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Get to know TASA’s 2021-22 officers

Doug Williams, President Superintendent, Sunnyvale ISD

LaTonya Goffney, Vice President Superintendent, Aldine ISD

Gonzalo Salazar, President-Elect Superintendent, Los Fresnos CISD

Brian T. Woods, Past President Superintendent, Northside ISD

Plus - Collective impact: Permian Basin leaders host a collaborative education summit pg.11

When educators are at their best, students are too O N L I N E CO U R S E FO R S ECO N DA RY ED U C ATO R S

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Taught by nationally known experts, the course is comprised of six modules: Module 1: Building Relationships

Module 4: Delivering Initial Lessons

Module 2: Maintaining Engagement

Module 5: Facilitating Student Practice and Application

Module 3: Using Procedures

Module 6: Assessing and Providing Feedback

Professional learning time: 12 weeks, 15 total hours.



Each course includes up to 33 participants.



Volume 36 No. 2


Collective impact: Permian Basin leaders host a collaborative education summit 11 Get to know TASA’s 2021-22 officers


Introducing TASA’s redeveloped executive superintendent program


Meet TASA’s Inspiring Leaders


HIGHER EDUCATION 26 Lessons learned from students and teachers: space and learning Yanira Oliveras-Ortiz TSPRA VOICE Administrators’ guide to effective school communications Jamie Fails





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



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


Sharon McKinney, Region 2, Port Aransas ISD

President’s Message


Jo Ann Bludau, Region 3, Hallettsville ISD

Executive Director’s View


Martha Salazar-Zamora, Region 4, Tomball ISD Donny Lee, Region 5, Buna ISD Christie Whitbeck, Region 6, Bryan 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


Executive Director

Associate Executive Director, Internal Operations

Director, Communications and Media Relations

Steven Snell, Region 13, Liberty Hill ISD David Young, Region 14, Abilene ISD Kevin Brown

Joe Young, Region 15, Brownwood ISD

Ann M. Halstead

Donna Hale, Region 16, Miami ISD

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.

Michelle McCord, Region 17, Frenship ISD Ariel Elliott, Region 18, Greenwood ISD Veronica Vijil, Region 19, Fabens ISD Michelle Carroll Smith, Region 20, Lytle ISD


Gary Bates, Fort Sam Houston ISD Priscilla Canales, Weslaco ISD Tory Hill, Sweeny ISD Jill Siler, Gunter ISD


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


LaTonya Goffney, Aldine ISD, Chair Roosevelt Nivens, Lamar CISD Stacey Edmonson, Sam Houston State University Jodi Duron, Elgin ISD Tanya Larkin, Pampa ISD Keith Bryant, Lubbock-Cooper ISD 4


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)




August 4-5

First-Time Superintendents Academy Session 1

Round Rock

September 8

N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy, Session 1 (Houston Cohort)



First-Time Superintendents Academy, Session 2

Round Rock


N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 1 (Dallas, Abilene/Lubbock, Austin/San Antonio Cohorts)


Texas Executive Leadership Group I Meeting


N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Virtual Session 1 (Virtual Cohort)


N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 1 (Victoria/Corpus Christi Cohort)


N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 1 (Rio Grande Valley Cohort)



Texas Executive Leadership Group II Meeting



N2 Learning Principals’ Institute Session 1



N2 Learning Executive Leadership Institute Session 1



txEDCON: TASA/TASB Convention



CMSi Level 1 Curriculum Management Audit Training



N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 2 (Abilene/Lubbock Cohort)



CMSi Level 1 Curriculum Management Audit Training



N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 2 (Virtual and Austin/San Antonio Cohorts)

Virtual/San Antonio


N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 2 (Dallas and Rio Grande Valley Cohorts)



Texas Executive Leadership Group I Meeting



CMSi Level 2 Curriculum Management Audit Training



Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network Event 1



N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 2 (Houston Cohort)



N2 Learning Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 2 (Victoria/Corpus Christi Cohort)


Texas Executive Leadership Group II Meeting



N2 Learning Principals’ Institute, Session 2



CMSi Level 2 Curriculum Management Audit Training




Corpus Christi


Corpus Christi






Doug Williams

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE Never have we needed inspiring leaders more than now.

nspiring leaders! These two words were crafted during the design of the TASA Strategic Framework as a tagline to describe what our association is all about. Not only are TASA members inspirational leaders, but the TASA charge is to inspire leaders across Texas as they work to impact the lives of our students. As I began my year as TASA president in June, I reflected on those individuals in my life who have shaped my career and in some way have created the template for the leader I strive to be. Along my journey, three long-time Texas public school superintendents have proven to be of inspiration to me and have influenced my leadership principles. Sidney Wasson became superintendent of Wolfe City ISD shortly after the end of World War II and served in that capacity for the next 39 years. Each school week began with Mr. Wasson selling lunch tickets in the main hall of the high school and ended with him working the back gate at the football field on Friday night. He was involved in every aspect of WCISD, from assemblies to after-school bus duty. The characteristic that I most admired about him was his steadfastness. As an alumnus of Wolfe City High School, I always appreciated his commitment to our district, and the local legend is that he only took one sick day during his entire career at Wolfe City. One of the highlights of my career was the day he spent in Sunnyvale touring our campuses and sharing school stories with me. Elton Caldwell started as superintendent of Brownsboro ISD in 1989 and served there until his retirement in 2012. He hired me to be the high school principal in 2003, and from the start worked with me on expanding my capacity as a school administrator. Mr. Caldwell was unflappable. I can’t remember a time that he allowed any situation to rattle him, and he worked through every dilemma with courage and conviction. And trust me, we had some situations that required addressing during our four years together! He was a master at working with the school board, and I witnessed how his management style created trust between him and the board members. I appreciate how he spent time in developing me for the superintendency and that he insisted I attend the TASA Midwinter and summer conferences. Many current school administrators have been blessed with his guidance over the years. Gwinn Blankenship was superintendent of Sunnyvale ISD from 1970-1994, transforming the district from one on the brink of consolidation to one of the premier K-8 districts in the state. I heard the stories of Mr. B when I became superintendent in Sunnyvale in 2007. He was, and still is, “Mr. Sunnyvale” to so many because of his passion for the district and the students. His legacy was defined in the 1970s when he led efforts to keep Texas’ “non-12” school districts open. These 120 school districts across Texas served students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade only, as was the case with Sunnyvale until 2007. His diplomacy and statesmanship was on display in the Capitol, all the way to a meeting with then-Gov. Dolph Briscoe that helped keep these districts from forced consolidation. I have gotten to know Mr. B during my tenure here and count him as a close friend and an advisor. Over the years, I have aspired to make the same type of impact for SISD as he still does.

