Dr. Thomas Randle, superintendent of Lamar CISD, was a high school freshman in 1967 when Brenham ISD integrated black students into its classrooms. Instead of spending the first week of class taping hand-me-down books and repairing old equipment, Thomas walked into a brand-new school with fancy science equipment and gleaming books. He felt special.
“I remember my mother saying that with a brand new school, I had no excuse but to get a good education. It was all on me,” Thomas recalled. “I had that strange, special feeling when we joined The Holdsworth Center. Once again, I knew that it was on me to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Thomas recently delivered these remarks to more than 40 fellow school district administrators from seven school districts around the state as they graduated from Holdsworth’s inaugural District Leadership program. (Watch full speech here.)
(Scroll to the end of this blog to watch a highlight video.)
The purpose of the District Leadership Program is to give individual leaders the inspiration, tools and resources needed to grow. Leaders then take what they’ve learned and adapt it to their district, creating the cultural environment and systems needed to move other leaders through the pipeline in a thoughtful way.
Many leaders compared the two-year journey to the intensity of a doctoral program, and while completion didn’t come with a degree, Holdsworth President Dr. Lindsay Whorton and Board Chair Dr. Ruth Simmons presented each leader with a medallion and certificate to recognize the hard work, passion and dedication each put into the experience.
Leaders said the partnership has begun to transform their districts, helping them define the qualities of great leadership, communicate that vision to the entire school community and align performance evaluations and promotions around their definition. Some districts have gone even further, overhauling hiring processes and creating new roles such as teacher leaders. Each team outlined their progress and future plans in capstone presentations.
“I did not expect that I would be brought to tears this morning, but listening to what you have been through, what you have achieved, your passion for your work – all of that moved me immensely,” said Dr. Ruth Simmons in her remarks to graduates. “When I look at this group of faces I have so much hope for the future of education in Texas. You are the vanguard of a new awakening, those who lead by example and will bring about change that benefits our youth and ensures the success of our state.”
Since Holdsworth welcomed its inaugural group of districts in June 2017, superintendents and their core teams from each district have explored personal leadership with Hitendra Wadhwa of Columbia University, learned about leadership pipelines with Ram Charan, one of the world’s most sought-after leadership coaches, heard from bestselling author Chip Heath of Stanford University on change management, and worked through problem solving with Liz City of Harvard University.
They have visited school systems in Singapore, Canada, Colorado and Georgia, and visited companies such as H-E-B in San Antonio and Southwest Airlines in Dallas to see firsthand how top-performing organizations succeed through a focus on culture and strategic talent management.
All have received one-on-one coaching through Holdsworth and will support each other through peer coaching groups as the five-year journey continues.
The leaders formed strong bonds and cherished friendships over the two years, beginning with an assignment that each person stand in front of the group and deliver their personal narrative, including struggles, motivations and the experiences that shaped them into who they are today.
“As the daughter of a British mother who was brought up to be very private, I found this to be frankly terrifying,” said Dr. Jenny McGown, deputy superintendent at Klein ISD, in her remarks to graduates. “Yet today I am grateful that such moments of vulnerability exposed countless stories of tenacity, grace and courage right here in this very room. Your stories are the hopeful voice in my ear. In becoming part of this Holdsworth family, we have begun writing a collective narrative of excellence and equity that is bigger than any one voice.”
While the District Leadership Program is complete, embedded support from Holdsworth’s District Support Team will continue for the next three years as leaders implement their vision for talent development. Campus-level teams from all seven districts are participating in a program similar to district leaders and will continue in waves until Holdsworth has served 50 percent of all campuses in each district.
A new cohort of leaders from six school districts will begin Holdsworth’s second District Leadership Program this summer.
In parting, Thomas Randle said:
“As this part of the journey ends, another one is just beginning. Ten years from now, we will be excited to have been part of changing leaders in the state of Texas.”