Skip To Content

Celebrating Outstanding School Boards

The 2023 Outstanding School Board winner, Corsicana ISD, was announced at txEDCON23 in Dallas last fall by the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Ask any trustee why they volunteer their time on their board, and they’ll tell you they are there to support students. While every school board keeps this mission in mind as they take on district business, some are making exceptional progress to ensure all students have opportunities to achieve.

These high-achieving boards are recognized every year when the Texas Association of School Administrators selects five outstanding school boards for their dedication and service, which has positively impacted Texas public school students.

In 2023, the TASA School Board Awards program named Corsicana, Crowley, Montgomery, Texas City, and Ysleta ISDs as honor board finalists. They were selected by a committee of Texas school superintendents, who based their decisions on criteria including support for educational performance, commitment to a code of ethics, and a board’s ability to work together in a supportive and harmonious manner. Corsicana ISD was chosen as the 2023 Outstanding School Board.

The committee acknowledged each district’s specific qualities, which made them stand out as deserving of being named honor board finalists. We talked with board leaders from some of these boards to learn what has made them successful.

Academic Excellence

At El Paso’s Ysleta ISD, the committee said it was impressed with the board’s commitment to academic excellence and its focus on continuous improvement. Ysleta ISD Board President Cruz Ochoa acknowledged the hard work the board has undertaken to earn such recognition.

“As a board, we represent the will of our community to improve the outcomes for our students,” he said.

Most of the trustees have been on the board as long as the district’s superintendent, Xavier De La Torre, who joined Ysleta ISD in 2014, Ochoa said. During De La Torre’s tenure, the board never wavered from its vision for students, but unexpected events did have significant impacts.

“The Walmart massacre followed by an unprecedented interruption to teaching and learning in the form of a global pandemic have had devastating consequences on our district,” Ochoa said. “Notwithstanding, the board has insisted on a growth model that accelerates performance and achievement back to pre-pandemic times.”

To make academic strides, the board participated in visioning processes that led to two distinct five-year strategic action plans, Ochoa said. These action plans helped the board maintain its focus on student academic achievement and growth, eliminating the achievement gap, and ensuring students are prepared for the future, meeting college, career, and military readiness standards. All of this data and the outcomes are tied to the superintendent’s evaluation, and data collected through district and campus scorecards are part of the evaluation instrument.

Ochoa also attributes the district’s success to the positive working relationship between the board and the superintendent. Unlike most districts that function as a team of eight, at Ysleta ISD, it’s more like a team of 20, he said. The board has full access to De La Torre’s senior level staff and administrators who make up the superintendent’s cabinet. This allows for quicker responses to the board, creating transparency and building trust.

That trust was strengthened after the 2019 Walmart shooting, he said.

“The Walmart shootings brought our community together, and our district made every effort to reassure our students and teachers of keeping faithful to our beliefs and principles,” Ochoa said. “This horrific incident brought grief and disillusion to many of our students. Working with outreach programs, our counselors and schools addressed any issues our students and teachers were very concerned with.”

At Ysleta ISD, the board is proud that it was able to have two separate bonds approved totaling nearly $1 billion, Ochoa said. Those bonds provided students and staff with high-quality facilities, while also providing safety improvements including camera upgrades and safety vestibules in a majority of district buildings. The board is also proud of its status as a Texas Education Agency A-rated school district and a three-time recipient of the Best District in El Paso.

Being named an honor board finalist was a wonderful surprise, Ochoa said, adding that the board members agreed that they are just doing what they were elected to do.

“The board is cohesive and maintains a high level of expectations not only for us but also for our schools,” Ochoa said. “Our children’s education and safety are our highest priority.”

Collaborative Spirit

At Montgomery ISD, about an hour northwest of Houston on Lake Conroe, the district has experienced a lot of growth, serving 9,748 students in an area that covers 217.89 miles, said Laurie Turner, board president.

“One of the things people move here for is the small-town feel,” Turner said. “You’re getting families, teachers, and administrators with high expectations for students. As an A-rated district, it makes for a great place to be.”

The TASA School Board Awards Committee was impressed with the Montgomery ISD board’s emphasis on academics and its ability to collaborate.

Turner has been on the board a little more than three years, and she said changes in the board membership, coupled with the hiring of the district’s new superintendent, have led to increased communication and collaboration.