President’s Message continues on page 10








ip O’Neill, the legendary U.S. Speaker of the House in the 1980s, was famous for getting things done in a bipartisan fashion, most notably with President Ronald Reagan. He is also famous for saying “all politics is local.” That is, while national politics might be important, the impact on people locally drives decision-making and voting at the national level.

Kevin Brown

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S VIEW Thank you for the incredible work you have done to shepherd

That definitely rings true with us at TASA. Whenever people engage locally, we can see the results at the Texas Capitol. There are a number of districts in Texas that significantly engage with their local communities to ensure their voices are being heard at the local, state and federal levels. One of those points of pride is the work being done with the Permian Basin Educational Leadership Summit, which is highlighted in this edition of INSIGHT. When school districts tell their stories to elected leaders, they do a tremendous service to everyone. Grassroots engagement is a necessity of 21st century superintendent leadership and countless superintendents across the state are doing this important work. We applaud you. Likewise, TASA is expanding its efforts at grassroots engagement. The TASA Strategic Framework calls for the following: •

Cultivate a diverse and extensive collaborative of champions equipped to advocate for an educated citizenry.

Recruit local advocates to connect with legislators and accelerate grassroots public school advocacy efforts.

Engage, mobilize, and collaborate with partners to advance effective education policy.

Encourage and support regional, participant-led experiences that increase access to learning and networking opportunities.

Develop a robust onboarding and mentorship experience that deepens personal connection to the association.

Cultivate purposeful networks of leaders engaged in meaningful work that advances the principles in the New Vision for Public Education.

your local communities through the most challenging of times.

These are ambitious goals for our profession and our organization. To accelerate these endeavors, TASA recently expanded and rebranded our member service representative program to include 10 executive superintendents across the state. The intent of bringing on so many legendary Texas superintendents to TASA is to more deeply engage at the local and regional levels in all of the ways outlined above. These exemplary leaders are here to serve you. Although the TASA staff in Austin has a critical role to play, we know that the most important work occurs at the local level. We are here to support you in any way possible. Thank you for the incredible work you have done to shepherd your local communities through the most challenging of times.

Kevin Brown TASA Executive Director



President’ Message continued from page 7

I’ve been asked why I have stayed in Sunnyvale for what is now 14 years. My standard answer is, “Have you ever been to Sunnyvale?” Those of you who know me fully comprehend how much I love my Raider community. But I also think a part of the reason is in following the example of these three men who served their districts for a combined 86 years! I thank each of these three education giants for being an inspiring leader. So, I have two questions for you as we look toward the start of the school year: •

Who has inspired you? I encourage you to reach out to these people and share with them the impact they have made on you. The time you take to do this will be an encouragement to them and motivate them to continue the fight.

Who will you inspire this year? Never have we needed inspiring leaders more than now. We are tasked with overcoming the academic challenges that we face after the disruption of the last year and a half. We must be tireless in our commitment to our teachers, administrators and parents and most importantly, to our students, and allow no obstacle to stand in our way to restore excellence in Texas education.

Be steadfast like Mr. Wasson, unflappable like Mr. Caldwell, and passionate like Mr. Blankenship. Together we will rise!

Doug Williams TASA President Superintendent, Sunnyvale ISD


Collective impact:

Permian Basin leaders host a collaborative education summit by Dacia Rivers SUMMER 2021


School districts are one of the most important foundations in any community. When people are thinking of moving to a certain area, the question, “How are the schools?” is always top on their list of priorities. In the Permian Basin, a large chunk of West Texas that extends into New Mexico, the answer to that question hasn’t always been a positive one. Many Region 18 students live in poverty and struggle academically. COVID-19 caused even further setbacks for schools in the area, with STAAR results sagging and thousands of students going unaccounted for as districts juggled the pandemic. Ector County ISD is the largest school district in Region 18, and at a recent TASA txedFest presentation in Austin, Superintendent Scott Muri said he chooses to view these challenges as an opportunity. “There’s a lot of work to do in our region, but we can’t do the work on our own,” Muri said. “We can’t spend 10 years making up for what our kids experienced, and as we begin to unpack our own local data, we see it’s a problem beyond many of our own individual capabilities.” Adrian Vega, executive director of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin, agreed, noting that the unique aspects of the community create localized challenges for schools in the area. The Permian Basin has an energy-driven economy, and periods of boom or bust are the norm. In good economic times, young people in the area can get high-paying, entry-level jobs in the field with minimal education, making it a challenge to entice them to pursue college degrees, even though those jobs might not last. “If we were already at the bottom, and you layer a pandemic on top of that, and an economic crisis on top of that, where does that really lead us?” Vega asked. Recently, several oil and gas companies in the region came together to form the Permian Strategic Partnership, with an eye on investing in the area to improve infrastructure, housing and education and help develop a local talent pool for hiring. “As a community, there’s been this groundswell for everyone to come together and come up with some macro solutions by trying to tie all the resources in our region together in a much more integrated way, so that we can move forward as a region,” Vega said. Along those lines, Muri, in collaboration with the superintendent of Hobbs Municipal Schools in New Mexico, T.J. Parks, 12


