in public relations” certification designed to identify a high level of experience in PR professionals. Walker says that in Reed, she has found just the inspiring leader she needed to help her succeed. For Reed, she believes that fostering these kinds of working relationships is essential. “The success of one person feeds the success of the next,” Reed says. “To make sure I am doing my part, I try to leave people a little better than I found them, by encouraging and supporting them to be their best selves, tell their story and lead without a title or assignment.” Reed says what makes her most proud of Aldine ISD is how the district has worked to place itself as a thought leader in numerous areas, including literacy, COVID-19 and equality. Staff has doubled down on literacy in the district, hoping to improve student’s academic success and open them up to new possibilities. Throughout the pandemic, the district has served as a hub for the local community. After George Floyd’s death, staff in Aldine came together to reflect on the experience of Black students in the district and ensure that all students have the same access to a high-quality education. “Communications, especially media relations and crisis management, is a world that is based on the actions of others,” Reed says. “It can be overwhelming, time consuming and draining. You are often standing in front of a camera sharing important and sometimes life changing information.” Throughout her work, Reed has stuck to several personal philosophies. One of her favorites is: “You were prepared for such a time as this.” “I remember texting a friend that I wasn’t feeling ready for a press conference. She responded with that statement and reminded me that everything I had experienced up to this point prepared me for this moment. There are many days I take a breath and say the words to myself.”


Get to know TASA’s

executive superintendents TASA recently unveiled its new executive superintendent program in an effort to support TASA members through networking and mentorship opportunities. The program combines the previous superintendent-in-residence and member services representative programs. Through the program, TASA members have access to 10 executive superintendents, each dedicated to serving administrators in two ESC regions. These executive superintendents serve as an extension of TASA staff and are on hand to support TASA members in a variety of ways, with an emphasis on helping new superintendents navigate the role. As seasoned administrators, these superintendents are able to listen and provide support based on their own experiences. In this and upcoming issues of INSIGHT, we will introduce you to the 10 executive superintendents. For a complete list of TASA’s executive superintendents and their contact information, visit https://bit.ly/new-exec-supt-program.

D

r. Art Cavazos recently retired as superintendent of Harlingen CISD, with more than 30 years of education experience and numerous accolades under his belt. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Cavazos began his career as a math teacher before becoming a counselor, principal and finally, administrator. While Cavazos has retired from the superintendency, he remains an active supporter of Texas public education. Besides serving TASA as an executive superintendent, he is also a superintendent-in-residence for the Holdsworth Center and a member of the UIL Executive Committee. For Cavazos, his work in these roles is crucial to supporting school systems through a three-pronged approach, focusing on culture, human capital and strategy. By serving in a supportive capacity for school leaders and superintendents, it’s his goal to build them up so that they can hone their leadership abilities. “If you support the leaders to be the best versions of themselves, then, if their purpose is aligned to the core of their values, they’re going to do great things,” Cavazos says. “But, they can’t do it alone.” The first component, Cavazos says, is identifying leadership talent early — that’s the human capital piece. Once you have your culture in check, the strategy comes into focus, resulting in a roadmap that takes an organization from good to great. “That’s where the magic really takes place,” Cavazos says. During Cavazos’ time as a superintendent, there was a strong focus on the four Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. He says that for today’s superintendents, those skills, while crucial, just scratch the surface. “Oftentimes people will think, ‘Well, I’m a great communicator,’ but it’s not really about how you deliver the message, but how that message is received,” Cavazos says.

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It’s unlikely there’s a school administrator out there who’d tell you that his or her job has gotten easier over the last two years. In Cavazos’ eyes, the role of the superintendent has always been complex, but has become even more so of late. The COVID-19 pandemic may have served as a catalyst, disrupting school systems across the globe, but Cavazos believes it was a convergence of science, philosophy and politics that led to a divisive populace, where everyone believes they have to take sides. “I know boards that have been solid as a team, and this has thrown a wrench into them,” Cavazos says. “I remind them that when you govern as a one-issue board, then you’ve lost sight of your purpose.”

School Safety & Security Services

As an executive superintendent for ESC regions 1 and 20, it’s Cavazos’ aim to serve as a conduit between superintendents and TASA leadership. His goal is to help them through challenging times by not only supporting them, but connecting them to an organization created to offer help. “One of our main tasks is to connect them to an incredible organization that’s filled with opportunities for learning to lead or be a better version of yourself, with professional development opportunities, but also to have at your fingertips, a landscape of the pulse of education.” While Cavazos is certain that public education is resilient, he warns that administrators can’t use old tools to fix new problems. He advises leaders to remain lifetime learners and to open themselves up to being vulnerable. In his work with TASA, Cavazos hopes to help superintendents lead with competence and boldness, and to support them so that they may seize the moment to do incredible things for Texas’ schoolchildren. “We should all come together, all educators, to ensure that one of the main underpinnings of this country, the security of democracy, doesn’t crumble underneath us,” he says. “That’s our calling, and that should be our crusade. But we can’t get there unless we have incredible, strong leaders throughout the organization.”