“Who you hire as the superintendent has a huge impact,” Turner said. “A person that is driven has integrity, is a great communicator, and they are very dedicated to giving the same information to every board member. ... That role, the superintendent, can unify or even divide a board.”

Turner credited the district’s nominating superintendent, Keith Morrison, who left to serve as the CEO of Teachers for Tomorrow, with bringing the board, district staff, and community members together to share input on goals tied to the district’s strategic plan. That has helped drive the board’s work in support of student success, which trustees all agree is a priority. Turner said Morrison also helped improve communication and transparency within the district.

Among the achievements the board is most proud of is the passage of a $326 million bond to support the construction of a new career and technical education center and an agriculture barn. Some of the funds, $5.4 million, were used to purchase devices for one-to-one teacher-student learning. The district has also been renovating some of its older buildings and making building upgrades on school campuses.

Being nominated as an honor board finalist was “something completely new for our district and exciting for our district,” Turner said.

Working collaboratively takes effort, and Turner said the board members are committed to the effort as they keep student achievement top of mind.

“We have gone to SLI [Summer Leadership Institute] and that has been absolutely fabulous to take classes we each want to take,” Turner said. “Good boards — even though we’re in a small community and we know each other — have time to have meals together, learn how to communicate, and have a good working relationship. We want to be hands on. We show up. We’re visible and constantly being invited to events in the district. ... We are represented at so many things throughout the district that brings us together as well.”

Student Focused

The Corsicana ISD school board was awarded the 2023 Outstanding School Board during txEDCON23 last September. The district is located in Corsicana, a town of about 25,000 residents about 50 miles south of Dallas.

The selection committee said it was impressed with the Corsicana ISD board’s focus on the whole child as well as the trustees’ commitment to their community and advocacy for students on the local, state, and federal levels. Along with being committed to children, the committee described the Corsicana ISD board as “innovative, creative, and forward thinking,” saying that they “embody the concept of the team of eight.”

When it comes to being forward-thinking, Seth Brown, the Corsicana ISD board president said the board has taken steps to ensure student safety. Even before he was on the board — Brown’s been a trustee for five years — and before it was state mandated, the district added armed guards and weapon detectors at every school, along with ensuring that schools had secured entry vestibules, he said.

“We’ve tried to stay ahead,” he said. “We want to ensure students are safe and secure and that parents know their children are safe.”

The board has also been very thoughtful about doing what is best for students.

To support all students’ needs, the district partnered with Head Start to offer an early-childhood education program at the Carroll Early Learning Center at Carroll Elementary School, longtime Corsicana ISD board member Barbara Kelley said. The program, geared toward young children from low-income families, supports child development, getting children up to speed, and building a love of learning at an early age, she said. The district also offers a pre-K dual-language program and a preschool program for children with disabilities.

The trustees shared that residents have a deep and abiding love for their town. Even when students move away for college or to start careers, they often return when they begin raising children. That connection to Corsicana is a motivating force for the trustees who continue to put in the time — not only for board meetings, but also for team-of-eight training, advocacy work for the district, attending school events, and volunteering with other local community organizations.

“I really love my community. I love serving. I’m a servant leader first,” Kelley said. “Anything I can do to better my community I want to do. ... It’s just a joy when you see those graduates walk across the stage; it’s that completion. They’re going out into the world, and hopefully we’ve done a good job.”

Continuous Improvement

For the Crowley ISD board, being selected as an honor board finalist was a humbling experience, said La Tonya Woodson-Mayfield, the board president. This was the second time the Crowley ISD board was honored. It was also named an honor board finalist in 2001.

“Each one of us gives a great deal of time, energy, and resources to help govern the district, and work in lock step with [Superintendent] Dr. [Michael] McFarland to set and achieve goals,” she said. “But the ultimate reward is seeing the smiles on our students’ faces after they’ve participated in, and in most cases, won a competition, or when they’ve received a standing ovation at the end of a program, or after [they have] successfully demonstrated a project. Those are priceless moments, and it makes our roles as board trustees even more endearing. It’s a heart mission for sure.”

Located just south of Fort Worth, Crowley ISD has 26 schools and serves more than 16,500 students from Crowley and portions of Johnson County, according to the district. The district has a student-centric focus on excellence in education, Woodson-Mayfield said. It provides many support services for its students and their families, including breakfasts and lunches, after-school educational enrichment programs, health and counseling services, and extracurricular activities for our students, and parent university sessions and school and district updates for parents, among other services.

