HCS Superintendent Interview – Springston

Brett Springston, Superintendent of the Brownsville TX Independent School District interviewed for HCS Superintendent on Tuesday, May 24.

My opinion:  Coach Springston is a hard-working, passionate, and bright candidate.  He has a record of improving student academic achievement and system financial  performance.  He started coaching basketball at a junior college for a scholarship to UT – Tyler.  Just like candidate Brigman, his approach to education includes every good lesson learned and proven technique that I’ve read about.  I was unsure about Springston from my online research – he seemed to be good but some of his current school board was trying to get rid of him – turns out he is good and the school board situation is beyond his control and not of his creation.  Brownsville’s school system is more than twice as large as Huntsville’s.

Assessing Springston against my new standard of letting food rot in an emergency:  Springston would have kept the frozen food frozen, gathered students to help prepare and serve still-good perishable food at relief centers, and organized sports programs for the children of tornado victims and relief workers – all in a safe environment.

Much more below (updated with even more muchness!)…

About 40 people attended the community forum at the Library, along with School Board members Birney, McCauley, Morrison, and Robinson.  Springston introduced himself then answered questions.

Springston said that when he took over as Superintendent in Brownsville, four of the schools scored over 80% (on some TX assessment) – now 10 schools score better than 80% (and some in the 90%s).  Springston said children have a “right” to an education and that “every child learns”.  Springston “teaches to the individual” with benchmarks every 3 to 6 weeks.

Springston’s approach involves finding out where students have problems, then fix problems at the comprehension level – reading is foundational.  Springston stressed vocabulary as a measure. [research shows that vocabulary is a great predictor of success in life - most low income people have a vocabulary of about 5000 words; kids who know 5000 words don't perform as well as kids who know 25000 words]

Springston said he uses Bill Daggett’s 3 R’s (Rigor, Relevance, Relationships).

At this point my notes devolve into snippets and barely legible scratchings (I should bring a laptop like Crystal Bonvillian of The Times), so please bear with me…

Q&A

Q = would you use Dr. Ann Roy Moore as a resource?
A = important to have a good working relationship

Q = referring to Brownsville board troubles, how would you work with HSV board?
A = good listener, work with personnel, close gap, clear vision of student success

Q = racism – importance of diversity and racial harmony
A = I don’t see skin color, MLK judged by hearts – not color

Q = have you observed two Huntsvilles? [note that the questions are summarized - some people used their questions to make speeches]
A = seen respect for HSV from diverse and random people while in town [IMO he correctly avoided a race-baiting question]

Q = DOJ desgregation order impact on faculty segregation [Pastor TC Johnson incorrectly stated that HSV realtors "steer" black people to NW HSV in his lengthy speech / preach / question]
A = study demographer’s report, look at best teachers and best practices, hold teachers accountable

Q = principal vs superintendent involvement in desegregation and achievement
A = superintendent is accountable to Board, teachers accountable to superintendent

Q = principals are powerless in dealing with teachers
A = hold people accountable [at this point someone pointed out tenure laws - Springston said he was not (specifically) familiar with tenure (laws) - TX doesn't have it]

Q = how to implement accountability
A = can’t be a dictator, use proven techniques, staff development [Springston launched into a passionate exposition of teaching]

Q = major strength and what in your past applies to HSV
A = communicate passion for teaching children, “I don’t make everybody happy”, decisions based on what is best for kids

Q = making kids into good citizens
A = lead by example, teach patriotism, good neighbors, good manners, comminications skills

Q = relationship with unions?
A = TX doesn’t have union – has a teachers’ association, meet several times month, facilitator

Q = improve parental involvement?
A = community gatherings, ensure that kids show up [Springston goes out and knocks on doors]

Q = parents discouraging good behavior
A = parental training and coaching, seminars with professional speakers, have to maintain expectations

Q = greatest challenge
A = “uniting this city”, school district is key to economy

Q = strategy to bridge achievement gap
A = ACES (assimilate, converge, evolve, shock)

***

I spoke with Springston before his school board interview, asking about the Brownsville Board and the online criticism.  It seemed like leftist community organizers were trying to get rid of him and that seems to be true.  Several of the blogs that attack Springston are fronts for the same group.  However, the school board president did schedule a meeting to terminate Springston (then canceled it).   The board president has a personal problem with the administration and Springston is a convenient target.

***

Springston presented his 60-day Plan to the Board of Education followed by their interview.  About 10 people attended, plus Venton Blandin of WHNT19 (Vinnie is a great reporter and a good guy – see his tornado coverage) and other press folks.

UPDATE:

Springston introduced himself by speaking about ACES (assimilate, converge, evolve, shock) [link above]

Springston presented his goals in “strategic order”:
1) ”Team of 6″, Board and Superintendent must have single unified vision
2)  Achievement gap, Springston noted that Brownsville received a Broad (rhymes with rode) Prize (2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education).  IIRC Springston was appointed interim superintendent in 2009.  Brownsville ISD received the $2 million prize for ‘narrowing achievement gaps between races while both are on the rise’.  Brownsville improved achievement through: managed instruction, real time benchmarks, and immediate intervention
3)  optimal learning environment – safe and secure
4) “climate” focused on student achievment, “firm believer in audits”, identify strengths and weaknesses, improve weaknesses = improve school, “audits aren’t a threat”
5)  innovative technology
6)  design and enhance facilities, need assessment, equity, energy conservation, recycling, “save the planet”, use efforts as teaching tools
7) build a learning organization, leadership capacity, professional development, growth plan for superintendent on down

“Be the best” means “raising standards”

Brownsville ISD recieved award from TX comptroller for financial transparency

***

Q&A with Board of Education:

