TSB—March 2015

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The News Magazine for Public Education in Texas for 61 Years

March 2015

GROWING RELATIONSHIPS Your district’s success depends on them

TSPRA President Lorette Williams Corpus Christi ISD

In the Spotlight Harry Wright Jr. Bryan ISD


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TSB contents news and features

Cover Story Experts share best practices that can help your schools gain visibility and community support


by Jennifer LeClaire

photo feature Women school exeuctives gather in Austin


TASA Midwinter attracts more than 6,000 administrators 12

In the Spotlight


Harry Wright Jr. makes the case for Bryan ISD by Autumn Rhea Carpenter

Who’s News Ad Index


From the Editor


The Law Dawg  —  Unleashed


Tech Toolbox


by Katie Ford


by Jim Walsh

by Terry Morawski

By Elizabeth Millard

Game On!


The Back Page


by Bobby Hawthorne by Riney Jordan




TSPRA President Profile Corpus Christi ISD’s Lorette Williams lends her formidable communication talents


Guest Viewpoint Say what truly needs to be said by Nancy Oelklaus

An educated response to cyberbullying by Debra L. Innocenti and Monica Velazquez

On the cover: Parents and community volunteers teach Northside ISD students about caring for the environment by planting trees in the neighborhood. The effort is one of many innovative community relations campaigns in Northside ISD.


The views expressed by columnists and contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or Texas School Business advertisers. The publisher also makes no endorsement of the advertisers or advertisements in this publication. March 2015 • Texas School Business


2015 TASA/TASB Legislative Conference

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 J.W. Marriott Hotel Austin, TX


Register Now! www.tasb.org

School board members and superintendents should take every opportunity to communicate local district needs and priorities to legislators. The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) are hosting the TASA/TASB Legislative Conference on Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at the J.W. Marriott Austin Hotel. Governmental relations staff of TASA and TASB will provide an update on legislative activities and proposed bills, preparing attendees to meet with legislators and staff later that day. In addition, invitations have been extended to key legislators and political observers to share their insights with attendees. School board members will earn training credit for attending the conference.


Texas School Business • March 2015

From the Editor If you don’t tell your district’s story, who will? Are you going to leave it to the mainstream media, where “if it bleeds, it leads” is a common refrain? Are you going to let rumors and speculation work itself into a frenzy and on social media? School administrators need to take the lead in sharing both the successes and the challenges of our public schools with all stakeholders. Armed with all the information — and the right information — community members and the media are more likely to support our schools in good times and in bad. This month’s cover story highlights three districts that are building strong relationships with the media and their communities with robust outreach initiatives. They have some good tips to share with you too. Another way to get your stories out there is to let us tell them! I welcome your ideas and would love to hear from you. Do you know of someone who should be in our Spotlight? Just send me an email at katie@texasschoolbusiness.com. Also, if you have an innovative program worth bragging about, we’re taking nominations for the Ninth Annual Bragging Rights issue. This special issue will celebrate 12 school districts that are doing remarkable things. You can read more about Bragging Rights and fill out a nomination form by clicking on Bragging Rights in the menu bar on our home page, www.texasschoolbusiness.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

Katie Ford Editorial Director

(ISSN 0563-2978 USPS 541-620) March 2015 Volume LXI, Issue 6 406 East 11th Street Austin, Texas 78701 Phone: 512-477-6361 • Fax: 512-482-8658 www.texasschoolbusiness.com Editorial Director Katie Ford Design Phaedra Strecher Columnists Bobby Hawthorne, Riney Jordan, Terry Morawski, Jim Walsh Advertising Sales Manager Lance Lawhon

Castleberry Elementary School Castleberry ISD

Texas Association of School Administrators Executive Director Johnny L. Veselka Assistant Executive Director, Services and Systems Administration Ann M. Halstead Director of Communications and Media Relations Amy Francisco ISSN 0563-2978 USPS 541-620 Published monthly, except for July/August and November/ December, and the Bragging Rights issue published in December by Texas Association of School Administrators, 406 East 11th Street, Austin, TX 78701. Periodical Postage Paid at Austin, Texas and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Texas Association of School Administrators, 406 East 11th Street, Austin, TX 78701.

© Copyright 2015 Texas Association of School Administrators March 2015 • Texas School Business


TCWSE rallies in Austin for annual conference The Texas Council of Women School Executives held its annual conference in January in Austin. The theme was “Stepping into Our Future … Learning and Leading.” Conference speakers included Mary Ann Whiteker, superintendent of Hudson ISD; Martha SalazarZamora, chief academic officer of Tomball ISD; and Andrea Seale, director of instructional programs in Whitehouse ISD.

Sheila Adams of Lufkin ISD and Sonya Hamilton of Lancaster ISD.

TCWSE officers Patricia Ramirez, past president, John H. Wood Jr. Charter School; LaTonya Goffney, president, Lufkin ISD; Tina Seaman, vice president, Katy ISD; Stacey McGraw, president-elect, Allen ISD; Jean Bahney, past president, Austin ISD; and Sharon Ross, secretary, Mexia ISD.

Karen Rue, superintendent of Northwest ISD and TASA president-elect, greets TCWSE conference attendees.

Danette Maldonado, Houston ISD; Martha Salazar-Zamora, Tomball ISD; Lupita Hinojosa, Spring ISD; Viviana Lopez, Texas Education Agency; Patricia Ramirez, John H. Wood Jr. Charter School; and Deann Lee and Cathy Bradshaw of Milsap ISD.

TCWSE members gather for a breakout session called Best Mentoring with Master Specialists. 6

Texas School Business • March 2015

TCWSE past presidents Lu Stephens, Dianne Stegall, Viviana Lopez, Patricia Ramirez, Vicki Miller, Elizabeth Clark, Barbara Sultis, Shirley Coleman, Jennifer Blaine and Jean Baney.

Dorinda Wade, Kelly Prout, LaTonya Goffney, April Sebesta and Kathy Jost, all of Lufkin ISD.

THE LAW DAWG – Unleashed by Jim Walsh

Des Moines dodges the bullet this time


ast month in this space I wrote about a 5th Circuit decision involving student free speech. This month, I’ll focus on a case that is not going to court because of the wise decision of a high school principal. A group of kids at Central Academy in Des Moines, Iowa, wanted to express their opinions about the non-indictment of police officers after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. They staged a march, of sorts, through the school hallways during their lunch hour. Signs were held and chants were chanted. And then the group of kids — about 50 — laid down in what looks like a part of the cafeteria for four and a half minutes. This so-called “die in” was to symbolize the four and a half hours that Michael Brown’s body was reportedly left on the street in Ferguson. When the story appeared on a local TV station’s website, it drew predictable comments from the general public. Much of the debate was about the guilt or innocence of the police officers. The loudest and most persistent commenters were strongly behind the cops and accused the kids of being unwitting pawns of the leftist media. But what caught my attention was the comment of “Terry,” who said: “The faculty and principle should be fired for failing to maintain control of the school. What a bunch of morons.” Let us not make too much of the misspelling of the word “principal” by a person accusing others of being morons. No, let’s not be so petty as to suggest that people who call other people “morons” should maybe check their spelling before they publish something. Let’s consider the charge that the principal and faculty had lost control of the school. Terry was particularly

