Archive for September 23rd, 2012

Q&A with Hays Consolidated Superintendent Jeremy Lyon

The American-Statesman sat down with Hays Consolidated school district Superintendent Jeremy Lyon to discuss the district’s progress and his expectations for the school year. An edited version appears in Monday’s American-Statesman.

Let’s start by having you tell us about some of the big initiatives or new programs you are working on.

For Hays CISD the name of the game is to continue working on the deep implementation issues that are contained within our five-year strategic plan … (and) this focus on improving academic achievement long-term. So one of the things that is happening … is that we are switching from six-week grading periods to nine-week grading periods, and the intention of that is to provide a more sustained instructional period of time that doesn’t have to be interrupted so often with summative grading. … (It) calms things and allows more sustained focus on instruction, which is exactly what we want. We’re also working very diligently on the life of a teacher and how demanding that life has become. … We’ve done a lot of things in terms of trying to structure professional learning communities, conference time and expectations for parent interaction that are aimed at helping teachers be able to focus on teaching.
We also continue to work on our strategic compensation improvements within the district. We know that we are lagging in terms of compensation, and when you look at the expectations we have for instructional quality, we need a well-compensated work force… Of course, one of the biggest initiatives is our focus on student and staff health and wellness. We are very excited about opening a new permanent school-based health clinic … which is going to serve as a state and national model regarding a school-based health center. … We’ve got a lot of work to do on nutrition, exercise. We have a pilot program where we are doing everyday PE at two of our elementary schools.

Our communications department has rolled out our VIP program, which is Volunteers in Public Schools … to improve the opportunities for our community to get involved in our schools. (There’s also the continuing) reform of our academic program around Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. We continue to expand our middle school Gateways to Technology program; we’re doing that this year, doubling our efforts there in our middle schools. … We are investing in a new grade level in that program.

We are also opening our new food service center and our new warehouse and our new data center, and these are all very important infrastructure improvements that have 50-year payoffs for this school district. You know we are the sixth-fastest-growing school district in the state of Texas as of today … and our focus is on building both the physical and human resource infrastructure to be able to meet that growth with very high-quality educational outcomes.

Any longer-term goals that you’d like to talk about?

We know that we have tremendous work to do in improving the student achievement results in this district, and that begins with higher expectations matched with providing resources to teachers to meet those higher expectations. For example, we want to expand our Advanced Placement program, but we want to expand it in a way that encourages kids to participate but also has very high expectations for their achievement. … Right now we’re not getting those results and instead of a Band-Aid approach … we’re trying to take a more systemic view of all of the elements that go into it … and build it and that may lead us back to elementary or middle schools in terms of the course offerings that we need to have there, but the long-term goal of this school district is to become an exemplary school district.

We are (also) very excited about partnering with Austin Community College. They are scheduled to open their campus here in 2014. We envision all kinds of partnerships (including specialized dual-credit programs) and an early college start high school, which results in high school students graduating from high school with one or two years of college credit. … We also are digging into the whole world of 21st century learning. We are (one six school districts involved in the new Texas Student Data System project), which is intended to provide teachers data in a dashboard that allows them to monitor student performance more successfully. Another huge long-term priority is to increase the diversity of our workforce. We have a community that is mirroring the population of the state of Texas…. and we want to be leaders in embracing diversity and providing role models to our children in our teaching force, and to do that we need to aggressively expand our strategies to attract and hire and retain diversity.

You know, I’m entering my fourth year at Hays, and I am very proud of the approach that we have collaboratively embraced to look at long-term strategic improvements in our school district. I am very satisfied with the diligence and commitment that our community has made to steering Hays CISD forward. … To me the most exciting part of this job is that we are able to make decisions that provide opportunities for children in the future, and that is a very real thing that we talk about in our day-to-day operations. I’m very proud about that, because we look at decisions not through the eyes of what adults believe is right or wrong but … is this a decision that is going to have a better outcome for children?

What are your thoughts about the district’s current relationship with the community?

(We did a survey last year that showed) they are very supportive of our school district. Right now what we have is very strong support at the school level, but we what we want to do is build that awareness by the community that is by and large new, that systemwide and districtwide we are focused on providing a great experience for their children all the way through. … I equate Hays CISD to kind of like a teenager. We have unlimited potential, we’re in the process of growing up, and in order for us to reach our potential, it’s going to take all of us pulling together … to ensure that we’ve got a very high-performing adult.

