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.

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