responding to the fact that the principal had high praise for the kids, applauding their social awareness and characterizing the entire episode as “way cool.” Had the principal lost control of the school? I don’t think so. The protest lasted about 15 minutes, according to the news reports. It did not disturb any classes or other school activities. It was during the lunch hour. The “die in” appeared to take place in an out-of-the-way part of the building so as not to impede traffic flow. Just imagine what would have happened if the principal had attempted to stop this from happening, or if he had punished any of the kids involved. Every civil rights lawyer in the country would jump at this case. This could have led to years of litigation, with thousands of dollars spent on attorneys instead of teachers. And the school would have lost. Now that’s what I would call “failing to maintain control of the school.” And how ironic for this to happen in Des Moines. After all, Des Moines was the home of Mary Beth Tinker of the famous Tinker v. Des Moines case, which established the legal principle that students can express their views on controversial subjects as long as they do not cause a material and substantial disruption of school. This would have made the lawsuit all the more juicy and attractive. The media loves to report stupid things that school administrators do, and, unfortunately, there are plenty of stupid things to report. So, I wanted to shine a spotlight on a particularly wise decision by a high school principal, Mr. Gary McClanahan. Kudos, sir! JIM WALSH is an attorney with Walsh Anderson Gallegos Green and Treviño P.C. He can be reached at jwalsh@wabsa. com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @jwalshtxlawdawg.



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March 2015 • Texas School Business


Who’s News Abilene ISD Ketta Garduno has been named principal of the Academy of Technology, Engineering, Math and Science. Most recently principal of Reagan Elementary School, she has been a teacher, counselor, district adKetta Garduno ministrator and principal since beginning her career in 1988 at Abilene High School. She was a counselor at Bowie, Crockett and Reagan elementaries before being named Reagan’s principal in 2011. She has also worked as a federal programs specialist in Midland ISD and as a high school counselor in Greenwood and Winters ISDs. In addition, she has been an adjunct professor of education at Midland College and an educational technology teaching assistant at Texas A&M University, where she earned her doctorate in educational administration. Garduno earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Abilene Christian University. Jennifer Haslup has been promoted from Reagan Elementary School instrucJennifer Haslup tional coordinator to

the school’s principal. A graduate of Texas A&M University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she taught second and fourth grades at Reagan before taking her most recent position there in 2013. Bastrop ISD A new principal is in place for Red Rock Elementary School. Laura Krcmar was previously the school’s assistant principal. A graduate of Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in English, she received Laura Krcmar her master’s degree in education from Concordia University. In addition to her most recent position, she has been a classroom teacher for grades two through five, an instructional coach and a summer school program coordinator. Bronte ISD New Superintendent Tim Siler comes to Bronte ISD from Hamlin ISD, where he was the high school principal. Bryan ISD Leroy Morales, most recently principal of the MC Harris School, has been appointed executive director of human

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resources and support services. Since joining Bryan ISD in 2013, he has also led the district’s disciplinary alternative education program. Before that, he was associate princiLeroy Morales pal of Cypress Springs High School in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD and summer school principal of Cypress Ridge High School in the same district. He also worked in student services and assistant principal positions in Klein and Aldine ISDs. Morales’ 24-year career in education also has included 12 years as a classroom teacher. Buckholts ISD The district has hired a new elementary principal, Lindsie Almquist. During her career, she has taught second and fourth grade gifted and talented students, ESL and special education classes in Lindsie Almquist Round Rock ISD. In addition, she was assistant principal of Plum Creek Elementary in Lockhart ISD and then served as the school’s interim principal. Almquist holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Texas State University. Now serving as the district’s secondary principal is Travis Murphy, who came to Texas from Virginia in 2006. In addition to his principal duties, he will serve as Buckholts Travis Murphy ISD’s athletic director. Bullard ISD Former Katy ISD Assistant Superintendent Todd Schneider is now Bullard ISD’s superintendent. An educator for 27 years, he was a teacher and coach in Spring Branch, Crandall and Kemp ISDs before serving as an assistant principal in Crandall ISD and spending seven years as a principal in Martin’s Mill ISD. Schneider, who earned his bachelor’s degree See WHO’S NEWS on page 10


Texas School Business • March 2015

TECH TOOLBOX by Terry Morawski

Is your student data private?


n light of recent breaches of Internet security nationally and internationally, I thought it would be a good time to look at student data privacy. In 2014, much attention was paid to app purchases for classroom use as many districts continue to deploy or allow electronic devices in schools. There’s no doubt how technology can enhance student learning, but Web-based tools also have the potential to introduce inappropriate content and expose school networks to security breaches. While it’s getting easier for parents and educators to identify apps that pose risks, the risks surrounding user data collection (read: student data collection) remain harder to pin down. As an example, did you select “yes” or “no” the last time an app asked permission to collect your user data? Did you really think about why you accepted or declined? User data often is collected to improve software performance and enhance end-user experience, but that’s not always the case. In January, Google joined more than 90 companies in taking the student privacy pledge, which was created by advocacy groups and supported by the White House. Google initially was not part of the group but later joined following pressure from Washington. At the time I wrote this column, legislation was in the works to limit how education vendors sell student data and direct advertising at students. The Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, developed the pledge. You can learn more about the group at www.futureofprivacy.org. The student privacy pledge commits companies to: • not sell student information; • not behaviorally target advertising; • use data for authorized education purposes only; • not change privacy policies without notice and choice; • enforce strict limits on data retention; • support parental access to, and correction of errors in, their children’s information; • provide comprehensive security standards; and

• be transparent about collection and use of data. As campus and district leaders, it is important to think about how companies are approaching these issues. It is appropriate to ask vendors what their policies are related to student privacy. Some basic questions to ask are: • What kind of student data will you collect? • If student information is collected, how is that information used? • How do you store and secure collected data? • Does your app use cookies, and how will that data be collected? Easy access to user data and the encroachment of advertising are two areas that will continue to affect education technology for years to come. Administrators must remain vigilant to protect both students and teachers. What are some strategies to stay on top of these issues? Be aware. Keep a firm grasp on the Web-based applications students and teachers are using in classrooms for assignments and research. Set boundaries. When it comes to classroom technology, decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for your staff and students — and communicate those boundaries. Do not be afraid to create a list of apps, software and sites that are prohibited on school grounds. Research. Talk to your existing technology vendors — and prospective vendors — about their data collection policies and procedures. Remove. If possible, block prohibited apps, software and sites from school hardware and networks. TERRY MORAWSKI is the deputy superintendent of administrative services for Comal ISD. You can reach him at terrymorawski@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @terrymorawski.

