Finalists Named for 2021 Superintendent of the Year Award

For release: August 30, 2021
Contact: Joan Randall, 512.340.2983
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(Austin)—Five public school administrators from across Texas were selected as state finalists for the annual Superintendent of the Year (SOTY) award. Sponsored by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), the SOTY program has recognized exemplary superintendents for excellence and achievement in educational leadership since 1984.

The 2021 finalists are:

  • Courtney Hudgins, East Bernard ISD, Region 3
  • Mark Estrada, Lockhart ISD, Region 13
  • H.T. Sanchez, Plainview ISD, Region 17
  • Samuel Wyatt, Rankin ISD, Region 18
  • Jeanette Ball, Judson ISD, Region 20.

The state selection committee, which interviewed regional winners August 27-28, targeted such issues as the board-superintendent relationship, advocacy, the impact of the pandemic on Texas schools, and education innovations.

Courtney Hudgins, East Bernard ISD 

Hudgins has been superintendent of East Bernard ISD, located southwest of Houston, for six years. In their selection of Hudgins as a finalist, the committee noted her proactive approach to relationship building as a key differentiator. In this district of about 950 students, Hudgins is well known for her work with her board — ensuring all trustees are well equipped to answer questions from the community. 

To do this, she checks in with district staff and students daily to gauge concerns and get ahead of any issues that might arise.  Hudgins also stays connected to her community through radio interviews every other week. She has worked to build a team as passionate and energetic as she is through strategic hiring and a perpetual focus on building leaders. 

Hudgins established a teacher leader academy in the district to enhance the culture and capacity across grade levels. Hudgins wants her district and students to be the best. As a former CTE director, Hudgins understands why it’s important to prepare East Bernard students to be college ready and career ready. Through trade programs and business partnerships, the district helps students find their unique path.

Mark Estrada, Lockhart ISD 

Estrada has served as superintendent of Lockhart ISD for three years and has been an administrator for 13 years. The selection committee noted that Estrada has created a leadership pipeline for his staff, providing opportunities for advancement. Estrada's advocacy work and district initiatives reflect an understanding that Lockhart ISD is deeply connected to the local communities and to the larger education community. 

Through Lockhart ISD’s internet project, the district paid for network towers to help students and community members learn, work, and thrive, while making the district more resilient when faced with the unexpected. 

At this fast-growth Central Texas district of more than 6,000 students, a set of values guide the leadership team’s decision making. One of those values, Locked on Excellence, yielded the districtwide 1.5 project. The project set an annual target of one and a half years of reading and math growth for all students. The goal was surpassed last school year.

H.T. Sanchez, Plainview ISD

Sanchez has led Plainview ISD for three years, serving a student population of more than 5,000. An administrator for 19 years, Sanchez works with the board to move beyond compromise to consensus and outcomes that reflect their strength as a team. Believing communication is the key to unity, he makes sure every board member’s voice is heard. From the community to the board, he encourages input by making sure everyone finds an open door when they reach out to him. 

College readiness is systemic to Plainview ISD, and the district helps students see themselves as college material starting in the earliest grades. The district provides tutoring and curricula targeted at preparing students for higher education. 

Sanchez believes effective district leaders are teachers at heart. Through a partnership with an area university, he offers incentives to the district's teachers to pursue an administrative role with the district and add their perspective to the leadership team.

Samuel Wyatt, Rankin ISD

Wyatt has 19 years of experience as an administrator and has been at the helm of Rankin ISD for four years. The committee was drawn to Wyatt’s palpable enthusiasm and genuine concern for the individual students in his district, their unique needs, and their overall well-being. In this West Texas district of around 300 students, planning starts with students, and programs are molded to fit their needs. 

This energetic superintendent lives by the dictum that actions are more powerful than words. He believes his most important work is not done behind his desk but out in the district, modeling positive values for students and staff. Known as an innovator, Wyatt has brought outside-the-box thinking to hiring and operations, and he used thoughtful investment strategies to turn around the district’s finances. 

Jeanette Ball, Judson ISD 

Ball has led Judson ISD, northeast of San Antonio, for three years, where she serves almost 24,000 students in seven municipalities. The committee commented on Ball’s open leadership style and effectiveness at sharing the positive things happening in the district. 

Ball approaches decision-making with humility, an open mind, and an attentive ear. Her inclusive approach to tough decisions includes regular conversations with both district staff and students. 

An administrator for 23 years, Ball brings her team together behind their shared love of children and the common goal of helping students succeed. In this environment of caring, the district has implemented robust wraparound services that support the whole child and the district’s families. 

How Superintendent of the Year Candidates are Selected

Candidates are chosen for their strong leadership skills, dedication to improving educational quality, ability to build effective employee relations, student performance, and commitment to public involvement in education. All Texas superintendents are eligible for nomination by their school boards. Local nominees are submitted to a regional selection committee, which chooses one nominee to send to the state selection committee.

Regional superintendents of the year nominated by regional selection committees are:

  • Hafedh Azaiez*, Donna ISD, Region 1 
  • Conrado Garcia, West Oso ISD, Region 2
  • HD Chambers, Alief ISD, Region 4
  • Mike Gonzales, Port Neches-Groves ISD, Region 5
  • Keith Smith, Madisonville CISD, Region 6
  • Rickey Albritton, Gilmer ISD, Region 7
  • Sidney Harrist, Atlanta ISD, Region 8
  • Michelle Cline, Throckmorton Collegiate ISD, Region 9
  • Michael Hinojosa, Dallas ISD, Region 10
  • Susan Bohn, Aledo ISD, Region 11
  • Brandon Hubbard, Chilton ISD, Region 12
  • Jason Cochran, Eastland ISD, Region 14
  • Dave Lewis, Rochelle ISD, Region 15
  • Jimmy Hannon, Highland Park ISD-Potter County, Region 16
  • Rosa Vega-Barrio, Tornillo ISD, Region 19

The 2021 Superintendent of the Year will be announced at the Texas Association of School Administrators | TASB Convention. The districts of the winning superintendent and state finalists will receive an award from Balfour, program underwriter.

*Donna ISD was the nominating district. Azaiez is now serving as superintendent of Round Rock ISD.

TASB is a nonprofit association established in 1949 to serve local public school boards. School board members are the largest group of publicly elected officials in the state. The districts they represent serve more than 5.4 million students.