INSIGHT - Spring 2024

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TASA’s executive superintendents are here to help
Plus: TSPRA Honors TASA's
Woods and Rivers

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Volume 39 No. 1


The interface of the Teacher Incentive Allotment with the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System by George Willey


Advocating for Texas public schools in the drive-through line by Patti Pawlik-Perales

Protecting student and staff data: best practices and strategies from Texas Education Technology Leaders by the TETL Digital Shift Committee

Planting seeds for the future by Naveen Cunha

The curious leader: a dance of dichotomies by Quintin Shepherd



TASA Professional Learning Calendar

President’s Message

Executive Director’s View


Executive Director Kevin Brown

Deputy Executive Director, Charles Dupre Member Engagement & Support

Director, Communications Amy Francisco & Marketing

Coordinator, Graphics & Multimedia 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. © 2024 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.

About TASA

TASA’s mission is to promote, provide and develop leaders who create and sustain studentcentered schools and develop future-ready students.

We envision innovative, future-focused leaders for every public school student.

TASA values the strengths, contributions, and varying perspectives of all educational leaders. Our goal is to intentionally equip and support school districts and leaders as they foster a culture in which all students and adults are valued for their unique gifts, supported academically, socially, and emotionally, and empowered to reach their full potential.


LaTonya Goffney, President, Aldine ISD

Martha Salazar-Zamora, President-Elect, Tomball ISD

Chris Moran, Vice President, San Angelo ISD

Gonzalo Salazar, Past President, Los Fresnos CISD


Rene Gutierrez, Region 1, McAllen ISD

Sharon McKinney, Region 2, Port Aransas ISD

Robert O’Connor, Region 3, Edna ISD

Walter Jackson, Region 4, La Porte ISD

Stacey Brister, Region 5, Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD

Darol Hail, Region 6, New Waverly ISD

Carnelius Gilder, Region 7, West Sabine ISD

Jason McCullough, Region 8, Mount Vernon ISD

Sonny Cruse, Region 9, Graham ISD

John “JJ” Villarreal, Region 10, Rockwall ISD

Jeremy Thompson, Region 11, Denton ISD

Bobby Ott, Region 12, Temple ISD

Steven Snell, Region 13, Liberty Hill ISD

David Young, Region 14, Abilene ISD

Aaron Hood, Region 15, Robert Lee ISD

Sheri Blankenship, Region 16, Hereford ISD

Scott Harrell, Region 17, Sudan ISD

Jay McWilliams, Region 18, Big Spring ISD

Jeannie Meza-Chavez, Region 19, San Elizario ISD

Burnie Roper, Region 20, Lackland ISD


Sanée Bell, Katy ISD

Roland Hernandez, Corpus Christi ISD

Paula Patterson, Crosby ISD

Diana Sayavedra, El Paso ISD


Donny Lee, Member Engagement

Michelle McCord, Legislative

Roosevelt Nivens, Advocacy

Macy Satterwhite, Professional Learning


Chris Moran, San Angelo ISD, Chair

Donny Lee, Wichita Falls ISD

Michelle McCord, Frenship ISD

Roosevelt Nivens, Lamar CISD

Macy Satterwhite, Lubbock-Cooper ISD

Stacey Edmonson, Sam Houston State University


TASA Professional Learning Calendar

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

Date Event Location MAY 6-7 TASA/N2 Learning Executive Leadership Institute Session 4 Lakeway 6-7 TASA/N2 Learning Principals' Institute Session 6 Lakeway 7 TASA/TASB/TASBO Budget Cohort for Texas District Leaders Session 8 Online 7-9 TASA Small Schools Network Event 4 Port Aransas 16 TASA Breakaway Leadership Session 5 Online JUNE 6 TASA Breakaway Leadership Session 6 Online 10-12 TASA txedFest Summer Conference San Antonio 9 TASA/TASB/TASBO Budget Cohort for Texas District Leaders Session 9 Round Rock JULY 24-25 TASA First-Time Superintendents Academy Session 1 Round Rock

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Let’s stay focused and on course together. The future is bright and I am confident the best is yet to come.


What a great privilege it has been to serve you as TASA president! When I first became a superintendent more than 15 years ago, serving in this role was a goal I set for myself. I aspired to be like the leaders I saw at those TASA meetings, those who were asking the hard questions, pushing the boundaries and making change. This experience has exceeded all my expectations and is something I will treasure as I continue my journey. It also confirmed something I felt to be true at the time and that I wholeheartedly believe today: Leadership matters.

Public education has historically faced and overcome a myriad of challenges — funding, school closures, teacher shortages, safety issues, weather — and we will continue to have tremendous work ahead of us. Regardless of what obstacles are in our way, strong leadership is what gets us through every time.

In Aldine, we believe that Leadership Matters, and we even have our own leadership definition, which is the standard for what it means to be a true leader. This past year, I have witnessed TASA leaders exhibit this kind of leadership, and I urge you all to continue to keep inspiring and encouraging one another so that future generations of leaders continue to lead the charge.

Connect with each other. All our districts — large, small, rural, urban — are served by TASA and have the opportunity to engage in our collective work in meaningful ways. The work we do cannot be done in a bubble. To make a true impact, we must collaborate to expand our knowledge and understanding, and to share our ideas and points of view. This year, we did that in a big way, and it started by luring seasoned vet Dr. Brian Woods out of retirement and welcoming him into the newly created leadership position of deputy executive director of advocacy. In just a few months, he traveled more than 10,000 miles within Texas to connect with our stakeholders and partners in order to share our mission and our advocacy initiatives. Back in Austin, under the leadership of Amy Beneski and Dr. Casey McCreary, our Governmental Relations team tracked more than 1,400 education bills and distributed more than 100 Capitol Watch Alerts. TASA is getting things done. The TASA footprint, frequent-flyer miles and impact continue to expand and continue to get stronger.

Inspire yourself and others. It is the responsibility of each member to hold our organization accountable to our pursuits. We must also support each other and embrace our role as leaders who inspire our fellow educators to serve our students amid a challenging and changing world so that they are future-ready. I am so proud to say that this year, we’ve enhanced our learning opportunities to foster meaningful engagement and connections, and to help equip TASA leaders with the right tools and inspire them to forge ahead. While we’ve done a lot in this arena, such as launching a newly designed School Transformation Network and elevating signature TASA events, there are a few new initiatives that I am especially proud of and that I hope and truly believe will have a long-lasting impact on members moving forward.

The TASA Executive Coaching Network continues to expand, growing to 23 coaches this year from 10 coaches last year. Thanks to $300,000 in grants from the Meadows Foundation and Pioneer Foundation, our coaches are credentialed through the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and have received extensive training in order to help our leaders navigate

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through challenges and amplify their capabilities. More than 70 superintendents, including first-time superintendents, received executive coaching this year, and we look forward to adding new leaders to the network.

Another powerful leadership and continued professional learning opportunity are our Virtual Book Studies, where we have an opportunity to dig into a leadership book to gain valuable insights, practical strategies, and real-life examples that can be applied to our own daily work lives. Over 400 members signed up for our book study on the number one New York Times bestseller, “Atomic Habits,” by author and 2024 TASA keynote speaker James Clear. Kudos to our own Jill Siler, deputy executive director of professional learning, for facilitating these sessions in an engaging and meaningful way. These sessions certainly fill my cup!

This next initiative won’t surprise you because you know that, at my core, I am just a simple country girl who earned her stripes in a small, rural district. The launch of the Small Schools Network has been a dream come true. For quite some time, we’ve tried to crack the code for our rural schools to help them innovate and fulfill their dreams locally. Now, we finally have the right pieces in place: a task force that includes a design team, a strong professional learning team and high engagement from our members. The first Small Schools Network event was a hit, and my hope is that the 47 districts now involved will continue to grow over the years.

Impact student success. Each of you play an integral role in amplifying hope for our students. I know the days are long, the work is hard, and it’s frustrating when it seems like you take one step forward and then two steps back. For example, we celebrated the defeat of vouchers after numerous regular and special sessions, countless phone calls, testifying, press conferences — all of the above! But the defeat set us back because we didn’t get the much-needed funding for teacher pay raises, safety and security, and a list of other needs. Like I said, one step forward, two steps back. But the fight is never over, and the success of our students is worth the fight! So we dust ourselves off and we live to fight another day.

Thank you for your continued collaboration and support this year. I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished and attribute so much of our success to your leadership and the strength of our membership. We are headed in the right direction, but we still have much work to do and obstacles to overcome. On your toughest day, always remember: Your leadership matters. The work we do matters.

Before signing off this INSIGHT president's message one last time, I leave you with a final quote, courtesy of author James Clear:

“Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course.”

Let’s stay focused and on course together. The future is bright and I am confident the best is yet to come. I wish each of you a relaxing summer and a successful 2024-25 school year.


It has been enormously gratifying to see how the ideas brought forth by members in 2017 have been embraced by the TASA team and how they are all coming to fruition.


Back in 2017, when I was working as a superintendent and serving as TASA president, I chaired the TASA 2025 Task Force, a group of 40 superintendents and assistant superintendents who developed the strategic framework that guides all of the work we do today. At the time, I thought all of the aspirational ideas were great … partly because I assumed someone else would be doing the work. Ha! Little did I know that I would be named executive director a year later and be responsible for leading the implementation myself. Oops.

Seriously, though, it has been enormously gratifying to see how the ideas brought forth by members in 2017 have been embraced by the TASA team and how they are all coming to fruition. The leadership of our officers (past and present), the Executive Committee, and the TASA staff have made the aspirations of the task force a reality.

One of those aspirations — the Executive Superintendent Program — is highlighted in this issue of INSIGHT. The goal of this program is to provide regional assistance to our members throughout the state via highly qualified retired superintendents. We have doubled the number of executive superintendents serving our members through this program and transitioned their services to better meet your needs. These experts are available for you for any questions, help, concerns or suggestions you may have related to your district leadership role or about TASA. These experienced former superintendents have been in your shoes, and they are here to help you in any way they can. Learn more about the program on pages 11-15.