Can you tell us about the district’s outlook for the legislative session – how you’re dealing with the cuts from the last session and what you’re preparing for?
In terms of the future … there is no doubt that public education is under attack, and there is no doubt that public education has become politicized, adversely for the outcomes for children. Educators are very pro-accountability, we are very pro-instructional rigor, and we absolutely believe that we can meet the expectations that are put forth by the Legislature. With that said, we need more of a focus on providing the resources and the supports hand-in-hand with the accountability measures. … We believe in accountability, but not at the expense of some of the things involved in educating children that are most important, beginning with fostering a love of learning. … We’re very nervous about the funding. We see the dark clouds on the horizon and our books are open. We’re more than willing to look at every aspect of our operation in terms of increased efficiencies. We do that regularly and we will continue to look at that.

What are your plans for bonds and tax ratification elections?

There has been moderate to mild interest in a TRE, but we have been successful in operating our budget without needing to request from voters the tax ratification election… and really I don’t see us going there anytime soon. On the other hand, on the building side of things, it gets very interesting. This community passed school construction bonds in 2004, 2006 and 2008, and though that six-year run of bonds positioned the school district beautifully to take a break just at the time that the recession hit … that’s going to change. Our enrollment growth, being the sixth-fastest-growing district in Texas is going to necessitate the need for new schools pretty soon here. So next up, what we’re really aiming for, and this is all speculative … (is a bond election in 2016 that) minimally needs to look at two elementary schools and a middle school in order to sustain the growth that we have.

By passing a bond in 2016, we don’t open those schools until 2018-2019, and when you sit here in 2012 and think the next schools to open are six years away, that is a concern for us, because it really puts us behind the eight ball in terms of overcrowding in our schools. But we want to be cautious … because we know that the next bond we ask this community to support is going to involve a tax increase … and we want to clearly show that the schools that we are proposing are absolutely needed and that the community recognizes and supports that need based on overcrowding.

Then there’s the question of the third high school. And the third high school is looming out there, we don’t know when, we don’t know where, and we really don’t know what that school is going to look like in terms of, is it a comprehensive high school? Is it a school of choice built around career and technical education? What we do know is that a comprehensive high school costs between $70 (million) and $90 million … and so when we have these conversations we all will be acutely aware of what that cost of building a third high school will be.

We wanted ask about issue of racial sensitivity and the Hays High School mascot and school song since the incident (involving students putting racially charged graffiti on a teacher’s door) last spring at Hays High School, and see where you are with that issue.

What we’re trying to do — and we try to do with all situations involving good bad or otherwise in our schools — is to learn from them and look at ways to improve the district. We want to use (that incident) as a springboard for improving the cultural competency and the awareness of issues related to culture, race and ethnicity that will create a stronger school district. We’re working with the Department of Justice on administrator training, we’re working with the Anti-Defamation League on a beautiful model student training program that they offer, and all of these things are emerging as plans, really resulting from this incident.

Is there talk of changing the Confederate imagery?

That’s a perpetual undercurrent in the community for Hays High School, and obviously people have very strong feelings one way or another about that. My role as superintendent is to just simply moderate that conversation, led by the Board of Trustees, which represents the community, and that’s what I’m attempting to do.

Anything to share about the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness and how the district is handling the rollout?

What we have learned after the first year of STAAR is that the role of summer school is going to increase tremendously. … Really, year-round school has arrived because as we continue to transition into STAAR in terms of the interventions and the academic supports that these students need, a lot of that is going to occur over the summer. … It’s very daunting for students, and I do feel that sometimes I wonder if we are not foisting our own shortcomings in terms of our accomplishments as adults onto this next generation of students through some kind of misguided sense of guilt. If you look at the world we have created on our watch, I’m not sure there’s a lot to be proud of. My hope is that we hand the keys over to this next generation in a manner that says help us and lead us to better solutions … and it’s exciting to have such a strong belief in this next generation that they will do better than what we have done, and I do sincerely believe that.

(You know) they look at the profile of this generation that we have in our public schools and they talk about it potentially being the next great generation because these kids are so service-oriented, so committed to participating in our democracy and our society, and we need to foster that with enthusiasm in the future, and that’s a lot of what we try to do.

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