began to form an idea: to host a summit that would bring together administrators from area school districts, members of the Permian Strategic Partnership and the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin along with others from the community, including philanthropists, elected officials, educational support organizations and business leaders. They held the summit in early May, at the time when federal pandemic funds were about to be released to schools, with a goal of networking and brainstorming, to decide how school districts in the Permian Basin could best allocate these funds to make the most difference in the community. The event was attended by about 100 participants, including administrators from 24 Texas and New Mexico school districts. “Sometimes, as educators, we get locked into our own world, but I can tell you, it makes a difference to engage in meaningful conversation with all of these groups at the same time,” Muri said. The group met for four hours, working in heterogeneous groups for the first two hours before returning to their own teams for the second half of the summit. Attendees were asked to consider three particular areas of importance to school districts: increasing quality learning time, recruiting and retaining top talent, and meeting the social and emotional needs of staff, students and families. “The problem that we are all facing is, what are we going to do with these significant federal dollars,” Muri said. “How are we going to wisely invest those dollars in our own school districts? How can we forever change and improve the quality of education for the children we serve?” The group provided playlists on each area of importance, full of resources to help spark ideas. Attendees were asked to brainstorm solutions in their groups, and then work to find one good idea and evolve it into a great idea, meaning one that would have a high impact and be easy to implement.

MAKING AN EVERYDAY IMPACT Through specialized schools; Head Start early childhood education; afterschool programs; school-based therapy services; and a scholastic art and writing awards program, HCDE makes a BIG impact on Harris County communities.


After a working lunch, attendees returned to their peer groups with a list of ideas, and were given planning tools to help them decide which of these ideas they could implement and how they could best get started.

“These are big bets that none of us can do on our own,” Muri said. “The only way these are possible is because of a variety of different organizations and entities coming together to make these things a reality within the Permian Basin.”

“At the end of that four-hour period of time, each school district walked away with some big bets,” Muri said. “These are actionable items that we can take back to our school districts and utilize with the students we serve — not necessarily one idea for the whole district, but a variety of different strategies and tactics associated with those three areas of time, talent and social-emotional wellbeing that we can implement.”

“We had community members say, ‘None of us can do it by ourselves,’” Vega said. “‘We need a backbone organization.’ And that’s the idea. That’s the strength behind collective impact for any community.”

Rather than sending everyone home with great ideas and then leaving them alone to implement them, Vega and his team worked to provide support on the implementation aspect. In a post-summit survey, the majority of attendees expressed an interest in meeting again, so one month later, the group held a virtual follow-up session. At this meeting, the Commit Partnership provided a look at the data about learning loss across the state, and three districts shared the details of the plans they developed as a result of the summit. Representing ECISD, Muri shared the “big bets” his district had come away with: outcomes-based contracting, a virtual tutoring program, virtual coaching for teachers, an opportunity culture plan to reward the district’s best teachers, a community education center to support families in the district, and a more intentional social-emotional support network. 14


Due to the positive response from participants, Muri and Vega said these educational leadership summits will continue in the Permian Basin. They both noted that even within their community, the needs of each individual school district are varied and unique, and they believe that any community could benefit from hosting similar collaborative events. “People are hungry for conversations and gatherings,” Muri said. “There’s such a power in bringing a diverse group together. Everyone has skin in the game.” n

Dacia Rivers is editorial director of INSIGHT. Photo credit: James Durbin

JV 2021-22 Johnny L. Veselka


TASA Active or Student Members enrolled in accredited university doctoral programs in the field of education are eligible to apply for the Johnny L. Veselka Scholarship. The $2,500 scholarships provide financial assistance to TASA members who are doctoral students pursuing careers in educational leadership, with particular emphasis on the superintendency.

Apply by September 14! SUMMER 2021 https://tasanet.org/awards/johnny-l-veselka-scholarship/


Get to know

TASA’s 2021-22 officers Doug Williams, president Doug Williams is serving as TASA president for the 2021-22 year. Just east of Dallas, Sunnyvale ISD welcomed Williams as its superintendent in 2007. Williams previously served as a high school principal and grew up not too far away, graduating from high school in Wolfe City ISD. He received a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering from East Texas State University and a master’s of science from Texas A&M University-Commerce. Williams began his career in education more than 30 years ago and has served as a teacher, assistant coach, athletic director, head football coach, and high school principal in a handful of Texas school districts. In Sunnyvale, Williams is committed to incorporating engaged/project-based learning in an effort to increase critical thinking skills and better prepare students for careers or further education. As part of this mission, Williams is a member of TASA’s Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network, which aims to help create more meaningful assessment and accountability standards in the state. He strongly believes in advocating for his students in Sunnyvale and across the state and was honored to serve two years as the TASA Legislative Chair.

Gonzalo Salazar, president-elect Gonzalo Salazar has served as superintendent of Los Fresnos CISD since 2006. He received a bachelor’s of arts and master’s of education from The University of Texas at Brownsville, which honored him with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Salazar earned his doctorate in education from The University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley. Salazar has worked in education for more than 20 years, serving as an assistant principal, principal and interim administrator. A 16-year TASA member, he served as the Region 1 chair on the Executive Committee. In his time in Los Fresnos, Salazar has worked with staff, parents and the community to ensure that all students who graduate from the district are prepared for post-secondary education and the workforce. All 14 campuses in the district have consistently met state standards since Salazar took office, and the district received the College Readiness distinction four years in a row.