Additionally, two members of the TASA team recently received recognition from the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) for their incredible work related to fulfilling our strategic framework. (Learn more about Dacia’s and Brian’s awards on pages 21-22.)

Dacia Rivers, editorial director of Texas School Business and INSIGHT, received the 2024 TSPRA Media Award. Not only does Dacia engage our members in the work of public education, a major focus in our strategic framework, but she amplifies that work across all professions in public education.

Brian Woods, deputy executive director of Advocacy for TASA, was named TSPRA’s Key Communicator for being such a courageous, passionate and articulate voice for public education. The very existence of his position at TASA was born from our strategic framework. Both of these individuals work hard for you. They are well-deserving of the honors they’ve received. I am really proud of them, our executive superintendents, and our entire TASA team.

Last but not least, TASA has rolled out a new Member Services Center (MSC), an online system through which you can see your membership status, join TASA or renew your membership, register and manage your registrations for conferences and other professional learning events, see a list of your receipts and open transactions, view an online member directory, and more. (Watch TASA communications for updates on new features as we complete the launch over the coming months).

One thing to look forward to once we complete the rollout is that the new MSC will link to a Living Library, which is the last remaining aspiration of the task force. Thanks to Albert Rivas, Jenny Jones, Charles Dupre and the entire TASA team for the enormous amount of work they’ve done and will continue to do to implement the new system. We have accomplished much to meet our 2025 goals, and we have much to celebrate with our centennial celebration next year!

Kevin Brown
TASA Executive
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TASA’s executive superintendents are here to help

School district superintendents often describe their job as “lonely,” and it makes sense. A superintendent is an island in a way. No one else in his or her district shares the job title or the specific tasks and responsibilities. So when they have a question, a concern, or just want to bounce an idea off of somehow, who do they call?

A team forms

Kevin Brown has been executive director of TASA since 2018, but before that, he served as superintendent of Alamo Heights ISD while serving TASA in several leadership positions. As chair of the TASA 2025 Task Force, he helped build the association’s strategic framework. While reaching out to members to see how TASA could better serve them, Brown says he fielded a lot of requests for more support at the regional level. His plan? To hire expert, recently retired superintendents to serve as a resource for TASA members.

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Under Brown’s leadership in 2021, TASA revamped the former member representative program, moving from member representatives who helped connect members with TASA services to a team of executive superintendents dedicated to supporting members in whatever ways they might need. This move included expanding the group, from three original representatives to a team of 11 executive superintendents, each assigned to one or two regions to support superintendents in those areas.

In choosing executive superintendents, TASA looks at several factors.

“For executive superintendents, we want people who were very successful superintendents themselves,” Brown says. “We look for someone who is well-known and well-respected in our profession, and who has been a pretty highly engaged TASA member so that they’re familiar with our different services.”

When to call

From questions on day-to-day operations to advice on crisis situations, TASA’s executive superintendents are ready to help. Above all, they are mentors, prepared to listen with empathy and share their own experiences, confidentially.

Sherri Bays, who serves as executive superintendent for regions 18 and 20, says most of the questions she fields have to do with operations or board governance issues, but she’s ready to discuss any topic, and if she doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find it.

In one instance, a superintendent reached out while going through a level-three grievance with their school board. While their attorneys had a script the superintendent could use, they were looking for insight from someone who might have been in the same situation before.

“I share my experiences,” Bays says. “And at times I’ll share things that I think I should have done differently, and what I learned from the experience.”

Another time, a new superintendent told Bays they had forgotten to post their board agenda before a meeting and were wondering if they could go ahead and hold the meeting. Bays was able to tell them that they needed to cancel and reschedule. She’s received calls on numerous topics, from superintendents looking to learn more about districts of

Meet the executive superintendents

Art Cavazos - Regions 1 & 19

Art Cavazos retired as superintendent of Harlingen CISD in 2021 with more than 30 years of education experience and numerous accolades under his belt. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Cavazos began his career as a math teacher before becoming a counselor, principal and finally, administrator. Besides serving TASA as an executive superintendent, he is also a superintendent-inresidence for The Holdsworth Center and a member of the UIL Executive Committee. Cavazos was named Region 1 Superintendent of the Year in 2017. In 2016 Gov. Greg Abbott selected him to serve a five-year term on the State Board for Educator Certification. He was also appointed to the Legislative Council of the University Interscholastic League.

“We should all come together, all educators, to ensure that one of the main underpinnings of this country, the security of democracy, doesn’t crumble underneath us. That’s our calling, and that should be our crusade. But we can’t get there unless we have incredible, strong leaders throughout the organization.”

Alton Frailey - Regions 2 & 4

A well-known public school administrator, Alton Frailey retired in 2016. In his 33-year career in education, he served as a superintendent in Spring, Katy and DeSoto ISDs and in Cincinnati, Ohio, and as an administrator in Spring Branch ISD and Goose Creek CISD. After his retirement, he filled in as interim superintendent in Nacogdoches ISD. Frailey is a TASA veteran. He previously served as a TASA superintendent-in-residence, and has not only served as TASA president, but also as president of AASA,The School Superintendents Association. He was a founding member of TASA’s Public Education Visioning Institute and a co-author of TASA’s visioning document.

“We’re part of a village of elders, and we must help raise the village. Folks say, ‘It takes a village to raise the young.’ Who’s raising the village? That’s where school leaders come in.”


innovation or wondering if they should switch to a four-day week, to considering the pros and cons of closing for the 2024 solar eclipse or starting up an education foundation.

Some superintendents reach out for personal career advice, as well, from moving districts to negotiating salary changes.

“There are no dumb questions,” Bays says. “If it’s something you’re struggling with, or if you’re in the middle of something and it’s not at your fingertips, I tell my superintendents to just call me and if I can help, I will.”

Bays says most of the calls she receives are from newer superintendents, and she can remember that feeling of being new to the position and overwhelmed at times.

“I felt that way the first couple of years,” she says. “Even when you’re at a service center meeting, you don’t necessarily want to ask a question in front of a bunch of other superintendents.”

While TASA’s executive superintendents are especially handy mentors to new superintendents, the program can also be helpful to veteran administrators.

“Even experienced superintendents can run into a crisis or have a simple question that needs to be asked,” Brown says. “The executive superintendents are also a conduit between TASA and our members, so you don’t always have to call us or come to Austin. You have someone locally who can be helpful, too.”

continued on next page

Thomas Randle - Regions 3 & 6

Thomas Randle retired from his position as superintendent of Lamar CISD in 2021, an office he held for 20 years. He is a former TASA president (2007-08) with a long list of accomplishments and awards. In 2017, the Texas Alliance of Black School Educators named a statewide award in his honor. Randle is also a co-author of the TASA visioning document.

“Having the opportunity to serve the members of TASA is an honor. We are fortunate to have dedicated professionals who truly believe in the children they serve. As I travel across the state, I get to see the results of all their hard work. Coaching and working with superintendents is rewarding and gives me an opportunity to share some of my experiences from 26 years in the chair. The success of our democracy depends on a quality public school system. I am encouraged by how well our young people are meeting the challenge. Our future is truly in good hands.”

Mary Ann Whiteker - Regions 5 & 7

Mary Ann Whiteker began her professional career in 1973 as a first grade teacher in Corrigan ISD. She spent a total of 44 years working in public education before retiring as superintendent of Hudson ISD, a post she held for 23 years. Whiteker served as a member of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium Steering Committee and TASA School Transformation Design Team, and more. In 2015, she was the Texas Superintendent of the Year and TASA’s nominee for National Superintendent of the Year.

“I think it’s very important that you never forget where you came from. A lot of times, historical perspectives can help you in developing the direction you want to go.”

Amy Jacobs - Regions 8 & 9

Amy Jacobs was hired into the superintendent role in Coahoma ISD, holding the post from 2012 to 2019 before changing gears to lead a nonprofit education organization. She still leads the nonprofit, Hill Country Educational Leadership, which offers school programs and summer camps and is launching a teacher-training program.

She previously served TASA as a study group chair for Region 18, and she was an active participant in TASA’s Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network (FRSLN), participating on the FRSLN De-

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Building trust

Making that first call to an executive superintendent isn’t the easiest thing for district leaders. But those who’ve taken the leap say it’s paid off by helping them build an invaluable relationship with a trusted mentor who’s walked in their shoes.

Todd Deaver has served as superintendent in Stockdale ISD since 2022. He met Bays while attending TASA’s First-Time Superintendents Academy and now calls her up whenever he has a question that needs a sensitive, experienced ear.

“Who better to trust than someone who has been in the exact same position you’re in?” Deaver asks. “Region 20 and TASA are not hiring people who were unsuccessful in the superintendency. These are people who were successful and retired in that success. That’s who you absolutely ought to be trusting.”

Deaver has built a strong relationship with his executive superintendent, and he feels comfortable giving Bays a call with any questions he has, knowing that she will always answer or get back to him quickly, ready to listen and help however she can.

“I can put in a call to TASA’s [legal assistance program] and they will give me the letter of the law,” Deaver says. “I can call my law firm, but if we’re past our retainer fee, that’s going to be a charge for the school. The executive superintendent is a person you can reach out to and get real-world advice.”

As a former superintendent, Brown understands the hesitancy many might have about making that first phone call to an executive superintendent. But he hopes many more will reach out so they can experience the level of support that many, like Deaver, already have.

“The very best superintendents get support,” Brown says. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all need that kind of support, and I think that’s one of the best things we do at TASA — building this community of support for our important leaders. That’s what this program is aimed at doing.”

Reflecting on his own experience with the program, Deaver agrees.

“You have to trust someone,” Deaver says. “You cannot go this alone.”

sign Team. Jacobs also chaired TASA’s School Boards Awards Committee the school year after the Coahoma ISD Board of Trustees was selected as the 2017 Outstanding Texas School Board.

