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TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS PROFESSIONAL JOURNAL

TASA

kicks off new superintendent mentoring program Plus: Meet a few of TASA’s Inspiring Leaders p.14

WINTER 2020

INSIGHT


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Facilitated by N2 Learning in partnership with the Texas Association of School Administrators Registration opens January 2020 For more information, visit www.n2learning.org @N2Learning @tasanet


WINTER 2020

INSIGHT

Volume 34 No. 4

FEATURE ARTICLES & COLUMNS

TASA to kick off new superintendent mentoring program

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by Dacia Rivers

Meet a few of TASA’s Inspiring Leaders

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Get to know TASA’s member service representatives

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Public school 403(b) problems ... and an opportunity

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by Michael Taylor

HIGHER EDUCATION The principal as an instructional leader EC-12: new Texas principal certification

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by Cynthia Martinez-Garcia & Stacy Hendricks

TSPRA VOICE A dozen ways to deliver dazzling details: 12 ways to toot your school district’s horn

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by Sally Andrews

TEACHER PERSPECTIVE Taking back the narrative of public education

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by Karen Sams

WINTER 2020

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INSIGHT

OFFICERS Greg Smith, President, Clear Creek ISD Brian T. Woods, President-Elect, Northside ISD

DEPARTMENTS

Doug Williams, Vice President, Sunnyvale ISD Gayle Stinson, Past President, Lake Dallas ISD

TASA Professional Learning Calendar

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President’s Message

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Executive Director’s View

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EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE Gonzalo Salazar, Region 1, Los Fresnos CISD Max A. Thompson, Region 2, Banquete ISD Jo Ann Bludau, Region 3, Hallettsville ISD Charles E. Dupre, Region 4, Fort Bend ISD Todd E. Lintzen, Region 5, Bridge City ISD Stan Surratt, Region 7, Lindale ISD Judd Marshall, Region 8, Mount Pleasant ISD Curtis Eldridge, Region 9, Saint Jo ISD Kevin Worthy, Region 10, Royse City ISD David Belding, Region 11, Aubrey ISD

INSIGHT STAFF Executive Director Associate Executive Director, Internal Operations

George Kazanas, Region 12, Midway ISD Kevin Brown

David Young, Region 14, Abilene ISD Ann M. Halstead

Advertising Sales and Director, Corporate Partner Services

Jennifer Garrido

Director, Communications and Media Relations

Amy Francisco

Design/Production Marco A. De La Cueva Editorial Director

Jodi Duron, Region 13, Elgin ISD

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. © 2020 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.

Joe Young, Region 15, Brownwood ISD Donna Hale, Region 16, Miami ISD Keith Bryant, Region 17, Lubbock-Cooper ISD Ariel Elliott, Region 18, Greenwood ISD Jeannie Meza-Chavez, Region 19, San Elizario ISD Michelle Carroll Smith, Region 20, Lytle ISD

AT-LARGE MEMBERS LaTonya Goffney, Aldine ISD Walter Jackson, Brenham ISD Jamie Wilson, Denton ISD

LEGISLATIVE CHAIR Charles Dupre, Fort Bend ISD

EDITORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE Doug Williams, Sunnyvale ISD, Chair Jo Ann Bludau, Hallettsville ISD Keith Bryant, Lubbock-Cooper ISD Charles Dupre, Fort Bend ISD Stacey Edmonson, Sam Houston State University Tory Hill, Sweeny ISD

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TASA Professional Learning Calendar For details on our professional development events, please visit us at tasanet.org/professional-learning or call the TASA office at 512.477.6361 or 800.725.TASA (8272)

Date

Event

Presenter

Location

5

Assistant Principal Leadership Academy

N2 Learning

Hammerlun Center Georgetown, TX

6

Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 4

N2 Learning

Berry Center Cypress, TX

11-13

Level 1 Curriculum Management Audit Training

CMSi

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX

12

Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 4

N2 Learning

VISD Conference Ctr. Victoria, TX

19

Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 4

N2 Learning

Allen High School Allen, TX

19

Assistant Principal Leadership Academy Session 4

N2 Learning

Casey Admin. Bldg. Wolfforth, TX

19-20

First-Time Superintendents Academy Session 4

Various

Austin Marriott North Round Rock, TX

25-27

Curriculum Management Audit Training Level 2

CMSi

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX

26-27

Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network (FRSLN) Event 3

TASA

3

Budget Cohort for Texas District Leaders Session 3

TASA/TASBO/TASB

30-31

Curriculum Management Planning Workshop CMSi

TASA Headquarters Austin, TX

31-April 1

Academy for Transformational Leadership

Hammerlun Center Georgetown, TX

February

Location TBA

March

Schlechty Center

Houston, TX

WINTER 2020

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Find out how your school can participate by visiting

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INSIGHT


EVERYONE NEEDS A MENTOR

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he new year is always a great time to pause, pick up the phone and say thank you to those who have guided us over time. I am speaking specifically about our mentors who have served as our role models, advisors, confidants and, yes, even our confessors. For me I would like to thank the following superintendents and leaders: Jim Pickett, Jim Schleider, John Wilson, Rick Berry, Leonard Merrill, John Horn, Johnny Veselka, Kevin Brown and the 34 other superintendents that participated in the 2006 Vision Institute for Public Education in Texas.

Greg Smith

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE Sometimes in education we have this belief that if we ask for help we are seen as weak or incompetent.

I give thanks and praise to all of these men and women from small, medium, large, urban, suburban and rural school districts. Whether you took a call from me regarding budgeting, bond elections, school boundaries, curriculum and instruction, spiritual guidance, or, yes, even cheerleader elections, thank you for being there when I needed you the most and bringing light to my world. To be at the helm of a public education institution today requires a growth mindset, thick skin and a heart for children. Sometimes in education we have this belief that if we ask for help we are seen as weak or incompetent. The fact of the matter is we all should be in the business of seeking mentors and quit saying, “Everything is OK,” when you know it is not. New superintendents are strongly encouraged to reach out and network with your mentor to help guide you, but mentors are not restricted to just new superintendents. Our vision for public education includes learning and relearning, and that involves being vulnerable enough to admit that you need help or want to bounce an idea off someone you trust. Due to the help of our mentors, we never have to feel like we have to be the smartest person in the room. But we can seek to be the very best.

Greg Smith TASA President Superintendent, Clear Creek ISD

WINTER 2020

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THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORING

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s an undergraduate student at UT, I held a variety of jobs, including one at a convenience store. The owner, a very successful businessman who spoke few words, gave me sage advice. “Kevin,” he said, “as you go into your profession, you need to find mentors who will serve as good role models for you. That made all the difference for me.”

Kevin Brown

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S VIEW Countless mentors made an impact on me through the years, and I am so very thankful for each of them in my life.

Fortunately, I listened. As a teacher and assistant principal, I worked under several outstanding principals. They all had very different leadership styles, but each helped to guide me on a daily basis. I didn’t have much sense at the time, but at least I had the sense to learn from them. As a central office administrator, I had an incredible mentor in Jerry Christian, our superintendent. He would spend many hours visiting with me (often well after the office was closed), listening to my thoughts and asking how I would handle various situations. He explained his decisions in detail and gave me tremendous responsibilities that grew my competence and confidence. On one occasion, he even showed up at my house after a particularly challenging day, just to provide encouragement. Countless other mentors made an impact on me through the years, and I am so very thankful for each of them in my life. And as the years pass, I realize that it is my turn to repay that debt by mentoring and supporting others. At TASA, we are expanding and enhancing our superintendent mentor program beginning at our Midwinter Conference. For those of you “up and comers,” I hope you will heed the advice of my old boss and seek out role models. Listen, learn and lean on them for support. The challenges of the profession are enormous, but there are some amazing people in our organization who can help you. You are not alone. To our mentors, and those who are considering this new role, thank you for repaying the debt you no doubt owe to those who mentored you. The future of public education rests with the next generation of leaders, and their success just might be dependent on you.

