Education champion: Texas grocer Charles Butt has a plan to help educators do extraordinary things
When it comes to public education, walking the talk is something state lawmakers almost never do. As established by their actions over decades, they leave their top priority – properly funding the state’s public education system – to the courts or private philanthropy. With its ruling last year that found the public education funding system constitutional, the Texas Supreme Court joined the do-nothing crowd. Thank goodness into the chaos stepped H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt. The longtime supporter of public education is Texas’ own private-citizen champion.
Butt on Tuesday announced a pledge of more than $100 million to create a leadership institute for public school leaders designed to improve over time the quality of education delivered to students in our state.. Holdsworth Center – named for his mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, an educator and lifelong philanthropist – will work with districts during a five-year period to provide leadership training to superintendents, principals and key administrators.
The need in Texas for leadership training for public school educators is critical. Texas school districts serve 10 percent of the nation’s pupils, yet Education Week Research Center, a division of Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit organization that publishes Education Week, recently ranked Texas 43rd in the nation for student achievement in its annual report.
The Holdsworth Center, to be based in Austin, will be governed by a 17-member board chaired by Ruth Simmons, a Houstonian and former president of Brown University. Although teacher quality is the single biggest factor affecting school achievement, strong principals are key to teacher development and retention. Strong superintendents play the same role with respect to principals.
Yet superintendents and principals typically don’t receive adequate training for their multi-faceted jobs. The center aims to improve the odds that our education leaders can succeed, stay on the job and reach their full potential. Through exposure to the best leadership experts in the country and the world, and facilitated lectures and group discussion, educators selected to participate will focus on critical topics such as change management and board relations. The center also will assist districts in establishing a sustainable vision for identifying and supporting future leaders.
In addition to fostering a culture of high expectations for educators, this center carries on a tradition that Butt started in 2002. Ask most people what the most important profession is and they’ll say educators. But in our modern economy, respect can be measured in dollars, and educators are not well-paid.
Annually, H-E-B gives the Excellence in Education awards to honor outstanding public school professionals across the state. The awards event is a glittering affair that conveys to educators the importance of their work.
Similarly, the center will host trainings, envisioned by Butt as restorative experiences, at a campus to be designed by the award-winning architectural firm, Lake Flato. Butt will donate the funds to complete the campus in addition to the $100 million grant.
While the actions of our state political leadership signal a lack of commitment to educational excellence, Butt’s vision is to help educators become extraordinary in their jobs. His consistent, thoughtful action is a model for our state’s business leaders, sure, but especially so for lawmakers. Butt is saying and doing the right things for kids – and for Texas. It’s past time state lawmakers do the same.ease.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that there will be no cost to the school leaders attending the program. It will be split in three parts: one that will facilitate collaborative work by the superintendent and his or her leadership team; another for the principal and his or her leadership team, and a third for schools’ support staff.
“The Holdsworth Center is about helping people be extraordinary in the job they are in today,” Charles Butt, H-E-B’s chairman and CEO, said in the statement. “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.”
The center is named after Butt’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, an educator and philanthropist who championed social justice.
Ruth Simmons, the former president of Smith College and Brown University, will lead the 17-member board of directors. The board is made up of high-profile leaders from education, business, and elsewhere, including Robert M. Gates, the former defense secretary and chancellor of the College of William & Mary; Elisa Villanueva Beard, the CEO of Teach for America; Ellen Moir, the founder and CEO of the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Michael J. Sorrell, the president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas.
The center grew out of a convening nearly two years ago to examine innovative approaches to developing strong school leaders. The group behind the center also travelled overseas, including to Singapore, in search of proven models that led to positive changes in schools, according to the press release.