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2022

! S T S I INAL

&F

This fall, TASA announced the Texas Teacher of the Year! We’d like to introduce you to 2022 Texas Teacher of the Year Ramon Benavides, Elementary Teacher of the Year Jennifer Han, and the four other finalists — all outstanding educators who were nominated for the top honor.

Ramon Benavides, Texas Teacher of the Year Ysleta ISD’s Ramon Benavides was named Texas 2022 Teacher of the Year and will represent the state in the Council of Chief State School Officers’ National Teacher of the Year Program. A science teacher at Del Valle High School, Benavides is the son of migrant farmworkers who dropped out of school when they were young, only to return and become educators themselves. A 12-year educator, Benavides hopes to serve as a role model for young people facing socioeconomic and educational struggles similar to those he experienced as a child. He’s a passionate advocate of STEM education, serving as an adjunct biology instructor with El Paso Community College and working with The Society for Science and the Public. Benavides works to spread the message about the importance of promoting equal access to STEM education so that underrepresented students can learn the skills they need to prepare them for the in-demand careers of the future. “My story is one of the many that are out there in our teaching profession,” Benavides wrote in his program application. “Each of us brings our lived experiences to the classroom, which permits us to connect with our students. However, our plights and stories of resiliency must go beyond the classroom and into leadership roles. It is common to think of administration and high-level other positions when the terms educational leaders are mentioned. However, this does not have to be the case. Today’s teachers are all leaders in their own right.” 16

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Jennifer Han, Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year A fourth grade bilingual and gifted and talented teacher at Juan Seguin Elementary School in McAllen ISD, Jennifer Han has been chosen as Texas 2022 Elementary Teacher of the Year. Han, herself a McAllen ISD graduate, has been a teacher in the district for the last 13 years and also serves as a robotics team coach. Through McAllen’s Community Youth Development Program, Han has worked to increase community empowerment and involvement, shining a light on local parents and students who received outstanding recognition from the U.S. Department of Family Protective Services. Serving as grade-level chair for Seguin Elementary’s Minitropolis Program, Han oversaw the creation of an on-campus storefront, post office, bank and photography shop. Through the program, she aims to bring real-life business knowledge into the classroom, to help students learn leadership, career and financial skills. “Educators are like talent scouts,” Han wrote. “Each one of our students is unique. Our job as educators is to identify their talents, believe in their potential, provide guidance and support them through their journeys to reach their goals.”

Bonnie Anderson A music specialist at Miller’s Point Elementary in Judson ISD, Bonnie Anderson was selected as a finalist for Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year. An educator since 1992, Anderson began her career as a middle school band and choir teacher before moving to elementary music education. Anderson founded a nonprofit organization that provides instruction and performance opportunities to community Zimbabwean marimba groups. Through her efforts, which include extensive fundraising and advocacy, she introduced Zimbabwean Marimba programs to San Antonio, and seven elementary schools in Judson ISD are now home to Zimbabwean marimbas. “My students are no longer just student musicians but invested community members, as they have learned how rewarding it is to give back to their community,” Anderson wrote of her students. “They have realized with effort anything is possible. Most importantly they know that their current circumstances do not have to define them, and that the world is their venue for life. Music made their hearts open and their boundaries limitless.”

Sanford Jeames A finalist for Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year, Sanford Jeames serves as coordinator of health science programs at Eastside Memorial Early College High School in Austin ISD. He is also an adjunct professor at Huston-Tillotson University and provides instruction to students in grades 9-12, teaching Principles of Health Sciences, Health Sciences Theory, Medical Terminology and Health Practicum courses. Additionally, Jeames is campus advisor for Student Council, Austin Youth Council, and Student Equity Council, and has served as a campus facilitator for SEL practices. He has guided students in the district to earn a number of professional certifications, including certifications for nursing assistant, medical assistant, medical administrative assistant,

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pharmacy technician, emergency medical technician and phlebotomist. “I am resolute that we all learn by doing, we all do things differently, and while I believe that to be true, in the healthcare field we have skills we must learn, protocols that we must follow and we must exude confidence in providing a healthcare service,” Jeames wrote. “I believe we must take risks to learn. I believe we must engage with difference or the same will only lead to greater isolation and division.”