Kevin Brown TASA Executive Director

WINTER 2020

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TASA

kicks off new superintendent mentoring program

by Dacia Rivers 10

INSIGHT


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tepping into the superintendent’s office for the first time can be overwhelming. From juggling day-to-day operations to working with a new board or engaging with the community, the job keeps you on your toes. But serving at the top can also be lonely. “Even though you are always surrounded, you’re very isolated when it comes to having someone with a professional awareness of what your job entails,” says Tanya Larkin, superintendent in Pampa ISD. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) requires that all new superintendents go through a mentoring program, and to that end, TASA is revamping its mentoring program to go hand in hand with its First-Time Superintendents Academy, providing one-on-one support through those challenging first years at the helm.

Kevin Worthy, Royse City ISD

As chair of TASA’s 2018-19 Professional Learning Committee, Kevin Worthy, Royse City ISD superintendent, began working on the program’s redesign three years ago. He says that through the newly designed mentoring program, TASA hopes to train mentors who are focused on creating intentional experiences for new superintendents.

for more trust and more vulnerability to create the most helpful relationships possible. The second component focuses on coaching, and is geared around building capacity for mentors to not only provide answers, but to ask meaningful questions to prompt deeper considerations from their mentees. The third component centers around four practical modules necessary for all new superintendents: board dynamics, overall operations, strategic direction and culture, and community engagement. “Our mentors will have frequent face-to-face or virtual meetings with their mentees,” Hill says. “We want those opportunities for collaboration to be as close to the work as possible, so that may mean walking the halls of a school together and discussing problems. It could mean observing a practice that a new superintendent is implementing and providing feedback.” TASA’s Professional Learning Committee members have designed the mentoring program to evolve as it grows, welcoming feedback from new superintendents on how they could get the most out of the relationship. Over the past year, the group has asked participants in TASA’s First-Time Superintendents Academy what they need most and worked to design the mentoring program to meet those needs. “We want to make sure we base the program on what the mentee needs,” Worthy says. “We want the mentee to have a voice. We want them to be able to help with decision-making.”

“It’s a very difficult transition becoming a first-year superintendent,” he says. “There are so many things that they just don’t know.”

While the SBEC rule requires only one year of mentoring, it’s TASA’s goal that the redesign will help build mentor/mentee relationships that last much longer.

Just before the TASA Midwinter Conference in January 2020, superintendent mentors underwent training designed to help them provide mentees necessary tools for professional growth, through learning experiences and relationship building.

“One of the things I realized as a superintendent is that it was really my second year of work where I faced the greatest level of challenge,” Hill says. “So we’re hoping the mentoring will carry on to year two as well, to allow for more authentic conversations while the work is happening. Because in year one, you’re learning and

Sweeny ISD Superintendent Dr. Tory Hill serves as the current chair of TASA’s Professional Learning Committee. He says that the redesigned model incorporates three main components. First is a focus on relationships. Experienced and recently retired superintendents volunteer to serve as mentors, then go through training to learn how they can better create authentic opportunities and relationships with their mentees, allowing

Tory Hill, Sweeny ISD

FALL 2019

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listening, but in year two, you’re really beginning to put your ideas and strategic plan to work.” Building strong twoway relationships is an essential goal of the mentoring program, so that mentees feel comfortable reaching out to their mentors, and can even turn around after a few years in the office and serve as mentors themselves, lending their revelations to newer superintendents. By aligning the program with the FirstTime Superintendents Tanya Larkin, Pampa ISD Academy, the committee hopes to build personal connections with TASA, to introduce new superintendents to the association and all of the benefits it has to offer. “We want each of our superintendents to understand that they really have to take time to focus on professional growth, from a personal standpoint and growth that would help move their district forward,” Worthy says. “I think it’s critical that new superintendents come into the job understanding that a growth mindset has to be in place when it comes to transformation, innovation and things that are critical for students to be successful in the future.” Those involved in the program’s redesign have high hopes for what it can provide to new superintendents in the future. Chief among those hopes is building beneficial working relationships. “My hope is that new superintendents will create professional networks where they have an on-point resource to help them think through their challenges, what I refer to as an innovation think tank,” Hill says. “The great way to measure the success of the program is going to be looking at how successful our new superintendents are and whether or not they are pushing education forward in Texas.”

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Larkin agrees that while the superintendency comes with a lot of details that can be taught through conferences and trainings, learning the nuances of the job is best done from someone who’s experienced it firsthand. “Connecting a new superintendent with a positive, visionary, experienced mentor is crucial for both the success of that person and the success of the students and staff that he or she serves in their district,” she says. “As educators, we are in the human capacity business. Having strong, professional and ethical mentors will ensure that public schools continue to thrive and meet the challenges of students in communities all over Texas.” As TASA’s redesigned mentoring program kicks off in the new year, excitement is high for what this relationship building can mean for both new and veteran administrators in Texas. “At the end of the day, we have to create an experience both for the first-year superintendent and the mentor that builds a strong relationship and creates a long-lasting friendship,” Worthy says. “I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to serve on this committee as we design this new model,” Hill says. “I really feel that professional learning is the heart of what continues to drive schools forward.” For more information on the mentoring program, or to sign up as a mentor or mentee, visit tasanet.org/professional-learning/superintendent-mentoring-program.

Dacia Rivers is editorial director of INSIGHT.


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Meet TASA’s TASA’s Meet Inspiring Leaders Inspiring Leaders TASA’s “Inspiring Leaders” tagline is not just a reminder of TASA’s commitment to leadership development; it describes our members themselves — school leaders who inspire others as they work to prepare future-ready students. In this and future issues of INSIGHT, you will meet some of those Inspiring Leaders. To nominate a leader for inclusion, please email drivers@texasschoolbusiness.com

Walter Jackson Since April 2015, Dr. Walter Jackson has served as superintendent in Brenham ISD. With a personal mission of preparing all students in Brenham for an unpredictable future, Jackson has focused on supporting educators and balancing campus demographics to better serve the community. With nearly 30 years of education experience under his belt, Jackson is exceptionally proud of Brenham ISD and the way the district has worked to prepare students for success beyond high school no matter where they head next. “Our emphasis on the STEAM fields, literacy, workforce development and college and career readiness is helping us prepare students for a future that has yet to be defined,” Jackson says. “In Brenham ISD, students are graduating with ample opportunities to lead successful lives beyond what has been offered in the past — we are moving in the right direction.” Jamey Johnson, who serves as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in the district, says that Jackson is a phenomenal leader and mentor to his staff. “Dr. Jackson has had accomplished much in our district, but his most important accomplishment is being principled while providing the leadership skills necessary to move a rural district forward,” Johnson says. “His leadership has absolutely transformed the district.” To Jackson, serving in Brenham is a privilege, and one that allows him to support the future of Texas through its most important residents: its students. “Coming from humble beginnings, I am convinced that there’s nothing more powerful and transformative than that of a good education,” Jackson says. “The life I live and the positive experiences my own children now enjoy are directly linked to the fact that I was afforded a great education in the public school system. I aim to improve and protect our public school system with every fiber of my being.” Many staff members in Brenham ISD have been inspired by Jackson’s mentorship, including Director of Communications Jessica Johnston, who says he’s been a significant source of inspiration in her work. “What strikes me the most about Dr. Jackson is his authenticity. He is the same man in the grocery store, at church, at school and behind closed doors,” she says. “His ability to gain support for public education through building relationships, implementing cutting-edge programs and engaging in honest, two-way communication makes him not only an inspiration, but a transformative leader.” Beyond Brenham, Jackson has served on TASA’s Professional Learning Committee, an opportunity he says has afforded him the privilege of meeting and learning from some of the top minds in Texas public education. “Simply attending a TASA meeting is like attending a university master class, learning from the John Deweys and Horace Manns of our time,” Jackson says. “I aim to learn as much as I possibly can from these savants in our field, make contributions when possible, and ultimately transform our district while doing so.”