LaTonya Goffney, vice president Superintendent of Aldine ISD LaTonya Goffney has held the top office in the district since 2018. Prior to that, she served as superintendent of Lufkin ISD. In 2017, Goffney was named Superintendent of the Year. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Sam Houston State University. Goffney began her career in education as a language arts teacher, serving as an assistant principal and principal before stepping into her first superintendency in ColdspringOakhurst CISD. She holds leadership positions in a number of organizations, including the Texas School Alliance, the University Interscholastic League Legislative Committee, the Texas Association of Black School Educators and the Texas Council of Women School Executives, among others. Through her work in Aldine, Goffney has helped kick-start several new initiatives in the district, such as a pre-K pilot program, an Accelerating Campus Excellence model and new P-TECH and Leadership Academy campuses, designed to offer opportunities for students to earn college degrees and industry certifications after graduation.

Brian T. Woods, past president Northside ISD Superintendent Brian T. Woods received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Austin and earned both master’s and doctoral degrees in educational leadership from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Woods began his career in San Antonio’s Northside ISD 29 years ago, originally serving as a social studies teacher. Since then, he worked in the district as an assistant principal, vice principal, principal and assistant superintendent and deputy superintendent before stepping into the superintendent position in 2012. In 2018, Woods was named Texas Superintendent of the Year based in part on his commitment to advocacy for public schools. Woods has traveled to Austin numerous times to testify on behalf of public education in the state, advocating for legislation that would improve funding and assessment methods.





Leadership is the greatest superpower of all. Superintendents have innumerable superpowers—mentoring and guiding aspirational leaders is one many of them share. Huckabee’s Power Supers blog is a collection of inspirational stories full of lessons on growth, fortitude and the power of education. Subscribe to Power Supers for inspirational stories from superintendents across the state. MORE coming soon!



Introducing TASA’s

Redeveloped Executive Superintendent Program This summer, TASA kicked off a reimagined and restructured executive superintendent program in an effort to support TASA members through networking and mentorship. The new program combines the previous superintendent-in-residence and member service representative programs. “I am incredibly excited to formally launch our new TASA Executive Superintendents program,” says Brandon Core, associate executive director of professional learning and member engagement. “This reimagined approach to supporting our members across Texas is perfectly aligned to our TASA Strategic Framework and will help us fully realize our organizational aspirations by our centennial celebration in 2025.” Through the newly designed program, TASA members have access to executive superintendents — a group of 10 experienced former superintendents, each dedicated to serving administrators in two ESC regions and across the state. These executive superintendents serve as an extension of TASA staff and will be 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 their prospective regions or on their specific areas of focus.



TASA members can reach out to these executive superintendents confidentially on any matters related to public school leadership, including career pathways and any specific achievements or challenges they might face. Through this program, superintendents have one-on-one access to these experienced mentors for their insight. “These 10 individuals are stalwart superintendents who are widely respected in public education, both statewide and nationally, and are well-equipped to engage and support on all school leadership matters,” Core says. “Our TASA members are truly set up for success with these dynamic champions in their corner.” In the next few issues of INSIGHT, we will introduce you to these executive superintendents, offering a deeper look into their experiences and areas of expertise. The 10 superintendents serving in the program are:

Art Cavazos, Regions 1 and 20 — This summer, Cavazos retired as superintendent of Harlingen CISD, a post he held for eight years. He has served as an educator for 34 years and was named Region 1 Superintendent of the Year in 2017.

Alton Frailey, Regions 2 and 4 — Frailey served as superintendent of Katy ISD for nine years before his retirement in 2016. He is a past president of TASA and AASA and brings 33 years of education experience to his new role.

Thomas Randle, Region 3 and 6 — Randle recently retired as superintendent of Lamar ISD, where he served for 20 years. He is a TASA past president and a prior Texas Superintendent of the Year finalist. In 2017, the Texas Alliance of Black School Educators named a statewide award in his honor.

Mary Ann Whiteker, Regions 5 and 7 — Whiteker recently retired from the superintendency of Hudson ISD after 23 years of service. A 44-year veteran educator, Whiteker was named Texas Superintendent of the Year in 2016.

Karen Rue, Regions 10 and 11 — Rue held the superintendency in Northwest ISD for 11 years before her retirement. She is a TASA past president and in 2016 was a finalist for AASA’s Women in School Leadership Award.

Kelli Moulton, Regions 12 and 15 — Moulton recently retired from Galveston ISD after nearly five years as superintendent. See the Spring 2021 issue of INSIGHT for an in-depth profile on Moulton.

Stephanie Arterbury, Regions 13 and 14 — Arterbury served as the first female superintendent of Sheldon ISD, a position she held for 10 years. See the Fall 2019 issue of INSIGHT for an in-depth profile on Arterbury.

Larry Coffman, Regions 16 and 17 — Coffman was Borger ISD superintendent for 17 years before his retirement. See the Winter 2019-20 issue of INSIGHT for an in-depth profile on Coffman.

Amy Jacobs, Regions 8 and 9 — Jacobs served as superintendent of Coahoma ISD for seven years and currently serves as CEO of Hill Country Educational Leadership, a nonprofit organization working to reimagine the educational experience for students and teachers.

Sherri Bays, Regions 18 and 19 — Bays recently retired as superintendent of Floresville ISD, a position she held for eight years. She has also served as a TASA study group chair and member of the FutureReady Superintendents Leadership Network. 20




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.