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Who’s News WHO’S NEWS continued from page 8

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from the University of Northern Colorado, holds a master’s degree in education administration from Texas A&M University at Commerce. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Susan Brenz, principal of Yeager Elementary School, will lead Woodard Elementary as principal when the new campus opens in August for the 2015-2016 school year. She has spent her entire career in Cypress-FairSusan Brenz banks ISD, beginning as a fifth grade teacher at Holmsley Elementary. She next taught sixth grade at Aragon Middle School, where she also served as chair of the English Department and the school’s academic standards committee. She was assistant principal of Jowell Elementary for the 2003-2004 school year, then spent 2004 to 2007 in the same capacity at Keith Elementary. She took her most recent position at Yeager in 2008 after serving there as assistant principal for a year. Brenz holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston. Decatur ISD The new principal of Decatur High School is Jeff Russell, who comes from Birdville ISD, where he was a middle school principal. He has been an educator for 19 years, 16 of those as an administrator. He earned his bachJeff Russell elor’s degree in history from The University of Texas at Arlington and his master’s degree in education from Texas Woman’s University. Deer Park ISD The Deer Park ISD Board of Trustees has named Victor White as the district’s superintendent. He has been with

Deer Park ISD since 1978, initially working as a science teacher and coach at Deepwater Junior High. He then transferred to Deer Park Junior High and Victor White was named the school’s assistant principal in 1992. He became principal there in 1994, remaining in that job until 2007, when he was appointed assistant superintendent for instruction. He was promoted to deputy superintendent in 2013. A graduate of Deer Park High School, White received his bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Texas A&M University and his master’s degree in educational management from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD Gary Dix is now serving as assistant principal of Watson High School. Previously a teacher and coach at Euless Junior High in Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, Brewer Middle School in White Settlement ISD and Arlington Gary Dix Heights High in Fort Worth ISD, he was assistant principal of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD’s Willkie Middle School since 2010 and was named 2012-2013’s ESC Region 11 Assistant Principal of the Year by the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tarleton State University. Vanessa Kiser has been named assistant principal of Chisholm Ridge Elementary School, coming to her new job from serving as that school’s Response to Intervention specialist since 2012. Prior to that, she was a Vanessa Kiser teacher in Northwest and Lewisville ISDs. Kiser has been an educator for 16 years, also working as a campus instructional leader and STAR (Strategic Techniques for Academic Results) teacher in Lewisville ISD. She earned her bachSee WHO’S NEWS on page 19


Texas School Business • March 2015

GAME ON! by Bobby Hawthorne

Sticks and stones and social media


any years ago, I was a halfdecent wide receiver on a 13-1 high school football team. Fairly early in the only game we lost, with us facing fourth and goal at about their 5-yard line, the coaches sent in a play that had me running a quick out pattern into the short side of the field. Though it was a bread-and-butter play, I got slightly lost in the moment. I’m not sure if I ran the route too deep or too shallow, but for whatever reason, the ball flashed in my face right as I made my cut. It sailed off my fingertips and past me, and we squandered the first of several chances to move on to the state finals and lose to Sonora. I never thought about that play until maybe 20 years later. And in the 20 years since then, I’ve thought about it hundreds of times because, at a homecoming or a class reunion or some such, one of my teammates basically said I dropped the ball and that’s why we lost. Again, I’m a little cloudy on the details of that play, but I know this: I did not drop the ball. It sailed past me as I made my cut. Even if I had dropped it, that’s not why we lost. It was a team effort. Sounds pretty pathetic for an old man to be defending himself all these years later, right? Well, imagine how I might have felt all those years ago if, shortly after we had lost by one lousy point, a teammate or classmate or some cranky parent or demented fan had posted online: “Thanks, Hawthorne, for dropping the ball and costing us a state championship. You suck!” I’m certain these 14 words would have humiliated me, killed me, even though I know athletes are conditioned to be tough, as immune to criticism as they are nonchalant to praise. Or so we’ve been told. For years, education psychologists have held that athletes are far less likely

than their non-athlete counterparts to contemplate suicide, much less go through with it. Sports, they say, offers a protective coating against the warning signs for suicide: drug use, depression, aggression and alienation. The trouble is, the most recent research I found was published in 2008, only a year after Twitter hit the Internet. It’s unlikely anyone has had time to fully explore the psychological effects social media is having on high school athletes. I’m thinking about this because I read a comment to a news article, trashing a four-star high school football player for flipping his college commitment from My State U to Your State U. Some meathead ripped into a 17-yearold kid simply because he changed his mind, and he made it personal. It’s highly unlikely the young man will ever read it, but I wonder what might happen if in a big game to come, facing fourth and goal at his 5-yard line, the coaches sent in a pass play that has him running a quick out pattern into the short side of the field. What if the ball flashes in his face right as he makes his cut and sails off his fingertips, and Your State U loses the best chance it has to move on? What if some meathead tweets: “Thanks, dude, for dropping the ball and costing us a championship. You suck!”? What if it goes viral? Do I have an answer here? Of course not. I have a warning, though: When it comes to social media, athletes may not be as tough as we would like to believe. And while there may be no “I” in team, there is one in “Twitter” and two in “suicide.” BOBBY HAWTHORNE is the author of “Longhorn Football” and “Home Field,” both published by The University of Texas Press. In 2005, he retired as director of academics for the University Interscholastic League.

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TASA Midwinter attracts more than 6,000 administrators to Austin This year’s conference covered a variety of topics, from finance and human resource management to instructional leadership and facility planning. General session speakers included Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams; Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education; and Doug Christensen, emeritus education commissioner for the state of Nebraska.

Kellye Riley of Monahans-Wickett-Pyote ISD and Jill Lankford of Midland Academy Charter.

Dave Plymale of Trinity ISD, Edna Davis Kennedy of Marion ISD and David Kennedy of Westhoff ISD.

Mike Waldrip and Kelly Penny of Coppell ISD.

John Ramos and Brian Yearwood of Lamesa ISD. Steven Brown of Panhandle ISD, Patti Brown of Borger ISD and Douglas Rice of Kelton ISD.

Sandra McCoy-Jackson of Brazosport ISD and Terry Rasmussen of Edgenuity. Chris Moran of Brownsboro ISD and Alex Torres of Pflugerville ISD.

Karen Kopp of Plainview ISD and Diane Frost of Corsicana ISD. (Note from editor: Diane’s daughter is a quoted expert in our cover story!)

Kathleen Sullivan and Steve Ramsey of Eanes ISD. 12

Texas School Business • March 2015

Gerald Hudson of Garland ISD, John Rouse of Rains ISD and Kell Clopton of Kaufman ISD.

Doug Gilstrap of Bellevue ISD, Jason Gilstrap of Rogers ISD and Bill Chapman of Jarrell ISD. Scott Wrehe, Joan Boyd, Kevin Sellers and Francesca Marek of Joshua ISD with April Chiarelli and Brenda Mize of Burleson ISD.

Michelle Pieniazek, Jeremy Harpoole and Cody Carroll, all of Krum ISD.

Robbin Gesch of Round Rock ISD and Rosemary Kelly of Taylor ISD.

Debra Payne and Tammy McKee of The Flippen Group with Nugget Cunningham of Taft ISD.

Willie Black of Judson ISD, Roosevelt Nivens of Lancaster ISD, Helena Mosely of Lancaster ISD and Larry Polk of Terrell ISD. Pete Pape of Deer Park ISD (second from left) with Margie Grimes, Charlene Piggott and Randal O’Brien, all of Goose Creek ISD. March 2015 • Texas School Business


Telling your district’s story Experts share best practices that can help your schools gain visibility and community support by Jennifer LeClaire


Texas School Business • March 2015

In Northside ISD, community members, parents and grandparents support students who set up lemonade stands throughout town to learn about entrepreneurship.


hen it comes to building relationships with the parents, the community and the media, communication is king — and not just communication when you need support. Indeed, constant communication is vital to building strong relationships between your school district and the people it serves. If your district is regularly sharing its goals, challenges and accomplishments with the media and surrounding community, chances are better that you will receive support from stakeholders in good times and in bad. From budget issues to fund-raisers to disaster preparation and beyond, opening the channels of communication to all stakeholders is paramount to establishing trust. The question is, how do you get your story out there regularly and effectively? Texas School Business talked with three battle-tested communications managers from districts large and small to gain their wisdom in launching effective community and media relations campaigns.

