In Lockhart ISD, exceptional district governance means renewing a laser-like focus on the district’s vision and goals. Making that critical shift meant looking at the latest research and turning to TASB for help.
The board immersed themselves in TASB’s eXceptional Governance Board Development (XG) , an intensive, research-backed approach using practical models of board governance.
Lockhart entered uncharted waters with the first XG session—a meeting of deep reflection and difficult questions that helped them examine their board culture and governance processes.
“I really didn’t know what to expect at first. I thought I’d be listening to a boring lecture from somebody talking to us about how we’re doing it wrong and how they have all the right answers,” said Lockhart ISD Board President Steve Johnson.
“What it turned out to be was a total shift in our thinking as a board, coming together as a board to really impact student achievement. One of the first questions asked to us was, ‘Do you believe that every child can learn?’ We all had to look at ourselves and ask, ‘Do we believe it?’ Of course, we all said we believed it, but then we had to determine if that was where we’re putting our money and our time.”
Mark Estrada, Lockhart ISD superintendent, said the TASB-guided XG sessions produced not only a clearer district vision for improving student achievement, but also a tighter bond among the leadership team.
“There was a lot of trust-building during those sessions. I recall a meeting going later than planned, but the board did not flinch,” Estrada said. “And that to me signaled that they were engaged, that they were not looking at the clock wondering when this training is going to end.”
Through the XG process, the district formulated a vision around the question, “What’s at stake?” Lockhart ISD set a vision of opportunity and achievement based on “building a legacy of excellence.”
During the third training session, the district took stock in where they were with regard to student achievement.
“This caused us to really reflect and look at student data,” Estrada said. “We had to be very open and honest about student performance, and we had to say that we were not in a good place. We’re still not in the best place we could be in, but we’ve had great improvement, massive growth. This involved a lot of hard conversations, a lot of reflection on the job that we were doing and what was causing poor student performance.”
How XG Board Development changed expectations
Prior to Lockhart ISD’s leadership team undertaking the process, Estrada said that “it was not uncommon for one or more board members to show up on campus and say, ‘Hey, let’s have a talk.’ [When I was a principal,] I’d leave my door open on purpose, and they would close it behind them. Those things were happening in the district, and this process really made it clear that this wasn’t helpful.”
“Everything we do now, every vote we make as a board, is based on our vision and our goals,” Johnson said. “If it’s not moving us toward our vision, we won’t consider it as a board. This seemed minor at first, but we found that it’s very important to what we’re doing.”
From those introspective sessions came the idea of 1.5.
“In Lockhart, we are very firm in our expectation that every student from kindergarten to eighth grade will grow a year and a half each year in math and reading,” Estrada said. “We monitor that, and in the last year and a half that’s been the bedrock of everything that we do, the decisions that we make, and how we spend our resources.”
The transition to the more rigorous 1.5 concept was difficult, but for those who stayed the course, it made a tremendous difference.
“I got calls from teachers and principals saying, ‘Hey, I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked before. I’m putting in more hours,’” Johnson said. “I said, ‘I realize you’re doing that, but we as a district are so far behind that we have to catch up.’ Most of our teachers jumped on board and said, ‘I’m ready to go.’ Those who weren’t ready found another place to go work. So, what’s happened is that we’ve got good teachers now who are invested in student achievement.”
“Some people were uncomfortable with this, but we did not allow that to slow us down,” added Estrada.
The district now gives out 1.5 pins every month to teachers who’ve exemplified dedication to the district’s student achievement goals. “It’s a coveted thing,” he said.
Student performance goes up after XG
Lockhart’s fifth governance training session—focusing on how the board can implement effective oversight for excellence—provided crucial accountability measures for the district to use in gauging progress. The board now receives monthly presentations on exactly where schools are in relation to the district’s 1.5 goal.
“We ask hard questions. ‘Why is this school going down? Why did this school only go up two points?’ It’s an open conversation,” Johnson said. “The assistant superintendents don’t feel attacked because they’ve been part of this group. They know we’re pushing them, and they’re pushing the students, as well. So, the oversight was huge, because we didn’t know whether we were growing or not before. We’d get a report once a year when scores came out, and that was the only time we knew if we were growing. Now, we know what we’re doing and how much we’re growing.”
Estrada said that last year, the district experienced double-digit gains in STAAR exam results districtwide regarding “meets” or “masters” grade-level content.
“When we first started the 1.5 concept, we had about 19 percent of students reaching that 1.5 level,” Johnson added. “Now, about 60 percent of our students achieve a year-and-a-half growth within the year. It’s a hard thing to do because you’re pushing your teachers, you’re pushing your administrators—you’re pushing everybody. But it’s worth it in the end when you see the growth. And the teachers are excited because they get to see the growth in every one of their students.”