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Leadership TASB in the Coastal Bend

While visiting the King Ranch, members of the LTASB Class of 2024 pose for a photo outside the historic Santa Getrudis Ranch building.

The Leadership TASB class has traveled this winter to the Coastal Bend region, where members learned about the successes and struggles of several local districts and toured a historic Texas ranch that helps support public education.

Over the course of three days, trustees met with the superintendents, trustees, and staff of Gregory-Portland, Santa Gertrudis, and Kingsville ISDs, discovering how they have made a difference in these unique districts, some of which cover vast swaths of land.

On the first day, Michelle Cavazos, superintendent of Gregory-Portland ISD, gave the class details and insights about her district before boarding a bus with us and acting as district tour director for the group. Tim Flinn, board president, noted that having LTASB alumni on the school board allowed for a deeper understanding of the struggles of education and that the knowledge they gained from the program enhances the board’s discussion and problem-solving abilities.

Gregory-Portland ISD, located in the town of Portland, has an intensive P-TECH program in collaboration with Del Mar College in nearby Corpus Christi, as well as other agreements with Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The district is building a new CTE building, which will last for decades even as industry needs change.

In the fall, the district will be opening an early childhood center for prekindergarten, a preschool program for children with disabilities and kindergarten students. The center is being developed around “neighborhoods,” or learning pods, each with its own theme and a hands-on experiential space where children can build their vocabulary, even before they enter elementary school.

Upon returning to the Gregory-Portland ISD administration building, a delicious lunch was provided by students in the district’s culinary careers program. The remainder of the afternoon, Cavazos and several trustees discussed what good governance looks like and noted that the job of the superintendent is to build the team of eight.

At Gregory-Portland ISD, they use a “communication matrix,” which is kept on a Google document that trustees can access any time. This matrix updates questions from trustees or the community, noting who will respond, and in what time frame. Gregory-Portland ISD trustees stressed that the board’s responsibility is to always advocate for public education and to have honest, open conversations with stakeholders.

Day two had an early start with a drive out to the King Ranch, where a guide gave an entertaining tour and explanation of the history and development of the schools that are located right on the legendary ranch.

Santa Gertrudis ISD was named after the creek that runs through the ranch. Henrietta King started the school when her husband, Richard, promised those working at the cattle ranch an education for their children. One of the original buildings now houses pre-K to second grade students. Another campus houses third through eighth grades, and the high school is located at Texas A&M Kingsville.

We were met at the Santa Gertrudis school by Veronica Alfaro, the district’s superintendent, and many of her staff as well as high school students. She spoke of the challenges they face, and the students discussed their experiences in earning college credits and certifications while in high school. Academy High School opened in 1994-95, and through a partnership with Texas A&M Kingsville, students had the chance to take college classes starting in ninth grade. The site’s motto is, “We are successful with less, we make it happen.”

We ended our day with Cecilia Reynolds-Perez, superintendent of Kingsville ISD, and her board of trustees, who walked our class through the challenges and successes they have had over the years. They also joined the LTASB group for dinner, during which they answered many questions from class members.

Photo: While visiting the King Ranch, members of the LTASB Class of 2024 pose for a photo outside the historic Santa Getrudis Ranch building.

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Stephanie Blanck

Stephanie Blanck, a Georgetown ISD trustee, is a member of the Leadership TASB Class of 2024.