In its announcement, the TASA selection committee said the board’s focus on continuous improvement and innovation was impressive. Woodson-Mayfield has been on the board for seven years, and early in her board service, the district underwent a massive curriculum audit that made, and is still making, a positive impact for students, she said.

The district has made other innovative changes, including expanding its programs of choice and offering STEM Plus at every campus, allowing students to experience STEM programs for their grade level. The STEM Plus program focuses on student learning through applications of cultural relevance, collaboration, engineering design process, and communication skills, according to the district’s website.

“The expansion of choice programs gives our students a wider lens and greater depth of career choices that will benefit them and our communities,” Woodson-Mayfield said. “We also extended the school year at ADSY (Additional Days School Year) campuses. As a result, David L. Walker Elementary, for example, went from the lowest performing school to the highest performing school.”

Being recognized as an honor board finalist gave the board a jolt of energy and motivation to stay on course, Woodson-Mayfield said.

“Staying on course doesn’t mean doing the same thing again,” she said. “It means continuing our process of learning, being engaged, challenging processes and ways of thinking and doing, setting higher standards, and growing together and bonding. We’re very thankful for the accomplishment and we’ll continue pushing the envelope of excellence.”

Culture and Experience

Located in Galveston County, Texas City ISD serves about 7,800 students from La Marque and Texas City. The district blends the best of both worlds, offering a small-town atmosphere with resources and opportunities for students that might normally be found in a larger city, said Texas City ISD Board President Melba Anderson. “This unique combination allows students to benefit from a close-knit community while also preparing them for success in a diverse and dynamic world.”

A trustee at the district for 23 years, Anderson has served four terms as president, this being her most recent tenure. She said the Texas City ISD trustees were surprised and honored to be selected as an honor board finalist.

“Our board has worked tirelessly, facing challenges head-on and leveraging our collective strengths to serve our students, staff, and community to the best of our abilities,” Anderson said. “We knew that our efforts had not gone unnoticed, but receiving this recognition reaffirmed the impact of our hard work and dedication.”

In her nomination, Texas City ISD Superintendent Melissa Duarte said the board offered a cultural and experience mix and that those perspectives had strengthened the board’s “capacity to represent a growing and culturally diverse community in a district with a rich legacy.”

At Texas City ISD, Anderson said, each trustee brings a unique cultural perspective to the table, leading to a better understanding of and support for the needs of students from different backgrounds.

“Overall, the board’s commitment to leveraging its differences and experiences reflects a dedication to ensuring that every student in the district has access to an equitable and enriching educational experience,” Anderson said. “By valuing diversity and embracing inclusion, the board plays a pivotal role in fostering a positive and supportive learning environment that empowers students to reach their full potential.”

The TASA selection committee was impressed with the board’s spirit of cooperation and focus on students. Not only have the board members worked together to create regular communication channels, but they’ve also cultivated partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and educational institutions to enhance resources and opportunities for students, Anderson said.

“Through these efforts, we’ve built a culture of collaboration that strengthens our board’s effectiveness and positively impacts student outcomes,” she said.

Anderson said that some of the accomplishments that are a result of the board’s ongoing efforts include improved accountability results, an increase in CTE and industry certifications, creation of an Industrial Trades Signing Day, launching of the district’s Early College High School, the addition of a new leadership program for campuses, and implementation of Texas City ISD’s new dual-language program.

The board’s diligence was one reason Anderson believes it was recognized as an honor board finalist, but she said the board also stood out thanks to the unwavering support of their community, which resulted in the successful passage of two bond elections.

“These victories underscored the collective commitment to providing the best possible education for our students,” Anderson said. “The transformative impact of these investments was remarkable, as evidenced by the monumental shift from 42% to 100% of our schools achieving passing rates. This achievement reflects the board’s steadfast determination and strategic vision, ensuring that every student in our district has access to quality education and the opportunity to thrive.”

Photo: The 2023 Outstanding School Board winner, Corsicana ISD, was announced at txEDCON23 in Dallas last fall by the Texas Association of School Administrators. Corsicana ISD trustees as well as members of the four honor board finalists were joined by their superintendents at the awards ceremony.

Was this article helpful?
Mary Ann Lopez
Senior Communications Specialist

Mary Ann Lopez is a senior communications specialist for TASB.