A school administrator is pictured on campus wearing a black dress and black mask.

In today’s uncertain and evolving world, strong leadership is more important than ever.

School leaders photographed graduating from the second Holdsworth Center District Leadership Program.

Our partnership

Grow more great leaders at all levels through The Holdsworth Center’s 5-year partnership, a $6 million investment by the nonprofit center in district leaders, principals, and teachers.

Applications for the 2023 cohort will open in Fall 2022. If you are a district leader interesting in joining a future cohort or in receiving information about other learning opportunities, click below to sign up for notifications.

What we look for

We look for public school districts that are hungry to improve and see developing leaders as a critical priority to deliver on the promise of excellent and equitable outcomes for all Texas students. Ideal district candidates are open to new ideas, eager to make major improvements to their current practices and have demonstrated an ability to lead change.

Our goal with each cohort is to represent the diversity of Texas. Our 13 partner districts educate a student population range of 6,000 to 67,000 with a mix of demographics.

For Cohort III, districts were eligible to apply if they serve more than 5,500 students and are located in the following Education Service Centers:

  • ESC 1 – Rio Grande Valley
  • ESC 2 – Corpus Christi
  • ESC 3 - Victoria
  • ESC 4 – Houston
  • ESC 6 – Huntsville
  • ESC 10 & 11 – Dallas/Ft. Worth
  • ESC 12 – Waco
  • ESC 13 – Austin
  • ESC 20 – San Antonio

We plan to launch Cohort IV in 2023 and hope to continue expanding our impact to more regions in Texas. If your district is outside of our current geographic footprint or did not apply for this round, we’d love for you to express interest in applying for Cohort IV, which will launch in 2023, or stay connected with us for access to special Holdsworth events and resources.

Why invest in leadership now?

We are navigating an unprecedented moment in public education. It has revealed what we’ve intuitively known all along—that leadership matters, especially when living through challenges with no playbook. To meet the demands of tomorrow, the time to deepen leadership capacity is today. Districts that invest in people will be better equipped to innovate and to creatively solve complex problems and challenges with no easy answers.

Photo of Dr. Thomas Randle and Jo Ann Fey during a District Leadership Program session in Singapore in 2017.
Mark Estrada, Superintendent of Lockhart ISD, discusses a learning expedition to Singapore.

The hardest work is not in the technical things, it’s in anchoring everyone and everything in purpose and shared values.”

Mark Estrada

Superintendent, Lockhart ISD

Why Holdsworth

Building a deep bench of great leaders is not something that happens overnight. You need a deep, long-term investment in your district anchored by trusting relationships. We work at the individual, team and system level to not only grow leadership capacity in individuals, but to help our Leaders create and execute a shared vision for positive, sustainable change.

  • A vector graphic of one person representing the individual level of leadership growth.

    At the individual level…

    Each Leader in our program takes a leadership journey to connect to their purpose and identify areas for personal growth, as well as learn and practice the skills needed to effectively grow and empower others and create change. Ongoing coaching and feedback are baked into the model to help Leaders refine skills and apply learning.

  • A vector graphic of three connected people representing the team level of leadership growth.

    At the team level…

    Our leadership programs are aimed at teams of Leaders (including teachers) who dedicate two years to learn, grow and practice new skills and mindsets on the job. School and District Leaders show up as experts in education – we teach them to be experts in leadership through access to the best and brightest in world-class leadership and talent development from the education, business, and academic sectors.

  • A vector graphic of six connected people representing the system level of leadership growth.

    At the system level…

    We embed Holdsworth staff (District Support Team) within your district for five years to build capacity and work hand-in-hand with district Leaders to take stock of talent management systems and design and implement new strategies that are built to last.

Read more about our District Leadership Program and Campus Leadership Programs.

A photo of Codi Van Duzee during a Holdsworth Center campus visit to Pearcy Elementary in Arlington ISD.
A photo of Julie Hill, chief of human resources and human capital for Spring ISD, during a Holdsworth Center District Leadership Program session.