“Whether it is to connect our superintendents to a resource, lend a listening ear, or offer support in the role, it is a pleasure to work alongside so many outstanding leaders in our state!”

Doug Williams - Region 10

Doug Williams began his career as a teacher and coach, and most recently spent 15 years as superintendent in Sunnyvale ISD. He served as TASA president in 2021-22, president-elect in 2020-21, vice president in 2019-20, and as TASA’s Legislative Committee chair from 2017 to 2019. Williams has not only been a strong and vocal advocate on behalf of Texas public schools, but also a leader in the movement to restore agency to districts and campuses through community-based accountability.

“I can connect TASA members to great professional development opportunities, various benefits to enhance their well-being, and tools to advocate for their school and community. I enjoy continuing to stay connected with an association that has meant so much to me during my career and engaging with school administrators that I respect so much for the service they provide to students.”

Karen Rue - Region 11

Karen Rue retired from education after a 37-year career, with 14 of those years spent at the superintendent’s desks in Tuloso-Midway and Northwest ISDs. She got her start as a classroom teacher in Port Arthur, with a goal of helping children have the kind of lives they dreamed of. Rue is a leader on the local, state, and national levels in creating transformation in education, with a focus on preparing future-ready students, encouraging innovation and creativity, and developing more meaningful assessment and accountability measures. She served as TASA president in 2015-16 and was a founding member of the Public Education Visioning Institute and co-chaired the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium.

“I think as executive superintendents, we can help grow what is sorely needed: a really strong pool of superintendents who are focused on systems and system redesign. We can help promote and develop and support the next generation of superintendents. They’re the ones who will step in, and we need them so desperately.”


Kelli Moulton - Regions 12 & 15

Kelli Moulton retired as Galveston ISD superintendent in 2021 after navigating the district through the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey. She didn’t take more than a weekend off before stepping into her executive superintendent position at TASA, along with another school-supporting role at Raise Your Hand Texas. Moulton was in the first group of the FutureReady Superintendents Leadership Network (FRSLN), has made presentations at various TASA conferences over the years, and has gone the extra mile to advocate for public education in Texas.

“In addition to working alongside superintendents, I also have contact with other district leaders who continue to grow in their own career path. Working with school boards has also popped up as a need across Texas and I am fortunate to be an experienced voice to guide next steps in superintendent evaluation and board advocacy. I enjoy the connections I have with educational leaders across the state. I am delighted to help others shape their connections to make the most of their TASA membership.”

Steve Flores - Regions 13 & 14

Steve Flores served as superintendent in Harlingen CISD for five years, before taking the position in Round Rock ISD for more than seven years, retiring in 2021. With a 37-year career in education, Flores is an award-winning school leader, who has been named the Texas PTA Superintendent of the Year and the Central Texas Superintendent of the Year. He was honored with the Meritorious Leadership Commendation from The University of Texas at Austin’s Cooperative Superintendency Program, through which he earned his doctorate in 2001 while interning on the TASA staff.

“I learned with TASA that as a superintendent, you’re never out there alone. For me, this was a call to give back to TASA and its members what TASA gave to me. I really feel like I am coming home. I want to be a person TASA members can feel comfortable with to help make their work not only doable, but impactful.”

Larry Coffman - Regions 16 & 17

Larry Coffman served in Borger ISD, a 4A district nestled in the Panhandle. It was there that he served as a principal for three years, then deputy superintendent for one year, followed by an 18-year stint as the superintendent before retiring in 2003. During his time as superintendent, the district received the Outstanding Board Award from TASA, something that makes him proud to this day. Coffman’s main goal in his role with TASA is to share the benefits of the organization with new superintendents, to assist them in any way he can, and provide information on how TASA can make their jobs easier.

“Hopefully in some way we can be an encouragement and help TASA members during difficult times. We’re available for them when they need a lift, or a shoulder, and I hope they know that.”

Sherri Bays - Regions 18 & 20

After more than 30 years working in Texas public school districts, Bays retired from the superintendency in Floresville ISD in 2021, a position she held for the last eight years of her career. She has served TASA as a study group chair for Region 20, been part of TASA’s Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network (FRSLN), and was appointed to serve on TASA’s Higher Education Committee. Bays has worked closely in the past with the Go Public, a nonprofit with the mission of promoting the great things happening in traditional public schools.

“Not only do we need to find new superintendents, but we need to support them so that they'll stay in the role because we know students in the long run are going to be more successful when we have superintendents who have some longevity in the seat. I do whatever I can to help them meet the challenges that they’re facing and survive rough spots, while thriving in the important work that they do. It’s an honor to be able to support them in that way.”

Find contact information for TASA's executive superintendents at or by clicking on this page in issuu.

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Meet TASA’s Inspiring Leaders

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

Dana Barnes

Dana Barnes is deputy superintendent of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD, where she has worked since 2009 in multiple leadership roles. Barnes’ colleagues see her as an inspiring, supportive and dedicated leader and say her impact in the district has been immeasurable.

“First and foremost, Dr. Barnes consistently demonstrates unwavering support for her staff,” says Kathleen Eckert, director of compliance and policy in EMSISD. “She understands the importance of work-life balance and encourages her employees to prioritize themselves and their families. This empathetic approach fosters a positive and healthy work environment, enabling her team to thrive both personally and professionally. By recognizing the value of their well-being, she cultivates a culture of compassion and understanding that resonates throughout the district.”

Barnes says she is proud of the district, especially in the way EMSISD staff comes together to help each other whenever possible.

“Our campuses are our priorities. If there is a need, all departments come together to assist, which includes subbing in a classroom, providing volunteer organizations to help take allowable work off of a teacher, helping with lunch duty, etc. There is no job we will not do for each other.”

Eckert says Barnes genuinely appreciates her staff and works to find meaningful ways to show her gratitude for their hard work.

“She ensures that her team feels valued and motivated to continue their exceptional work,” Eckhert says. “This thoughtful and considerate approach strengthens the bond between Dr. Barnes and her staff, fostering a sense of loyalty, trust, and dedication.”

Working in public education can be challenging, but Barnes says knowing how crucial schools are to a society is the force that keeps her going when things get tough.

“I refuse for public education and the importance of neighborhood schools to be destroyed; the education profession to be dishonored; or the intentional actions of our legislation to use children as puppets for individual gains,” she says. “Our students across the state deserve to go to their community schools, be provided with choices at every school and not by a lottery and have teachers who feel appreciated and shown their value financially and publicly.”

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Among EMSISD staff, Barnes is recognized as an exceptional listener. She actively tries to understand their perspectives and gives value to their concerns and ideas. For Eckert, this is just one of the many qualities that singles Barnes out as an inspiring leader.

“By actively seeking staff input and valuing their opinions, Dr. Barnes creates a collaborative and inclusive environment where every voice is heard and respected,” Eckert says. “This approach not only enhances the decisionmaking process but also empowers her team, making them feel valued and encouraging them to contribute their best ideas.”

Mentorship is a key component of success for Barnes, and she says networking with others in the field benefits the entire education system as a whole.

“None of us can do our jobs alone anymore. Society is different. Education is the microcosm of society. When society is stressed, we see the impact within our buildings. We know the only way to achieve our mission is to help anyone in need, when they need it. We are all teachers, and it takes all of us to ensure our students’ success.”

Michael Novotny

In Salado ISD, Michael Novotny has served as superintendent since 2011, after holding the office in Moulton ISD and previously working as a principal in Plano. In his 13 years in Salado, Novotny has found many reasons to be proud of staff and students in the district.

“I am exceptionally proud of the success of our students,” he says. “A few examples of our students’ success during my 13 years as superintendent include: multiple UIL Lone Star Cup awards and state championships in UIL academics, filmmaking, speech/debate, and athletics. These accomplishments would not be possible without the support and hard work of our staff and school board members.”

Staff in SISD view Novotny as an inspirational leader, something that came into clear focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the superintendent stepped up to guide staff, students and families through unprecedented times.

“Dr. Michael Novotny was an inspiration to our community and school district through his commitment to transparency, communication, and his integrity in making difficult choices,” says Ted Smith, principal of Salado Middle School. “His collaboration with local health officials and the surrounding school districts increased the levels of communication between agencies that previously had minimal contact as well as helping us to navigate the unknown of teaching students during a pandemic. The transparency to share research and opinions on the solutions to mitigating COVID-19 in schools with a community that included a variety of stances on the correct actions to take was an inspiring display of both leadership and bravery.”

In the face of such challenges, Novotny turns to his own personal philosophy, to put in the hard work and make decisions based on what is best for SISD students, even if others might second-guess his choices.

“I have learned to not take it personally when someone disagrees with a decision I make — even when they don’t express their disagreement in a kind way. My drill sergeants during Army basic training and infantry school when I was younger probably also helped prepare me for this!”

Smith says the endurance Novotny displays in his work is inspiring to those around him, and qualifies him as an outstanding leader.

“Being present at school events, being responsive to questions, and the consistent level of energy he brings early in the morning and until late in the night sets him apart from other leaders. He inspires me to work harder each day and challenge myself to grow in both my personal and professional interests.”

Supporting other school administrators is also important to Novotny, who is dedicated to helping others by sharing his own experiences to benefit the state of education leadership across Texas.

“Working with and mentoring other administrators makes all of us better leaders. We should develop and implement a succession plan to prepare others for superintendent and other leadership positions. While doing this, we can learn from each other’s experiences, ideas, and perspectives.”


Jennifer Perry

Dr. Jennifer Perry has served as executive director of instruction and advanced academics in Birdville ISD since 2021. Prior to that, she worked as an administrator and executive director of instructional services of Lake Dallas ISD. Next year she will move into the role of executive director of campus support and professional learning in Birdville. In addition, Perry was recently recognized at the TASA Midwinter Conference as the recipient of the statewide Learning Forward Texas Professional Learning Award.