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Martha Salazar-Zamora Tomball ISD welcomed Dr. Martha Salazar-Zamora as superintendent in 2017. SalazarZamora has worked in education for more than 30 years, serving in several diverse districts across the state. What makes her most proud of Tomball is the staff’s dedication to students and commitment to working as a team to the benefit of everyone in the district. She works to cultivate “Team Tomball,” a sense of community and teamwork and a culture of learning in the district that helps benefit individual learners day in and day out. “We pride ourselves in providing exceptionally high academic instruction and have been recognized for that academic excellence,” Salazar-Zamora says. “In addition to high quality academics, I am proud that we place an equal emphasis on nurturing the whole child through opportunities to excel in fine arts and athletics, as well meeting students’ safety and social/emotional needs.” The superintendent’s office can be a challenging place to be at times, but Salazar-Zamora says she keeps stress at bay by focusing on her commitment to honesty and transparency, and by focusing on positive results. “Despite our best efforts to serve and provide a high quality product to our stakeholders, there is simply no way to keep everyone 100% happy,” she says. “However, I find that listening carefully and being honest about your rationale for decisions, motivations, constraints and concerns goes such a long way in helping the entire school community understand why and how things are unfolding.” Dr. Steven Gutierrez, who serves as chief operating officer in Tomball ISD, says that Salazar-Zamora has been described as a rare person who can take care of hearts while also taking care of business. He feels proud of the district, and says that the superintendent serves as an exceptional leader. “I have witnessed and experienced firsthand the depth at which Martha gets to know each member of Team Tomball and the impact that has on the culture of the district,” he says. “Dr. Salazar-Zamora understands that taking care of the people in the organization is taking care of the organization, and all the goals and metrics set forth as a mark of achievement.” Salazar-Zamora has been a TASA member for more than 20 years, and in that time she has served on the Commissioner’s Cabinet, Executive Committee, Legislative Committee and Central Office Committee and worked with the High Performance School Consortium and Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network. Her dedication to the organization represents her commitment to Texas public education, and she says that through TASA, she has had ample opportunities for learning and collaboration that have helped fuel her passion for bettering the state of education in general. “In an industry infamous for its proverbial work ‘silos,’ TASA provides such an amazing platform to break down those silos and facilitates professional collegiality along with the organized support we all need to be a larger team of school administrators across the state,” she says. “Serving as a TASA-appointed mentor to new superintendents provides me an opportunity to give back to the educational community as much as the community has enriched me over the years.”

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Jeff Burke With 24 years working in public education. Dr. Jeff Burke stepped into the superintendent’s office in Splendora ISD in 2017, ready to foster an educational system that focuses on student engagement via positive relationships and meaningful learning experiences. Truly a future-ready superintendent, Burke is the child of educators and brings passion and enthusiasm to his role. “I am a product of public schools, and both my parents were public school educators,” Burke says. “I truly believe that one of the greatest gifts we can impart on others is the investment of our time. Helping students find their voice is the whole reason we are here.” Staff members in Splendora ISD have found Burke’s vision inspiring, and they appreciate the way he makes everyone feel included in the process as well as the results. “Dr. Burke has revitalized Splendora ISD,” says Brian Kroeger, director of human resources in the district. “Through his initiatives he has brought along a culture of servant leadership, as well as fostering relationships throughout the district that will transform the district from a traditional school district into a district that will be prepared for the future.” Katie Key, the superintendent’s secretary, agrees that Burke’s influence in the district has been vast and palpable. “Jeff Burke has turned our entire district around in the short two years he has been here, not only for the students, but for the staff as well,” she says. “His vision and leadership validate me as an employee. He inspires me to be a better person, and his heart for everyone in SISD is as big as Texas.” Burke is likewise proud of the culture he has inspired in the district and happy to see that dedication reflected in ways beyond standardized test results. ”We focus on building relationships and creating experiences for and with our students to help them realize what they can be and how to make their dreams and passions a reality,” he says. “I’m proud that our people understand the gift they have been given to change lives, and I’m proud of their conviction in embracing this moral imperative.” Burke’s passion and commitment don’t stop in Splendora. As a TASA leader, he has served on the Texas Public Accountability Consortium and Future-Ready Superintendents Leadership Network, two endeavors he feels are crucial to the success of Texas public education. “I think it’s critical that we continue to network and learn together as leaders in public education,” he says. “TASA offers us multiple opportunities to do this, and to do it authentically and innovatively.”

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INSIGHT


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Get to know TASA’s member service representatives One of the many TASA member benefits is access to member service representatives. These former school leaders serve as an extension of the TASA staff, dedicating their time to support individual TASA members in their respective regions. The roles of a TASA member service representative are many, from welcoming new administrators to supporting those who’ve been in their positions for an extended period of time and find themselves in need of a mentor. In each issue of INSIGHT, you can learn all about TASA’s member service representatives, the work they do and how they came to serve. Find contact information for all five member service representatives at tasanet. org/about/tasa-staff. We continue our series with Larry Coffman, TASA member services representative for regions 9, 16, 17 and 18.

During his time as Borger ISD superintendent, the district received the Outstanding Board Award from TASA, something that makes him proud to this day. “My longevity at the district was because of that good school board,” Coffman says. “I was so pleased they received that honor.” While Coffman was a teacher/coach in Tulia ISD, before making the move to Borger, he was influenced by the district’s superintendent, who mentored Coffman and gave him the encouragement he needed to go into administration himself.

Larry Coffman Regions 9, 16, 17 and 18

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any people who work in public education cite a “call to serve” as the driving factor that lead them to their chosen careers. For Larry Coffman, that call led him not only into the superintendent’s office, but also to serve beyond his retirement, working as a member services representative for TASA. Coffman’s father was a preacher, so public service runs in his blood. He didn’t originally set out to become an administrator, but first started working as a teacher/coach in a few Texas public school districts. Eventually he wound up in Borger ISD, a 4A district nestled way up yonder in the Panhandle. It was there that Coffman 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.

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When Coffman became superintendent in Borger, he was mentored by Roy Pennington, who had retired as superintendent in Dumas ISD was serving as a TASA member services representative. “I enjoyed watching his interaction with superintendents and his mentorship of individuals like me and others,” Coffman says. As luck would have it, when Coffman was ready to retire from Borger, his TASA member services representative was also set to retire.Wanting to continue his service work, Coffman stepped up to fill the representative’s role with the association, providing mentorship and support to superintendents in regions 9, 16, 17 and 18. “I feel like it’s been a great opportunity to stay involved with public education and administrators,” Coffman says. “It’s probably done more for me than I’ve done for others, but it’s been a great experience.”


Coffman is modest, and his work has touched many of the administrators he’s mentored, as witnessed firsthand by Ray Cogburn, executive director of ESC Region 16. “Larry is not only knowledgeable about school districts, he has a servant’s heart and a lot of wisdom in how to manage people,” Cogburn says. “From fiscal management to community public relations, Larry always has great advice and insight into helping our superintendents in Region 16. We are very fortunate to work alongside him.”

