John Chapman III began his role as Comal ISD superintendent in October. He brings 17 years of experience as a superintendent to the district and has previously held the role at Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, Chillicothe ISD, Comfort ISD and Ennis ISD. He discussed his ideas for the future of the district and what inspired him to work in education. This interview has been edited for length, style and clarity.

What inspired you to become an educator?

It first started by the educators that I had, in my own experience, growing up, [like] my second-grade teacher; I still know her well and just how she made me feel building those relationships, knowing me as a human being and then obviously nurturing me through the process. And going into high school, I had coaches that did the same thing: took me under their wing, saw talent in me, and then molded and developed that, and then it really pushed me to be the person that I am today, really wanting to go on and play college ball to go on and to achieve whatever that goal was that I had in mind.

While I was in college, I had several opportunities to look at [like] going to vet school or going and doing other things. But this kept leading me back to, “Why don't I give back to future students and what people gave to me years ago?” That's the whole reason I went into education is to give back: to be that servant leader, to be that individual that wants to change a generation one soul at a time. And so that is just who I am. That's what I've done for the last 20-some-odd years: just wanting to do something in life that's going to make a difference. That's going to change a generation one child at a time.

What experiences do you think have shaped your approach to improving student outcomes as a superintendent?

When I first got into education, I was going to change every single child and every educator that comes in. Obviously, you can't do that, but really focusing and being intentional about who we are and what we're about, really focusing on: “How do you continue to improve a school district and how do you continue to improve every single child that walks across the stage? Did you provide them with the equipment that they need to be successful citizens of tomorrow?”

What stands out to you about Comal ISD?

First is the people. The people are exceptional here. Without a doubt, you come into a district, and the first thing that you're trying to gauge is, “What is the culture? What is the environment?” This is truly a family atmosphere. We truly have solid, solid educators. And I'm very prideful of that. And I think that's what's going to continue to keep the success that we already have in place as we move forward.

The second piece of that is the success of our students. You can look at just last year alone—and a lot of times people say, “Well, what [did we accomplish] in fine arts and athletics?” It is a big piece. So what are those extracurricular activities that we performed in? And did we do well? We did exceptionally well, and not just one campus, but every campus had a lot of crazy success stories. So that's one of the pluses that we can put a gold star on to say let's continue that, and let's get better and better and better. A lot of people compare us with our STAAR and testing, our state testing, and our end-of-course [exams] (EOC), which is true; we did very well in years past; we did very well this year. But there's a lot more to it than just, you know, the ABCs and one-two-threes.

What are some of your top goals for the district?

The first thing is alignment and getting processes and procedures in place. The second is we put together a collaborative vision, which was developed by 65 community members across our community, [a] very diverse group of individuals. [And] say where do you want us to go? What do you want it to look like for your district in the foreseeable future? I say your district and the reason I say that is we, not me. It's not John Chapman. He has all these ideas that he's going to bring in, but it's the taxpayers; it's their money; it's their children; it's their facilities. So what do you see and what do you want us to accomplish over the next five years? So they did put together a collaborative vision plan. We were very vulnerable to go, "Are we sure we really want them to put that input and tell us what it looks like?"

Where do you want to see the district in the next five years?

I want us to be seen as number one in every single category. Whether that is fine arts, it's athletics, whether that's a career in tech [education], whether it's safety and security, academics, facilities, growth. You name it, I want us to be the model school. I want us to be able to be that school that people are going to call [us] and go, "Tell me what you're doing." And we're going to share it. Because if it's good for the souls that we teach here, it should be good for those in San Marcos or those in Northside. It doesn't matter, but I want to share that as much as we can.

And it's not us going out there [to] go and "look at us, look at us." It has nothing to do with that. But it's us really making a difference. And the children that we educate, and if we can help others, other superintendents, other districts around us, I am more than willing to support that and bring that to the forefront.

So I have a lot of ideas and a lot of experience in that arena to do that. It's just now getting our people that are sitting in [board of trustees] seats today to have that same vision, which is the five-year plan, us all working together. And then how can we get better and better and better each and every year? So that's really my goal and expectation for at least the next five years.

What are the biggest challenges Comal ISD is currently facing?

For the most part, it's funding, and that's not so much internal; that's on the legislative side. It's on the state side and the struggles that we're having right now, being a fast growth district.

We're having to put all of our resources into people. So FTE is what we call them, full-time equivalents. Teachers, hiring those positions just to keep up with the growth. With inflation that's happened to us over the last three years, the state has not provided us with additional funds to keep up with that demand. And so as we all know, funding is critical for us to continue to move that needle.

And in our district, as you can see, about 80% [of the budget] is in people, 12% is in utilities, and the rest of the money is what I'm gonna call peanuts, and that's just the departments, etc. Until we can start getting a little more money to move that needle forward, we're having to work and be very creative within the box that we have. So funding is vital.

What are your main goals for Comal ISD heading into the 2023-24 school year?

First of all, improving the five-year plan, the CV plan. Second, is aligning that with our district one-year plan. So every year you have to have a one-year plan. It's called the district improvement plan, aligning that with the five-year plan.

And then having the stakeholders internal, meaning our people here—support services, teachers, principals—all in the line to be moving that needle forward and then being able to provide the processes, procedures to accomplish that. And then that'll set us up for the next four years after this year. So really we're building the foundation [for] '23-'24 [and] for the foreseeable future.

What else would you like the community to know?

The one only other thing that I think is important is we're going to always involve our community and get their voice in decisions we've made, and we've done that on already several cases. Something big is our five-year plan, which was huge. But something that's small, [but] still big [is] our dress code. So we had parent groups; we had teacher groups; we have principal groups. We even threw out a survey to our parents one more time and asked. We had over 5,000 responses on those pieces. So we're asking for input again; we're gonna enforce so we want to make sure that we're getting the input. So that's vital.