Since coming to BISD, Perry has been an inspiration to her colleagues, who point to her unwavering work ethic and positive attitude as two of her greatest assets.

“Dr. Jennifer Perry is relentlessly a glass half full, we’ve got this kind of leader,” says Sarah Upchurch, assistant director of professional learning in the district. “No task, project, or initiative is too great for her to tackle. She does not approach any of those things alone, either. She constantly surrounds herself with colleagues who will jump in and collaborate as the need arises. She's incredibly understanding and empathetic to the needs of various leaders around the district and in the surrounding districts and thinks about ways our work can support their expressed or unexpressed needs.”

Birdville ISD has welcomed Perry, and to her, the district’s unified culture is something she appreciates immensely.

“I love that Birdville ISD’s focus on culture, commitment and connections is at the heart of all we do. This focus guides our work every single day. I believe it is our responsibility to breathe life into our people to sustain the energy that is required to thrive in public education today. Our commitment to breathe enough oxygen into our teachers/staff, students, parents and community, into our organization, gives it real meaning. This keeps our culture strong.”

Collaboration is essential to success in school administration, and Upchurch says Perry, through her leadership, has tweaked processes and procedures so that they are aligned and effective for what district leaders need most.

“She's joined in with other departments to help take a more global, collaborative approach on rollouts or events,” Upchurch says. “As a result, there is a continuity of care provided and a clear path to current visions.”

To Perry, leadership is a complicated task. But she finds collaboration with others in the field can help her both find and share inspiration.

“You can really feel it when someone loves what they do, when they live inside their craft. It pushes everyone around them to care about something that much. I live inside my craft. I find joy in my craft. And it’s exhilarating helping others love what they do. None of us are as good as all of us!”

This inspiration is clearly felt by those around Perry, and other leaders in BISD have started to emulate her behaviors, including Upchurch.

“For me, personally, I keep my own mindset in check and remember that ‘we've got this’ when the task at hand seems daunting,” Upchurch says. “I look for ways to incorporate other departments in my work so that we can not only share the load but also provide services that reach a broader audience. I am a better leader because I work with Dr. Perry, and I am positive there are dozens of other people who would say the same thing. No one would probably realize the reach she’s had because she operates in such an unassuming manner, but for me, I can take a step back and look at the big picture and see what an inspiration she’s been to person after person.”

In public education, the days are often long, but the years are short. Perry says that while nothing powerful happens overnight, she knows that if she quit trying, then nothing would happen at all.

“In this phase of my career, it’s my goal to use emotional intelligence to amplify the capabilities of people around me — family, friends, coworkers — all those whom I serve. Hopefully I play a small part in inspiring others to stretch themselves and surpass expectations.”

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TSPRA Honors TASA's Woods and Rivers

Brian Woods, TASA deputy executive director of advocacy, and Dacia Rivers, editorial director for TASA's INSIGHT and Texas School Business magazines, were honored in February by the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) at the organization's annual conference.

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Key Communicator: Brian Woods

Woods received TSPRA's 2023 Key Communicator Award, which is given to a person who has contributed significantly to the field of public school communications.

TSPRA: "Dr. Brian Woods has demonstrated his commitment to promoting the values and importance of public education by consistently and intentionally communicating it with parents, staff, and community members. ... He has been actively engaged in advocating for policies and funding that benefit students and educators across the state."

“Dr. Woods’ outspokenness on behalf of the students and educators of Texas sets him apart,” said TSPRA San Antonio Area Vice-President Kim Cathey. “He fearlessly addresses critical issues, challenges the status quo, and champions positive change. His passion for ensuring that every child has access to quality education is evident in his tireless work."

Media Award Winner: Dacia Rivers

Rivers received TSPRA's 2024 Media Award, which is given to a journalist whose work has made a positive impact in informing the public on education issues and in communicating the good news of public education.

TSPRA: "Dacia Rivers has been a strong supporter of TSPRA and public education during her seven years as editorial director. Lending her pen, she has invited TSPRAns across the state to share their knowledge, experience, ideas, and initiatives with readers, promoting school communications and sharing ways that Texans can enhance their communication efforts.

"Rivers is thoughtful about recognizing and honoring leadership, featuring TSPRA presidents annually, and celebrating the work our leaders provide in their home districts while volunteering their service to our organization. Rivers encourages our colleagues across Texas to submit their amazing stories for amplification in the annual [Texas School Business] Bragging Rights issue, which features the writing of so many of our TSPRA colleagues!"

TASA congratulates Woods and Rivers on these honors and is grateful of their many contributions to the work of TASA!


The interface of the Teacher Incentive Allotment with the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System

The Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) was developed in a collaborative working arrangement between teacher educators and the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. The instrument was constructed as a performance measurement of teaching practices that were aligned with newly adopted teacher standards which came into effect on June 30, 2014. After a two-year pilot by a group of districts, T-TESS was adopted by all school districts who select to utilize the state-adopted model for teacher evaluation.

The Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) was approved by the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019. The allotment provides financial recognition for effective teachers at three funding levels: Recognized, Exemplary, and Master. The most common method of teachers being eligible to earn additional compensation is through school districts creating local designation systems that reward teachers at the three funding levels. The plans must be submitted to the Texas Education Agency who work in partnership with Texas Tech University to review and approve district plans. A “Recognized” designation that is earned by a teacher during one school year will result in an additional $3000$9,000 each year over a five-year period. An “Exemplary” designation will lead to an additional $6000-$18,000 payable in each of the next five years. A “Master” designation results in an additional $12,000-$32,000 in additional compensation each year for five years. Teachers in high-need and/ or rural districts are rewarded with the higher end of these ranges based on the legislative intent to attract and retain teachers in these settings.

Merging the two systems

Districts that participate in TIA must locally create incentive plans that include a classroom observation component and a student growth measure (Texas Education Agency, 2022). Most districts that submit a plan include T-TESS as their teacher observation component. Teachers must score a minimum of “Proficient” on all eight dimensions within Domains II and III of the evaluation. Furthermore, based on a Likert Scale with 3=Proficient, 4=Accomplished, and 5=Distinguished, teachers must earn a minimum composite score when averaging scores from these eight dimensions of 3.7 to receive a “Recognized” designation, a 3.9 to receive an “Exemplary” designation, and a 4.5 to earn a “Master” designation.

Keeping “Proficient” as “Rock-Solid” teaching

The implementation guidebook for T-TESS expresses that the steering committee wanted to ensure that the new rubric was a growth tool and that the highest level of performance, “Distinguished,” “had to be a very lofty measure that captured what all teachers strive toward but very few teachers consistently attain” (Texas Teacher and Evaluation & Support System Implementation Guidebook, 2022). The manual emphasizes that the highest level of performance under the PDAS system, “Exceeds Expectations” is equated to the middle level of performance, “Proficient,” under the T-TESS system. Furthermore, the guidebook indicates that the new performance levels under


T-TESS, “Accomplished” and “Distinguished” measure levels of performance not previously outlined under the previous system. Throughout the statewide training on the new appraisal system, trainers were told to emphasize that “Proficient” is “Rock-Solid” teaching, and a campus composed of “Proficient” teachers was a high-functioning campus.

T-TESS appraisers at the campus level are now faced with a dilemma where they have been trained that the T-TESS rubric has been formulated for “Proficient” to reflect high quality teaching with the upper levels of “Accomplished” and “Distinguished” to serve as examples of performance that is well beyond the norm of effective teaching practice. To the contrary, they now serve as a “gatekeeper” for teachers meeting part of the overall requirement to earn incentive pay at one of the three prescribed levels of award. To heighten the stakes associated with this issue, teachers who are able to earn an incentive designation based on their T-TESS observation and student performance during a school year, receive the financial incentive award for five consecutive years.

Learning from the implementation of other merit-pay models

During the first two decades of the 21st century, almost every state has revamped their teacher evaluation system based upon two desired outcomes: accountability surrounding teaching performance and the deployment of increased professional development to improve teacher pedagogy (Steinberg and Donaldson, 2016). In practice, the latter has become the primary area of focus for most school systems (Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, 2014). Furthermore, few school systems have provided school leaders with the necessary professional development to provide teachers with the type of feedback that will drive reflection on their practices. Kraft and Christianson (2022) found that several years following the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system, that only one in four teachers in the Boston Public School System found the feedback that they received from their observations to be beneficial.

Leadership style is a common theme in how teachers perceive the evaluation process. Even under models where school personnel other than principals, such as teacher leaders, have been used as evaluators, the style of the evaluator is mentioned as a contributing factor in the receptiveness of teachers to feedback on their performance (Bradley-Levine, 2022). Such feedback comes from teachers who were part of an innovative merit-pay model where teachers leaders and principals worked collaboratively in the implementation.

Mintrop et al. (2018) summarized that after analyzing the impact of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), performance incentives often diminish the formative learning part of the evaluation process. Kraft and Christian (2021) highlighted that the implementation of new teacher evaluation systems often doesn’t meet the intended results because campus administrators are not provided with additional time to effectively implement the systems and that districts often fail to provide ongoing training for administrators after the initial rollout.

Guidance for administrators merging T-TESS with TIA

The time, effort, and skill that school leaders dedicate to building trusting relationships with those whom they lead reaps benefits in multiple ways. Evaluation has historically been perceived by teachers as correlated with employment security. With the addition of TIA which adds the opportunity for additional compensation, administrators who have cultivated high levels of trust with their staff will experience less teacher discontent. Chabalala and Naidoo (2021) found that teachers developed a sense of appreciation for administrators who dedicated an abundance of time and effort to their roles as instructional leaders.

Practicing administrators received a three-day orientation on T-TESS prior to the 2016-17 school year, which included a small component related to instructional coaching. Although newly certified administrators have received a more extensive overview of coaching through the three-day Advancing Educational Leadership (AEL), these experiences are not sufficient for continuous improvement of coaching and conferencing techniques. Jones et al. (2021) found that after administrators went through a four-day training on a new teacher evaluation system they had difficulty with implementing the new system based on their ratings in comparison to master raters. Archer et al. (2014) indicated that merit pay systems are better received when the feedback teachers receive is accurate, specific, and provides them with a clear path for improvement.