John Chapman Educating the whole child is a lifelong passion for Dr. John Chapman III, superintendent of schools in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD. Chapman has been an administrator for 17 years and a superintendent for 21 years. He believes in meeting and supporting the whole child’s needs, and invests his time building relationships with staff, families and the community. During his tenure in CFBISD, his motto has been “Together We Can.” Chapman believes that a school’s job is not just to teach academics, but also to help children develop character, teach them life lessons and inspire them to be accountable. “Success should not be measured on grades alone, but on acquiring new skills and working toward being better than you were the previous day,” Chapman says. “In today’s age of accountability, we cannot lose focus on educating the whole child, not just the partial child.” Other administrators in CFBISD are quick to sing Chapman’s praises, touching on the unique perspective and dedication he brings to the job. “What separates him from other leaders is his genuine passion for children,” says Steve Bassett, chief financial officer for the district. “As a child, he experienced various hardships, and as a result, he understands many of the struggles our children experience. His passion is evident in the way he cares for students and his staff by developing programming that will benefit all families.” As a new superintendent in CFBISD in 2018, Chapman understood the importance of building solid relationships. He held open office hours several times a week and invited staff, community members, current and former families to come to share their ideas and suggestions. As a direct result, Chapman launched several initiatives to meet the most basic needs of the whole child, including offering free counseling services and family meals. “Dr. Chapman is hugely passionate in his never-ending quest to educate the whole child,” says Brian Moersch, area superintendent. “He employs an extraordinary work ethic as he works to move CFBISD closer to eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps for all students.” Chapman believes changing a generation starts at the top. Among his staff, he serves as a model to inspire and motivate others, resulting in a school district culture that is all about the kids. “It is vital to mold, develop and build leaders of tomorrow,” he says. “Finding individuals with a servant heart and a strong desire to make a positive difference in the lives of the children we serve is critical to educating our students.” Through his vision and his dedication to leading by example, Chapman has created a positive work environment for staff in CBISD, who feel supported and appreciated. Associate Superintendent of Schools Dana West says, “Dr. Chapman is a thoughtful leader. Before he moves forward or makes a decision, he researches, confers and considers multiple pathways. The well-being of staff, students and the community is always first and foremost.”



Devin Padavil Taylor ISD welcomed Dr. Devin Padavil as superintendent earlier this year. Prior to his current post, Padavil served as assistant superintendent of Fort Bend ISD for nearly four years. While moving to a new district in the middle of a school year, and during a global pandemic, presented a unique set of challenges, Padavil came to Taylor excited to help move the district forward with a commitment toward preserving the tight-knit community’s traditions and foundations. “The people of Taylor ISD give me the greatest sense of pride,” Padavil says. “These are educators and families who are truly invested in the potential of each student and believe in the future of our school district. Our team has been intentional about meaningful change and the community has embraced it.” While Padavil has only served for a number of months in Taylor, he’s already made an impact on other district staff, including Tiffany Commerford Whitsel, assistant superintendent of organizational management. “Devin Padavil is the epitome of a leader who motivates others to find their greatest potential,” Whitsel says. “Devin has been in Taylor ISD a short time, but he has already modeled what it takes to reach your greatest potential. He has a strategic mindset, he is innovative, a great communicator, and supportive of faculty, staff and students.” Padavil says he feels personally compelled to discover the potential in other people and help them realize it. Taylor ISD’s mission statement is to “Inspire, equip and empower each student to achieve their unique potential,” and he takes that statement to heart. “The thing that keeps me going is the idea that someone will be better off because of our work. I find fulfillment in helping other people reach their goals, mostly because I grew up a disadvantaged student who underperformed until I had educators inspire me. I consider it my purpose to give back in the same way.” Networking and connecting with other administrators is an important part of what drives Padavil, motivating him and keeping him on track as he strives to be an inspiring leader. “I reach out to as many other administrators and leaders as possible,” he says.” “This allows me to reflect, get consultation and sometimes hold a mirror up to myself to make sure I am being the leader I am meant to be for others. The more I talk to other leaders, the sharper I become.”



years of


facility design


Kelly Trompler It’s rare that a school district is led by a homegrown superintendent, but in Bonham ISD, northeast of Dallas, that’s just the case. Superintendent Kelly Trompler graduated from Bonham High School and has spent her entire 27-year career in education working in the district. She now leads her hometown district with a unique perspective and firsthand insight into how the local community operates and what its values entail. “Being in a district for a long time is a blessing in so many ways,” Trompler says. “For example, knowing the staff so well allows me to realize their value and contributions to the organization on a firsthand basis, making it easy to share with the community why Bonham ISD is the best small town district in Texas.” Her colleagues say that Trompler’s attention to detail along with her ability to resolve issues and bring people together make her an inspiring leader. “Bonham ISD is a better school district because of Kelly Trompler,” says Harold Colson, assistant superintendent in Pilot Point ISD. “What’s most impressive about Kelly is her leadership and commitment to the teachers, students and community of Bonham. Kelly embodies all the characteristics of a servant leader and has not only been an inspiration to me personally, but inspires everyone she comes in contact with.” With one year in the superintendent’s office under her belt, Trompler has had to dedicate a large part of her work to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to her close ties to the local community, she has been able to respond to that and other challenging events in ways that have emphasized the school district’s integral role in the community. “Staff at Bonham ISD care for the whole child, which includes their families and their needs outside the school day,” Trompler says. “We have formed several partnerships with local churches and community service organizations to provide counseling services, food and clothing for students on a routine basis.” When the district first had to close schools due to the pandemic, district staff made twice weekly calls to families just to check in on them. Since then, the district has also leveraged resources to help in the case of catastrophic weather events. Serving as a superintendent is challenging, even in a relatively normal school year. Trompler stays motivated by looking at every situation with optimism. She strives to maintain a positive outlook, and brings that energy with her throughout her work, in part by starting each staff or administrative meeting detailing positive achievements in the district. “I believe that starting with positives trains us to look for the good things and the success that is happening around us,” Trompler says. “I am forever looking for two things — the silver lining and what each challenging situation is teaching me that I can take on to the next difficult task I face. I think the fact that I look for how I can continue to improve my leadership also keeps me moving forward. That way my focus continues to be on the future and forward momentum.”