Miguel Mendez Northside ISD’s Miguel Mendez was chosen as a finalist for Secondary Teacher of the Year. Mendez teaches high school students at the Holmgreen Center, an alternative school for students who qualify for special educational services. In a 2011 career change, Mendez took his first teaching position as an instructional assistant in a special education classroom, and there he found his calling. Since then he has worked with Northside ISD’s highest-need alternative learning environment (ALE) students to help them meet their personal and educational goals, graduate from high school and thrive as independent adults. “Over the years, I have learned that learning is not something that only happens in a classroom,” he wrote. “It happens at home, in parks, at SeaWorld, and at places of employment. Most importantly, my students have taught me that learning never stops — and I am proof of that.”

Ashley Phelps An elementary school physical education teacher in Tyler ISD, Ashley Phelps was named as a finalist for Elementary Teacher of the Year. Phelps always knew she wanted to be a teacher or a coach. She originally aimed to work at the high school level, but when she split her student teaching between a high school and an elementary campus, she found her calling among the younger students. Phelps’ goal is to instill a love of physical activity in her students. She keeps them engaged through unique opportunities, such as a run through the neighborhood or a game on an indoor glow-in-the-dark golf course. “Teaching the whole child involves a lot of intentional time and effort,” Phelps stated on her application. “This means that when I see a child struggling to join in on the activity, I will take the time to go over and ask them if there is something on their mind that is prohibiting them from focusing on the movements that the class is involved in. By building these relationships with my students, they know that I care about them mentally, physically and emotionally.”

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LEADERSHIP PERSPECTIVE The winds have changed By Quintin Shepherd

Reframing the COVID-19 experience as a headwind/ tailwind framework can be a valuable leadership learning tool for district leaders moving forward.

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f you happen to be even a novice runner or cyclist, you are aware of the concept of headwinds, tailwinds and crosswinds. I have been a lifelong ultra-endurance athlete, so crosswinds are something I actively plan for and around when it comes to training. This is especially true on the Gulf shores of Texas where weather tends to be highly unpredictable. Even if you are not an athlete, you likely know headwinds are those winds that are blowing at you in the direction you are moving. If winds are blowing from west to east and you are driving from east to west, this is a headwind. As headwinds get stronger, more energy is required to move forward, resulting in more fuel consumption. Tailwinds are the exact opposite. If winds are blowing from west to east and you are also driving from west to east, you’ve got a tailwind. The wind pushes you along. Crosswinds occur when the winds are blowing west to east and you’re driving north to south. As an athlete I move faster, use less effort, and conserve more energy when I am moving with a tailwind. It’s the opposite when moving into a headwind. Keep this in mind, because it’s going to matter later in this article. Think back to the 2020-21 school year and consider it as a grueling ultra-marathon for a moment. Much of the year was a series of difficult decisions, difficult conversations, community strife and ongoing confusion. The finish line was so far away, we really didn’t know where it was. Around January, a glimmer of hope came in the form of vaccine development. Around February, the hope was growing stronger as people were starting to get vaccines. By March and April there was a burgeoning feeling the end of the COVID-19 pandemic was near as vaccines would be widely available for nearly everyone. We could begin to see the finish line. January through April created a tailwind. The tailwind was the hope and promise that masks would be behind us, the pandemic would be behind us, and we could get back to “the new normal,” whatever that was supposed to be. The tailwind started as a light breeze, but by April, it became a gale-force tailwind at our backs. This built public sentiment and pushed us forward. Then a funny thing happened. Around April and May, we learned many people were not ready to get the vaccine. Summer brought with it the political divide that we have seen through much of the pandemic as vaccines became polarizing. This led to confusion, and the Delta variant began to spread through our communities. As a result, the promise of the pandemic being behind us slowly dissipated. In short, the race was not yet finished. Through the summer and early fall of 2021, some districts were plagued with the question of should we mask or not? We saw the same thing happen around the country. Back to the running analogy, we were in a predicament. The long race got longer, and there is no clear direction on how we’re even supposed to finish.

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Do we just keep running with the tailwind and hope that at some point someone tells us we’ve made it to the end? Do we turn around and backtrack for a bit so we can find a new finish line? There’s no right answer of course, and many are choosing different paths. For those who considered mask mandates, what was a massive tailwind became a massive headwind. For those who didn’t, it was the recognition that this marathon is going to last a lot longer than we had prepared for or anticipated. As this parable of running fits with the story of COVID-19, experience has taught me this happens regularly as a school district superintendent. Sometimes we cannot control the tailwinds and headwinds, but other times we do inadvertently create tailwinds, which can become headwinds. There are boundless examples. One that comes to mind, and I am noticing throughout the country, could be ESSER. If stipends, salaries and programs become a tailwind in your community, and without a defined finish line, we can rest assured they will become headwinds if we are not able to sustain those staff or programs when the federal funding runs out. We tend to create our tailwinds by the language we are using around initiatives. Perhaps that’s because we are hesitant to share the bad news (the funding will end) with the good news (there are additional funds to support student learning). Reframing the COVID19 experience as a headwind/tailwind framework can be a valuable leadership learning tool for district leaders moving forward. The running story is easy to remember, as most stories are. Stories can also be great teaching tools. Sometimes it’s hard for new leaders to connect theory to practice, so for those versed in change management and leadership theory, you might recognize that systems are designed to get a specific outcome. They are self-reinforcing. As leaders, when we design and deploy self-reinforcing systems, oftentimes we are designing tailwinds. The thoughtful leader anticipates whether those tailwinds might become headwinds in the future. Know your race, know your strategy, and be mindful of the winds out there.