Moving forward

Texas invested a significant amount of resources in creating a new evaluation system based on a determination that the previous system was not effectively resulting in the desired outcome of higher student performance. The integration of merit pay with T-TESS as part of many local district’s TIA designation plans will place added emphasis on administrators to accurately and effectively evaluate teachers. Research indicates that districts will need to provide school administrators with ongoing support

SPRING 2024 25

and training on such aspects as scoring instruction based on the T-TESS rubric for them to be able to accurately rate instruction. Without such support, the new evaluation system may not reach its intended results of ultimately increasing student instruction. Furthermore, qualified teachers who have negative perceptions about the implementation of TIA may choose to leave the profession thus increasing teacher attrition.

School leaders are already faced with the pressures of “highstakes” testing under the Texas A-F accountability system. The infusion of TIA with T-TESS to move them into the realm of conducting “high-stakes” teacher evaluations. In such an environment, leaders must still utilize the evaluation process as a means to promote the refinement and development of teaching practices. Administrators whose actions reflect that teaching and learning are the foundational aspects of their roles will have less difficulty in merging T-TESS with TIA.

At the state policy level, data to measure the intended outcomes of TIA will begin to arise as more districts implement their local systems. The system was designed to reward, retain, and recruit highly-effective teachers resulting in higher student achievement. The system was established to reward the highest-performing 33% of teachers at one of the three designation levels. Although the student performance component of the locally designed system will limit the likelihood of inflated T-TESS ratings from drastically increasing the percentage of teachers who earn merit pay, the possibility exists that funding the system will become unsustainable. Texas’ last attempt at wide-scale merit pay, the career ladder system which was initiated in 1984, was phased out a decade later due primarily to pressures the system placed on the state budget. Also, substantial resources were allocated to develop T-TESS to ensure that the state’s recommended appraisal system would be a guide for continuous professional improvement of teaching practices which would result in improved student performance on state exams. If T-TESS ratings are assigned at higher levels than envisioned and student performance does not improve, then the state may decide to engage in the development of a new teacher evaluation system. Ultimately, the effective interface of these two systems by school leaders will determine whether or not the intended outcome of retention of quality teachers and increased student performance are met. n


Archer, J., Kerr, K., & Pianta, R. (2014). Why measure effective teaching. In T. Kane,, A. Kerri, & R. Pianta (Eds). Designing teacher evaluation systems. New guidance from the measures of effective teaching project (pp. 1-5). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley.

Bradley-Levine, J. (2022). Teacher Leaders’ Participation in Teacher Evaluation. International Journal of Teacher Leadership , 11(1), 1-23. international-journal-teacher-leadership/documents/bradley-v11-no1-spring-2022.pdf

Center on Great Teachers and Leaders. (2014). National picture: A different view. files/42states.pdf

Chabalala, G. & Naidoo, P. (2021). Teachers’ and middle managers’ experiences of principals’ Instructional leadership towards improving curriculum delivery in schools. South African Journal of Childhood Education. 11(1), 1-10. sajce.v11i1.910

Jones, N., Bell, C., Qi, Y., Lewis, J., Kirui, D., Stickler, L., & Redash, A. (2021). Certified to evaluate: Exploring administrator accuracy and beliefs in teacher observation (ETS RR-21-05). ETS. https://

Kraft, M.A., & Christian, A. (2021). Can teacher evaluation systems produce high-quality feedback? An administrator training field experiment. American Educational Research Journal (59) 3. 500-537.

Mintrop, R., Ordenes, M., Coghlan, E., Pryor, L., and Madero, C. (2018). Teacher Evaluation, Pay for Performance and Learning Around Instruction: Between Dissonant Incentives and Resonant Procedures. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(1). 3-46.

Steinberg, M.P., and Donaldson, M.L. (2016). The new educational accountability: Understanding the Landscape of teacher evaluation in the post-NCLB era. Education Finance and Policy 11(3), 340-359.

Texas Education Agency. (2022). Local Designation System Requirements.

Dr. George Willey is an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. He previously served as a campus administrator in Lake Travis, Round Rock and Copperas Cove ISDs. He later fulfilled district roles as the assistant superintendent in Cameron ISD and chief academic officer in Taylor ISD. He continues to support campus administrators in the state of Texas in various capacities to include consultation, mentorship, and serving as a Trainer-ofTrainers for the Texas Evaluation and Support System.

Texas Education Agency. (2022). Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System Implementation Guidebook. Implementation_Guidebook.pdf


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Advocating for Texas public schools in the drive-through line

As I wait in line for my morning coffee, I make casual conversation with the barista at the drivethrough window.

“Where are you headed this morning?” she asks. “I’m heading to work. I work with school district communications professionals across the state,” I share proudly.

“Oh, cool! What do y’all do?”

I think about the numerous tasks that are running through my head and I answer, “We are advocates for students, teachers, public schools and our communities.”

“Sounds like a great job, with a lot of responsibility,” she shares, wishing me well in my day as she hands me my coffee.

As I drive off, I think about our conversation, and the numerous conversations, just like this one, that occur daily in our coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, school auditoriums, sports venues, and even the school drop-off and pick-up lines.

It seems like such a simple conversation, but it holds the power to create a moment that can shape perception and create greater understanding.

I work alongside the finest school communications professionals in our state and nation. I am proud of the work that they do, celebrating all that is good about Texas public schools and education. They support school district teams who are learning, leading and leaning into what is best for students, with the goal of providing all students the opportunity to become contributing citizens of their local communities for the greater good.

I reflect on the statement made by the barista, “Sounds like a great job, with a lot of responsibility.” I know the work and it is great. Many days it is simply awe-inspiring. My colleagues and their districts hold responsibility for the futures of each of their students. They embrace the work and the lives they are helping shape.

So how do we grow these moments, using these simple conversations to harness the power to create greater understanding?

My school communications colleagues and friends would underscore the multifaceted nature of advocacy for Texas public schools and the importance of ongoing efforts to champion the interests of students, educators, and communities. Here are a few of their ideas:


Garner public support: It is so important to garner public support for Texas public schools. Advocacy efforts are vital for ensuring that schools receive adequate resources, support, and recognition. Simple conversations, sharing the successful strategies that your child’s teacher is using to ensure the success of your child is a great message to share while sitting in the bleachers at the Little League softball game.

Tell compelling stories: There is power in storytelling. Share the success stories, highlight the achievements of students, teachers, and schools to demonstrate the positive impact of Texas public education. When you witness a special moment or a wonderful accomplishment, whether in your district or a neighboring district, share it! We are all in this work together. We can all benefit from a kind word and positive share.

Transparency and engagement: Encourage open communication with parents, students, educators, and community members to foster understanding and support for public education initiatives. Host a community engagement event, showcasing student work and district initiatives.

Educate stakeholders: Inform stakeholders about the challenges facing Texas public schools and empower them to advocate effectively. This might include providing resources, organizing informational sessions, and facilitating opportunities for dialogue. Invite your educational community to informational sessions, town hall meetings, and workshops to discuss issues such as funding, curriculum, and policy changes.

Leverage media and digital platforms: Highlight the value of utilizing media and digital platforms to amplify advocacy messages. Leverage social media, press releases, op-eds, and other channels to reach a wide audience and raise awareness about issues affecting Texas public schools. Follow district and campus social media, repost, comment, and/or provide factual information on challenging statements to amplify the good work that is ongoing.

Build partnerships: Build partnerships with local organizations, businesses, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, and other community stakeholders to strengthen support for Texas public schools. By collaborating on initiatives such as mentoring programs, career fairs, and community service projects, you can demonstrate the importance of public education

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Big hugs for the principal! Students celebrate their campus leader, named District Principal of the Year in La Porte ISD!

to the broader community and amplify the collective voice advocating for public education.

Engage with legislators: School district personnel, including superintendents, administrators, teachers, and staff, can engage with local, state, and federal legislators to advocate for policies and funding that support Texas public schools. Be open to conversations with legislators, write letters, and testify at hearings to express your support for initiatives that benefit students and educators.

Advocate for equity and inclusion: Advocate for policies and practices that promote equity and inclusion in Texas public schools. This includes supporting efforts to address disparities in resources, access to educational opportunities, and outcomes for historically marginalized students to ensure that all students have access to high-quality education. Evaluate current programs and policies, encouraging parent participation and feedback through surveys and focus groups, to ensure you are serving the needs of all students.

Celebrate achievements: Celebrate the achievements and contributions of Texas public schools. By showcasing successes and milestones, you can bolster morale, build pride within the community, and generate continued support for public education. Celebrate student achievements at board meetings. Share accomplishments on social media, with the local media and in district publications. Host a send-off for your state-bound students and invite the community and businesses to share their support.

Lead by example: Lead by example by demonstrating a commitment to advocacy and civic engagement. By actively participating in advocacy efforts and modeling responsible citizenship, you can inspire others to get involved and make a difference in support of Texas public schools. Talk the talk and walk the walk. If you start all your engagements with a positive story or reflection about all that is good in your Texas public schools, others will share your words and amplify them.

We all play a vital role in advocating for Texas public schools and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education. Start the conversation, share your voice, amplify the message. It’s as simple as a conversation in the drivethrough line.

Patti Pawlik-Perales is executive director of the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA). Students share the love for their bus driver in Judson ISD.
Returning home, this alum of Judson ISD shared the value of hard work, perseverance and focus, inspiring fellow Rockets.

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Protecting student and staff data: best practices and strategies from Texas Education Technology Leaders

Protecting sensitive student and employee data is critically important for educational institutions to maintain privacy, ensure legal compliance, secure reputations, demonstrate duty of care, and mitigate information security risks. While risks cannot be 100% eliminated, through vigilant technologies, policies, and training, educational institutions can safeguard against emerging threats.