Send ambassadors into the community San Antonio’s Northside ISD, the fourth-largest Texas school district, has a $1.2 billion budget and serves 104,000 students at 116 schools. Pascual Gonzalez, the district’s executive director of communications, spends about 40 percent of his time working on media and community relations projects. “The best community relations is at the campus level. While folks may identify themselves with the school district, they mostly will identify with their neighborhood school,” says Gonzalez. Pascual Gonzalez “Principals need formal and continuing staff development on effective community relations programs that are easily put in place, many of which don’t cost very much. Spaghetti dinner fund-raisers with the principals are good examples.” On the community relations front, Northside ISD does everything from hosting health fairs and helping community See TELLING on page 16 March 2015 • Texas School Business


TELLING continued from page 15

members do their taxes to offering hundreds of community education classes and matching up businesses and schools. Northside ISD also offers a “gold card” that gives senior citizens free access to athletic events and fine arts performances at its schools. The district also makes special efforts to address the needs of military families and children. “Every single school and school district employee should become an ambassador for the schools and the school district. For them to become effective ambassadors, they need information,” says Gonzalez. “They need to know about the successes and challenges that public education faces in general but also those particular to the school or district. Ambassadors need to be well-schooled in accomplishments. Eyeball to eyeball is best.” As Gonzalez sees it, effective media relations is also critical to his role. Not a day goes by that a reporter doesn’t call his office about an issue — and often it’s a negative issue. He works to mitigate that negative impact, shaping the angle of the story through personal relationships with reporters. In fact, he says the best media coverage comes from reporters 16

Texas School Business • March 2015

with whom he has taken the time to build strong relationships. “It’s up to us as school communications professionals to develop a meaningful relationship with every single reporter who covers us. This is time-consuming, I know, but success is a fair, balanced and accurate story,” Gonzalez says. “That’s the most we can wish for, as we do not edit stories nor do we prevent stories from being told. Don’t let misinformation go unaddressed During her tenure at Clear Creek ISD, which serves about 41,00 students in 44 schools in 13 municipalities and two counties, Elaina Polsen has dealt with a number of strategic communications issues, including Elaina Polsen passing a huge bond amidst false rumors. A former news reporter, Polsen now spends all of her time on community and media relations as Clear Creek ISD’s director of public information.

Every year, Clear Creek ISD hosts a senior-tosenior prom for high school seniors and the community’s senior citizens. The event is so popular that the district is considering hosting more like-minded events.

Clear Creek ISD stays connected to stakeholders in numerous ways. The district participates in chamber of commerce meetings, the superintendent meets with parents twice a month for coffee, and the deputy superintendent of business and support services oversees a citizens advisory board. Also, several cabinet members are involved in local Rotary clubs. “The over-65 audience is critical to our success,” Polsen says. “We have developed a unique communications plan to keep this group of stakeholders engaged in our schools.” She points to tactics such as a quarterly newsletter, outstanding alumni awards and free passes to musicals. “We also host a senior-to-senior prom for our senior citizens,” she says. “It has grown in popularity to the point we may have to consider adding a second event. Our seniors and students love it.”

Clear Creek ISD’s 2013 bond program was overwhelmingly approved by voters in spite of an aggressive opposition campaign. The key to Polsen’s efforts was putting a communications plan in place before the election. She conducted a phone survey to test key messages. She had solid data on what the community was truly excited about, as well as some areas of the program that did not rank as high, such as a new football stadium. “We created a key message calendar for every week leading up to and during the election, focusing on the strongest messages. We kept this momentum going while simultaneously dealing with a great deal of misinformation from the opposition group,” Polsen says. “As I look back, I honestly can say the volume of misinformation posted on social media and websites actually made us equally as aggressive to set the record straight with accurate information.” According to Polsen, the district held more than 100 face-to-face meetings within a four-week period. District officials made it clear that they were available at any time to discuss the program.

In the end, 70 percent of voters approved the largest bond program in the district’s history. Face time and Facebook are equally important Rachel Frost is a one-person shop at Terrell ISD, which serves about 4,200 students. As the district’s public information officer, she was the first communications professional hired in the district and is responsiRachel Frost ble for building Terrell ISD’s program from scratch. Like Polsen, she is a former news reporter, and she sees issues from both sides. Frost spends much of her time attending meetings and community events and preparing press releases for the local newspaper. She says Terrell is a closeknit community, so maintaining strong relationships with community members and local media is extremely important. “From hosting parent engagement

meetings to partnering with the city and Chamber of Commerce on events, we are constantly looking for new ways to improve community relations,” says Frost. “One of our biggest hurdles when I joined the Tiger Team was improving the perception of the school district. We worked closely with local businesses to rally support for TISD and its students.” Frost’s efforts included sending members of the district’s administrative team to visit with local civic clubs, organizations and churches. The district See TELLING on page 18

Terrell ISD’s “Restore the Roar” campaign encouraged local businesses to show their Tiger pride by decorating their store windows with school colors and Tiger gear. Terrell ISD cheerleaders visited the participating businesses to say thank you and take photos with the store owners. Those photos and businesses then were posted and promoted through the disrict’s social media channels.

March 2015 • Texas School Business


“For our school district, social media seems to be the most effective,” she admits. “It allows us to have an ongoing dialogue with parents, students, staff and community members.”

TELLING continued from page 17

also hosted a Realtors Summit, at which the superintendent shared his vision for the school district and students. Frost provided the real estate agents with up-todate information about new programs that have been implemented in district schools. “For the past two years, TISD has organized a homecoming parade and pep rally for the entire community,” Frost says. “Getting out into the community, sharing the positive stories and hosting events that people can get excited about has made a huge impact on the perception of our schools. “Our community is proud — and our students are proud — to be part of the Terrell Tiger family,” she says. Terrell ISD uses a variety of media relations vehicles. Frost has established strong relationships with the local newspaper, The Terrell Tribune. She also uses online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, e-newsletters, a district website and a news blog to spread the word.

‘For our school district, social media seems to be the most effective. It allows us to have an ongoing dialogue with parents, students, staff and community members.’ — Rachel Frost, public information officer, Terrell ISD

Frost says the district has increased its followers on Facebook from 1,300 to more than 3,600. “Through social media, we are able to share positive stories about our school district, in addition to important updates in the case of an emergency,” she says. “Our messages reach a broad audience, and they are given the opportunity to ask questions or post comments that we can respond to.” Whether or not you invest resources in communication and media relations, there are stories being told every day about your schools, your students and your teachers. Gonzalez says it’s important to engage in those conversations. “When the stories are told, it should include the school’s side,” Gonzalez says. “If we do not present the school’s side — the district’s side — who will?” JENNIFER LECLAIRE is a freelance journalist and author.

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Who’s News WHO’S NEWS continued from page 10

elor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas in Houston and her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of North Texas. The new assistant principal of Willkie Middle School is Danny Knowles, who has been part of the Willkie team since 2009. He has taught English language arts, communications and AVID and has served as a summer school lead teacher. Knowles, who was the district’s Secondary Teacher of the Year in 2012, also taught in White Settlement ISD. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in educational administration from Tarleton State University. El Paso ISD Coronado High School Principal Marielo Morales is now a master principal for El Paso ISD’s area 1. In this position, she will be charged with supporting administrators in developing structures and routines and in setting up the framework for coaching and supervision of all campus staff. Morales will continue in her current position at Coronado until a replacement is named.

