Leander Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Bruce Gearing turned the tables when he got up from his seat and walked around to sit opposite LISD school board members at the Oct. 3 school board meeting, during a presentation regarding ideal school sizes. Gearing then shared his plans for the school district.
“I came to sit here because I don’t like sitting there,” Gearing said, while motioning to his usual seat at the meetings. “I really like to be able to see you, so I apologize if that’s not normal.”
Gearing said he had visited every site in the district, and he thought it important to share his observations and plans for the district with board members.
With such a large and dispersed school district, Gearing said, it is of vital importance to consider how any decision made at school board meetings will affect every other part of the school system, as they are all connected.
“How do we find the thread that holds all of this together, that drives the work, but that we can hang our hat on every time?” Gearing asked.
He said you cannot expect to monitor every part of the system, and you cannot expect to understand decisions that are being made in every part of the system. However, decisions should be garnered around the core value and the parameters surrounding that core value.
“I believe it is the board’s job to make sure that that direction is very clearly set, and I want to talk to you a little bit about that now,” Gearing said.
Gearing discussed two core values that the board should hang their hat on, that everything else essentially should come back to, which will help guide the board and administration’s work. Those two core values are "student experience" and "heroic educators."
Student experience is the thing that really drives what he does every single day, Gearing said. He said it is important for the board to put themselves in the shoes of students, to truly understand what students are experiencing on a daily basis --- every student of every kind.
“As long as we are doing that and our decisions are affecting the student experience positively, we are doing the right thing,” he said.
In order to create that student experience, he said, the district has to have heroic educators. That includes teachers, paraprofessionals, child nutritionists, bus drivers, administrators, assistant principals, central office staff --- every single person working with students in the district --- who are going above and beyond each day to make sure that the student experience is a positive one.
“If we pack those two things together, then our endeavor becomes much clearer,” Gearing said.
As for the next year, Gearing laid out how the board can accomplish several things that would go back to those core values of "student experience" and "heroic educators" that ultimately should drive all decisions made in the district.
Gearing said there are four things the board should focus on this year: creating a solid budget process, developing a long-range facility plan and process for the next 10 years, committing to a full policy review and implementing a community-based accountability system.
“In this year, I believe one of the key things we have to do is create a really solid budget process that helps us to realign the resources of the district to the necessary work that has to get done,” he said.
With the hiring of a new Chief Financial Officer, Elaine Cogburn, Gearing said the district now has the ability to step into that cycle and make sure that it gets done the right way.
“The second thing I want the board to focus on is the long-range facility plan and process,” Gearing said. “We can’t solve all the problems within a year, but we can develop a long-range plan for our facilities and the district for the next 10 years.”
Gearing said making this long-range plan will involve a lot of questions and community input and will look at future sizes of schools based on projected growth as well as academic programming, including special programming.
“I think there’s a large amount of conversation that needs to happen at the community level to understand what that looks like and how that works,” he said.
The goal would be to have a long-range facilities plan in place by next June.
“The third piece of work that I’d really like the board to focus on is a full policy review,” Gearing said. “If I understand it correctly, I don’t think the board has done a full policy review in a significant amount of time, if ever. And what happens over time with policy is that policy and practice tend to drift apart. It’s a very natural process. It’s called entropy, actually. As they drift apart, we create major problems in the system because policy now … what we say we’re going to do and what we actually do don’t match anymore. What a policy review does is bring those two things back in alignment.”
Gearing said within the next year, the board will go over every policy in place and update the practice or update the policy to fit the needs of the district now. Though it is going to be a very difficult practice, especially if it has not been done for a very long time, it will make everything in the district run more smoothly.
“All of those pieces are operationally-driven,” Gearing said. “The fourth piece that I think I want the board to focus on is centered around a community-based accountability system.”
The board would bring input from the community back to school board meetings to help make decisions that would produce a positive student experience.
“We have to go out to the community and say, ‘What are your hopes and dreams?’ ‘What do you really want learning to look like in Leander ISD?’ ‘How do you want us to be creating the right student experience for your child?’” he said.
Gearing said in the process, the board will be showcasing some things that they are not so proud of as well, things they tried that they thought were a good idea and that turned out to be a bad idea, in order to show the community the lessons they have learned and where they are going from there.
“I don’t think we should be shying away from admitting where we’ve made mistakes,” Gearing said. “I don’t think we should be shying away from trying difficult things, things that are difficult to accomplish. I think we should be moving towards those things.”