Data governance

Data governance is critical to establishing policies, granting access, and protecting data. Effective data governance focuses on:

• identifying stakeholders and their roles and responsibilities

• assessing vulnerability and risk

• protecting data through least-privileged access

• identifying stakeholders and their roles and responsibilities, assessing vulnerability and risk protection

A data governance committee has oversight of the policies and procedures that govern how student and staff information is handled. A typical K-12 data governance body includes the stakeholders of student information systems, human resource and business information systems, data warehouses, instructional platforms, and other enterprise applications that house student, staff, and district data. The committee should meet regularly to discuss data privacy and the best practices necessary to enforce it. The members of the governance committee also act to raise awareness about data privacy laws and regulations in their individual departments. Each department can then establish guidelines specific to their processes and users to make certain personal information is handled securely.

An important end result of data governance is improved data quality. By creating standards for the way data is maintained, an organization can achieve consistency of data elements across multiple systems. Standardized processes help avoid data duplication, minimize discrepancies from merging or sharing data, and improve interoperability.

Data governance also defines the roles of data ownership and data stewardship. Data owners have the ultimate responsibility for the integrity of their data and the way that it meets district needs. For example, a chief financial officer is often the data owner of the district’s financial information system. A data steward, on the other hand, is involved in the day-to-day management of data to ensure that it is accessible, usable, and safe. Data owners have the authority to make decisions about practices that impact data quality, while data stewards are task-oriented and concentrate on achieving specified outcomes and maintaining data integrity.


Data management involves policies and procedures that outline acceptable data use. In K-12 education, student, family and staff personal information is collected across many systems with a wide variety of staff having some level of access. Data management sets rules for which information can be accessed, by whom, and to what degree. Those rules should be implemented to maintain compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. Ideally, role-based access that is designed around specific job responsibilities can be used to follow least privilege access principles.

From a data governance perspective, proper data protection and compliance is critically important to uphold data privacy laws and regulations, secure information against breaches, and maintain community trust.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was established in 1974 to safeguard the privacy of student education records in the United States. Applicable to all educational institutions receiving federal funds, FERPA grants certain rights to parents and eligible students (typically those aged 18 or attending postsecondary institutions). These rights include the ability to access and review education records. FERPA also stipulates that schools generally must obtain written consent before disclosing personally identifiable information from a student's records, with some exceptions for specific circumstances. Moreover, there is a provision for “directory information” that schools can disclose without consent unless the student or parent has opted out. The law emphasizes recordkeeping to ensure the confidentiality of education records and mandates compliance by educational institutions to avoid potential loss of federal funding. FERPA strikes a balance between facilitating necessary information sharing within the educational system and protecting

the privacy rights of students and their families.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a U.S. federal law enacted in 1998 to protect the online privacy of children under the age of 13. COPPA applies to websites and online services that collect personal information from children, requiring them to obtain verifiable parental consent before doing so. The law outlines specific notice and disclosure requirements, obligating operators of child-directed websites to clearly explain their data collection practices in privacy policies. COPPA also mandates the establishment of parental control mechanisms, allowing parents to review, edit, or delete their child's personal information. Furthermore, it prohibits the unnecessary collection of sensitive information from children, including geolocation data and photographs.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals’ health information. HIPAA applies to healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses, collectively referred to as covered entities, as well as their business associates. The law establishes standards for the electronic exchange of health information and mandates the protection of patients’ identifiable health data. HIPAA’s Privacy Rule outlines patients’ rights to control their health information, restrict disclosure, and obtain copies of their records. The Security Rule included in the law requires covered entities to implement safeguards to protect electronic health information from unauthorized access or disclosure. Additionally, the Breach Notification Rule requires entities to report breaches of unsecured protected health information to affected individuals, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and, in some cases, the media.

Texas school districts also need to consider compliance with state regulations and requirements. Chapter 32 of the Texas Education Code governs computers, computer-related equipment, and student information protection. For example, Section 32.103 establishes that the TEA will adopt standards for minimizing data collection from students, obtaining parental consent for software use, considering appropriate restrictions on social media, using Internet filtering capable of notifying school administrators and parents in cases of inappropriate or concerning content, and providing methods by which a district or school may ensure vendors providing software meet student information requirements (Chapter 32 Subchapter D). Section 32.104 requires that equipment transferred to students uses Internet filters and removes offensive, confidential, or proprietary information. Chapter 32 Subchapter D specifically addresses the handling of student information.

Methods for maintaining compliance

• Conduct regular training sessions for school staff to educate them about data security requirements.

• Raise awareness among teachers, administrators, and other school employees about the importance of protecting student information.

• Develop and implement clear and comprehensive data practices and procedures that outline how student information is collected, used, and disclosed. Ensure that all staff members understand and follow these procedures.

• Limit access to student records only to authorized personnel who have a legitimate educational interest in the information. Use secure

SPRING 2024 33

methods, such as unique login credentials, to control access to electronic records.

• Implement strong data security measures, including encryption, to protect electronic student records from unauthorized access or disclosure. Regularly update and patch software systems to address potential vulnerabilities.

• Conduct regular audits and monitoring of access to student records to detect and address any unauthorized access or potential breaches. Keep detailed logs of who accesses student information and when.

• Obtain written consent from parents or eligible students before disclosing personally identifiable information (PII) from education records, with

certain exceptions allowed under FERPA and HIPAA.

• Establish guidelines for the retention and disposal of student records to ensure that information is kept only for as long as necessary.

• Implement secure methods for the destruction of physical and electronic records.

• When sharing student information with third parties (e.g., educational service providers), enter into written agreements that specify the terms and conditions for the use and protection of the information.

• Designate a specific official or office responsible for ensuring compliance and handling related inquiries or concerns.

• Develop and regularly update an incident response plan to address breaches of student data promptly and effectively.

• Communicate with affected parties and authorities in accordance with legal requirements.

Best practices for security and data access

User education is essential in creating and sustaining consistent protection of student and staff data. As mentioned in a recent Forbes article, “Cultivating a strong security posture starts with raising awareness amongst employees to take proactive steps towards safeguarding sensitive information and materials.” Building a culture of data security requires a concerted effort from all levels as 95% of security breaches are the results of human error. Therefore,

creating a culture of data security must start at the top and be fed down through user training and campaigns of constant awareness. There is a security aspect to every project and decision that requires student or district data. Finding a balance between having cutting-edge security and conducting classes and district business is the challenge.

According to a worldwide study by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, 52% of the 5,000 organizations studied indicated that the human factor is the biggest weakness in information security. It is the lack of knowledge and careless human behavior that causes the greatest risks. According to Osterman Research, employees who receive cybersecurity training demonstrate a significantly improved ability to recognize potential threats. User education strategies include:

• Employee training and awareness programs

• Phishing simulations at quarterly or semi-annual intervals

• Anti-phishing training for all highrisk users who are identified through the simulations

• Establish a cybersecurity committee, with representatives from technology and administration

• Table-top exercises to simulate a data incident

• Review outcomes of table-top exercises and vulnerability scans with the cybersecurity committee to address concerns

• Request staff to share ideas about building a more secure environment and then promote the ideas

Schools should document, implement, and enforce a variety of policies necessary to protect data:

• Password policy — Establish a password policy for creating and maintaining strong passwords of at least 12 characters containing a mix of small case and capital letters, numbers and special characters. Encourage users to avoid common words. Encourage the use of pass phrases. For example, Th**@niTrbGNBrt, could be remembered as “The stars at night are big and bright.”

o Use a password manager to generate and store strong passwords. Password managers store and manage credentials and significantly decrease the possibility that a bad actor will be able to decipher it.

o Use a different password for each login.

o Do not reuse passwords.

• Email policy — While personally identifiable information should not be sent via email, sometimes it is unavoidable. Advise users to send the least amount possible and to encrypt any message containing PII.

o If social security information must be sent, use only the last four digits of the SSN, not the complete number.

o Encrypt email messages containing PII with strong passwords.

o Use secure transfer methods, such as a private VPN.

• Acceptable use policy

• Incident response plan

• Reporting policies

• Process to report phishing emails

The K-12 Edtech Safety Benchmark report, conducted by the Internet Safety Labs (ISL, previously the Me2B Alliance), an organization dedicated to independent software product safety testing, contains findings from an extensive, rigorous, and statistically significant research project that provides a deep look at children’s edtech safety across U.S. schools. The findings indicate that personal information safety risks to children and families are present and pervasive in the technology recommended and used by U.S. educational institutions, including:

• 96% of applications share children’s personal information with third parties, 78% of the time with advertising and monetization entities, typically without the knowledge or consent of the users or the schools, making them unsafe

• 28% of apps were non-education specific, such as The New York Times, YouTube, or Spotify, effectively providing no limits or guardrails for children

• 23% of educational applications expose kids to digital ads, which creates a risk that personal student data is being sent into advertising networks, with no way for the public to inspect where it goes or how it’s used; more than half of those apps (13%) use retargeting ads, which use cookies and search and site history to serve up targeted advertising

• Google dominates K-12 edtech as the prime supplier of both hardware

SPRING 2024 35

and software, raising questions about the safety of having children deeply connected to the internet by the world’s leading advertising platform

Schools handle a wide variety of sensitive information concerning students and their families. Laws, regulations, and ethical obligations require administrators to take active measures to protect that information from unauthorized disclosure. Compliance requires a combination of technical and process controls designed to facilitate legitimate use of student records while safeguarding them against intruders. The article “5 Ways to Safeguard Student Information” provides the following guidance for protecting data:

1. Minimize data collection of student information — The single most important step schools can take to lower the risk of unintentional or malicious disclosure of sensitive student information is to reduce the amount of information collected in the first place. That’s a tried-and-true practice known in the privacy field as minimization. When schools don’t collect sensitive data elements, there is no risk they will lose control of that information if a data breach occurs. Social security numbers are lowhanging fruit for minimization efforts. Many schools began a practice years ago of collecting student and/or parent SSNs for identification purposes. While almost every school has moved beyond the use of

SSNs as a student identifier, many still ask for student and parent SSNs on registration forms.

