Eric Wright began Jan 1. as Hays CISD’s newest superintendent. Wright was recently the superintendent of Fredericksburg ISD. An alum of Stephen F. Austin State University, Wright said he is ready to improve HCISD’s foundation of education.
Nearly a month into serving as superintendent, what would you say is Hays CISD’s strength?
We have some really great people here, and I have been impressed with the career and technology education program. I think we are doing a good job of preparing students for the workforce. I think we are even gearing up to add more certification courses, so students can be workforce prepared. We also have pockets of excellence. We have some outstanding teachers and leaders in the district. We also have an awesome support staff. One thing that I’ve noticed [while] touring the 24 campuses [is] the custodians do an outstanding job of up-keeping our buildings, as do our maintenance people.
What are HCISD’s weaknesses that you would like to address first?
We are kind of underperforming academically. We need to address student achievement starting at the foundational level. I think too many of our kids aren’t on grade level as far as reading is concerned. I really want to address making sure our kids can read by the time they exit third grade. That’s so crucial. Foundationally, I’m targeting that, and moving forward, I want find out what every kid’s strengths and weaknesses are so we can target those.
The Texas Education Agency placed two HCISD schools on its ‘needs improvements’ list. How will you improve that?
What I’ve discovered is that we have a lot of different campuses that follow a lot of different philosophies. I want to bring to the table my philosophies and make sure we implement best practices as far as reading is concerned. I want to make sure that we have a good blend of balanced literacy and we also implement phonics across the board, so that kids, especially our english language learners, have an opportunity to learn the phonetic base side of things and then also really increase their vocabulary skills. I found that we’ve—in some instances—we haven’t targeted phonics as much. Some campuses are doing it, and some are not, and I would want to see that systemically be put into place.
How are you getting to know the HCISD community?
Lots of meetings. I’ve had lots of one-on-ones with different people in the community. I’m starting to branch out to different community events. My board members are inviting people to meet me. Also, now that I’ve had an opportunity to visit all the campuses, I have met a lot of people, been to a few athletics events and been to the education foundation board meeting.
With Hays County constantly growing, what plans do you have to make sure there are enough facilities, teachers and staff to accommodate growth?
It is just a continual process. We work with the demographers and the builders and the architects in the area and try to “guesstimate” how many kids that will be coming in. We meet with the community, and every couple of years we have a bond election to address the facility needs to accommodate the growth. We have good systems in place. It’s just a matter of communicating with all the stakeholders—so they are aware of growth, so they are not surprised when we have a bond issued, and hopefully, they’ll support us moving forward so that we can have the facilities to accommodate that growth.
Do you have a plan to increase the number of bilingual teachers?
In previous districts, I’ve started a grow-your-own [bilingual] program, where we started actually in the high schools and with paraprofessionals in the district and we created a pathway for them to become certified. We really recruited those people because they already had ties to the district. They already have housing, so it’s easier for them to be involved in the system. Typically, I’ve found in my 15 years of being a superintendent, it’s much easier to grow your own and recruit from within then it is from [the outside] because it’s difficult with such a shortage right now. A lot of times, people that are bilingual will want to be in a certain community. So if there is a way that you could develop [a bilingual program] in your own community, that’s the best way to do it in my opinion.
What are your views on extracurricular activities and how they should be implemented?
One of things that I have always promoted is if we’re going to do something, we are going to do it well. I want to be competitive. I don’t want to be doing something just to be doing it, but at the same time I feel that extracurriculars are vital to the overall well-rounded education of each kid. If they are involved in at least one extracurricular then they fill part of a group that is larger than themselves. It’s a draw for their attendance. They’ll want to come to school if they are having success in their extracurricular. No matter what extracurricular that they’re skilled in, I would like for them to participate in it, and I’d like to get that the number up obviously to 100 percent [participation], but that’s probably not realistic because a lot of kids have to work to support their families. But if we can get that number in the neighborhood of 80-85 percent [participation] then I think that really strengthens the kids’ overall experience.
HCISD has a strong career development program, but would you say the same about the college development program?
I think there needs to be balance between the two [programs]. It’s important every kid participates in career and technology education courses no matter if they’re a straight college-bound person or not because those skills that they learn will be utilized in future life, whether it’s maintaining their own place where they live or working in a job that will help pay for college itself. I always encourage every kid to go down a path. For example, if a kid wants to go down a medical path then why not get a certification as a certified nursing assistant or a medical assistant or phlebotomist that can help pay the bills, and if you want to become a nurse or a doctor then you have related work experience that will help you pay the bills for college. I don’t want kids to get into major debt and have to pay for it for the rest of their lives.
How do you want to address public input and make sure parents feel involved?
We have the Let’s Talk medium, and a lot of people will address their concerns that way, but I would just urge them to direct their concerns to their campus principal and then in turn they can relay that information to me and then we will publicize through [the communication] office initiatives that we will put into place moving forward.
Are you a hands-on leader or a delegator?
A combination of both. Sometimes you have to be hands on. Sometimes you have to delegate [tasks]. It all just depends. If I feel like it’s one of my better skills then I’ll probably lead, and if it something I’m not, I’ll delegate. As large as this district is, you have to count on the team to make sure you get things done.
What’s something you want the community to know about you?
I will listen to their concerns, and [HCISD will] try to make decisions always made on the premise of what’s best for kids. I find that I like being out and visible, so I won’t be inside this office all day, every day. I’ll be out seeing what’s happening. If there are initiatives or programs that we have in place, I want to witness firsthand the success of those programs. I want to see it for myself instead of just listening to what people say. I do like to be part of the process. I like to be visible. I like to be hands on. I do have an open-door policy as well, as long as people go through the proper chain of command.