Coffman also serves a special role as a member services representative, culling the news clips that are sent to members Monday through Friday in the TASA Daily newsletter. Using his expertise, he pores through clips from newspapers across the state and beyond, determining which stories will be the most interesting and beneficial to TASA members. With all of his understanding of the many benefits TASA offers its members, Coffman feels that the most important role the association plays is helping develop competent leaders.

As a member service representative, Coffman’s main goal is to get the TASA story out to new superintendents, to assist them in any way he can and provide information on how the association can make their jobs easier. He visits with superintendents in each region to build relationships and provide invaluable wisdom.

“TASA leadership is really focusing on this message, providing superintendents opportunities for growth and ideas on how they can meet new requirements, and I think that’s outstanding,” Coffman says. “TASA’s leadership development across the state is transforming education.”

One of Coffman’s qualities that Cogburn most admires is the way he treats all superintendents equally, no matter what size or how rural their districts might be.

Through his continued dedication to Texas public education, Coffman enjoys making connections with superintendents, providing them the support he knows they need.

“I remember being a new small school superintendent when he was serving as superintendent in Borger ISD — I always admired him for allowing us to be just as important as anyone else,” Cogburn says. “He is truly a great man and a strong supporter of schools, TASA and ESCs. We are fortunate that he is one of us.”

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

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PUBLIC SCHOOL 403(B) PROBLEMS … AND AN OPPORTUNITY A small and bad legislative change in the role of TRS and defined-benefits fees last spring highlighted a big hole in public school employees’ wallets hiding in plain sight By Michael Taylor

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small, and bad, legislative change last spring in public-school-defined-benefits plans highlighted an annual $150 million financial problem hiding in plain sight.

House Bill 2820 eliminated two things First, it eliminated ceilings on fees that investment firms could charge public school retirement accounts in 403(b) accounts. The fee limit was previously 2.75%, an already egregious fee that only an investment company executive could love. As the Dallas Morning News declared, by eliminating this fee cap, HB 2820 “declared open season on Texas teachers’ retirement futures.” Second, the bill removed TRS from its mild oversight role in maintaining a list of approved investment vendors for 403(b) plans. The financial problem of public school 403(b)s is so shocking, yet so under appreciated, that outsiders to the situation, like me, shake our heads in shock. How can they get away with that? How do public school leaders not see this crime hiding in plain sight? How is there not daily outrage? Yet multiple conversations with sophisticated public school leaders in Texas make it clear to me that: 1) Few insiders understand the scale of the problem. 2) The few that do have even fewer allies. 3) Solutions will require sustained, clear-eyed leadership throughout the state. Do public school district leaders who read INSIGHT understand how bad the status quo is?

Financial effects A 2016 report by independent consultancy AON in 2016 estimated $10 billion in unnecessary costs for savers in 403(b) plans nationwide, due to the preponderance of high commissions, high fees and mediocre-performance investment products that make up 76% of savers’ portfolios. A study by TIAA-CREF in 2010 noted that the average expenses charged on Texas 403(b) accounts was 1.71%. Meanwhile, states with better plans, such as Iowa and Arizona, were half that, at 0.87% and 0.80% respectively.

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By contrast, the average fee in corporate 401(k) plans is 0.45%, according to a TD Ameritrade study, meaning that most public school employees could likely save at least 1% on average per year on their 403(b) accounts if they had a program as good as the average private-sector plan.

HB 2820 did not cause the problems of 403(b)s in Texas, as high fees and weak oversight have plagued these investment vehicles for decades. Mostly the bill highlighted just how badly 403(b) savers in public schools have been treated over the decades.

That begs the question: What is the cost to Texas public school employees?

Under enrollment in 403(b) plans is a separate, but related, problem. Improving program design and lowering the costs of defined-contribution plans would improve enrollment and participation. A better plan should cause a virtuous cycle of participation and improved financial wellness.

At the individual-investor level, the effect of excessive fees is dramatic. A retirement saver paying an extra 1% in investment fees over a 40-year career will enrich the investment provider by approximately half of their investment gains. You can see why the investment management industry would take a keen interest in seemingly minor rule changes like HB 2820. Moving from the individual investor to the system as a whole, what is the financial cost of the status quo for all current public school employees in Texas? I’ll do a back-of-the-envelope calculation, making some reasonable assumptions. Approximately 600,000 Texas public school employees have access to tax-advantaged payroll deduction defined-contribution plans via their 403(b) programs. If we assume current enrollment in the program of 25% of eligible employees, accumulating an average of $100,000 in an account, we can estimate excess fees charged to employees at $150 million per year, repeating every year. After only six years of excessive fees like this, public school employees will have transferred $1 billion from their retirement accounts to investment firms in the form of excess fees. As the late Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen might or might not have said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”

For the record, I’m not arguing against the status quo because you should buy my better mouse trap. I do not sell any financial products. I’m arguing because the gap between the status quo and a basic fair deal for public school employees is so large that it hurts my sense of justice and that of any neutral observer. Designing a fair, nonconflict-ridden 403(b) plan would put a few billion dollars back in the pockets of Texas public school employees in the coming decades. A plan that’s simple, easy to enroll, and low-cost — that’s what

Texas public school employees deserve. But it’s what they do not have in the year 2020. They have the opposite of that, to the point of exploitation. I don’t use that word lightly or melodramatically. Personal finance columnist Scott Burns wrote in the Dallas Morning News that HB 2820 “made Texas safe for investment predators.”

Private versus public defined-contribution plans By a quirk of federal investor protection law, employees who save for retirement in their private company 401(k) plans are typically protected from bad treatment by investment firms. Texas public school employees who invest in their 403(b) plans do not enjoy the same federal protections. The result is an extraordinary contrast between private and public employee plans when it comes to defined-contribution benefits. Meanwhile, HB 2820 removed the previous ban on excessive fees for Texas public school employees.

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Solutions

plans. The extraordinary negotiating strength that a committee representing 600,000+ public school employees in Texas could bring to bear would virtually guarantee Wall Street’s best offer. A conflict-free process would result in low costs, a simple interface and encouragement to enroll. Other states have done this. Texas could have this.

What does someone who cares deeply about public school employee financial wellness do? For the readers of this publication, what is the solution? I see two parallel tracks.

Billions of dollars are at stake. Wrestling those billions away from those benefiting from the status quo will be very, very difficult, but again, worthwhile.

The ideal track is systemic, long-term and politically difficult. It might take a decade or more to get done. It’s worth starting now, knowing the struggle will be long. The second answer is not ideal but has the advantage of immediate benefits and would be within the scope of individual school districts.

In the meantime, we can start on short-term solutions. Recognizing employee financial wellness as on par with physical and psychological wellness would be a great start. Does your school district provide any financial education to employees from non-conflicted sources? Where do your employees learn to navigate the confusing world of financial salespeople? Have you thought about a plan to help them begin the process of retirement savings outside of TRS?

I’ll start with the long-term ideal. An independent committee with the best fiduciary interests of public school employees would negotiate on their behalf to set up low-cost, easy-toaccess and simple-to-understand 403(b) defined-contribution

How often do you think Texas public school employees worry about whether they will have enough when retirement finally comes? For the majority of your colleagues, if they’re being honest, it might be every single day.

They. Removed. The. Ban. This “reform” serves the investment community at the extraordinary expense of Texas public school employees.