2. Purge unnecessary

student records

— In addition to minimizing the information collected, schools should also take actions to purge sensitive information when it's no longer used for its original purpose. Purging old records serves a similar purpose as minimizing data collection: lowering the impact of a potential breach. Schools should set standardized record retention policies that specify the length of time different categories of records should be preserved. For example, a school might decide to retain course-level grades permanently to generate transcripts, but purge student disciplinary records seven years after graduation. Exceptions might be made for students who were expelled from school.

3. Encrypt data at rest and in transit

— After completing minimization and purging efforts, chances are schools will still need to retain some sensitive information about students and their parents. Those records should be secured carefully, using a mix of technical and administrative controls. The most important technical control schools may apply to information is the use of strong encryption technology to protect information

that is either at rest; stored on a server or device; or in transit. This is particularly important for information regularly sent via notebooks and other mobile devices which might be lost or stolen when outside of school.

4. Follow the principle of least privilege — The security principle of least privilege states that each user should be assigned the minimum level of access necessary to perform his or her job functions. The principle is often unintentionally violated in schools as a matter of convenience. A least-privilege approach here would create access control groups that limit each user’s access to only those records required for his or her job. For example, the school nurse and principal might be the only two individuals with access to health records.

5. Monitor user activity on school networks — Finally, schools should monitor the activity of any users granted access to sensitive information. That doesn’t require elaborate monitoring systems; most likely, changes to settings in existing software will be sufficient. For example, Windows file servers include robust auditing capabilities that allow tracking and logging of all successful or unsuccessful attempts to access files. Any records gathered through user monitoring can help to identify suspicious activity and also aid in tracking down the source of leaks of sensitive information. For example, if a high-profile student’s educational records are leaked to the media, administrators may look at the access logs to determine who recently viewed those records. Schools must exercise more caution and discretion to protect students' and families’ information from unauthorized uses. Following a few simple security practices will go a long way toward preserving the public trust in educational institutions.



Safeguarding sensitive student and staff data in educational institutions is a multifaceted challenge that demands a comprehensive and proactive approach. Data governance via effective policies and procedures to protect personal information, enforce compliance, and manage access is critical. Additionally, educational institutions must implement rigorous compliance measures tailored to the specific requirements of FERPA, COPPA, HIPPA and Texas state regulations.

Integrated user education is a pivotal element in creating a culture of data security. As human error remains a significant factor in security breaches, cultivating awareness and establishing proactive steps among employees are crucial. Employee training and awareness programs, phishing simulations,


and ongoing cybersecurity education at all levels are essential components in building a resilient defense against evolving threats.

The strategies outlined in this paper encompass a holistic and proactive approach to data protection in educational settings. The call to action for districts is clear — prioritize data governance, invest in user education and training, and implement robust policies and protocols. The future opportunities for data protection lie in the continual evolution of strategies to address emerging threats and technologies. By adopting and adapting these best practices, educational institutions can create a secure environment that upholds privacy, legal compliance, and the trust of students, staff and community. n

About Texas Education Technology Leaders TETL (formerly Texas K-12 CTO Council) is a chapter of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and is the premier organization for technology leaders in Texas K-12 school districts. Being a leader in the field of education technology depends on having the right support and guidance to stay ahead of quickly changing technology trends. Your network is key to helping the school districts you serve implement the best systems and solutions possible. We understand the challenges you face today … and we help you look ahead to what’s on the horizon. We tailor our services to support you and to help you stay one step ahead of an ever-changing technology environment. We empower education technology leaders … for today and tomorrow.

Privacy Technical Assistance Center (December 2011): Data Governance and Stewardship, available at https://studentprivacy.

Privacy Technical Assistance Center (July 2015): Policies for Users of Student Data Checklist, available at https://studentprivacy.

Hinchy E. March 2023. “6 Ways To Go Beyond Awareness And Foster A Real Culture Of Cybersecurity.” Forbes, https://

Leonard K. May 2023. How to Create a Strong Password. Forbes, how-create-strong-password/

Bhaskar R. May 2022. Better Cybersecurity Awareness Through Research. ISACA,

Osterman Research, Inc., The ROI of Security Awareness Training, USA, August 2019, analyst-reports/osterman-research---the-roi-of-security-awareness-training/

Chapple, M. (2019). “5 Ways to Safeguard Student Information.” EdTech Focus on K-12, article/2019/04/5-ways-safeguard-student-information

SPRING 2024 37


Planting seeds for the future

The tradition of giving an apple to a teacher started in the 1700s when poor families gave teachers baskets of fruit and vegetables from their farms. Since then, it has become a symbol of our profession.

What is the most important part of an apple? Is it the beautiful, shiny, red skin that protects the juicy inside and provides part of one’s daily fiber requirement? Is it the tasty, nutritious flesh underneath? Consider, it being … the seed. Properly cared for, the seed has the potential to grow into a tree capable of giving off hundreds of fruit of its own over its lifetime.

Apples arrive in our classrooms in different colors, tastes, flavors, and sizes, some bruised, and damaged, some shiny, some dull, each in various stages of ripeness. What we do with these apples is our choice. I believe it is our duty to get through the covering, the chaos, the noise, and focus on the potential within.

As this year’s state secondary teacher of the year, I have been asked many times how I feel. Unlike other awards I have won, this one is the direct result of being recognized by my peers. But it was not for me. I certainly did not do it all by myself.

We do not get to choose who comes through our doors or what students are dealing with socially, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. But it is our duty to give them our best. I may have the passion, knowledge, and energy to connect the students to their learning. It’s not about ME. It's about WE. I received my bachelor of science in geology and eventually went on to teach robotics. My transition from rocks to robots was due to a love of learning. As technology evolved, I found new things to enjoy and play with. It is this interest, this love, this passion for learning and the content, that I bring to my classroom.

My family bought and worked a peach farm together. Similarly, my job became my family’s job. Vacation trips to the Grand Canyon, the meteor crater, fossil beds in several states, mountain hikes, were fun, but also supported my efforts in the classroom. They are a part of my WE.

Within our schools, we are members of different circles, communities, tribes, houses, or groups. Our first line of support in the classroom are our colleagues. They help reflect and build, pick you up when you stumble, and they are there when things DO. NOT. WORK. They understand what you are going through every minute of the day. They are a part of my WE.

My campus leaders have always been supportive of our classroom needs, with time, resources, and support from helping me take kids across the country to participate in national competitions, to letting me set up a 3-foot-deep pool in our shop, hoping it doesn’t leak over the weekend. I could not have

SPRING 2024 39

been able to serve our kids without their support. They are a part of my WE.

All the district organizations are there for one purpose: to help teachers do their jobs. The technology department helps make sure everything ran right: library services are contributed and supported whenever asked; transportation brings my kids to and from school safely and also takes us places beyond our classroom; the fine arts department shares their facility for use; and the conscientious custodians make sure everything is clean and safe for my kids, every day. Every department in our district is there for my classroom and is part of my WE.

My family has lived in the Bryan/College Station area for 33 years. It's a great place to raise a family. My wife and I are both educators and know what is required to raise a family, from the resources of the local university, museums, city government, members of the public, and businesses who step up and fulfill our crazy requests. They are part of my WE.

In July of 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Michael Collins designed the mission patch with the help of his crewmates Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It was

unique in that they chose not to include their names, to honor all those men and women who worked toward that historic mission. These three men represented the 400,000 people who worked on every part of that historic mission, including Katherine Harris from “Hidden Figures” who helped to calculate the trajectory to the moon, those who built the craft, prepped their food, designed and made their protective gear, and filled up those enormous tanks. Those astronauts knew the strength, and importance, of the WE.

Like the apple seeds, students also have the potential to grow, develop, and give off fruit of their own, each bearing their own seeds, long after their experiences in our classrooms are over. Where will they be planted? When will they bear fruit? We may not know the answers to these things, but as the farmer continues to have faith that their efforts will make a difference, so must we have faith that our efforts, along with our WE, will transform these small kernels of life into tall, strong, providers of nourishment, shelter, and stability in society long into the future. n

Naveen Cunha is the 2024 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year and a middle school robotics teacher in Bryan ISD.



The curious leader: a dance of dichotomies

As we navigate the ever-evolving educational landscape, a fundamental question that provokes deep reflection among education leaders is, "Which traits and behaviors are most essential for our success?" Unearthing the answer to this question will help us collectively unveil a roadmap to effective leadership in the 21st century. The formal study of leadership only just began in the early 20th century. Initially, the focus was on traits, with researchers attempting to identify the characteristics of great leaders. This approach was common from the 1900s to the 1940s and was termed the “Great Man” theory. The assumption here was that leaders are born, not made, and that great leaders will arise when the situation requires it.

This trait approach gave way to a focus on behavior in the mid-20th century, from around the 1940s to the 1960s. Researchers began to look at what leaders do rather than who they are. Various models were proposed, including democratic vs. autocratic leadership and task-oriented vs. relationshiporiented leadership.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the contingency or situational approach became prominent. This perspective proposed that the effectiveness of a leadership style depends on the situation. Researchers tried to identify which styles worked best in which situations.

From the late 20th century to the present, the focus has been on transformational leadership — leaders who inspire, empower, and stimulate their followers. There is also increasing attention to ethical and servant leadership — leaders who are moral, community-focused and put the needs of their followers before their own.

Amidst the realities of globalization, digital transformation, and socioeconomic and political shifts, the education sector necessitates leaders with an augmented blend of characteristics. These traits go beyond the traditional leadership virtues of vision and communication, delving into realms of courage, stamina, resilience, competence, confidence, and perhaps most importantly, curiosity. However, the wisdom of leadership is also to acknowledge the double-edged nature of these traits — the very aspects that empower may also pose threats if not balanced judiciously.