ings h t w o My, h hanged! have c

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Dr. Quintin Shepherd is superintendent of Victoria ISD and works as adjunct professor at University of Houston-Victoria. He has served as a superintendent for the past 18 years in three states.

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HIGHER EDUCATION University-school partnerships support Texas K-12 student mental health by Erin M. West, Wesley D. Hickey and Leigh Anne Barber

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chool superintendents and principals are increasingly concerned with student mental health and its influence on students’ wellness, academic success and the overarching school environment. Addressing student mental health needs is challenging for schools, yet it’s recognized as a vital part of overall student development and success. Research indicates that approximately 7% of youth ages 3-17 have a diagnosed behavior problem, 7% have diagnosed anxiety, and 3% have diagnosed depression (Ghandour et al., 2018). These rates of anxiety and depression are even higher when you look specifically at the adolescent population. Mental health concerns and diagnoses can impede youths’ ability to be successful in academic environments (Asarnow et al, 2005; Hanson et al, 2004; Roeser et al, 1998; Wood, 2006). Youth, and their families, often face many barriers when seeking mental health support through community-based avenues (i.e., community mental health centers, private practice settings, mental health hospitals). Additionally, certain demographic characteristics can further complicate obtaining support, such as family geographic region and socioeconomic status. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have emphasized the importance of increasing youth access to mental health care (CDC, 2021). Schools are one such setting that can serve as meaningful environments for counseling services and engaging in prevention and mental health promotion. While schools are often not an appropriate setting for treating severe mental health diagnoses, counselors in schools are well-equipped to assist students who experience a wide range of mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, behavioral concerns, relational issues and self-esteem issues. Furthermore, counselors in schools can have a vital role in school-wide initiatives such as suicide prevention, bullying prevention, safe school initiatives, and other wellness-based endeavors. This article will address the potential for university-school partnerships in Texas schools, and the important role these relationships can play in increasing school districts’ capacity to meet the mental health needs of their students.

Texas pre-K-12 students’ mental health Youth in Texas are not immune from the national trends we’re observing pertaining to mental health. It is estimated that approximately a half million youth in Texas experience diagnosable mental, behavioral and emotional disorders each year (The Meadows Foundation, 2016). These numbers do not account for the countless other youth struggling with mental health issues that do not meet the threshold for formal mental health diagnoses. Additionally, events over the past year from the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in youth experiencing increased anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation (Rogers et al., 2021). While the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students (ASCA, 2019), and the Texas Counseling Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 350 students, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) does not currently mandate that pre-K-12 Texas schools hire counselors or have a specific student to counselor ratio (TEA, 2017). This lack of clarity and unified standard across the state results in variability of access to counselors across schools in Texas.

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A gap persists between students struggling with mental health concerns and their access to support at school. In efforts to close this gap, some Texas school administrators have pursued hiring Texas Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) to provide counseling services to students during the school day. Texas LPCs complete 60 credit hour counseling (or related) graduate degree programs, pass required examinations, and complete 3000 post-degree clinical hours to obtain licensure (Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council, 2021). LPCs are trained to diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders across the lifespan. School-based LPCs can work with districts to address specific mental health needs of their students and engage these students in individual and group counseling within the school environment.

University-school partnerships While the hiring of school-based LPCs can be beneficial for a district, it continues to be a challenge for one individual to meet the counseling needs of an entire district. As such, a meaningful and cost-effective way to expand upon these services can include partnering with a graduate-level counseling program at a local university to develop a district internship site for graduate-level counselors in training (CITs). In particular, master’s level Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) can be well-suited for this type of partnership.

A case example A model for this partnership has been ongoing in East Texas over the past few years with a public university in the region’s CMHC program and a local Independent School District (ISD) close to the university. The ISD superintendent identified a growing need to support pre-K-12 student mental health and a desire to put forth efforts towards developing tangible counseling services for students. The superintendent approached the CMHC program to share his observations and concerns and inquire about potential relationships to increase district mental health services. CMHC program coordinators expressed interest in such a partnership and explained CACREP and CMHC program requirements for practicum and internship sites. After learning of these requirements, the school district decided to invest in hiring a school-based LPCSupervisor, knowing that this monetary investment would allow them to have an additional number of graduate-level CITs at their district each semester. District administrators involved CMHC program faculty in the search committee and hiring process for this school-based LPC-Supervisor, which aided the relationship building process between the CMHC program and the ISD.