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Footnotes 1 Of course, we could easily make higher or lower estimates based on any of these assumptions, but this at least gives us a sense for the magnitude of the situation. 2 Interestingly, TRS does not track participation rates of public school employees in workplace 403(b)s, a result and symptom of their already extremely light oversight of the plans. Nationwide participation in private sector 401(k) plans is estimated to reach 38%. Because of higher pay, matching incentives, better investment offerings and fewer pensions, 401(k) participation will likely remain higher than 403(b) participation among public school employees in Texas. Anecdotally, participation rates of districts I’ve spoken with seem closer to 20% than 25%, but this will vary by district. n

Michael Taylor is weekly syndicated business columnist for the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. He is the author of The Financial Rules For New College Graduates, a personal finance book. He formerly worked on Wall Street but now writes, teaches and consults, all with the mission of making seemingly complex financial topicssimple to understand.

References AON Hewitt. (Jan. 2016). How 403(b) plans are wasting nearly $10 billion annually, and what can be done to fix it. https://www.aon.com/attachments/human-capital-consulting/ how-403b-plans-are-wasting-nearly-10billion-annuallywhitepaper.pdf TIAA-CREF Institute. (Nov. 2010). Who’s watching the door? How controlling provider access can improve K-12 teacher retirement outcomes. https://www.tiaainstitute.org/sites/ default/files/presentations/2017-02/98a.pdf Dallas Morning News. (Oct. 27, 2019). Bill declares open season on Texas teachers’ retirement funds. https://www. dallasnews.com/business/personal-finance/2019/10/27/billmakes-texas-safe-for-investment-predators/

One thing that

hasn’t changed

since 1962 about

Texas School Public Relations Association:

Communication Matters

! y a d o T Jo i n TSPRA.org welcoming multifaceted trusted professional dynamic focused WINTER 2020

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HIGHER EDUCATION The principal as an instructional leader EC-12: new Texas principal certification By Cynthia Martinez-Garcia, Sam Houston State University, and Stacy Hendricks, Stephen F. Austin State University.

S

chool leader reform was absent from most major school reform agendas in the early 21st century, which is a major difference in reform a decade later (The Wallace Foundation, 2013). “Today, improving school leadership ranks high on the list of priorities for school reform” (The Wallace Foundation, 2013, p. 5). In a thorough 2010 survey, school and district administrators, policymakers and others affirmed that principal leadership was among the most pressing matters on a list of issues in public school education (The Wallace Foundation, 2013). Teacher quality was ranked first and principal leadership was second. Educational experts acknowledged the changing role of the school leader and recognized important areas of school leadership needing improvement (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2008). Thus, the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA) adopted the Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008 which are the latest set of highlevel policy standards for education leadership (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2008; The Wallace Foundation, 2008). These policy standards “provide guidance to state policymakers as they work to improve education leadership preparation, licensure, evaluation, and professional development” (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2008, p. 1).

“Given their broad nature, they can influence and drive many system supports and changes which will ultimately lead to effective instructional leadership that positively impacts student achievement” (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2008, p. 11). New resources are available for evaluating principal performance and federal efforts, such as Race to the Top, are focusing on the importance of effective principals improving teaching and learning (The Wallace Foundation, 2013). With school leadership as a top priority for school reform, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) began rethinking the role of the principal as well as the principal certification process. To support these changes in school leadership reform, the Texas State Board of Education adopted new principal standards (Texas Administrative Code 149.2001), which were effective June 8, 2014 for active principals in the field, developed and implemented the new principal appraisal system, Texas Principal Evaluation and Support System (TPESS) in 2016, adopted new principal certification standards (Texas Administrative Code §241.15) that were effective Dec. 23, 2018, and redesigned the principal certification program in 2018. As of Jan. 1, 2019, the Texas principal certification has changed. Now, there are new principal certificate standards and two new certification exams. Previously, Texas principal candidates would take the TExES 068, which was a 120 question multiple-choice exam; and the principal candidate paid around $140 for the certification exam. The first new exam, TExES 268, has 70 selected-response questions (single and clustered) and four constructed-response questions; the cost for the 268 exam is approximately $200. In addition to the 268 exam, Texas principal candidates who have not completed all the Texas Principal Certification steps by Oct. 30, 2019

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will be required to take a second exam, TExES (368): Performance Assessment of School Leaders (PASL). This exam is an evidence-based performance assessment and costs about $375. Now, the Texas principal candidates will have an additional expense for the PASL in order to complete the Texas principal certification process.

TExES 068 principal exam The 068 exam had three domains: School Community Leadership, Instructional Leadership and Administrative Leadership, along with nine competencies. The domains are broad areas of content that cover one or more of the educator principal certificate standards. The competencies narrow and define the content in greater specificity (TEA, Principal (068) Preparation Manual, 2018). When scoring the 068 assessment, the three domains were weighted differently: 33%, 44% and 23% respectively.

TExES 268 principal as instructional leader exam and framework During 2014, the Texas Principal Standards (Texas Administrative Code §149.2001) for active school principals in the field changed. This change was followed by a transformation in the Texas Principal Certificate Standards (Texas Administrative Code §241.15) for aspiring school principals in 2018. These standards include the following six domains: School Culture, Leading Learning, Human Capital, Executive Leadership, Strategic Operations, and Ethics, Equity and Diversity. To align the state exam to the new Texas Principal Certificate Standards, the TEA has created a certification exam process with two exams: TExES 268 and TExES 368 PASL. When scoring the 268 exam, the six domains are weighted differently, 22%, 42%, 18%, 6%, 6%, and 5% respectively.

The TExES 268 exam has six domains and 11 competencies with descriptive statements for each competency. Both the competency statement and descriptive statements in this exam are verbatim to the competency and descriptive statements in the TExES 068 exam. “The competency statement broadly defines what an entry-level principal in this field in Texas public schools should know and be able to do. The descriptive statements describe in greater detail the knowledge and skills eligible for testing” (TEA, 2019a, p. 9). New to the TExES 268 exam are the bolded priority statements and the greater frequency assessment of the priority statements. The bolded priority statements noted with an asterisk focus on the most critical aspects of school leadership that can influence student outcomes. Therefore, these priority statements will be assessed with greater frequency. All descriptive statements will be assessed at both the theory and application levels. (Texas Education Agency, 2019a, p. 9) Some great suggestions for educator preparation programs are available in the 268 preparation manual and listed below. Programs can use this document to help candidates understand all aspects of the test, including the content covered, the key terms to know and helpful test-taking strategies. Programs can use the framework, priority statements and sample test questions to assist with backward planning of curriculum and coursework. Programs can work to establish rigor and alignment in assignments, projects and assessments to the framework, particularly the priority statements. Programs can use the information on content and weighting of the domains to design courses that focus on priority content and structure meaningful learning experiences to prepare candidates in each domain. (Texas Education Agency, 2019a, p. 3)

TExES 368 PASL exam The certification process after Oct. 30, 2019, includes another more rigorous exam, the TExES 368 PASL, with three summative tasks and four to five steps for each task, which will require wellreasoned written responses, artifacts and videos. Additionally, the PASL tasks will require three kinds of writing: descriptive, analytic and reflective (Educational Testing Service, 2019). As evidence for facilitating colleague’s self-reflection and candidate’s self-reflection on future work with collaborative teams, the candidate will submit videos of the student/ candidate facilitating a collaborative team during the candidate’s internship/ practicum experience, which will be required for Task 3 (Educational Testing Service, 2019). The PASL Tasks will require mentors (school site-supervisors) who will assist, guide and allow the Texas principal candidates to practice with the task requirements in order for them to learn, reflect, and grow. Below are the PASL tasks with the specific steps. PASL tasks

Task 1: Problem-solving in the field (overview) Steps and evidence Step 1: Identifying a problem/challenge Step 2: Researching and developing a plan Step 3: Implementing the plan Step 4: Reflecting on the plan and the resolution

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Task 2: Supporting continuous professional development (overview) Steps and evidence Step 1: Designing building-level professional development Step 2: Implementing building-level professional development Step 3: Analyzing three participants’ responses Step 4: Reflecting on building-level professional development Task 3: Creating a collaborative culture (overview) Steps and evidence Step 1: Identifying the collaborative team Step 2: Developing a plan to improve instruction, student learning and the school culture Step 3: Implementing the plan to improve instruction, student learning and the school culture Step 4: Reflecting on the collaborative team and the school culture Step 5: Uploading the video — you must upload your video (Educational Testing Service, 2019) It is imperative that principal preparation program faculty collaborate more with district and school leaders to ensure that candidates have supportive mentors who will provide the candidate with opportunities for school improvement practice, coaching and feedback, implementation and reflection. Currently, only one other state, Georgia, has implemented the PASL exam and no data on this exam are available yet. While the

TExES 268 and PASL 368 assessments may be a step in the right direction, right now there is no research or data available that indicate a correlation with these exams and developing better school principals.