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Veronica Vijil For more than two years, Dr. Veronica Vijil has served as superintendent of Fabens ISD, in the El Paso area. With a background in education that spans more than 30 years, Vijil is the first Latina superintendent in the district, and says that she is exceptionally proud of the way Fabens ISD embraces the local community’s rich history. “It’s fitting that as a farming community, our school calendar embeds a day when we celebrate the work of Cesar Chavez with lessons that promote social justice and civil rights,” Vijil says. “We are a rural school district located along the U.S.-Mexico border. We consistently look for areas to expand programs and opportunities for all students.” Outside of her work in Fabens, Vijil is also an active member of the Texas Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (TALAS), a group through which she serves as a mentor, recently to Linda Garcia, assistant principal at Kyle Elementary School in Hays ISD. “I was very fortunate to be paired with Dr. Vigil as part of the TASA/TALAS mentoring program,” Garcia says. “What I have valued most about being her protégé is her ability to listen to my perspective and share her experience as a district leader to offer insight and advice. She has definitely helped build capacity in me as a school leader and I know that she will continue to do so with others in her area and around the state.” While stress and work challenges are inevitable for any administrator, Vijil says she views them as learning opportunities. “If I truly dedicate the time to be the reflective practitioner I need to be, then the personal and professional growth outweigh the challenges I have to overcome,” she says. “Surrounding myself with positive people is key to forging ahead.” As an inspiring leader, Vijil is open to learning and growing, no matter what the source of knowledge or new information might be. Recently, a new staff member in Fabens told Vijil that a successful leader must first be able to follow, and the words resonated with her. “We have to put egos aside and understand that there is much to learn from others,” Vijil says. “I seek out colleagues with whom I can exchange ideas, vent and learn. There is a synergy that is created when a group of peers work toward a common goal. Through TALAS, I have the extreme pleasure of mentoring protégés like Linda Garcia and Eva Quiñones; as a person who listens intently to the numerous mentors and colleagues with whom I have connected, I become a better mentor to them.”



HIGHER EDUCATION Lessons learned from students and teachers: space and learning by Yanira Oliveras-Ortiz


s school principals, we regularly engage teachers in conversations about students’ needs, curriculum, instructional practices, differentiation and assessment. In some cases, as needed, we also address classroom organization and arrangement of students’ workspaces. However, how often do we not consider the students’ and teachers’ preferences regarding the learning spaces, and the impact those spaces have on teaching and learning? Over the last five years, two colleagues and I have explored the impact learning spaces have on student engagement and teachers’ instructional practices in purposefully designed spaces fashioned by VLK Architects. (Oliveras-Ortiz, Bouillion, & Asbury, 2018, 2019, 2020a, 2020b). Throughout the last few years, I have reflected on the countless conversations I have had with teachers and educational leaders over the last 27 years. I always end up reaching a similar conclusion — I wish I were more aware of the impact learning spaces have on students and teachers earlier in my career.

Students’ intuitions While it was early during our first study at two elementary schools, as 10- and 11-year-olds spoke about newly designed spaces, that the impact spaces have on teaching and learning (Oliveras-Ortiz, Bouillion, & Asbury, 2018, 2020a) first dawned on me, over the last five years, I’ve had the privilege to interview elementary and high school students, principals at both levels, as well as high school teachers. Regardless of the age group, one thing is clear — our students pay attention to the classroom environment, the spaces, and how their teachers use those spaces. The following are tidbits of knowledge grounded on students’ perceptions that could make us stronger instructional leaders and educators. Space matters. Students in new learning spaces have reported that traditional classrooms are convoluted, and the provided learning spaces negatively impact teachers’ instruction and lesson’s flow. We must pay attention to learning spaces and how those spaces are used regardless of how old our facilities are. Teachers’ decisions regarding the use of those spaces matter to students. Awareness of preferences. Students value having spaces where they can learn based on their learning preference. They need spaces where they can work quietly or where they can collaborate. Those who prefer to find a quiet place and work individually need spaces away from those who are collaborating while still feeling connected to the class. While learning preferences was not a new concept to me; it was eye-opening to hear elementary age students speak about their desire to make decisions related to their workspaces. Educators must value their students’ opinions; the decision about the students’ workspace should not be solely made by teachers. Students should be given the option to choose the setting that best fits their needs and preferences. Relevancy and ownership of learning. As we explored students’ perceptions of the learning spaces and their experiences in purposefully designed spaces, students consistently referenced their eagerness to lead their own learning. They want the opportunity to explore concepts related to the curriculum, aligned to the curriculum but also aligned to their interests. Students have a desire to be trusted with their own learning and be allowed to use the spaces in the classroom in ways that 26