San Marcos CISD, he has also held the top position in Rockdale and RosebudLott ISDs. In addition, he has been a high school, middle school and elementary principal; a high school assistant principal; a secondary school teacher; and a varsity athletic coach. He was also a field supervisor for the Lamar University Principal and Educational Technology Leadership Program and served as a member of the Texas Association of School Administrators’ leadership development and legislative committees. Wright received his bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degree in education kinesiology from Stephen F. Austin State University. His doctorate in education was awarded from Lamar University. Lago Vista Darren Webb, former superintendent of Garrison ISD, is now superintendent of Lago Vista ISD. Lewisville ISD Kevin Rogers has agreed to serve as the district’s interim superintendent. He has previously been Lewisville ISD’s chief operating officer and assistant superintendent for secondary education.

Georgetown ISD Tyra Rasberry has been appointed principal of McCoy Elementary School, where she has served as assistant principal since 2013. An educator for 24 years, she began her career as a third and fifth grade teacher in Post ISD, going on to teach and coach at the elementary and middle school levels in Midland and San Saba ISDs and in Lubbock-Cooper ISD, where she took her first administrative position, in 2011, as an elementary assistant principal. She joined Georgetown ISD in 2013. Rasberry is a graduate of Texas Tech University with a degree in early childhood development. She received her master’s degree in education from Wayland Baptist University.

Mesquite ISD Superintendent Linda Henrie has announced her intention to retire at the end of the school year. She has been with the district for 43 years and has held the top position since 2005. She began her career as a business teacher at Mesquite High School, remaining there for 17 years before becoming an administrator. A graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, she has served as chair of the UIL Legislative Council, was named 2011’s Administrator of the Year by the Association of Texas Professional Educators and was the 2012 recipient of the Mayor’s Pillar of the Community Award. In May, Mesquite ISD trustees announced that the district’s newest campus, its 33rd elementary school, will be named after her.

Huntsville ISD A new superintendent, Howell Wright, has been named for the district. Most recently deputy superintendent of

Pearland ISD David Moody, who led Dawson High School as principal since the school opened in 2007, is now Pearland ISD’s

David Moody

executive director of human resource services. With almost two decades of experience as a classroom teacher and administrator, he was the district’s Secondary School Principal of the Year in 2013.

Pflugerville ISD The district’s health services coordinator, Sari McCoy, has been appointed to the Texas Disaster Emergency Preparedness Committee, which supports the efforts of the Governor’s EMS and Trauma Advisory Council. McCoy has more than 20 years of experience in prehospital and in-hospital medicine and 11 years in public education. The new assistant superintendent of secondary education is Susanna Russell, who comes to her position from Ysleta ISD in El Paso, where she was associate superintendent of high schools, athletSusanna Russell ics and fine arts. Prior to joining that district in 2010, she was executive director of human resources and administrative services in Lake Travis ISD in Austin and was a principal for several districts, including Katy and Judson. Russell holds a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University, a master’s degree in education from The University of Texas at San Antonio and a doctorate in educational administration from The University of Texas. Richardson ISD Former Lake Highlands High School Band Director Jeff Bradford has been promoted to director of fine arts. With 14 years of experience in music education, he was a band director in Sherman and Cooper ISDs Jeff Bradford before coming to his most recent position in 2006. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Texas A&M University at Commerce. See WHO’S NEWS on page 24 March 2015 • Texas School Business




Harry Wright Jr. makes the case for Bryan ISD by Autumn Rhea Carpenter


hile the law has a stronghold on Harry Wright Jr.’s heart, education has always been his true love. His parents’ and grandparents’ influential work as teachers, administrators and professors at the secondary and university level made the call of education stronger than he could resist. On Jan. 5, he accepted the position of Bryan ISD’s school attorney, finally merging his two passions. Wright’s journey to this newly created position in Bryan ISD started in 1992, when he earned his bachelor’s degree in government from Dartmouth University. While there, he also was a three-year letterman on the varsity football team, where he served as captain of the 1991 team. A sixth grade math and science teaching position at Peck Elementary in Houston ISD provided the Texas native the perfect opportunity to escape New Hamp-

shire’s frigid weather, as well as gain valuable teaching experience. The same year, Wright began serving at Teach for America, a national teaching corps for recent college graduates who commit to two years of teaching and making a difference in impoverished rural and urban districts. “Teach for America was an awesome experience where I could work in a challenging environment and make a measurable difference,” says Wright. “During the first year, I learned more from my students than they probably learned from me. But I was up and running by year two. I saw what great teachers can do to effect change and learned that, in the end, we are all here to serve the students and create a place that fosters success.” In 1993, while still working with Teach for America, Wright began teach-

ing math and history and coaching football, track and field at Houston ISD’s Fondren Middle School. While teaching, he attended Prairie View A&M University to obtain his master’s degree in education. It was an education law class that piqued Wright’s interest and inspired him to go after yet another degree. By 2002, he earned a law degree at Duke University . “In 1999, I was attending law school and was three hours short of my master’s degree in education,” Wright says. “The first summer after my first year of law school, I clerked and went to class on Saturdays, and, in 2001, earned a master’s of education.” With school behind him, Wright’s law career flourished at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, where he spent the next nine years representing school districts, universities and cities in many facets of the law,

A former teacher and coach, Harry Wright Jr. is now the in-house counsel for Bryan ISD — a first-ever position in the district. 20

Texas School Business • March 2015

including real estate, board governance, construction, labor and employment, contracts, civil rights, and constitution and regulatory matters. “At least 85 percent of our clients were school districts, and I served as their general counsel,” he says. After spending a year managing a private practice where he represented public and private entities in both civil litigation and business law matters, he became a contract attorney at the Hess Corporation in 2013. There, he gained transferrable business experience, analyzing joint operating agreements, commercial contracts, and oil and gas leases. Traditionally, only large school districts require in-house legal counsel, but today, more mid-sized districts are hiring attorneys. “Hiring in-house attorneys is definitely a trend because it offers districts access to instant information, decreasing the amount of time wasted on researching or consulting with outside counsel,” Wright says. “Ultimately, the district personnel can increase their focus on educating students.”

As Bryan ISD’s in-house counsel, Wright will provide expert advice on issues of school law and contracts. He also will assist the district with the contract and legal requirements associated with its recent $132 million bond initiative, which will build new facilities, address infrastructure repairs and replacement, and realign grades. “In a district like Bryan ISD — comprised of 23 campuses and 16,000 students with 72 percent economically disadvantaged — hiring in-house counsel makes good business sense,” says Wright. “It’s simple physics: Instead of having to research and track down a qualified attorney, Bryan ISD staff can walk down the hall for a faceto-face conversation with an in-house legal expert without having to spend time explaining the district’s background, rules and practices. “I’m very excited about this opportunity,” he says. “This a great district to jump aboard. I can’t wait to see our motto ‘Children first, always…the Bryan way’ in action.”


HARRY WRIGHT JR. Proudest moment of my life so far: I think my proudest moment will happen this May when I become a father of twins. If I could take a year off, I would: Travel the world. It has always been high on my bucket list. I would visit Africa in a heartbeat. A skill I’d like to master: I want to master the Spanish language. I did a poor job of it in college and am currently making another attempt. A habit I’d like to break: It would make my wife happy if I would stop leaving doors open.

See Texas schools shine Watch the 2015 student videos

Explore the entries in this year’s Student Video Contest and hear from students themselves what makes their Texas public schools great. Congratulations to this year’s participants for their hard work and creativity. View the entries at tasb.org/studentvideos.

