San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 24th, 2008
Seeking superintendent, Hays CISD faces identity shift

STAFF REPORT

When the Hays CISD formed in 1967 out of tiny school districts in Buda, Kyle and Wimberley, it basically formed one rural school district out of three.

At 240 square miles, Hays CISD still felt like a rural school district as recently as five years ago, It was a big rural school district, but unmistakably rural.

Now that the school district is searching for a new superintendent to replace Kirk London, who is retiring at the end of the school year, its self-image is going through a shift. The executive search firm helping Hays CISD find London’s replacement said the aura of suburbanization is truly reaching the school district.

“The district is moving toward becoming a suburban district from a rural district,” said Mike Moses, one of the partners in the superintendent search firm School Executive Consulting. “Some are ready to make that transition. There were some who preferred it when we were smaller. There was an issue about, ‘We’re becoming something different than what we’ve been and is everyone dealing with that comfortably?’ A new leader is going to have to be thoughtful about that.”

Hays CISD has grown about 900 students per year for the last six years, now flirting with a total enrollment of 14,000 students. The growth is generated by an overwhelming majority of young families, forcing the establishments of six new elementary schools, a middle school and a high school, with two more elementaries and a middle school on the way after the May passage of an $86.7 million bond with no tax rate increase.

But even high school enrollment has nearly doubled, from 1,800 students to about 3,300, and the opening of Lehman High School in 2004 signaled a new kind of community no longer unified by the common purpose of Hays High School. However, the school district, itself, remains a common purpose.

“There is a sense of pride and accomplishment about what the district as a whole has done over the past six years,” said David Thompson, the other partner in School Executive Consulting. “There’s a feeling that, ‘We know that when we’re confronted with the issues, we have the confidence to work through those.'”

The search firm held focus groups with 42 representatives of the Hays CISD community and staff Thursday attempting to establish a profile for a new superintendent. Later, Thompson and Moses reported findings to the school district’s trustees, including an assessment of Hays CISD’s strengths and challenges. Growth and diversity, as it turns out, emerged as both strengths and challenges.

“Growth was mentioned as both a strength and a weakness,” Thompson said. “It creates economic vitality, but it is a challenge in the stresses it puts on the current system.”

Thompson said growth is the district’s single biggest challenge, according to focus group comments, and that anyone considered for the job as superintendent of Hays CISD will need to have experience in a fast-growth school district.

Ethnic diversity also came up in focus group discussions as both a strength and challenge of Hays CISD.

“Diversity is a strength in that it creates a lot of vitality in the community,” Thompson said. “It is a challenge to make sure the needed bilingual programs are high quality.”

Thompson and Moses, the former Texas Commissioner of Education, will use the focus group comments to draw up a profile for the next superintendent. The Hays CISD Board of Trustees has said it would like to see a list of all applicants for the job, but the profile will help them determine which ones to interview.

The school board will meet again on Dec. 8 to identify candidates to interview. The deadline for applications is Dec. 1.

Attributes of the new superintendent, according to the focus groups, include: “thick-skinned,” a part of the community, open-minded, courageous, sensitive to learning-challenged children, visible, outgoing, accountable, independent thinking and comfortable with all populations. Professional attributes include: “not a beginner,” classroom teaching experience, and track record of risk-taking.

Following are the opinions expressed by Hays CISD trustees:

Trustees Secretary Joe Munoz: “You want a qualified person first, and if he or she is Hispanic, that’s great. This person has a minimum of five communities that he or she has to bridge. The school district is a conduit to all of these communities. The person has to be seen as a driving point to bridge all these communities.”

Trustee Mark Jones: “I think a strong academic background is important.”

Trustee Henry Altmiller: “We need someone who can provide real educational leadership for the district. We need somebody who does have experience managing growth. Third, we need someone who can maintain and promote community involvement.”

Trustee Melissa Espinoza: “I like the idea of them being a classroom teacher. It doesn’t matter what race they are as long as they can communicate with the Spanish-speaking parents. We need someone who’s out there to bridge the communities together.”

Trustee Ralph Pfluger: “We need a person who is able to get along with all factions of the community. The person does not have to be Mexican-American, but has to have a great deal of understanding and compassion of our Mexican-American population.”

Trustees Vice President Patti Wood: “Accountability is a big issue for me. I want someone who is making sure we’re holding everyone accountable for what they’re supposed to do. I think a doctorate is important. I want someone who’s not only motivated, but a motivator; someone with a proven record of improving achievement.”

Trustees President Chip DuPont: “Academic strength is important, but we can’t have a pure academic who can’t convince our teachers and principals and community about what we’re trying to do as a district. He or she has to have that communication piece. Someone who has confidence in their abilities, but the humility to work with everyone.”

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