H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt has announced the creation of The Holdsworth Center, a premier leadership institute based in Austin, Texas with the goal of supporting and developing public school leaders in order to improve, over time, the quality of education offered to every child in every classroom in Texas.
The Holdsworth Center will work with districts over a 5-year period to empower individual leaders — including superintendents, principals and key administrators — to reach their fullest potential. The Center staff and faculty will also assist districts in establishing a common vision and roadmap for identifying, cultivating and supporting future leaders.
The Holdsworth Center will operate as a non-profit organization and Mr. Butt has pledged to invest more than $100 million in its creation. The Center will be governed by a 17-member board chaired by Dr. Ruth Simmons, who served as president of Smith College from 1995 to 2001 and as president of Brown University from 2001 to 2012.
Additional board members include: Dr. Shari Albright, Norine R. Murchison Distinguished Professor of Practice and Chair of Education at Trinity University in San Antonio; Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America; Bruce Esterline, Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Grants at The Meadows Foundation; Dr. Robert M. Gates, Chancellor of the College of William & Mary, Former Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA and former President of Texas A&M University; Pete Geren, President & CEO of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation and Former Congressman and Secretary of the United States Army; Wallace Jefferson, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and partner at Alexander, Dubose, Jefferson & Townsend in Austin; Elaine Mendoza, President & CEO of Conceptual MindWorks, Inc. in San Antonio and member of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents; Ellen Moir, Founder and CEO of the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, California; Dr. Diana Natalicio, President of the University of Texas at El Paso; Dr. Nolan Perez, Physician and CEO of Gastroenterology Consultants of South Texas, school board member in Harlingen CISD and member of the Board of Regents for Texas Woman’s University; Jim Postl, retired President & CEO of Pennzoil/Quakerstate; Kate Rogers, H-E-B, Acting Executive Vice President of The Holdsworth Center; Mark Rohr, Chairman and CEO of Celanese Corporation; Michael J. Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College in Dallas; Ann Stern, President & CEO of the Houston Endowment; and Guillermo (Memo) Trevino, President of Southern Distributing in Laredo.
“The establishment of the Holdsworth Center is uniquely timely in an era of continued erosion of confidence in our public schools,” said Dr. Ruth Simmons, Chair of The Holdsworth Center’s Board of Directors. “As a proud alumna of Texas public schools, I owe my career to the excellence and strong leadership of public school educators, for which I and so many others remain grateful. Mr. Butt’s generous gift to the children of Texas demonstrates the level of commitment necessary to ensure a more hopeful future for our schools. I am grateful to work with him in developing and supporting leaders for our public schools.”
The Holdsworth Center’s first program will begin in June with six school districts. Anywhere from 15 to 20 districts will be invited to apply by Feb. 1 and notified of selection by the end of March. The first cohort is by invitation only, but in subsequent years the application process will be open to all districts. Strong applicants will have an existing commitment to human capital and talent development and strong alignment of vision among the superintendent, key cabinet members and the Board of Trustees.
“This entire endeavor is a vote of confidence in our public education system,” said Robert Gates, Holdsworth Center board member. “We have great admiration for the work of superintendents and principals around the state and owe them a debt of gratitude for dedicating their lives to educating, inspiring and mentoring our children. There is no more important job. The Holdsworth Center’s mission is to provide them with the tools and resources to be able to serve our students even more powerfully.”
A staunch advocate for public education, Mr. Butt founded The Holdsworth Center to create sustainable improvement in Texas schools. The Center is named after Mr. Butt’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, an educator, philanthropist and lifelong leader for social justice.
Almost two years ago, Mr. Butt convened a group of national and statewide experts to study innovative approaches to cultivating great leadership in a school setting. Comprised of philanthropic and business leaders, as well as practitioners, this group traveled the globe to identify best practices and provide a recommendation for The Holdsworth Center’s approach. They visited places of interest as far away as Singapore with proven methods for instilling positive change.
“It was a great honor to serve as Chair of the Organizing Board,” said Mike Johnston, Colorado State Senator. “It became increasingly evident during our time together and our travels that what is needed is a deep, systemic approach to be implemented over a number of years in order to create lasting change in culture and strategic talent planning in our school systems. We must be more intentional about how leaders are identified, trained and supported if we want the best and brightest at the helm in every classroom and on every school campus.”
Through a unique set of experiences including international travel, exposure to the best leadership experts in the country, facilitated lectures with renowned faculty and group discussion, participants at The Holdsworth Center will explore their personal leadership in a setting that promotes reflection, thought and dialogue. Classes and team projects will focus on critical topics such as change management, effective teaming, board relations and best practices in talent management, to name a few.
“The Holdsworth Center is about helping people be extraordinary in the job they are in today,” said Charles Butt. “In addition, we want them to re-invent the way future leaders are selected, developed and supported within their districts so that when a position opens up, they have a tremendous bench from which to select the next super star.”
Until a permanent site is identified and the academic campus which will become home to Holdsworth is complete, the program will rotate among conference centers located near the selected districts to give superintendents an opportunity to visit and learn from each other as well as world-class faculty from around the country.
“Charles Butt’s impact on Texas — as a businessman, a philanthropist, and an advocate for public education — is truly historic,” said State Senator Kirk Watson of Austin. “The Holdsworth Center, which promises to be a national model, is an enormous investment and vote of confidence in our schools, our students, and the educators who lead and inspire them. To have an institute of this caliber in Austin is an incredible opportunity for our city and our state and my hope is that we, as a community, fully embrace this tremendous gift. We are grateful and excited to see the Holdsworth Center come to fruition.”
The need for support for our public schools is urgent. The academic skills of American students have been slipping in relation to other countries since 2000, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. In 2000, the U.S. ranked 15th in reading, 19th in math and 14th in science. In 2015, those rankings had fallen to 24th in reading, 40th in math and 25th in science.
Within the U.S., Education Week’s Research Center recently ranked Texas 43rd in the nation for student achievement on its annual “Quality Counts” Report.
“Texas’s 1,204 independent school districts serve approximately 5.3 million students, 10 percent of children in the entire nation. With our size comes a tremendous responsibility to provide the highest quality education to all students,” said Charles Butt. “The Holdsworth Center will help to ensure we have inspired and enlightened leaders at every level within the education system making daily decisions that positively impact the future of our students and the state.”
According to a 2010 Rainwater Leadership Alliance Report, to dramatically improve our nation’s public schools, we must focus on the essential role of school leaders. While teacher quality is the single biggest factor influencing student achievement, strong principals are key to teacher development and retention. In fact, principals account for 25 percent—and teachers 33 percent—of a school’s total impact on student achievement.
Similarly, a 2010 study by the Wallace Foundation found that “leadership is second only to classroom instruction as an influence on student learning. To date we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.”
School leadership is crucial because making a significant impact on student achievement requires the cooperation of various stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and policy makers.
“Educators in leadership positions are uniquely well positioned to ensure the necessary synergy,” the study concluded.