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Winners of the 2015 contest will be announced in April. First-place winners in the elementary, middle, and high school categories will receive $5,000 for their classrooms, and the second-place winners will receive $2,500. March 2015 • Texas School Business


TSPRA PRESIDENT PROFILE Corpus Christi ISD’s Lorette Williams lends her formidable communication talents By Elizabeth Millard


orette Williams has always loved telling stories, whether from behind a news anchor desk, in a school office or in her newest role as TSPRA president. “When you really look around at how much is happening in our state, and in education, it’s not difficult to find great stories to tell,” she says. “I’m thrilled to be in a position where I can help those stories get heard.” Williams started her career in 1997 at KRIS-TV as a police reporter and later as an anchor for “Six News at Sunrise.” But when she had her first baby, getting to work by 4 a.m. began feeling like an impossible feat. She decided to make a change. After doing media relations for Corpus Christi Medical Center for three years, Williams saw an opening at Corpus Christi ISD for

a director of communications, and she knew immediately that it was the right career shift. Her mother had been a teacher for 27 years, so Williams grew up respecting and appreciating education. Also, with five children of her own, Williams was more than familiar with public school challenges and operations. She stepped into her current directorial role in 2004, and her passion for school communications has only gotten stronger. “In a hospital setting, PR is usually dealing with difficult news, but in education, there’s so much fun stuff to share,” she says. “Every single day, I’m hearing stories about students and teachers that I just want everyone to know about. So, that’s my mission.”

Creating communication opportunities When Williams first arrived at Corpus Christi ISD, the district had a static website and wasn’t participating in social media or larger communications strategies. An occasional press release might get sent out, but, in general, the district didn’t generate much news. Seizing an opportunity for broader reach, Williams recruited two communications specialists, a multimedia specialist, a videographer and a graphic designer, creating a team that has completely revamped the district’s communications efforts. The ISD now has a news channel, participates heavily in social media, and frequently updates its website to disseminate news to parents and the general public.

Corpus Christi ISD Communications Director Lorette Williams leads a tour of the district’s newest high school, which is under construction and set to open in August. Veterans Memorial High School was funded with bond dollars from Corpus Christi ISD’s 2010 bond election. It will be the first high school to be built in the district in more than 40 years. Getting voters’ support through community relations campaigns was integral to the bond’s passage. 22

Texas School Business • March 2015

In general, rather than responding to events, the district creates its news, and that’s had a significant positive effect on Corpus Christi ISD, Williams says. Parents now feel more involved and informed, she notes, and that’s created a better sense of cohesion in the community. “People feel part of the district, and that’s powerful,” she says. But not all the news is upbeat. Last year, the district dealt with an unthinkable tragedy, when an 8th grade student had an allergic reaction to fire ants during a football game and ended up passing away after going into anaphylactic shock. The situation put the communications team into overdrive, keeping the community informed on the situation and on the district’s review of policies regarding health-related emergencies. As a result of the incident, the district now has EpiPens in every coach’s medical box and in locations throughout every school building. Williams and her team were instrumental in providing a thoughtful, coordinated response to the tragedy. Looking ahead With such a robust blend of experiences in education and communications, Williams looks forward to her TSPRA presidency, even though she’s taking on the position much earlier than she had anticipated. Williams thought she’d have a year to act as president-elect while fellow communications professional Helen Williams (no relation) from Highland Park ISD took on the presiden-


cy. However, just before the holidays, Helen received a job offer in her hometown of New Orleans, La., and the position was too plum to pass up. With a laugh, Williams says: “It was so great for her, but suddenly I realized that I wouldn’t have a year to get used to the idea of being president. I had a couple weeks instead.” Fortunately, her training and experience as a public relations professional kicked in. After all, PR is about adaptability and responding to new situations quickly, and Williams was able to draw on those talents as she stepped into the presidency. Her most prominent goal for the year ahead is to grow the organization. TSPRA has become an invaluable resource for members, and it could be even stronger with a larger membership base, she says. Smaller districts, in particular, can benefit from TSPRA, she adds, because the association can be a source of support and expertise for schools that might have a modest communications staff. However, the best part about TSPRA is connecting with fellow PR professionals, Williams notes. “There are so many good stories to share, and so much to say about how great our schools are,” she says. “When we work together to communicate that, it can be heard across Texas.”


LORETTE WILLIAMS Best professional advice I’ve ever received: Listen to others, build relationships and lead by example. Something most people wouldn’t guess about me: I don’t like my food to touch. Compartmentalized plates are my best friend. My dream vacation is: Anywhere with water, sun, and fun with family and friends. I earned my first dollar by: Weighing and testing grain at my papaw’s grain elevator.

ELIZABETH MILLARD is a freelance writer, author and co-owner of Bossy Acres CSA.

Successful Principals Are Connected to Their Profession Why encourage your principals to join the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)?

Scan code or visit http://www. tepsa.org/?SampleTepsa to sample resources including the webinar “Handling Parent Complaints: The Policies and Politics” presented by Kevin Lungwitz.

With so much to do as a school principal, it is easy to give in to stress and work in isolation. Dr. Grant Simpson reminds us in a recent TEPSA News column that, “Networking is an important tool. Without it, your sanity is at risk.” Combined membership gives principals access to a nationwide network of colleagues who share best practices, the latest education news and resources, and professional peers who lift each other up when things get tough. Inspired and engaged principals = inspired and engaged students and teachers!

Learn more at www.tepsa.org. March 2015 • Texas School Business


WHO’S NEWS continued from page 19

Round Rock ISD McNeil High School has a new principal. She is Courtney Acosta, who served as the school’s interim principal since September. She was an associate principal at the campus during the Courtney Acosta 2013-2014 school year and was an assistant principal there, from 2009 until taking her most recent position. A graduate of Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences, she

Who’s News earned her master’s degree in education leadership from Lamar University. She began her career in Goose Creek CISD in 2003, teaching physics, conceptual physics, chemistry and integrated chemistry at Lee High School, where she also served as the Science Department chair and science content specialist. In 2005, she joined the Howard County Public School System in Fulton, Md., teaching pre-AP chemistry and introduction to chemistry and physics. Returning to Texas in 2006, she taught physics at Clear Creek High School in Clear Creek ISD, also working as that school’s science instructional specialist.

Acosta came to Round Rock ISD in 2009 as assistant principal of Round Rock High School. She also spent three summers as a summer school principal. New Purple Sage Elementary School Principal Sara Nelson was Union Hill Elementary’s assistant principal since 2011. While in that job, she also served as summer school principal in 2013 and 2014. Prior to beSara Nelson coming an administrator, Nelson taught fourth grade at Canyon


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Who’s News Creek Elementary, from 2004 to 2010. She is a graduate of The University of Texas with a master’s degree from Texas State University. San Angelo ISD Superintendent Carol Ann Bonds will bring her career to a close with her retirement in August. She has led the district for seven years. Socorro ISD Mark Torres, former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Franklin High School, is now athletic coordinator and head football coach at the district’s newest campus, Pebble Hills High School. Born and raised Mark Torres in El Paso, he is a graduate of The University of Texas at El Paso. After graduation, he was hired as an assistant coach at his alma mater, El Paso ISD’s Irvin High School. He next worked at Austin High in El Paso ISD as defensive coordinator, remaining there until taking his most recent position at Franklin. Tomball ISD The new principal of Creekview Elementary School, slated to open for the 2015-2016 school year, is Daron Aston. Currently the principal of Lakewood Elementary, he worked in Mesquite ISD for 19 years before Daron Aston joining Tomball ISD. While there, he was a fifth and sixth grade teacher, an elementary technology facilitator, an assistant principal and principal. Aston received his bachelor’s degree from Baylor University and his master’s degree in education from Texas A&M University at Commerce. When the district’s new Wildwood Elementary School opens in August for the new school year, it will have Sherry Baker as principal. She is now an assistant principal at Tomball Memorial High School. Prior to joining the district, she served for 10 years as the director of instruction at two Cypress Fairbanks