Traits of leadership: the double-edged sword

The first of these traits, leadership courage, is the fortitude to make challenging decisions, the audacity to challenge the status quo, and the mettle to stand up for what’s right, even when unpopular. It’s a shield that protects the integrity of the education system; however, courage unchecked can also lead to unnecessary risks or ventures into perilous situations without an exit strategy. The audacity that sparks innovation can ignite conflicts if not tempered with empathy and foresight. Far too often we hear about leadership courage as the answer to all problems when this is simply not true. Leadership courage might get you into a problem, but there’s no guarantee that it will get you out of it.

Leadership stamina, or resilience, is the ability to endure hardships, rebound from failures, and continuously strive to improve amidst adversity. Stamina is the fuel that keeps the engine of educational change running. It’s a crucial trait as the current climate of education involves ceaseless

SPRING 2024 41

changes and adaptations. However, resilience can sometimes morph into stubbornness, resisting necessary changes or pushing unproductive initiatives. This is the fate of the autocrat. Stamina must be aligned with the flexibility to learn and change direction. Is resilience the answer? Perhaps, or perhaps not.

Leadership confidence is believing you can do the job. Leadership competence is knowing you can do the job. Competence is about possessing the necessary skills and knowledge to perform tasks effectively. In the context of education leadership, this includes understanding pedagogical principles, curriculum design, and education policies. However, overemphasis on competence can lead to micromanagement or even nano-management, suppressing the creativity and autonomy of the team. Competence must be balanced and tempered with trust and delegation. Confidence, the belief in oneself and one's abilities, is key to inspiring trust and motivating others. Yet, unchecked confidence can cross the line into arrogance, alienating team members and clouding judgment. Confidence should be paired with humility and the willingness to learn from others.

How is it that all these traits have great strengths, but carry a shadow of great weakness? The intriguing paradox that these leadership traits embody, presenting profound strengths and yet concealing inherent vulnerabilities, raises a question. What is the


correct course of action? This quandary frequently confronts both novice and seasoned leaders alike. Reflecting on two decades of my experiential journey — a journey that involved acquiring wisdom from others while simultaneously mentoring emerging leaders — I identify a recurrent four-word concern that persistently nudges our consciousness: “What if I'm wrong?” I believe this is the secret to discovering what is right.

Leadership curiosity: the key to reframing leadership

To harmonize the above dichotomies, a critical trait (and behavior) stands out: leadership curiosity. This is the constant thirst to learn, to question, and to seek new perspectives. It enables leaders to step back and critically assess if they are applying the right trait in the right situation. It fosters an agility to navigate the ever-changing educational landscape.

Curiosity also facilitates a shift from a stance of ‘closed and knowing’ to ‘open and learning.’ The ‘closed and knowing’ stance is a fortress, guarded by ego and preconceived notions. All of us spend vast amounts of time as closed and knowing. This is not an inherently bad thing. It helps us feel validated as human beings to have our voice heard and recognized. The problem we face as leaders is


that we are often asked to be ‘closed and knowing’ when we should be ‘open and learning.’ The 'open and learning' stance is like a garden that nurtures diversity of thoughts, flexibility, and growth. It redefines leadership from a command-and-control approach to a more collaborative and facilitative role. “You can be flat-footed, back-on-your-heels or forward-center-of-mass,” as Andrew Huberman has stated. The savvy leader knows both how and when to make the pivot. A curious leader committed to cultivating an 'open and learning' approach might frequently pose the following questions to themselves:

1. “Am I actively seeking diverse perspectives?” Encouraging diversity of thought challenges assumptions, stimulates creativity, and fosters a culture of inclusion.

2. “Am I creating a safe space for dialogue and dissent?” This promotes an environment where team members feel confident to voice their ideas and concerns, thus enriching decision-making processes.

3. “Do I value questions as much as answers?” Treasuring curiosity fosters a learning environment and encourages continuous growth.

4. “Am I open to feedback, both positive and constructive?” Feedback is a vital source of learning, and leaders should be as open to receiving it as they expect their team members to be.

5. “Am I learning from failures and mistakes?” Failure can be an extremely valuable teacher if one is open to learning from it.

6. “Am I seeking to understand before seeking to be understood?” This reflects active listening, a key element in empathetic and effective leadership.

7. “Am I making room for personal and professional growth?” Leaders should ensure they are constantly learning, evolving, and setting an example for their team.

8. “Am I facilitating rather than dictating?” An open and learning leader guides and empowers their team members instead of micromanaging them.

9. “Am I keeping up with changes and trends in education and leadership?” Continuous learning about one's field is a must for effective leadership.

10. “Am I nurturing a culture of learning within my organization?” As leaders, the culture they cultivate often sets the tone for the entire organization. A culture of learning encourages continuous improvement and innovation.

I am certain you answered “yes” to all the above, so I will encourage you to read these questions a second time, and this time answer them as if I said don’t tell me, show me. I suspect your answers might change.

Conclusion: embracing the paradox

To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Modern educational leadership calls for embracing paradoxes. It’s about recognizing that leadership traits are not a rigid formula but a dynamic spectrum that needs constant adjustment.

The dance of leadership dichotomies is a journey of continuous learning. It’s about fostering courage without recklessness, stamina without obstinacy, competence without micromanagement, confidence without arrogance, and maintaining an insatiable curiosity. As we dare to embrace these dichotomies, we develop an education leadership model that is not just about surviving but thriving in the 21st century educational ecosystem. This journey towards leadership success is indeed a dance with dichotomies — a dance of balance, rhythm, grace, and constant learning. So, let us keep our minds open, our curiosity piqued, and continue to question, reflect and learn as we navigate the path of educational leadership. n

Dr. Quintin Shepherd is currently the superintendent of Victoria ISD and has been named lone finalist for superintendent of Pflugerville ISD. He works as adjunct professor at University of Houston-Victoria and has served as a superintendent for the past 19 years in three states.

The Principals’ Institute (PI) is a year-long professional development series that provides a unique opportunity for principals to understand why transformation of public education is necessary. PI is designed to help principals develop the knowledge and skills required to be transformational leaders and to help build the capacity it takes to sustain transformation over time. The PI experience includes exposure to influential superintendents and speakers, such as Eric Sheninger, Rob Evans, George Couros, Dwight Carter, John Tanner, Thomas C. Murray, Jimmy Casas, and Joe Sanfelippo.


• Registration Fee: $6,000.00 per participant (excluding travel expenses)

• Six, 2-day sessions alternating between Austin, Dallas, and Houston

The Executive Leadership Institute (ELI) is designed to build the capacity of district executive leaders for system-wide improvements in teaching and learning. Sessions will include opportunities for leaders to cultivate strategic approaches and actions in order to support district transformational efforts. The ELI experience includes exposure to influential superintendents and speakers, such as Eric Sheninger, Rob Evans, George Couros, Dwight Carter, Jimmy Casas, Thomas C. Murray, and Joe Sanfelippo. In addition to the scheduled sessions, each participant will receive the support of an Executive Coach throughout the year.


• Registration Fee: $4,500.00 per participant (excluding travel expenses)

• Four, 2-day sessions alternating between Austin and Houston

The Assistant Principal Leadership Academy (APL) provides learning opportunities to develop, challenge, and inspire assistant principals to be transformative leaders. APL participants will engage in processes which support the development of skills specific to transformational leadership and building a learning organization while preparing them for the role of principal.


• Registration Fee: in-person sessions - $1,000 per participant (excluding travel expenses); virtual sessions - $1,000 per participant

• Six, 4-hour sessions throughout the year

The Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI) is a boundarybreaking institute for classroom teachers. Throughout the 6 sessions, committed teachers are empowered to revitalize learning cultures while leaning N2 an inspired future. Centered on teacher voice and grounded in a foundation of collaboration, the Teacher Leadership Institute challenges teachers to move beyond accountability standards and toward innovative learning that ignites student engagement.


• Customized for individual districts or regional consortiums of districts

• Six full day sessions

Find out more about our partner initiatives with TASA at

TASA Corporate Partners

TASA is grateful to our 2023–24 corporate partners for their support. Each level of the Corporate Partner Program is designed to offer our partners quality exposure to association members. Partners at the President’s Circle, Platinum, and Gold levels may customize special events and opportunities.


Carnegie Learning

Coryell Roofing

DLR Group

eM Life

Frontline Education

Gaggle.Net Inc.


Imagine Learning (formerly Edgenuity)

Just Right Reader

N2 Learning




Trusted Capital Group (TCG), a HUB International Company


VLK Architects

Wondr Health

WRA Architects


Age of Learning

Apple, Inc.

Capturing Kids' Hearts



The College Board

Curriculum Associates


EF Education First



Google for Education

Hazel Health

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

K12 Insight

Lone Star Furnishings, LLC

LPA, Inc.

Meteor Education

Milliken & Company Paper

SAFARI Montage


Learn more about TASA’s Corporate Partner Program




Grand Canyon University


New Tech Network

Raise Your Hand Texas


Savvas Learning Company



BRW Architects

Corwin Press, Inc.

Dell Technologies

Education Advanced, Inc.

Gulf Coast Educators Federal Credit Union

Harris County Department of Education


Indeco Sales, Inc


Pfluger Architects

Schneider Electric

Stephens Inc.

Walsh Gallegos Kyle Robinson & Roalson P.C.

Whizz Education



Digi Security Systems

Educate Texas

FranklinCovey Education

Hilltop Securities, Inc.

HKS Inc.

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP

M&R Roofing and Construction Company, LLC

Marsh McLennan Agency

McGriff Insurance Services

MIND Education, Creators of ST Math

MSB School Services




Panorama Education


Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, Inc.

Talkspace & The Princeton Review®

Vanir Construction Management, Inc.

SPRING 2024 45

Sept. 27–29

San Antonio

Henry B. González

Convention Center


Session Selector is open for proposal submission .


Session voting begins.


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