Comparison of TExES 068 to TExES 268 principal certification exams There are some similarities and many differences between the TExES 068 and the TExES 268 exam. To understand the changes in the exams and better prepare principal candidates, it is essential for principal preparation programs to compare exams. This comparison will aid in necessary updates in curriculum, specific assignments and/or assessments in courses, and practicums. Question types. As noted earlier, the 068 exam was a 120 selected-response exam with no constructed-response questions. Now, the Texas principal certification process includes the 268 exam, which is more rigorous including 70 selected-response questions and 4 constructed-response questions, which are standalone document-based case studies. These constructed-response questions require the candidate to demonstrate their knowledge in domains I, II, and III by providing in-depth responses to the stimulus (i.e., information, plans, student work, student performance, notes, surveys, data, tables, charts), which cannot be assessed effectively with selected-response questions (Texas Education Agency, 2019a; TEA, 2019b). Time limit. Both exams allow five hours for the candidates to complete the questions. Generally speaking, the 068 did not take the entire five hours. With the addition of the constructedresponse questions on the 268, principal candidates will more than likely need

the entire five hours to complete the 70 selected-response questions and the four constructed-response questions, which are standalone document-based case studies. Of course, the four constructedresponses will need to be scored by experts. Also, the principal candidates, who did not complete the Texas Principal Certification process for TExES 268 by October 30, 2019, are required to take the PASL exam, which will be available for 2 submission windows (October and March) a year.

TExES 268 and TExES 368 PASL: costs and testing windows In addition to the change in the certification process, the costs for the exams will be increasing from $150 to about $600 for both exams (TExES 268 and TExES 368 PASL). Because the 268 exam has four constructed-responses that will need to be scored by experts, the cost of this exam will be more than the retired TExES 068 exam. Also, the 268 exam will be offered to principal candidates for limited testing windows. For the TExES 368 PASL exam, the written commentaries, artifacts and videos will need to be scored by experts, so the cost of this exam will be around $400. The three PASL Tasks may be submitted only twice a year (October and March). If a candidate does not pass one or more task(s), he or she can modify the task(s) and resubmit. Resubmission will happen twice a year (December and May) for an additional fee of $75 per task. Therefore, the costs of both exams (TExES 268 and TExES 368 PASL) may cost the principal candidates about $600. This cost does not include costs for having to retake any of the exams.

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Principal curriculum redesign, exams and goals These new assessments are aligned with the ISLLC Standards, 2014 Principal Standards, and 2018 Principal Certificate Standards. Therefore, these exams may be a step in the right direction. Based on the new principal certification changes, in 2018, Texas educator preparation programs were required to complete a curriculum redesign to align the new standards and to provide multiple opportunities for principal candidates to practice with these performance assessments and tasks throughout the program. The PASL tasks will require more money, time to complete, and more importantly, principals and assistant principals, who will serve as school site-supervisors and will assist, guide and allow the Texas principal candidates to practice with the task requirements in order for them to learn, reflect and grow. The expectations behind the Texas Principal Certification changes are to improve student achievement, close the student achievement gap in Texas schools and better meet the needs of today’s principal in a rapidly changing world. Therefore, the goals are to create principals as instructional leaders so that teachers will continue to develop and grow, to improve student achievement and to close the Texas student achievement gap. n

Cynthia Martinez-Garcia is an associate professor at Sam Houston State University. She serves as the principal practicum coordinator and has served as the principal program coordinator for many years. She is the president-elect of the Texas Council of Professors of Educational Administration. Stacy Hendricks serves as an associate dean in the James I. Perkins College of Education at Stephen F. Austin State University. She is also interim program coordinator of the Educational Leadership doctoral program. She is the current president for the Texas Council of Professors of Educational Administration.

References Council of Chief State School Officers. (2008). Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008 As Adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Washington, DC. Educational Testing Service (ETS). (2017, July). Performance Assessment for School Leaders (PASL): Candidate and Educator Handbook (Version 1.3). Retrieved from https://www.ets.org/s/ppa/pdf/pasl-candidate-educator-handbook.pdf Educational Testing Service (ETS). (2019). Preparing for the ETS Performance Assessment for School Leaders (PASL). Retrieved from https://www.ets.org/ppa/test-takers/school-leaders/prepare Texas Education Agency. (2018). TExES Principal (068) preparation manual. Retrieved from http://www.tx.nesinc.com/ Content/Docs/068PrepManual.pdf Texas Education Agency. (2019a). TExES Principal as Instructional Leader (268) preparation manual. Retrieved from http:// www.tx.nesinc.com/content/docs/268PrepManual.pdf Texas Education Agency. (2019b). Principal Preview Information: Transitioning from 068 to 268. Retrieved from http://www. tx.nesinc.com/content/docs/TX_268_PreviewDocument_jan2018.pdf The Wallace Foundation. (2013). The school principal as a leader: Guiding schools towards better teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/pages/the-school-principal-as-leader-guiding-schoolsto-better-teaching-and-learning.aspx The Wallace Foundation. (2008, June 3). Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008 [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.wallacefoundation.org/news-and-media/press-releases/pages/educationalleadershippolicystandardsisllc2008.aspx

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TSPRA VOICE A dozen ways to deliver dazzling details: 12 ways to toot your school district’s horn By Sally Andrews

A positive school district image is vital, yet in the busyness of running a district, it’s one of the things that may get overlooked or placed on the back burner.

Seeking ways to positively promote your school district in the community and on social media? It may seem like an overwhelming challenge, but we at Vidor ISD are willing to share some ideas that you may find helpful. One of the things we PR people are good at is “borrowing” from each other, so borrow away. 1. Participate in anything that involves families and/or the community, and be sure to advertise

it on Facebook, Twitter, in the newspaper and on television and radio if possible. Texas Reads One Book is a great program for fourth and fifth graders and their families. A book is chosen, and school districts order copies for each student. Parents are expected to read one chapter at home each night with their child. There are many engaging options. Our students hear trivia questions from the previous night’s chapter each morning over the school intercom. They submit answers, and from all the correct answers, a winner is drawn to receive a prize. We take it a step further, however. I post questions for parents on our Facebook page. The parents/ grandparents have about four hours to respond, then I take the names of all those who have posted correct answers and draw a winner. They receive a $10 gift card to a local restaurant, garden center or store. Parents love it! And they read with their children each night which, of course, is the real prize. Obviously, we get local businesses involved. It’s good advertising for them, as well.