I cannot say enough about the professional learning I have had as a leader in Holdsworth. The District Support Team is truly on the ground with us, providing concrete support and being part of the design process, helping us keep our momentum and not allowing us to get stuck in the transitions.”

Julie Hill

Chief of Human Resources and Human Capital, Spring ISD

The impact

More than 95 percent of Leaders say they developed beneficial mindsets and new behaviors because of their work with Holdsworth.

We also know that when people see a Leader changing and growing, they follow, creating a ripple effect that builds up everyone around the Leader. Over time, research has demonstrated that stronger leaders—at both the campus and district level—invest in and build the skills of those they lead, strengthen organizational culture and, ultimately, drive excellent and equitable results for students.

To learn more about Holdsworth’s impact within partner districts, click below to access our 2020 Impact Report.

View 2020 Impact Report
Natasha Harris, principal of Hale Elementary in Arlington ISD, is photographed applauding in class.
A photo of Mark Melendez, principal of Hutchison Elementary in Lamar CISD..

Holdsworth is absolutely life changing. I have always wanted to fulfill my potential and all of a sudden, my eyes started being open to ways I can change and be more effective.”

Mark Melendez

Principal, Tamarron Elementary, Lamar CISD

Frequently Asked Questions

What criteria does Holdsworth use to select districts?

First, we look for districts that are hungry to improve and see developing leaders as a critical priority. We seek District Leaders who are open to new ideas and eager to make major improvements to their current practices.

Second, we look for districts that are ready to do the work. We like to see alignment of vision and shared commitment at every level of leadership—the superintendent, the senior leadership team, and the school board.

Finally, we look for District Leaders who have demonstrated an ability to lead change. We look for evidence that the district has moved the needle on its key priorities.

How much does it cost to become a Holdsworth partner?

Being a Holdsworth partner is a significant commitment of time over five years, but aside from in-state transportation costs, the first two cohorts are on full scholarship, which means they don’t pay anything for the programming, coaching, or embedded district support they receive. Cohort III, which launches in the summer of 2021, will also be a full scholarship cohort. The initial programming is funded by a $100 million investment made by founder Charles Butt, to be spread across multiple years. The Center invests approximately $6 million per district over the course of five years.

What is the experience like?

At Holdsworth, we believe that 70 percent of a leader’s development occurs through job-related experiences, 20 percent from interactions with others or coaching, and 10 percent from formal educational events. We strive to design learning experiences that span all three areas of a leader’s development. Curriculum covers three main strands:

Develop personal leadership — This strand is driven by self-reflection and supported by coaching and feedback. Superintendents, District Champions and Principals receive one-on-one executive coaching, as well as coaching that is centered upon feedback from stakeholders to drive their development. All team members form peer coaching groups, providing feedback and accountability to one another.

Grow and empower others — We believe this strand can only be built through practice. Our goal is to use Holdsworth sessions to create space for deep practice in how Leaders coach, develop, and empower individuals and build dynamic, growth-oriented teams.

Create change — This strand is deeply job-embedded. We start by having teams create a clear and compelling vision for student success and drive the necessary changes to bring that vision to life. At the district level, Leaders define what great leadership looks like for their district and create a roadmap for developing outstanding leaders at all levels, work that is supported and reinforced by Holdsworth District Support Teams. At the campus level, school principals and their teams tackle a significant challenge tied to school culture and student outcomes.

Throughout the 2-year program, Leaders will learn from high-performing school systems and companies in the U.S. and abroad that will expand their view of what is possible and inform the vision for their district.

All of the teaching around change will focus on the work that Leaders are doing in their districts. This is one of the main reasons why this is a program for teams—it allows us to bring a job-embedded component into every session we deliver.

What is changing because of COVID-19 with regards to the program and overall experience?

Much of what we do will stay the same. Our programs will continue to be rigorous, bringing a deep, team-based approach to leadership development. We will continue to create opportunities for our cohort to interact with world-class faculty and to learn from one another. We will continue to pursue the same goals—stronger leaders, stronger organizations, stronger results for students.