ISD middle schools. She also was a middle school assistant principal and eighth grade math teacher in that district. An educator for 17 years, Baker earned her Sherry Baker bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Houston and her master’s degree in educational leadership from Stephen F. Austin State University. A third new campus, Oakcrest Intermediate School, will open in August with Lee Wright as principal. He began his career in Tomball ISD at Tomball High School, where he spent 11 years as a social studies teacher Lee Wright and mentor, U.S. history team leader, TAKS coordinator, and head swimming and diving coach. He was the district’s Secondary Teacher of the Year in 2006. In 2009, he transferred to Tomball Junior High School as an assistant principal, a position he will hold until moving to his new school. Wright earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and master’s degree in education from Sam Houston State University, where he is pursuing his doctorate.


Weslaco ISD Superintendent Ruben Alejandro has been named Man of the Year by the Weslaco Area Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he was one of 100 superintendents nationwide invited to the Ruben Alejandro White House to participate in the ConnectED Conference, in recognition of his leadership in helping Weslaco ISD transition to digital learning. The conference brought together educators from across the country who are leading their schools and districts in that endeavor. A native of Weslaco and a product of Weslaco public schools, Alejandro earned his master’s degree in supervision from The University of Texas Pan American and his doctorate in educational administration from The University of Texas. He has been an educator for 36 years. Raul Cantu, former instructional facilitator of Weslaco East High School, is now principal of that campus. A graduate of Weslaco High School, he received his bachelor’s degree in biology and his master’s degree in education from The University of Texas Pan American and his See WHO’S NEWS on page 27


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Say what truly needs to be said by Nancy Oelklaus


lthough I couldn’t see the person on the other end of our phone conversation, in my mind’s eye I could see her blanch when I recommended a gentle confrontation. She was an elementary principal, my coaching client. She had just told me the story of a third grade teacher whose students were not doing as well in reading as were the third graders in other teachers’ classes. When the grade-level team would meet, this teacher would throw her hands up and say: “I’m giving it all I’ve got. I don’t know what else to do.” But, on other occasions, this teacher would indicate she did know what to do. She just wasn’t doing it. It’s the age-old human story, isn’t it? To lose weight, we all know what we need to do. To live within our means, we know what to do. To drive safely, we know to follow the speed limit and stay within the lane. To alleviate stress, we know to breathe deeply and take breaks. We know exercise is good for us. But, how many of us simply don’t do what we know is good for us and everyone around us? This teacher knew how to teach reading. So, she was being human. The principal was also being human. The principal had known this teacher

for 20 years, and they enjoyed a congenial working relationship. On a previous occasion, this principal had experienced

‘Most educators I’ve worked with through the years are congenial people. They are exceptionally good at forming relationships and calming situations. They like to keep things on an even keel. My client’s resistance when I suggested confrontation was not surprising.’ a bad review after she had pushed too hard. She had been stung, so she was cautious, unwilling to risk confrontation. Most educators I’ve worked with through the years are congenial people. They are exceptionally good at forming relationships and calming situations. They like to keep things on an even keel.

My client’s resistance when I suggested confrontation was not surprising. However, there’s a type of confrontation that actually enhances relationships. The magic comes when we fulfill our own responsibility and speak from our hearts. The conversation might go something like this: “The children in your class deserve to score as well as their peers in reading. This is your responsibility as a teacher. What are you willing to do differently?” The success of this conversation hinges on two critical elements: 1. The principal’s nonjudgmental state of mind, having compassion for the human condition that prevents all of us from doing what we know. Compassion is the energy of the heart. The principal must put her mind in neutral and her heart in gear. 2. The principal’s use of the word “willing” when she poses her question to the teacher. Most people don’t realize that willingness is the first step in change. It’s also a clear channel that allows the teacher to come up with her own solutions. If the teacher’s response to the principal’s question is “nothing,” all the principal has to say is, “That’s not OK with me.” The conversation is then over. Leave the teacher to decide what she’ll do. That’s called empowerment. It’s time to say what truly needs to be said, with compassion for everyone and respect for all. The key to success is to go through the heart. NANCY OELKLAUS is a leadership coach in Austin. The tool she describes in this article is called “the eye of the needle.” Read more about it in her book, “Journey from Head to Heart: Living and Working Authentically” or contact her directly through www.nancyoelklaus.com.


Texas School Business • March 2015

Who’s News WHO’S NEWS continued from page 25

doctorate in leadership studies from Our Lady of the Lake University. During his career, he has been a high school science teacher, Gear Up counselor and CTE Raul Cantu career development advisor, in addition to his most recent position. He is also an adjunct lecturer for Our Lady of the Lake’s La Feria campus weekend program. The principal of Weslaco ISD’s new 21st Century CTE Early College High School is Olga Estrada. She has been an educator for 28 years, working in Harlingen CISD as an elementary teacher, assistant prinOlga Estrada cipal and administrator. In Weslaco ISD, she has been a curriculum and instruction facilitator at Weslaco East High School since 2006. Estrada received her bachelor’s degree in bilingual education from The University of Texas Pan American and her master’s degree in mid-management and supervision from Stephen F. Austin State University. Her doctorate in educational leadership was earned at Liberty University. Linda Hernandez is now principal of Ybarra Elementary School. She has been an educator for 24 years, working as a teacher, counselor, GEAR UP facilitator, curriculum and instruction facilitator, and assistant principal. She has been an ad-

ministrator for 12 years, four years at the secondary level and eight at the elementary level. Hernandez is a graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio Linda Hernandez with a master’s degree from The University of Texas Pan American. Sue Peterson, who was principal of Weslaco High School for 15 years, has been named the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. After completing her bachelor’s degree at Hope College in HolSue Peterson land, Mich., she joined Weslaco ISD, taking her first teaching job at Cuellar Elementary School in 1981. She remained there for nine years before becoming a facilitator at Hoge Middle School and Hoge Ninth Grade Academy. She took her first administrative position in 1996 as principal of Roosevelt Intermediate School. Four years later, she became principal of Weslaco East High School. Peterson received her master’s degree in school leadership from The University of Texas Pan American, where she is working toward her doctoral degree. She was named Secondary School Principal of the Year in 2008 by the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals. That same year, she was the recipient of the H-E-B Excellence in Education Award. Now serving as principal of Silva Elementary School is Janet Standard.