Morrison = describe HCS current strengths / weaknesses, +1 year, +5 years
Springston = system eager to move forward, right now on its heels, example of chess in elementary schools [Note that Brownsville has a world-class chess program]

McCauley = difference between managed instruction and site-based management
Springston = managed instruction is K-12 curriculum, need to manage alignment, CSCOPE (curriculum management tool), peer tutors / mentors, site-based Campus Improvement Plan focused on student achievment, “there are times when we all need help”

Birney = HSV growing Hispanic population, how best to serve
Springston = phased transitional ELL model takes 2 to 3 years plus monitoring, “we want kids to be successful no matter who they are”, bilengual certification stipend for teachers

Robinson = how would you carry out plan without assistant superintendents or staff
Sprinston = do not want to be top-heavy after cuts, but need team

Blair = 9th grade transition drop out
Springston = ES to MS transition is difficult, sends ES kids to MS to get comfortable and receive presentations, same for MS to HS transition, take pictures of incoming freshman in graduation caps as fun incentive / reminder

Morrison = you said you don’t see color or race, we have white and non-white kids and schools
McCauley = DOJ and NAACP Legal Defense Fund desegregation order”
Springston = don’t look at color or race - look at results, basing decisions on color doesn’t focus on student needs, best people at the right place at the right time

McCauley = some teachers can’t get outcome they want
Springston = belief and outcome may be different, work with people to get job done

McCauley = “lemon dance”,  bounce ‘lemons’ (unperforming teachers) from school to school
Springston = idea is to get people to succeed where they are at

Birney = benefits of sports
Springston = started as coach, important to have extracurricular activities to keep kids interested, sports teach respect morals values cooperation listening, kids who belong to organizations are more likely to graduate

Robinson = financial challenges, review budget process, local funds
Springston = anticipated budget cuts, early out incentive, cut stipends, cut transportation, cut paid holidays, cut over-contract days

Blair = ensure Board members aware of finances
Springston = meetins, transparency

Blair = some schools exemplary - some schools challenged, compete against private education
Springston = PR plan, results, visible superintendent

Morrison = how to identify good leaders vs those who need to leave, we’ve had 5 to 8 different evaluation systems [sounds like a Board problem chasing fads - oooh, it's so shiny!]
Springston – evaluations based on job descriptions
McCauley = what if principal doesn’t evaluate
Springston = always give people the opportunity to correct themselves [he seemed kind of shocked that the question 'what if someone doesn't do their job' would be asked - is this what some HSV principals have been getting away with?]

McCauley = Alabama laws
Springston = “lot of learning to do”, “one thing I’m sure of, I know how to educate kids”

McCauley = tenure law
Springston = main concern is status of schools, TX doesn’t have tenure, “I don’t necessarily agree with tenure concept”

In his closing remarks, Springston said this was the first time in an interview that he met with PTA, community groups, business.

***

Crystal Bonvillian of The Huntsville Times wrote “Huntsville superintendent candidate…”:

“Every child has a right to a firm, solid education,” Springston told the group. “That’s my belief. My job is to make that belief a reality.”

Springston focused briefly on student achievement, telling his audience that it is not good enough to have just a percentage of students who achieve.

4 thoughts on “HCS Superintendent Interview – Springston

  1. Thanks for writing all of this stuff up. This is great information to have.

    Interesting that Texas doesn’t have a tenure law… and yet the sky hasn’t fallen, and education continues to occur. Amazing. Maybe if Springston looks into the implications of the tenure laws here, he won’t be so disappointed if he doesn’t get the job.

    The fact that certain members of our community would use the Q & A sessions with superintendent candidates to make speeches and basically get on their soapboxes about this or that subject is hardly shocking, but that doesn’t make it any less absurd and counterproductive.

    The fact that TC Johnson was one of those people is also hardly a surprise. His story about real estate agents “steering” buyers to certain neighborhoods is based on what he claims happened to him when he moved here in (I think) the 80s. Now maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t, but it sounds like a crock to me. The story goes that he was steered to north Huntsville, while a white friend of his was steered to south Huntsville. Johnson says he didn’t even know there was another part of town with more white people — What, he didn’t drive around a little bit before buying a house? He just blindly bought whatever the agent told him to buy? If so, that doesn’t speak well for his thoroughness and common sense. Furthermore, is he saying he would have preferred to live somewhere else? If he’s unhappy where he is, why not move?

    Here’s where the wheels really come off of the believability of Johnson’s tale: According to him, his friend who bought in south Huntsville got a better house for less money. Really? And he expects anyone to actually believe that?

  2. All three candidates are heads & tails over the people we have in charge now. We are one lucky city. Thank God the financial crisis finally come to a head!! And the questions asked of these candidates seem to center around improving student achievement, which is exactly what we should be worried about. Each one seemed to handle the race questions well.
    Did the Board choose these three? If they did, maybe there is hope for our school board after all. . .( well, except for that “Topper” guy, he’s one strange dude. )
    Although I liked Brigman, he just might be too involved in the education administration “culture”. It might make it too hard for him to rise above it all and deal with the real issues w/o being dragged down into unnecessary politics.

  3. Mom – I like Topper Birney in real life. As President of the school board, he deserves much of the credit for the three great candidates selected for interviews (David Blair and Jennie Robinson also deserve a lot of credit for making it happen). BTW Birney says he is not running again.

  4. Sorry for saying that, (it was a jk) I do not know any of them personally, just heard them talk at various times. Tell him thank you for all his hard work, they really did a great job in a short time when choosing these candidates.
    I am also sure it is difficult to be on the school board — we expect a lot from them and I am not sure if their duties are clearly stated somewhere. I must say, I’m not sure what their role is, exactly.
    But, they did a great job in choosing these candidates and I can’t wait for the new super to start! Time to clean things up before anything else can happen — the food fiasco was unbelievable.