Addressing an audience of 200 people at Spring ISD’s inaugural State of the District on Wednesday, Superintendent Rodney E. Watson urged community leaders, business partners, elected officials and district employees to partner with the district as it creates more opportunities and choice for students and families.
“In 2015, I stood before many of you all and asked you to believe in Spring,” Watson said. “I asked you to envision where this community and this district could go. Today, hopefully you realize that your belief in Spring ISD has not gone to waste.”
The event, the first of its kind for Spring ISD, marked the announcement of several new initiatives for the district, including plans to offer a Spanish dual-language program in three elementary schools this fall, a new specialty program at Bailey Middle School, the development of a new middle school that will serve as a military prep academy, and an innovative partnership with Emerge, a Houston-based college readiness program that works with high-potential students from underserved communities who want to attend selective colleges and universities.
“Emerge helps students develop college application skills and interview skills, as well as taking them to visit Ivy League schools,” said Watson, noting that the program was fully funded by a donor. “Emerge expands students’ horizons, then helps them reach those horizons.”
Watson’s address on Wednesday at Southwestern Energy, located in an area that will soon see the addition of 1,600 Exxon Mobil Corp. employees, comes as the district reaches the mid-point of its five-year strategic plan, Every Child 2020. During the breakfast event, Watson outlined key accomplishments since the launch of the plan in May 2015, less than a year after he was named to the district’s top job.
“We’ve done a lot of work, beginning in the first years with the development of a lot of new systems, structures, processes and procedures,” Watson said. “This year, the third year of our strategic plan, we’re looking at getting a return on that.”
Watson detailed some of that growth during his presentation, including improved results on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). The district, Watson said, has seen gains in students’ math and science scores, while also bucking a statewide downward trend by recording small gains in third-grade reading scores. Other areas of marked improvement noted by Watson included college readiness; the expansion of prekindergarten and early childhood programs; a newly refocused and strengthened literacy plan; higher teacher salaries; and significant gains in the area of family and community engagement, including both volunteers and volunteer hours spent in Spring ISD schools.
“We want our community, as well as our families, inside of our schools,” Watson said. “We know that we can’t do it by ourselves, and one way to get support is to open the doors, to make sure our parents feel welcome enough to come in and be engaged in what’s going on.”
One of the district’s biggest milestones since the launch of its strategic plan came in November 2016, when area voters approved passage of a $330 million bond to support facility, technology, and safety and security improvements across the district. On Wednesday, Watson showed off renderings for several new facilities, including a replacement campus for Roberson Middle School, as well as a new Middle School in the Northgate Crossing area, both set to open in the third quarter of 2019. He also lauded expanded transportation offerings and a range of technology improvements, such as the purchase of more than 8,000 laptops and Chromebooks that are now serving students and teachers in district classrooms, thanks to community support of the bond.
Despite all the positive growth and change, Watson emphasized that the district still has much work to do.
“We’re focused on the road ahead and what needs to be accomplished,” he said. “We’re taking those specific steps necessary to ensure that our teachers have the resources they need, that they have the training they need, and that our students are getting the instruction they need.”
During his remarks, the superintendent thanked all those who had helped make the gathering possible, including Southwestern Energy, which hosted the event and the Spring ISD Education Foundation, which sponsored the gathering.
“We believe in our students in Spring ISD,” said Board of Trustees President Rhonda Newhouse. “We believe that when we truly engage them and support them in their learning, then they can soar like eagles.”
Attendees were greeted by student performances, including the Lewis Elementary School choir and the Mustang Madrigal Minstrels from Westfield High School. Cadets from Spring High School’s Navy JROTC unit were also on hand to present the colors and lead the recitation of the U.S. and Texas pledges.
Also on hand to speak to the crowd were Dekaney High School students Trevonte Mitchell and Tierra Edmonds, who introduced the superintendent, spoke about their own experiences as students in the district, and discussed the event’s broader purpose.
“It’s about updating members of the community about what the district is doing,” Mitchell said. “It’s also about giving them an inside look at the people, passion and purpose that make it possible for teachers and students to be successful.”
Among elected officials at the event were representatives from the offices of State Senator Paul Bettencourt, State Representative Jarvis Johnson, and Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. State Representative Valoree Swanson, whose district includes portions of Spring ISD, was in attendance, as was U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who joined Watson onstage following the keynote to offer a few words of encouragement to those in attendance.
“Sitting in my seat this morning,” Lee told the crowd, “I feel like I have run a marathon with Dr. Watson and Spring ISD, and I am no ways tired. I’m just excited.” Lee went on to speak about the positive effects public schools can have on communities and students’ lives, stressing that public schools continue to offer an important option and a valuable service through their broad educational mandate and commitment.
“There is no throwaway child,” Lee said. “Public school education is a door-opener.”
Watson concluded his own presentation by thanking all the attendees, inviting them once more to reflect on the people, passion and purpose that are pushing Spring ISD toward further growth and success.
“It goes back to asking, what is our purpose and where is it that we’re trying to go? We know that we cannot achieve our goals and reach our dreams without individuals much like you who are sitting in this audience,” he said. “We know that we can’t achieve our vision without great leaders in our schools, without great trustees, without great community members, without great teachers. We truly believe that if we focus more on people, tap into their passion, and help connect them to their purpose, then there’s nothing that we can’t do to achieve success.”