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align to their learning preferences and interests. Student-centered instruction has been at the forefront of instructional initiatives for years; the lessons learned from the students who have been part of these ongoing research projects have validated the need to continue to move away from teacher-centered practices and embrace student-centered instruction. Cognitive challenges. Students have clear visions of what interests them and how they prefer to use learning spaces. They also consistently express their desire to be challenged. While we at times believe we need to create a foundation for our students and make sure that they’re ready for standardized tests and the next grade level, learning and true engagement in learning goes beyond what politicians, accountability systems and evaluation systems have set as priorities. Students want to be challenged. They want to be given the opportunity to explore beyond those basic concepts and beyond a lesson’s predetermined goals. Instructional goals, as set by teachers, should be a starting point, a guide and not a limitation. In speaking to teachers in new learning spaces that had worked at different schools prior to moving to a new learning space, they have found extreme reward and a rejuvenated passion for teaching because of the joy they see in their students when challenged. Students enjoy having the opportunity to fail, to learn from the failures and ultimately achieve their goals. Think about the satisfaction we, as adults, get when we accomplish something that we anticipated and perceived as challenging. We need to afford our students the same opportunities. It is essential that students exercise their abilities to overcome challenges and experience failure. The ability to persist despite challenges and failure will be key to students’ success in the future.

Teachers’ experiences in purposefully designed spaces During the countless interviews we have conducted over the last five years, students have brought unique insights into the importance of learning spaces and the impact teachers’ decisions have on their learning. We have also explored teachers’ perceptions about the difference new learning spaces have on their planning and teaching. Empowering teachers. Providing teachers with learning spaces and the resources they need while allowing them to make instructional decisions that best fits their lessons is extremely powerful. As principals, we empower teachers to make instructional decisions that best fit their teaching styles and the needs of their students. Do we ever consider how providing purposefully designed spaces could enable teachers to go beyond what we as leaders think is best for students and teachers? Having the freedom to explore and find different ways to teach and 28


allowing teachers to engage students in different ways of learning is powerful. Feeling supported, trusted, and empowered is a great motivator not only for students but also for teachers. While as school leaders we are also former classroom teachers, we must recognize that our teachers are the experts and the ones who directly impact our students’ learning and achievement. Empower them to be innovative and creative so they can empower students to do the same. Not just about the space. To maximize the use of learning spaces, regardless of whether it’s a traditional classroom or an innovative space, teachers and administrators must understand the impact of learning spaces and the most efficient ways to use space to enhance students’ learning experiences. While educators have a plethora of ideas on how to teach certain concepts, having the opportunity to engage in professional learning opportunities or experiences focused on the importance of learning spaces could have an impact on how teachers evolve while offering the opportunity to teach in new or redesigned learning spaces. It’s not just about the learning space; it’s about empowering teachers with the knowledge, skills and the trust to use those spaces for their designed purpose. School culture. Through numerous conversations with teachers, professional learning opportunities and feeling empowered to be innovative were topics repeatedly mentioned. However, the most powerful message teachers shared was the unwavering support from their school administration to “think outside the box.” Teachers valued and were motivated when working with administrators who modeled innovation and expected teachers to take risks. Teachers appreciated knowing that there was safety in failure and that failure is an expectation if they are being truly innovative and creative in the way they use learning spaces and teach the

curriculum. The teachers reiterated what so many studies have demonstrated throughout the year – school culture matters and plays a key role in teachers’ satisfaction and retention. Teachers appreciate purposefully designed spaces but would go back to traditional classrooms if school leaders were not supportive and did not promote innovation to maximize the use of learning spaces. The lessons learned by listening to students have been enlightening. Having a deeper understanding of the impact learning spaces have is critical as we continue to refine our practices to better serve our children. Students expressed the importance of space, but also value being trusted and challenged by their teachers. The effective use of learning spaces impacts students’ mood, engagement and enjoyment of school. An elementary student shared his disappointment due to his perception that the school day at his new school was shorter without realizing that the district had extended the school time. While at another school, students enjoyed being at school so much that faculty members have asked if they could host birthday parties in their science labs. While school districts certainly do not have the funds to redesign every school or build new buildings for each community, the perceptions shared by students and teachers at the school designed by VLK Architects give us a rare insight into what students value, and what teachers and educational leaders can do to increase student engagement in learning, and teachers’ satisfaction and commitment to innovation. n

References Oliveras-Ortiz, Y., Bouillion, D. E., & Asbury, L. (2018). The impact of learning environments on student engagement. VLK Architects Research Report. https://vlkarchitects.com/ assets/img/01_Original-Research_Digital.pdf Oliveras-Ortiz, Y., Bouillion, D. E., & Asbury, L. (2019). Listening to high school students: Purposefully designed spaces and the impact on students’ engagement in learning. VLK Architects Research Report. https://vlkarchitects.com/ assets/img/02_Original-Research-Digital.pdf Oliveras-Ortiz, Y., Bouillion, D. E., & Asbury, L. (2020a). Learning spaces matter: Student engagement in new learning environments. Journal of Education. https://doi. org/10.1177/0022057420908062 Oliveras-Ortiz, Y., Bouillion, D. E., & Asbury, L. (2020b). Teachers’ Instructional Decisions and Student Agency in New Purposefully Designed Learning Spaces. VLK Architects Research Report. https://scholarworks.uttyler.edu/ education_fac/28/

Dr. Yanira Oliveras-Ortiz is an associate professor and the assistant director of the school of education at the University of Texas at Tyler. She serves on the Board of the Texas Council of Professors of Educational Administration (TCPEA) and the TASA Higher Education Committee. Oliveras’ research agenda and service focus on the development of instructional supervisors in Belize and the impact learning spaces have on student engagement in Texas schools.

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TSPRA VOICE Administrators’ guide to effective school communications by Jamie Fails


ou’ve heard it before. “Newspapers are no longer relevant.” “The press release is dead.” “Only grandparents look at Facebook.” But the words of third grade teachers bubble to the surface of our memories: “Don’t write in absolutes! Nothing is ever always or never!” In this case, we would say, don’t write off a tactic that most likely does still serve a purpose. And that purpose is effective school communications. What are effective school communications? How do we get there? And where is there?