Yet another neat event is hosted by our SHAC (Student Health Advisory Committee) in the spring at Pirate Stadium. We invite local health and wellness-based entities to set up booths with information for families. Our fire and police departments are on hand with patrol cars, safety units, trucks and rescue vehicles for families to experience firsthand. We always have an ambulance and, weather permitting, a medical helicopter. Our Rotary Club brings their green bus and gives out free books and information on local entities that provide help for families, including food and clothing. Families take a healthy lap around the track, and there are games, obstacle courses, climbing walls and snacks to encourage health and wellness. Last year we even had two local companies bring out their big wreckers, which were hugely popular. We utilize the skills of the Vidor High School Certified Nurse’s Aide class members, who check attendees’ blood pressure. We’ve also held this event in the fall in conjunction with our local police department as National Night Out, which is celebrated across the country. It’s been hugely successful, probably because the police department cooked free hot dogs. There are many opportunities for getting the word out about this event, including sending flyers home with the children and in businesses, social and print media, and of course, local TV and radio stations both beforehand and at the event. Businesses and medical facilities hang advertisements in their offices and invite their patients to join us as well.

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Last of all, our superintendent instituted a reading challenge: Read 15 minutes per night. Parents sent photos to be posted in an album on Facebook, and those were featured on National Read a Book Day, Sept. 6. 2. Recruit volunteers from your community to mentor or

tutor. Allowing the public to see inside your schools is a positive step, especially if you’re trying to pass a bond issue. Schedule meetings in facilities that have the greatest need for replacement or refurbishment. Of course, the focus is on the students, not the buildings, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind. And having the public involved in your schools works toward building that public image. In Vidor, we are the pirates. So we instituted a reading mentor program called Pirate Pals. Since students have STAAR reading tests in third grade, we focus on that grade level. Teachers recommend students who are low interest or low level readers. Each child is paired with a caring community member or VISD employee who commits to visit for 30 minutes each week, listening to the child read and helping with problem spots. After a brief but inclusive training, this continues all year, and the Pirate Pals form a bond with their students. We feature mentors in the newspaper and on Facebook and Twitter, encouraging the community to participate, and have had a local television station do a piece on this program. The Pirate Pal program was also featured in our school magazine, Pirate Pride, which has a readership of more than 8,000 people. The year may even end with an ice cream party for all of the Pals and their partners. Lots of photos opportunities abound at the party. 3. Another way to spotlight great things going on in our district is through Arts Afternoon, held in the spring. Our fine arts students submit paintings, drawings, sculptures, pottery, triptychs and other creations to be displayed. The pieces are judged by category, and ribbons are awarded. The public is invited through the media, written invitations and social media. As they peruse the art, they can listen to and watch performances by band, choir and theater students. Art students are stationed by their artwork to talk about it with members of the community. Refreshments are served, of course. After the event, we post videos and photos on social media and make sure the winners and participants have their pictures in the local newspaper. Video links are added to our school magazine, which may be viewed online. 4. Big Buc’s Brag Board is a Facebook feature that Vidor ISD

began last year to rave reviews. Teachers, students and parents can nominate anyone involved in the school system to be featured. The Brag Board sports a photo, the name of the 30

INSIGHT

person being applauded and the name of the one who nominated him or her. It also tells why the person is being bragged on. It’s very popular and a great way to provide an uplifting pat on the back for a kid who might not usually receive accolades or that teacher or staff member who goes the extra mile. It’s a window into our school system that the public may not normally see and shines the spotlight on some of the great people in Vidor ISD. 5. Work with your local Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce,

Kiwanis or Rotary. For example, Vidor ISD sends high school students to a Vidor Rotary Club meeting each month, where they are fed lunch, honored as Rotary Students of the Month, and given a certificate. A book is donated to the Rotary green bus in honor of each student, and their accomplishments are touted at the meeting by an assistant principal. Of course, their photos are published in local news media as well as on our social media channels here at VISD. Be willing to partner with any worthy local organization, because it truly does take a village to raise a child. So link up, post activities on not only your school’s social media, but also on that of the Chamber, Lions Club, public library, or whoever you’re working with to make your school a better place to learn and grow.

6. Fill the Bus. This is an annual event here in Vidor ISD. The

event, held early each August, finds a big yellow school bus at Vidor’s Walmart, awaiting the arrival of donations from citizens, churches and businesses. These provide pens, pencils, erasers, spirals, composition books, earbuds and anything else that may be on a VISD school supply list, because not everyone can afford school supplies. A special feature of this event is that each bus window is decorated with a logo from a local church or business. They donate $100 to sponsor a window, and this money goes into a Fill the Bus fund. After the event is over, teachers and counselors may purchase items that were not collected at the event, thereby ensuring that each child has what he or she needs for a successful school year.


At the event, you will find cheerleaders, football players, Pirate Councils from the schools, and other school service groups working to keep supplies sorted, thank donors and load the bus. In addition, Vidor Rotary Club brings their green bus to collect new or gently used jeans or jackets. These are donated to the Vidor United Christian Care center for distribution to school-aged youth. It’s a big event, and there are various forms of media on-site, including local newspaper and television reporters. For this event, social media is utilized in a huge way, with postings beginning before the event and coming every hour during the Fill the Bus campaign to remind folks to drop by. 7. Art therapy. This may prove to be one of the most

successful things we’ve ever offered here in Vidor ISD. After Hurricane Harvey flooded two of our seven schools and about 75% of our homes, emotions ran high. A grant allowed us to hire behavioral therapists to aid our children with the additional stress they encountered after the storm. These specialists meet weekly with students, in small groups or oneon-one, to talk about how to handle stressors. The therapists use manipulatives, games and art materials to keep small hands busy, encouraging those little ones to speak out. Children may build and explode a volcano, demonstrating what a mess we make when we allow stress to build inside us and overflow unproductively. They blow paint through straws, learning breath control for times when the stress seems overwhelming and they need to do some breathing to calm down. Students of all ages have participated in the behavioral therapy, and teachers and counselors report often on the amazing changes made as the young ones learn ways in which to deal with anger, hurt and inner pain. This is not publicized a lot on social media because of privacy issues; however, we’ve had articles in some major educational magazines, and because the parents and teachers are happy with this work, word of mouth has been one of our greatest advertising tools.

8. Walkabout Wednesday is a simple photo feature on social media. I visit the campuses, choosing one thing to feature each week. The first week of school, I took photos of the inspirational messages on the walls at each school and posted them in an album. As school ramped up, I asked parents to send me photos and made another album of kids from the first week of school. During week two, I posted photos of our staff members back at work, and then I featured clubs and organizations, such as our band, football team and school clubs. Next was a vignette about what goes on in kindergarten. There is a homecoming week feature, Grandparent’s Day, one for Texas Public Schools Week and school board month. It’s always a great time for a social media photo feature. 9. VISD Proud is a social media feature for alumni. We invite

grads to send us photos, their year of graduation, and where they are now. We make these into nice graphics and post them on our Facebook and Twitter pages. We have saluted country music stars, a general in the army, business owners, athletes and politicians. The public enjoys celebrating what our graduates have gone on to do.

10. Employee of the Month is a grand way to recognize folks.

Each campus chooses an EOM and submits a photo and nomination form for judging. Then a District Employee of the Month is chosen and honored with a basket of goodies, a certificate and a photo with the superintendent at our school board meeting. We have recognized food services employees, custodial staff, maintenance workers, teachers, counselors, librarians and warehouse staffers. We have given the nod to a few secretaries and even one administrator. It’s never a bad time to say, “Thank you for a job well done.” These are posted on social media, which is always exciting for the recipient, because the positive comments begin rolling in quickly. In addition, all of the EOMs are featured in an article in the local newspaper. It’s a terrific way for the public to get a peek inside our district, learning about people they may not otherwise know, and building that positive public image.