CACREP-accredited CMHC programs at Texas universities are 60 credit hour graduate-level programs that prepare students for Texas LPC licensure. As part of the graduate program, these graduate-level counselors-in-training (CITs) complete three semesters of practicum and internship experiences at sites to gain clinical experience prior to graduation. This clinical experience is supervised by a licensed counselor at the site and a universitybased supervisor from the CMHC program. This comprehensive network of supervision ensures the CIT is providing quality mental health services at their site. Sites are able to take on multiple CITs (as long as the site licensed supervisor is comfortable).

Once hired, the school-based LPC Supervisor began building the school-based counseling program. This process included several steps such as: (a) developing informational material on the school-based counseling program for parents and teachers and presenting the information to the school board, (b) developing documentation for the referral process, consent forms, progress notes and treatment plans, (c) identifying and readying confidential spaces for counseling in school buildings and working with building administrators to create counseling schedules (d) collecting and purchasing art, play and other materials for counseling rooms, (d) developing and implementing training for the graduate level CITs, (e) developing plans and schedules for supervising the graduate level CITs, and (f) highlighting and advertising school-based counseling program to parents, students, and community through social media and other forums.

Taking on multiple practicum and internship students can greatly increase the service capacity of the site. In other words, a school district could hire a school-based LPC and then take on six practicum or internship students each semester to increase the district’s ability to provide meaningful direct counseling services to pre-K-12 students each day.

Additionally, the school-based LPC-S was in frequent contact with administrators, faculty, and staff at the school to assess the ongoing development and implementation of the program. She also maintained frequent communication with university counseling faculty regarding the program’s development and graduate CIT work.

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Since starting this partnership, the CMHC program has been able to place approximately six graduate level CITs in the district each semester. CITs are required to complete 100 clinical hours for practicum and 600 clinical hours for internship. As such, these CITs have provided roughly 3,600 hours of mental health services to district students each year. CITs engage students in individual and group counseling; they are able to use traditional talk-based interventions with adolescents and to provide creative and play-based interventions for younger students. During the 2020-21 school year, CITs regularly counseled nearly 200 students. Furthermore, CITs were able to utilize telehealth counseling options during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide continued mental health support to students not able to attend school in person.

Implications and recommendations for Texas schools and administrators The model described has increased the district’s capacity to offer mental health counseling to their students. This partnership would not have been possible without the support of the district superintendent and principals. This support allowed the school-based LPC supervisor to use her expertise to build a strong program for district student benefit and CITs learning. Another aspect which aided the success of this program was administrators’ clear and consistent messaging which prioritized student mental health. Additionally, proactive, transparent and frequent communication between the CMHC program and the ISD have helped this program to thrive. University-ISD partnerships for schoolbased counseling programs can have meaningful impacts for all involved. The students in the district have increased access to counseling and mental health support, and the CITs are provided with essential supervised counseling experiences which contribute to their learning and development as counselors. n

References American School Counselor Association (2019). ASCA National Model: A framework for school counseling programs (4th ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author. Asarnow, J. R., Jaycox, L. H., Duan, N, LaBorde, A. P., Rea, M. M., Tang, L., Anderson, M., Murray, P., Landon, C., Tang, B., Huizar, D. P., & Wells, K. B. (2005). Depression and role impairment among adolescents in primary care clinics. Journal of Adolescent Health, 37, 477-483.

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Centers for Disease Control (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/ childrensmentalhealth/data.html Ghandour, R. M., Sherman, L. J., Vladutiu, C. J., Ali, M. M., Lynch, S. E., Bitsko, R. H., & Blumberg, S. J. (2018). Prevalence and treatment of depression, anxiety, and conduct problems in U.S. children. The Journal of Pediatrics. Hanson, T. L., Austin, G., & Lee-Bayha, J. (2004). Ensuring that no child is left behind: How are student health risks and resilience related to the academic progress of schools? San Francisco: WestEd. The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute for Texas, March 2016, “Estimates of Prevalence of Mental Health Conditions among Children and Adolescents in Texas.” Retrieved from https://www.texasstateofmind.org/resources/policy/. Roeser, R. W., Eccles, J. S., & Strobel, K. R. (1998). Linking the study of schooling and mental health: Selected issues and empirical illustrations at the level of the individual. Educational Psychologist, 33, 153- 176. Rogers, A. A., Ha, T., & Ockey, S. (2021). Adolescents’ perceived socio-emotional impact of COVID-19 and implications for mental health: A mixed methods study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 68, 43-52. Texas Education Agency, https://tea.texas gov/academics/learning-support-andprograms/school-guidance-and-counseling/ school-guidance-and-counseling-faq#Q6 Wood, J. J. (2006). Effect of anxiety reduction on children’s school performance and adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 42, 345-349.