She is a graduate of The University of Texas Pan American with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and a master’s degree in education. She has been an Janet Standard educator for 19 years, working as a classroom teacher for grades pre-K through five. In addition, she has been director of professional development. West ISD David Truitt is West ISD’s new superintendent. He began his career in Houston ISD, where he taught for three years before transferring to Katy ISD to spend eight years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He then was with Waxahachie ISD for more than eight years, working as an assistant superintendent, deputy superintendent and interim superintendent. West Orange-Cove CISD Silvia Martinez, who has been the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction since 2011, has agreed to serve as interim superintendent. She was an elementary school principal and high school assistant principal in Dallas ISD and worked as a middle school assistant principal in Duncan ISD. Martinez, who holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and Spanish, received her master’s and doctoral degrees in education administration. TSB

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March 2015 • Texas School Business


An educated response to cyberbullying by Debra L. Innocenti and Monica Velazquez


yberbullying can happen anytime and anywhere, and it can reach children even when they are alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 20 percent of high school students were bullied on electronic media in 2014. In an effort to address the growing problem, state legislatures have enacted laws imposing requirements on educational institutions to investigate and discipline cyberbullies. Most recently, an Illinois law, made effective Jan. 1, expands a school’s authority to investigate cyberbullying claims even if the reported incident occurred outside school hours and grounds. Even so, when and how a school responds to reports of cyberbullying can expose it to liability if the school oversteps its authority. Does a school have an obligation to intervene? Yes. Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code requires each independent school district to prohibit cyberbullying and to enforce those prohibitions. The school district is also required to have specific options developed under its local policy that are appropriate to each grade level and that provide for preventing and intervening in instances of cyberbullying. In addition, public schools may be subject to civil rights lawsuits if the student’s bullying is based on race, gender or disability and the school does nothing to intervene. Moreover, schools covered by federal law Title IX have an obligation to take prompt and effective action to end hostile environments caused by sexual harassment, including such harassment in electronic form. Is the school exposed to liability if it intervenes? If the school exceeds its authority or infringes on a student’s rights, yes. This is of particular concern to schools that are recipients of federal assistance (generally, public schools) because they are considered governmental actors and are prohibited from violating a student’s 28

Texas School Business • March 2015

freedom of expression. A student’s speech will lose this protection when it becomes a “true threat.” Case law has provided some guidelines to consider in determining whether the school can and should intervene, often referred to as the “substantial disruption” standard. The standard looks at whether the cyberbullying substantially or materially disrupted learning and interfered with the educational process or school discipline. Because court rulings have been unpredictable and application of the legal tests is fact-intensive, it is advisable for a school’s legal counsel to be involved before the school acts. How can a school respond to anonymous cyberbullying? Unfortunately, the Internet makes anonymity easy to maintain. Perpetrators easily can create email addresses and Twitter accounts separate from their identifies to do their bullying. In addition, social apps such as Yik Yak and After School, which allow users to anonymously post on message boards and microblogs, have become popular platforms for cyberbullying. Most of these apps have been adapted to prevent misuse, and the developers often caution users that they will assist the victims of cyberbullies by providing IP addresses and time stamps related to the abusive messages. A cyber-crime investigator then can use geolocation websites to determine the general location of the message transmission. In addition, app developers have been agreeable to working with schools to create “geofences” around schools that disable the app within a geographic reference. What should a school consider in enacting a cyberbullying policy? Although Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code requires school districts to have a policy that prohibits bullying and harassment, a model policy has not been developed. A school will need to consider a policy that does not infringe on a student’s rights to freedom of expression, freedom from unreasonable searches

and seizures, and right to due process. In addition, the school will need to craft proportionate remedies for cyberbullying incidents and perhaps prohibit retaliation or false accusations against a target or witness of cyberbullying. What can a school do to prevent cyberbullying? Schools can work to prevent cyberbullying by setting clear guidelines for using social media and the Internet while on school grounds and by monitoring or limiting students’ Internet use on school computers. Education on how to respond to cyberbullying — either as a target or a bystander — also can be helpful. Of course, promoting empathy, healthy interaction and ethical decision-making will translate to how students relate to each other online. DEBRA L. INNOCENTI is a partner in Strasburger & Price LLP’s special litigation practice group. She resolves disputes and litigation related to financial services, the Internet and intellectual property. MONICA VELAZQUEZ, a partner at Strasburger, is a labor and employment lawyer who represents employers, including school districts, housing authorities, cities and other governmental entities. She counsels her clients on employment relationships.

ACCEPTING NOMINATIONS NOW! Texas School Business wants to brag about you! Submit your nomination today for possible inclusion in the Ninth Annual Bragging Rights 2015-2016 special issue, which honors 12 deserving school districts and their innovative programs. Every winter, Texas School Business publishes and distributes this special issue to thousands of stakeholders in Texas public education. Does your school or district have a program that’s wildly successful? Then you could be featured among our Top 12! Simply visit www.texasschoolbusiness. com and click on Bragging Rights in the menu to fill out a nomination form. The nomination deadline is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. Questions? Contact Texas School Business Editorial Director Katie Ford at katie@texasschoolbusiness.com.

www.texasschoolbusiness.com March 2015 • Texas School Business


THE BACK PAGE by Riney Jordan

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When an instant fix just isn’t possible


any of the issues we deal with in education are not “instant.” They are often slow, tedious, unpredictable and require the patience of Job. I recently heard the most amazing story of a teenage girl who was a student at a large high school in a growing suburban district. She stood out from the others. You could see the anger in her clothes. You could sense the rage in her looks. You knew her life was difficult just from a quick glance. Yet, if you stripped away the obvious, here was a blonde-headed, blue-eyed child who needed genuine love and affection. As information about her life began to surface, one could only shake their head in disbelief and pity. As hard as it is for some of us to comprehend, here are the facts of this young girl we’ll call Brandy: 1. Her mother was a known drug addict who was frequently found on the streets and placed in jail. 2. Her father, who was forced by the courts to assume the parental role, was a “recreational” drug user. 3. She was an only child, left to raise herself in an environment that gave her freedom to do what she wanted, when she wanted and where she wanted. When Brandy did attend classes, it wouldn’t be long before she was sent to the office for foul language, fighting or disrespect. More often than not, it was obvious that she was high on something. As one administrator said: “When Brandy wasn’t on campus, the whole day just went better.” Through patience and understanding, one of the female principals began to break through Brandy’s tough, calloused exterior. Gradually, the young girl began to open up and reveal what life was like for her. She spoke openly of using cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs. She detailed making drug-laced drinks and smoking pot since she was a young child. Here was a child who had been physically, mentally and sexually abused, quite possibly for years. The more Brandy talked, the administrator’s mind 30

Texas School Business • March 2015

whirled with disbelief, disgust and pity for a child who had missed childhood. The precious little girl had become accustomed to instant escape from the horrors that surrounded her daily. The crowning blow came on the day she came to school so high that she could barely stay awake. Even before going to class, she headed straight for the assistant principal’s office. Through tears, she told of her weekend of drug use with her mother and of vague memory of alcohol and assorted pills. It was also discovered that Brandy had brought drugs to school. She pleaded for the administrator to give her one more chance. “I’m on probation,” she screamed. “I’ll go to jail! I’ve got a felony!” “I have no choice, Brandy. You need help. Things have got to change,” she responded. “I love you. I care about you. I want to help you, and this can be a start.” The police were called, and they escorted Brandy from the building as she screamed obscenities and fought like a caged animal. As the patrol car drove away, the administrator once again sadly shook her head and began to cry. A mother herself, she realized how wrong, how evil, how tragic this child’s life had been. However, this story does have a more promising ending. The next time the two met, Brandy threw her arms around her principal’s neck, sobbing uncontrollably. “Forgive me,” she cried. “I know now you were just trying to get me some help. Thank you for caring about me. No one ever really had before you.” Instant results? Not this time. It will take patience, compassion and understanding for years, possibly even for a lifetime, from a great many individuals. But as we all know, changing a student’s life for the better is not a job for the impatient. RINEY JORDAN’s “The Second Book” is now available at www.rineyjordan.com, along with his other publications. You can contact him at (254) 386-4769, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @ RineyRiney.

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