The only thing that may shift is how the learning is organized—where, when and if we travel outside of the state and how we balance in-person opportunities to learn together with virtual and remote learning. We are approaching this in the same way as districts across Texas in preparing for the coming school year—keep the learning outcomes tight and the learning methods agile and responsive to our context. We believe that Leaders from across the state learning together, in-person, is a special part of this experience and we look forward to the opportunity to convene Leaders at our Campus on Lake Austin. But we are also maximizing the value of virtual learning to support leaders in more dynamic ways. Though no one can predict what the summer of 2021 will look like, we will be ready to deliver a world-class experience that is appropriate to our context.

What is the time commitment?

For our first two cohorts, the time spent in learning sessions and site visits was approximately 45-50 days over the 2-year District Leadership Program and 35-40 days for the Campus Leadership Program. Though the details of how learning is organized—virtual, in-person sessions in Texas, and travel outside the state—will continue to evolve in response to our new context, these time allocations continue to provide a good guide for what participation in Holdsworth programs will look like. Regardless of the format, the learning experiences will be rigorous and involve pre-reading and preparation. Back in the district, central office Leaders will also work closely with the Holdsworth District Support Team to strengthen their approach to identifying, developing, selecting and supporting leaders.

What makes Holdsworth different from other leadership development programs?

Holdsworth is distinguished from many leadership development programs by its long-term partnership and deep investment in Leaders at every level of the organization. Holdsworth works at the individual, team and system level. We know that building the capacity in all three areas is critical to sustainable improvement that positively impacts students over time.

Another key differentiator is the District Support Team, consultants who work in partner districts as thought partners and project managers to help to move the work forward and keep everyone focused on the goal.

One thing you’ll find about Holdsworth is that we bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the table by looking for insights and expertise outside of the educational arena. While we understand the need to work within the system, we believe that stretching our Leaders’ thinking and broadening their view of what is possible will result in new and valuable approaches customized for each district.

How many Leaders from the district get to participate?

The superintendent and five other District Leaders participate in the District Leadership Program, including a District Champion selected by the superintendent to align the team’s efforts around developing a strong leadership pipeline.

The number of Leaders in the Campus Leadership Program will depend on the size of the district. Over the course of five years, our goal is to include at least 50 percent of a district’s campuses in the program. Campus teams include four people, a number that could expand for large, comprehensive high schools.

What plans does Holdsworth have to broaden the reach of its programs?

Holdsworth is committed to serving all districts in Texas over the coming years, but we know that doing so is going to require us to adapt our approach. As we expand into increasingly distant geographies from Central Texas, we want to be thoughtful about the time, travel and expense that this creates for districts.

Also, we recognize that the needs of both very small and extremely large districts differ from those in the middle. Working with Lockhart ISD, which has around 6,000 students, will give us the opportunity to study the unique needs of smaller districts as we plan for how to best support them in the future.

Once our Campus on Lake Austin is operational in 2021, we will explore hosting conferences and events for all districts. If you’re interested in staying connected with us, please click here.

How does Holdsworth plan to measure success?

We are working with our partner districts to identify the best way to quantify progress on measures that will help us answer the questions:

  • Are Leaders who participate in our programs stronger and more skilled? Have they grown, improved, and deepened their capacity to lead themselves, lead others, and lead change?
  • Do the Leaders who participate in our programs create stronger organizations? Do they establish strong, engaged cultures and effectively develop and cultivate talent?
  • Do the Leaders who participate in our programs deliver excellent and equitable results for students?

When will Holdsworth accept new districts?

We plan to launch Cohort IV in 2023 and hope to continue expanding our impact to more regions in Texas. If your district is outside of our current geographic footprint or did not apply for this round, we’d love for you to express interest in applying for Cohort IV, which will launch in 2023, or stay connected with us for access to special Holdsworth events and resources.