Erin West is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling at the University of Texas at Tyler. She is an LPC and Certified Professional School Counselor, and she uses this background to impact the mental health of students in Texas schools. Wes Hickey is a professor and Dean of the College of Education and Psychology at the University of Texas at Tyler. Leigh Anne Barber is the Director of Counseling Services at Whitehouse ISD and adjunct instructor at The University of Texas at Tyler.


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TSPRA VOICE Feelings, then facts By Megan Overman, APR, CPC

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ost everyone has heard the saying, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

It’s a common colloquialism, quoted frequently through the decades on pamphlets and posters, more recently as digital memes, and now in the beginning of a magazine article. It’s a simple saying quoted so regularly that today, it is usually passed off in conversation as cliché. Isn’t it the simple things, however, that often have the most impact? Typically attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt, the source material for this quote actually has not been found and the attribution cannot yet be verified, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. Regardless of who actually said it, this phrase could serve as the foundation of successful crisis communication. Communications strategists understand that the heart of any effective communications program is sustaining a strong relationship with your audience. In school districts, that audience is our community, made up of students, staff, parents, business leaders and residents of the district. Strong relationships with our audiences are built on beliefs and values, and are sustained through open communication, commitment and follow-through, all of which lead to the core of a relationship — trust. School and district leaders know that building relationships is a full-time job, and it’s better to do so during the “good times” so that when the bad times come — and they will come — your district’s trust bucket remains full, even if a little comes off the top. When a crisis arises in a school setting, district training kicks in. Administrators and teachers begin implementing protocols ingrained from the hours of drills conducted each year. Student safety is top priority and everyone works toward the ultimate outcome that all involved are happily reunited with their loved ones. In a sense, leaders move into autopilot to make sure all the boxes of successful crisis response get checked. Unfortunately, this means that sometimes the most critical element gets missed. Recently, a North Texas school district experienced a situation at a high school dance that called for a crisis communications response. The first message at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night followed the template of any good crisis message: This is what happened, police deemed the threat not credible, students are safe and safety is a priority, thank you for your continued support. The message itself checked all the boxes. What administrators didn’t anticipate was the secondary crisis that erupted after parents received this notification. “While I understand that the information provided in your correspondence states that the threat was not credible … it appears that there is an attempt to downplay this situation without addressing any security concerns,” one parent wrote to the principal. “Whether the threat was a rumor, non-credible threat, or misreporting, my sole concern is for the safety of my student and any other students, staff and parents.” Let’s review some additional context. 28

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scenarios that sounded more like the plot for a made-for-TV movie than a high school dance. Some students even planned to boycott their classes out of concerns for safety. “How can this happen?” another parent wrote that weekend. “Was there actually someone there with a gun, or was it balloons popping? Either way, these kids are scared! We are scared, too! Was there security at the dance checking bags/ pockets? What will be done about this?”

It was two hours into the first school dance in more than 18 months and everything was going well. The music was exciting, the cafeteria looked festive with balloons and décor, and everyone was having a great time. The campus administrative team was on-site keeping a watchful eye, along with three police officers and multiple teacher and parent chaperones. At some point, a student thought she saw another student with a pistol-sized gun in a pocket. Unfortunately, reports, accurate or not, of weapons on campuses have become something school districts across the country face on a regular basis these days. In this instance, the student called her parent, who proceeded to call 911 with a report that a student had shown her daughter a gun at the dance. Rumors began to spread among students via text message, and chaperones took notice of the buzz. Police officers on-site investigated and did not find a weapon of any kind. They determined the threat to be not credible before additional officers arrived at the school. As the buzz began to settle, a balloon located near the DJ table overheated and popped loudly. This startled a student, who screamed. With tensions already high from the gun rumor, the rest of the students began running out of the building with claims of an active shooter. While this sounds like chaos, the campus staff and officers onsite are to be commended for how they handled this situation to keep everyone safe. Protocols were followed and all students were reunited safely with their parents that evening. Once the principal’s letter was sent that night, however, parent comments questioning the validity of the information began swirling on social media and neighborhood social networks. Rumors about the events of the evening began growing into

