Part 5 – A new superintendent brings new views, and new energy
By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
Fifth in a series
SCOTT SHEPPARD’S bookshelf isn’t a typical school superintendent’s bookshelf. It’s lined with books right out of the best seller list on leadership, team building and inspiration.
And when he starts talking about rebuilding the Huntsville Independent School District, he doesn’t do with miles and miles of education-speak.
He talks about good people, trust and focus.
He isn’t looking back at the “F” the Texas Education Association gave the district in its recent accountability report. He isn’t ducking the reality of problems facing the district, but he’s matter-of-fact when he says the community needs to vote that report as “where we have been, not where we are going. That rating occurred before I got here and before a lot of our new principals and leaders arrived.”
It’s a Friday, the day of the Hornets’ first football scrimmage against another school so he’s wearing his Hornet golf shirt. He’s it all covered on Friday nights. He played sports and he started his education career as a band director. He still plays trumpet and on the side, judges school music competitions.
His approach and demeanor offer up energy and a view to the future. The books on his shelf? A lot of them have to do with change and how you manage it, with the emphasis on people.
The message of the “F?”
“What it tells me is that it took years of decline to get where we are. Our rating is really not an outlier when you look at the state’s overall success or failure rate in the accountability system.”
In other words, Huntsville does not stand that far outside others around the state in terms of where it is. The report shows a lot of school districts suffering low scores. It also is skewed because of all the districts and campuses that were given waivers from sending in data because of Hurricane Harvey. A message? Sure. A total condemnation of a district? Not to Sheppard.
SHEPPARD SAYS HIS approach starts with culture – how those inside the district live, relate to each other and the values they share.
His culture is based on the writings of Jon Gordon’s “Five Ways to Think Like a Champion.” Gordon, who began his career as an educator, now is an author and speaker who also has consulted with a variety of sports teams, businesses and organizations on culture and development.
Sheppard, at the faculty and staff convocation before the start of the current school year, shared Gordon’s message, but not as a “motto.”
“This is our philosophy and our guiding practice from now on, for kids, adults and our community. Jon says champions think and act differently and we are using that in our daily language.”
Gordon’s ways a champion thinks are:
- Champions expect to win– When they walk on the court, onto the field, into a meeting or into a classroom, they expect to win. In fact, they are surprised when they don’t. They expect success and their positive beliefs often lead to positive actions and outcomes. They win in their mind first, then they win in the hearts and minds of their customers, students or fans;
- Champions celebrate the small wins– By celebrating the small wins champions gain the confidence to go after the big wins. Big wins and big success happen through the accumulation of many small victories;
- Champions don’t make excuses when they don’t win -They don’t focus on the faults of others. They focus on what they can do better. They see mistakes and defeats as opportunities for growth – they become wiser and better;
- Champions focus on what they get to do, not what they have to do – They see their life and work as a gift, not an obligation. They know that if they want to achieve a certain outcome they must commit to and appreciate the process. They may not love every minute of their journey but their attitude and will helps them develop their skill; and finally,
- Champions believe they will experience more wins in the future B– Their faith is greater than their fears. Their positive energy greater than the chorus of negativity.
SO MUCH FORthe “F.”
Sheppard comes to Huntsville with an East Texas background. from a chain of schools that did not get F grades, and in fact one that scored an A. He grew up Grove, got his bachelor’s from Lamar University and started out as band director in Jasper.
From there he went to Kirbyville as a principal, on to Katy where he held principalships, then Cyprus-Fairbanks. At Cy-Fair, with 91 campuses and 116,000 students, he was associate superintendent and oversaw 35 secondary principals. Along the way he got a master’s degree from Stephen F. Austin and a doctorate from Texas A&M University.
His wife, Donna, also is in education and is a Sam Houston State University graduate. Her sister lives in Elkins Lake where they have purchased a home. So, Huntsville is not new to the Sheppards.
What has he learned from his stops along the way to HISD? Mainly the realization that good people do good things. So, in terms of leadership he has reached back into his past to bring some of those good leaders on board.
Next – People and Buildings and….Customer Service?
Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-293-0293.