11. Do you have a Community Education program in your

school district? Community Ed is a great relationship builder and encourages good PR for our district. Instructors from around the area are engaged to lead classes or short camps. Adult courses have included floral arranging, wreath making, porch signs, painting on glass, computers, gardening, hunter safety and a host of adult field trips to museums and gardens in other cities. Student courses are usually in the form of summer camps. We offer about 20 each summer, and they include sports of all kinds, animal camp, princess camp, sewing, woodworking and crafts. Vidor ISD keeps the camp

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Expanding Learning Beyond the School Day! Partner with us to provide before school, after school, and summer programs at your school! STOP BY OUR BOOTH #218 TO LEARN MORE! alphabest.org

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and class fees reasonable so that anyone can enjoy the learning opportunity. These are open to folks from other cities and have proven to be very positive for our district’s reputation. Each camp is featured on social media, and a flyer goes home with every student. In addition, a half-page ad in our local paper shows folks what’s coming up each semester and in the summer. 12. Our district has its own magazine, published by a company with

whom we contract. Each quarter, a beautiful new edition goes out, featuring many of the things listed above, as well as highlights on district construction, a letter from the superintendent, and schedules of upcoming events in fine arts or athletics. We include the school calendar and a special focus article, including those spotlighting our school libraries and our amazing career and technology department. If you’d like to check out the magazine, visit www.vidorisd.org, scroll down to the bottom right, and see the issues we’ve published thus far.

A positive school district image is vital, yet in the busyness of running a district, it’s one of the things that may get overlooked or placed on the back burner. It’s important to have a staff member dedicated to positive PR, with feet on the ground, camera in hand, and cell phone ready to go. That person should build positive relationships with local media outlets and actively seek ways in which to showcase district work and activities. They should meet with other PR professionals and exchange ideas, tap teachers and administrators for stories and features, and make certain that these are getting to district constituents in every possible form. In short, how can you “toot your district’s horn”? After all, if you don’t, no one else is going to toot it for you. n Sally Andrews is coordinator of community relations in Vidor ISD.


COME SEE US AT TASA MIDWINTER 2020 – BOOTH #329

The stories that shape education are the stories that inspire us the most! The triumphs inside the classroom are personal to us. They mean more, because they illustrate how learning and shared experience can change lives. At Huckabee, we are committed to celebrating

MORE of what matters, because

witnessing the success of all students drives us to do what we love.

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@HuckabeeInc


TEACHER PERSPECTIVE Taking back the narrative of public education By Karen Sams

E We have a responsibility to create a new narrative about public education. Master the art of the #hashtag and get our message out there!

very morning, when I walk into my classroom, I look up and read a quote that I have posted by Dr. Rita F. Pearson.

“Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” This quote has become my daily mantra in the classroom. It resonates with me because it encompasses my “why.” In spite of the demands, challenges and obstacles of teaching, educators still show up, put a smile on our faces, and champion for our students every day because we believe in the power of public education. Public schools welcome all students, no matter who your parents are or where they come from, no matter what language is spoken in your home, no matter what side of town you live on, no matter how many adverse childhood experiences you have endured, no matter your disability or capability, no matter what needs you have — whether seen or unseen … NO MATTER! We educate every child who walks through our doors. Public schools are the backbone of a community, and a free and public education is the last great equalizer in our society. It’s what sets us apart from any other place in the world and empowers students to be whatever they want to be. In the last few decades, we have allowed others to change the narrative about public education.We have all seen the false assertions that all public schools are failing and need to be “fixed.”We must change this narrative and develop a shared focus on the importance of public education and the many ways in which public schools are advancing our children, our communities and our country.

Tell your story Is there anything more compelling than a great story? Stories have the power to take us to new places, to make us laugh and even cry. But the real power of a story goes even deeper. Stories trigger emotional responses, put a face on an issue, connect and humanize us. Great stories build a rapport between public educators and our communities that can change perceptions and begin to change the narrative. One year I had a student in my class who was so smart but had a hard time believing it.This student was dyslexic and struggled with self confidence.All year long, we worked so hard and she made incredible growth, but no matter how many times tried, she still doubted herself.This student was the living embodiment of grit. No matter the task, she worked hard, was determined and persevered. It came time to take the state reading assessment. I could tell this student was anxious, but she gave it her all.When the assessment results came back and I analyzed the scores, she was the highest scoring

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student in my class and the third highest student in all of third grade. I sat at my desk and cried. I called her mom and she cried, then I cried again.When I told this student how well she had done and how proud I was of her, she beamed with confidence and finally she believed what I knew about her all along. Amazing stories happen every day in our public schools, but many people don’t know our students or have the opportunity to see the innovative and inspiring work that we do in our classrooms. It’s time to tell our stories and celebrate our successes. Flood your school and district websites and social media accounts with inspiring and engaging stories about the amazing work that we do every day.We have a responsibility to create a new narrative about public education. Master the art of the #hashtag and get our message out there!

Participate in the process There are more than 350,000 teachers in the state of Texas.That number doesn’t include the thousands more who are administrators, support staff, paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.As members of the public education profession, we have an obligation to become educated about the candidates running for political offices and the issues facing the Legislature.We have an obligation to participate in the election process where we have the opportunity to cast our votes for candidates who support what is best for students.We have an obligation to advocate for legislation that could strengthen public education. A democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people only works if the people make their wishes known.As members of the public education profession, we must register to vote and exercise our right to vote in local, state and national elections. Let your representatives hear your voice.Tell them about the teacher who stays late for weeks to make sure the holiday musical is a success.Tell them about the principal who comforts the family who lost a child.Tell them about the assistant principal who stays well after the school dance ends so they can be sure all students get home safely.Tell them about the school custodian who builds relationships with students and teaches them soft skills such as kindness and respect. Let them know that sometimes, small numerical gains reflect huge steps forward in learning and growth. We have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to be the authors of the greatest chapter in the story of public education. n Karen Sams, Texas’ 2020 Elementary Teacher of the Year, teaches third grade in Weatherford ISD.

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INSIGHT


Designing schools that make a difference.

Canyon View High School, 2019 A4LE James D. MacConnell Award Winner for most innovative school.

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TASA Corporate Partners TASA thanks our 2019–20 corporate partners for their support. PRESIDENT’S CIRCLE Amazon Business Apple, Inc. DLR Group Dell ETS Edgenuity Forecast5 Analytics Google for Education Huckabee K12 Insight LPA, Inc. NWEA PBK Raise Your Hand Texas Scholastic Stantec Thoughtexchange PLATINUM ClassLink College Board Dr. Ruby K. Payne dba aha! Process, Inc. Edmentum Education Advanced, Inc. Education Elements Gravely Attorneys & Counselors Houghton Mifflin Harcourt InClass Today INDECO Sales, Inc. Milliken NaviGate Prepared Pearson Renaissance Right at School Scientific Learning TCG Advisors VLK Architects

GOLD Achieve3000 Discovery Education ETS ProEthica engage2learn Houston ISD - MFCS Mutualink N2 Learning Naturally Slim Panorama Education Schneider Electric SILVER Harris Co. Dept. of Education H-E-B itslearning, inc. Pearson Legal, P.C. Steelcase Education Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo & Kyle P.C. BRONZE ABM Education AXA Advisors AlphaBEST Education, Inc. BTC Champions Before- and After-School Coryell Roofing Curriculum Associates Gaggle Gexa Energy Solutions HKS, Inc. Hilltop Securities Istation iteachTEXAS Lee Lewis Construction, Inc. Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP Lone Star Furnishings, LLC MeTEOR Education Naviance by Hobsons RTI International Vanir Construction Management

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