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In a crisis situation, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of getting information out quickly. Yes, facts should be communicated as quickly as possible to minimize an information void. However, it is crucial to stop for a split second to ground yourself. A crisis response cannot be so focused on the facts that it forgets to address the feelings. Fear, whether actual or perceived, is real in the moment and discounting that only empties your trust bucket with your community further. An easy trick is to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. As a parent, what would you need to hear first so that you could then focus on the rest of the message? Start with that. “First and foremost, the safety and security of all students is, unequivocally, my top priority,” the principal in our scenario wrote in his follow-up message. “On a regular school day, as well as special events such as Saturday’s dance, we endeavor to provide an environment in which students and staff feel safe, both physically and emotionally. “Although police determined the physical threat was not credible, we recognize that the fear and emotional strain was very real for our students, along with the worry and frustration felt by parents as you arrived to pick up your child,” he continued. “Additionally, for many of our students, this was the first high school experience in more than a year that was close to ‘normal’ until this incident occurred. Please know that we do not take any of these emotional impacts lightly. I assure you our counseling team will be available tomorrow for anyone who wishes to visit with them, and I am happy to visit with any parent personally to discuss concerns.” The principal went on to reiterate details of the event so that parents were reassured of the facts, addressed safety protocols, and called the school community to action with help in stopping the spread of rumors. He also followed up that message with a statement from the police department that corroborated his report.


Like the first statement the night of the event, the follow-up checked all the boxes. But it also went further to show people how much he cared before he shared what he knew. And that extra dose of care refilled the trust bucket in his school community. “I want to thank you and the staff on how you all have handled the situation,” wrote a parent later that week. “I hate that we have parents and students that have turned this into a situation. You all have done a great job at trying to calm [everyone].” Another parent shared, “You earned the respect and admiration of a lot of kids this weekend. More than that, you showed them that their leaders are not the enemy. It’s in these … moments that trust is built. Thank you for leading and loving our children so very well! n

Megan Overman, APR, CPC, is the senior communications officer for Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD. She has 21 years of experience as a communications and public relations professional in Texas public school districts. An active member of the Texas School Public Relations Association throughout her career, she is currently serving her second term as vice president of the TSPRA North Central Region, which represents Education Service Center Regions 9, 10 and 11. She earned her Accreditation in Public Relations and holds a certificate in Reputation Management from the Public Relations Society of America. She is also a graduate of the Certified Public Communicator Program® at Texas Christian University and serves on the advisory board for the program.

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TECH TAKE Superintendent/school board teams governing in COVID-19 times By Leslie Garakani

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uperintendents and their boards have come into focus nationally amid parent frustration over COVID-19 protocols, equity and inclusion, CRT and masks. To say the last 18 months have been difficult for school leaders is the understatement of the pandemic. Across the nation, parents and community members have flooded into boardrooms voicing their concerns with high expectations in the midst of the unknown.

Superintendents and school boards are under pressure to effectively communicate and address community concerns related to state accountability, taxation for bond referendums, and equity programs responding to changing demographics (Campbell & Fullan, 2019; Vollmer, 2010). Now with COVID-19 and politics the pressure has shifted with the capacity of superintendent/school board leadership teams being tested beyond anything for which they’ve been trained. School board meetings have become the stage for the latest act in America’s culture wars over education (Wong, 2021). However, recent studies have linked the increase in parent involvement to the increase in engagement with educators and administrators during the pandemic — and more importantly a positive impact on student achievement (Klein, 2021). Schools are realizing much more involvement with some parents still working from home and with flexible work schedules. Alyson Klein (2021) of Education Week quoting Karen Mapp, senior lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education: “Family engagement had to move to the top of the priority list now because no learning, no teaching, no education is happening without communication with families.” As new and updated guidelines funneled their way through the state education agencies to schools, updating families became a top priority. “The conversations switched away from discipline and ‘this is what your child isn’t doing’ to ‘here’s what we can do together to make sure that your child continues to learn and grow.’” (Klein, 2021). In a survey conducted by OneSignal, 70% of parents found their child’s teacher and school administrators effectively leveraged digital communication tools to stay in touch with them during the past school year. Similarly, 74% of educators/administrators found digital communications helped them stay in touch with parents (Smith, 2021). Going forward, the hope for education is to maintain a high level of engagement with parents and community partners. What are some foundational elements of effective community engagement from superintendent/school board teams?

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Effective balanced governance In these critical times, navigating uncertainty and responding to community frustration, superintendents and boards must come together while working within their roles respectively. Lorentzen (2013) emphasized good governance is not intuitive. A collaborative, well-functioning leadership team is essential to effective governance. When achieved, it can project strength, unity and leadership in the most challenging circumstances. In a study of low-performing and high-performing school districts, Lee and Eadens (2014) found low-performing school districts’ board meetings were less structured, had little emphasis on student achievement, a lack of respect and proper engagement among members, members with a clear personal agenda, uncultivated relationships among the team, little to no acceptance or reliance on the superintendent, members taking excessive time during meetings, and less focus on policy. In contrast, high-performing school districts’ board meetings possess a strong partnership between the superintendent and the school board, unified in operation and oversight of the school district. Alsbury and Gore (2015) suggested “informed oversight” and “thoughtful engagement” are the keys to effective balanced governance. It may be helpful for boards to complete a board self-assessment survey to examine how the board’s work aligns to proper governance. It could also provide some insight into areas of governance the board may need to focus.

