LISD school board approves District Improvement Plan; directs administration to redefine performance objectives


After much discussion and disagreement, the Leander Independent School District Board and Superintendent Dr. Bruce Gearing reached a compromise last week. With a 4-1 vote, the board approved the District Improvement Plan as presented, with the additional directive to the administration to reconsider and redefine the performance objectives for Goals 1-7. 

“I would much prefer a clean slate,” Gearing said prior to the vote. “It’s much easier for me to work from the goals and build up than it is for me to take all of this and try to morph it into what I think we should be doing."

Goal 1’s objectives for the District Improvement Plan were discussed at length at the Oct. 17 meeting, wherein Gearing asked for the objectives be removed entirely as they were based on STAAR test results. The LISD School Board had already approved Goals 1-7 last year, without approving the performance objectives.  

While Gearing argued that adopting the objectives for Goals 1-7 of the District Improvement Plan would affect what work he would have to focus on, Trustees Aaron Johnson and Pamela Waggoner argued that their prior work should not be all for naught.

“I don’t think you should ever throw out past work,” Waggoner said. “I believe in total accountability.” 

Gearing said the District Improvement Plan’s goals and objectives are used to drive the district by assigning accountability for them, meaning the Superintendent Performance Evaluation would rest on proving to the board that those goals and objectives are being accomplished in the district. Gearing said he believed the district’s goals are the right ones, but that he did not agree with any of the performance objectives.  

“I’m asking you to pause for a second,” Gearing said. “Yes, we can approve this exactly how it is, but that forces me into a certain set of behaviors that drive the district toward accomplishing these objectives. I’m not sure this is where I need to spend all my time and energy. It may be, but I don’t think that it is.”

Johnson said he was concerned as to why Gearing mentioned the Superintendent Performance Evaluation in relation to the District Improvement Plan’s objectives. 

“It feels like we are saying ‘I don’t want the performance evaluation that you guys used previously, so I need to change these things to change the evaluation system,’” Johnson said. “I’m sure that isn’t the primary motivation or the only motivation, but it does seem to be a motivation or a factor.”

Johnson said the board wants to move forward, to have these discussions, but they also want a system of goals and objectives that matter and improve their system. 

“At the same time, I feel like I, as a trustee, have an obligation to hold you accountable,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said Gearing’s statements were inconsistent.

“On the one hand, you say if we follow you and do the things that you recommend that we do, these things will take care of themselves,” Johnson said. “On the other hand, you say that if they are part of your accountability system, you’ll be so focused on them that we can’t do the other important work.” 

Gearing said it was important to remember and understand that this is not just about the 2019-2020 school year. The real reason for this conversation is to figure out what the district might look like in five or 10 years. 

“We have to set that vision and that mission in place to make sure that we accomplish those things,” Gearing said. “In order to set that long-term vision in place, we have to have a conversation with our community.” 

Johnson said he felt that was a red herring. 

“We’ve all been in the education system for some time,” Johnson said. “I mean no disrespect to our community. I want their ideas. I want their collaboration. I want their participation … but I think it’s disingenuous to hang the solutions on that exercise. I just don’t think that’s where all the answers lie.” 

Johnson asked what it would say if they did not approve the performance objectives at the meeting, thus having no instrument to measure accountability regarding student growth. 

“I think what it says is that there’s no point in adopting a plan that we don’t believe in,” Gearing said.

Trustees Elexis Grimes and Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia said they were willing to forgo adopting any of the performance objectives in the plan as presented. 

“I don’t know what better time we have to seize a moment, to change the district with the new representation of the new superintendent and new board members,” Grimes said. 

Waggoner said she felt confused as to why the board would “redo” the work. 

“I understand that you (Gearing) weren’t here and three board members weren’t here, and I respect that,” Waggoner said. “That’s why you’re here —- we want a new direction. I also respect all the work that this staff and the original board and superintendent had to do just to get here.” 

Waggoner suggested the board adopt what they have and move forward to the next school year. 

“I don’t know why we have to go back and keep rehashing and wordsmithing … when we can just say, ‘This is what it is, and we know we want things to change,’” Waggoner said. “We think our goals may be stated correctly. Let’s work on the new plan. Let’s not just keep revisiting the old. I’m happy to adopt the whole thing and let’s move forward … and not have this divisive conversation.”

After a 15-minute break between the conversation and the vote, the board came to a compromise. Waggoner made the final motion —- approving the performance goals as presented, with the added directive for the administration to reconsider and redefine the performance objectives for all seven of the District Improvement Plan Goals.