Adam Galvan and Mark Estrada are graduates of Holdsworth’s District Leadership Program, a two-year learning journey in which central office administrators develop their personal leadership skills and practice growing and empowering others and creating change to drive excellent and equitable outcomes for students.
In the spring of 2019, Adam Galvan was sitting on the sidelines of a Houston soccer field next to his boss, Lockhart ISD Superintendent Mark Estrada. They both cheered as their boys vied for the state championship.
At this point, Lockhart ISD had just been selected for The Holdsworth Center’s multi-year partnership to cultivate stronger leaders within the rural district of 6,200 students. That summer, a team of central office leaders would begin an intense, 2-year District Leadership Program.
Estrada told him: “Adam, I want you on the Holdsworth team.”
To Adam, it didn’t make any sense. As the district’s assistant superintendent of operations and technology, he wasn’t close to teaching and learning. He kept the cafeteria running and the computer networks humming. He said as much to his boss.
“It makes perfect sense,” was the response. “You can do more as a leader.”
Turns out his boss was right.
When COVID-19 hit and schools closed, the ball was in Adam’s court. It was his game, and he was ready.
In the first week of closure, Lockhart ISD distributed devices to all students and staff who were in need. They launched Grab n’ Go Meals, distributing over 10,000 meals per week at campuses and mobilizing the bus fleet to deliver meals to those who couldn’t get to schools. They redirected the internet to point at school parking lots so that parents and students could access it from their cars, if needed.
There’s a lot of optimism and energy that anything is possible. There are no rules right now.
Then in April, Adam negotiated a deal with a local company to build towers and provide free internet to all students and staff. Even with a collective sense of urgency around the gaping inequalities exposed by the digital divide, few have been able to achieve what Lockhart did.
NPR featured the district in a story that aired in communities across America. Calls flooded in from districts everywhere, many of them much larger and with more resources.
For Adam, his boss’s steady encouragement, plus the leadership lessons learned at Holdsworth, came together in that moment.
“I used to be the one in the background saying, ‘Oh, I wish we could do this.’ Now I’m the one stepping forward and saying, ‘Let’s get it done,’” Adam said.
‘My work is in school districts’
Even as a high school kid in Corpus Christi without a computer at home, Adam knew he would someday have a career in technology.
He put himself through college at St. Mary’s University and the University of Texas at San Antonio while working full-time at a technology company in San Antonio. After graduation, he worked for South San and Edgewood ISDs.
His effort to create a paperless business office in Edgewood ISD helped get him noticed world-wide, and Adam traveled to Hong Kong and Australia to present his school district plan at the EduTECH International Congress & Expo. In 2015, Lockhart ISD came knocking.
“My work is in school districts,” Adam said. “Helping people unlock the power of technology has always been my motivation.”
Shortly after becoming a Lockhart Lion, Adam maximized his budget to lease brand new laptops for all teachers. When the lease expired last summer, he wanted to think bigger. He negotiated a new lease arrangement that netted enough Chromebooks and laptops for the next five years.
Because of that forward thinking, the district was able to hand out 3,600 devices to student and staff in one day the first week schools closed due to COVID-19.
But even with the distribution of digital devices, they knew internet access would be a roadblock. In a rural area like Lockhart, dead zones with no cell towers make it difficult to connect.
‘The same story everywhere’
As soon as schools closed, Lockhart teachers called every family in the district and learned that around 40 percent had no internet access.
It wasn’t a new issue. Adam had been visiting with county and city officials for a while strategizing on how they could partner to create a “smart city” with help from E-Rate, a federal fund that gives discounts to schools for connectivity.
COVID-19 was the match that lit the fire.
We united around the belief that this was an essential tool for our students.
Adam plugged each family’s address into Google Maps to plot out the dead zones. In the space of a weekend, he had negotiated a deal with Particle Communications, a local company angling to increase its customer base.
Particle already had three towers in the area and could build four more to cover the dead zones. They would install equipment in every home that needed access and provide basic internet service, with filtered content to protect students. Families would then have the option for faster service and non-filtered content, at a cost.
The price tag for the four new towers, plus installation and service to 500 homes, came to $450,000. The board voted unanimously to pay it from the district’s fund balance.
By the end of July, Lockhart looks to provide 500 homes with wireless internet, and 200 more by September.
“We’re a small town, but it’s the same story everywhere,” Adam said. “Even in the city where they have service, some families cannot afford the extra cost. As a district, we united around the belief that this was an essential tool for our students, and that we needed to find a way to provide it.”
‘We don’t know what the world will be’
Before the pandemic, Lockhart ISD was on the path to becoming an organization where staff at all levels are empowered to lead.
In Holdsworth sessions, they created a definition of leadership centered around three values – unlocking potential, being locked on excellence and having a heart for people.
In Lockhart’s response to the COVID-19, Adam sees all three happening at a faster pace than anyone could have imagined.
“Maybe we are not face-to-face, but we are screen-to-screen, and we’re not skipping a beat,” Adam said. “There’s a lot of optimism and energy that anything is possible. There are no rules right now.”
Adam sees teachers building each other up and sharing resources and strategies for keeping students engaged in this new virtual context. When an organization can learn together, they can turn any crisis into an opportunity, he said.
“We are unlocking so much potential with our teachers,” Adam said. “They have developed themselves to meet this unexpected challenge – every week, every day they are learning and adapting.”
Adam isn’t sure when schools will return to “normal,” but he believes that online learning in some form is here to stay. “By August, we don’t know what the world will be,” Adam said. “But we are ready, and we will have closed the gap for students to be able to connect.”