Effective communication Effective communication in schools is the exchange of information between the teacher, school and district and the parents, students and community served, that is successfully delivered, received and understood. Districts want to convey the ways in which their district excels over others in educating students. Parents want to feel heard, seen and involved in their child’s education. But in a digital world that is busier than ever, and flooded with social media apps, how do we compete with the hundreds of messages a parent receives in a day? It is not enough for your district communications department, or you as superintendent, to post information on your website and send home an email a few times a year. It takes up to seven exposures to a message for a person to take action. The parents of our students span a wide range of ages, socioeconomic statuses, education levels and more. Not every house has a computer or even internet. Although most people have a phone, some may not have provided the school with a current number. What does this mean for schools wishing to reach all parents? It means that our messages must be sent through multiple platforms and — this may surprise you — from different sources. We have to meet our families where they are and provide multiple opportunities for them to see and respond to a message. There are many roads and side streets on the way to communication bliss. Layering communication helps build brands, foster confidence and generate trust.

Layers of communication First let’s look at the different sources of communication you should use. Superintendent

Major announcements that might be controversial should come from the superintendent. The naming of a school, an employee who makes the news, or the ending of a major program would warrant com-munication from the organization’s leader. District

The district should cover positive and uplifting information in addition to news items, such as closing schools for bad weather or announcing a new bond. District communications can highlight positive stories such as a sports team going to state, or a school winning an award. At this level, it's important that the message is widely appealing to your school family and is carefully crafted to ensure the message is consistent with your district's brand and voice. 30



Social media

Principals lead schools, teachers and students. Therefore, anything directly related to the entire school should come from the principal. Principals have an opportunity to create a welcoming culture — a feeling of pride, purpose and family. Parents should hear from the principal three to five times per month through a combination of newsletters and phone calls.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest — there are many apps to choose from, each with unique features. District and campus social media posts should be made frequently to celebrate the achievements of students/staff and communicate timely information on a daily basis. Because social media has so many variables, we will review a little more in depth about each and the associated benefits.


This is where the most important communication and relationship-building comes into play. Teachers should regularly (weekly or more) share information with parents about their class, including what the students are studying, how they can help their child at home, and how to reach the teacher if they have questions or concerns. Teachers should aim to respond to emails within 24 hours, even if just to say they will get back to the parent at a later time. Grades should be put into the system frequently so parents are kept informed of their child’s progress. Parents want to know what their children are doing for six-plus hours a day.

Communication vehicles Next, we explore the different mediums used to share information. Website

The district website should be the main hub of information for parents and the community. If a message has been sent to families by the top two sources (district or superintendent), then the information should be on the district website. Like-wise, if a principal has shared information it should be on the campus website. Each teacher should maintain a page where all of their classroom information is posted. Your website should include details about the three Ps: programs, people and processes. When possible, include a link to your website in messages to parents. This helps drive them to your website so that they see it as a valued resource. Mass communication systems (emails, phone calls, texts, app notifications)

The majority of districts use a mass communication system to send out emails, phone calls, texts and even app notifications to parents. When to use each can be difficult to decide. Use the guidelines at the end of this article to determine which route is best.


Facebook is the most widely used social media network, with about 70% of Americans using the site. It’s also the most broadly representative of the population. Three-quarters of women in the U.S. use the platform, compared with 63% of men. There are differences by education level, too: Around three-quarters (74%) of adults with a college degree or more use Facebook, compared with 61% of those who have a high school diploma or less (Pew Research Center, 2019). YouTube

With a much younger demographic base, YouTube actually exceeds Facebook in number of users at 83%, but 95% of users are younger than 29. Although popular because of the highly entertaining nature of watching videos, YouTube may not be the best way to share information or details quickly with parents — that might be better left to graphics and text. But, videos highlighting your district are perfect for YouTube and help parents feel like they really know your schools. Twitter

Twitter has a relatively small following with only 23% of respondents using Twitter as their main source of informa-tion. These users tend to be younger, more educated and make more money. There is also a 280-character count limit, so short messages are best. Instagram

Picture and hashtag heavy, Instagram also tends to be geared toward a younger audience. If you are trying to reach your secondary students, Instagram is a great place to start.



Nextdoor neighborhood app

If you would like to reach your entire community, regardless of whether or not they have direct ties to the district, Nextdoor is a handy outlet to consider. With packages for schools, the app will auto-subscribe to your channel anyone living within your district boundaries, making Nextdoor great for sharing information that is more general, such as bonds and tax rate changes, or calls for mentors or career day guest speakers. Other social media platforms to consider

If you have a staff member dedicated to social media, you may want to venture into other outlets including Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok. These aren’t a primary focus for most smaller districts because the audience is likely small, and you can probably reach these followers on the other social channels.

When to use what The final element to consider is which mass communication method is BEST suited to the message you’re sharing. Sometimes, a message that works well in an email would flop in a social media post. The graphics below offer you a quick guide for making this decision. Communicating effectively with your school family requires a multi-layered approach. Follow these tips to develop a communications strategy and enjoy the benefits of a stronger relationship with your families and community. It all starts with knowing which roads to take. n

Jamie Fails has 20 years of experience in public education — 10 in school communications; and 10 as a classroom teacher. Before joining Willis ISD in 2016, she was the PR specialist in Kerrville ISD. Before entering education, Fails worked at a top 10 public relations agency in Houston serving clients such as Denny’s Restaurants and the Houston YMCA. She has been a TSPRA member for nine years and is currently in her second term as the vice president of East Texas, Regions 6, 7, 8.



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