About eight months after former Superintendent Lance Hindt announced he would resign, Katy ISD has a new leader.
Armed with 26 years of public education experience, former KISD Deputy Superintendent Ken Gregorski is the CEO of the fast-growing, top-performing district with about 80,000 students, 9,000 employees and a $896 million budget. His contract was approved and signed Jan. 14, with a starting annual salary of $300,000.
All board members praised his leadership during meetings and expressed confidence he will continue the district’s Strategic Design Plan, which he and Hindt helped execute after community input and planning.
Gregorski said at the Jan. 14 meeting his focus will be to take care of all students and support teachers.
However, the search process that led to Gregorski as the lone candidate—which did not involve a search firm or community input and only allowed KISD employees to apply—appears to have increased discord among an already divided community healing from a grassroots effort to oust Hindt.
At December and November meetings, board members claimed others were carrying out their own agenda or not fully disclosing the search plan.
In particular, board members Rebecca Fox, Dawn Champagne and Susan Gesoff said community input should be used in the search process.
“How [can trust between the board and community]happen if we don’t even ask the community what it wants,” Champagne said at the Dec. 10 meeting. “That’s not how to build trust. You can’t demand trust. We have to earn trust.”
Butch Felkner, the director of Executive Search Services at Texas Association of School Boards, said school boards are not required to use community input.
KISD used focus groups and surveys to help hire Hindt in 2016. But Board President Courtney Doyle at the Dec. 10 meeting said she was reluctant to do this again. She said she did not expect opinions on the characteristics of a superintendent to change over two years. She also said she was hesitant to use community input because community members later forced Hindt out with various allegations, such as that he was a middle school bully in the 1970s.
“I love this community, I really do,” Doyle said at the Dec. 10 meeting. “This community put me here. … But where was that community when this was happening to him. I do have to question that.”
Coming together, moving forward
At open forums, many community members have urged the board to lead and overcome their differences.
“The board needs to work together,” KISD parent Melissa Crowder said in an interview. “Stop the name calling, the petty Facebook [posts].”
Fox urged Doyle at the end of the Dec. 17 meeting to share a plan to unite the board, such as team building or mediation activities. When asked how the board plans to move forward, Doyle said in an email the board, parents and community partners have a shared commitment to the district.
Gregorski said at the Jan. 14 meeting he is dedicated to leading the district and collaborating with all stakeholders to ensure educational excellence and highlight classroom successes.
“I’m committed to working with our community, our family, our schools to do what’s best for this district,” he said. “And I’m confident in working together in partnership.”
Boards usually choose superintendents based on their strong qualities, often in finance, curriculum or both, Felkner said.
“But they all want a superintendent to be someone that can meet and be with the public and get out of the office some and be out at events,” Felkner said.
Gerogia Strickland, who is the president of the Katy ISD Council of PTAs but spoke as a KISD parent, said in an interview she likes Gregoski and believes he has the best interests for the district. But Sean Dolan, the founder of grassroots organization A Better Legacy, is not as optimistic.
“If Gregorski would stand up and say he disapproved of Lance Hindt’s behavior, I would be more optimistic,” Dolan said in an interview.
Strickland admitted the community played a part in the board’s divisions.
“The community needs to reinforce their efforts on working together, and not helping on dividing the board,” she said “Trust the board to the job that they volunteered to do.”
Crowder also is confident in Gregorski but believes if the community wants to heal, it needs to move on from Hindt’s controversies by discussing their perspective and listening to others’ outlook.
“That was nine months ago,” she said. “Let’s move past it. Let’s have a conversation.”