Teams of trust Appropriate and intentional engagement of the school board with the local community can be effective in cultivating trust and confidence in the school district. In a recent study, community members from a high performing school district (high student academic achievement) were asked questions about the community engagement practices of their school board. Two common examples surfaced from the interviews: a citizen advisory committee focused on a district initiative and a citizen advisory committee for a bond. The committee for the district initiative was facilitated by the superintendent who exhibited an objective point of view stating only facts and responding to questions from the committee. The committee for the bond was facilitated by two community members coordinating information gathering with the superintendent and district leadership. The facilitators were selected by district leadership. However, district leadership only provided information as needed for the bond committee to make a decision. 34

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In both scenarios, school board members (limited to three to avoid a quorum) were rotated across multiple meetings and took more of a “listening and observing” approach. All community member interview participants indicated a clear sense of unity between the school board and superintendent. Additionally, the superintendent was regarded as objective in all considerations, while exhibiting clear and strong leadership. As the superintendent provides leadership in the day-to-day operations of the district, the school board has an opportunity to cultivate pride in the district’s vision and goals. According to Rebore (2014), the school board acting on the recommendation of the superintendent has the operative responsibility for the vision and goals, but stakeholders must have the opportunity to provide input. The community’s support for the district will, in large part, be determined by the confidence expressed by individual trustees (Campbell & Fullan, 2019). Boards working together supporting the superintendent inspires great trust with parents and the community.

Successful community engagement A strategy for intentional communication and engagement is found to have the most success in connecting with the community. Thriving districts that enjoy community support appear to have a concerted effort to continually inform the community about their schools (Lorentzen & McCaw, 2019a). “Discussing School-Community Relations Theory,” (Fiore, 2016) noted “one-way” communication from the school district to the community impedes community voice with limited interaction and discussion. “Two-way” communication provides parents and community partners with a voice to effect change and improve perceptions of the school-community partnership. In other literature, this is moving away from minimal levels of engagement such as “informing” to higher levels of engagement such as “collaboration.” Where appropriate, districts should facilitate engagements that are “two-way” to cultivate trust and support. Your district can facilitate community engagements supporting “two-way” communication through a ThoughtExchange or a more traditional “town-hall” style public meeting. No matter the motivation of parents and community members, COVID-19 has altered public participation in local, state and national education policy. Recalibrating our communication strategy could help in discovering and fostering parent involvement beyond the grandstanding and culture debates. The OneSignal Survey concluded that parents found the most useful


topics shared to include: general school updates and reminders, assignment and homework reminders, and academic progress and grading reports. Additionally, the survey findings show a promising trend that teachers and parents were receptive to digital communications (email, SMS text, and mobile push notifications) that helped parents stay up-to-date on COVID-19 and other critical updates (Smith, 2021). Each community will require its own strategy, what prescription are you considering for your community? n

References Alsbury, T. L., & Gore, P. (2015). Improving school board effectiveness: A balanced governance approach. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Education Press. Campbell, D., & Fullan, M. (2019). The governance core: School boards, superintendents, and schools working together. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Fiore, D. J. (2016). School-Community Relations (Fourth). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. Illinois Association of School Boards (2018). Connecting with the community: The purpose and process of community engagement as part of effective school board governance. https://www.iasb.com/IASB/media/Documents/communityengagement.pdf Klein, A. (2021) Pandemic parents are more engaged. How can schools keep it going? Education Week. Retrieved from https:// www.edweek.org/leadership/pandemic-parents-are-more-engaged-how-can-schools-keep-it-going/2021/09 Lee, D. E., & Eadens, D. W. (2014). The problem: Low-achieving districts and low-performing boards. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 9(3). Lorentzen, I. J. (2013). The relationship between school board governance behaviors and student achievement. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations database. (Publication No. 1424825793). Lorentzen, I. J., & McCaw, W. P. (2019a). Failure to govern. The Journal. Rebore, R. W. (2014). The ethics of educational leadership (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Smith, J. (2021) Parents think digital communications with schools during the pandemic was effective. Meritalk. Retrieved from https://www.meritalk.com/articles/parents-think-digital-communications-with-schools-during-pandemic-was-effective/ Vollmer, J. R. (2010). Schools cannot do it alone: Building public support for America’s public schools. Fairfield, IA: Enlightenment Press. Wong, J. C. (2021) Masks off: how US school boards became ‘perfect battlegrounds’ for vicious culture wars. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/24/mask-mandates-covid-school-boards

Leslie Garakani is the chief technology officer for Midlothian ISD and a doctoral student at Lamar University. He is currently conducting research on the community engagement practices of school boards.

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