FISD Superintendent, Dr. Waldrip – Teachers’ Burning Questions

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As a teacher with twelve years’ experience, I cherish any opportunity to speak with decision makers at the local and state level and share what I’ve learned. I want to ensure that leaders never forget how high-level decisions impact the day-to-day for teachers and students in the classroom.

New FISD Superintendent Dr. Waldrip was gracious enough to sit down with me for an hour, just one week after moving into his office. He’s in the process of selling his home in Coppell, and making his way back to Frisco. Last week, Lifestyle Frisco shared part 1 of our interview, which focused on getting to know Dr. Waldrip and his perspective about the current state of FISD. The remainder of our interview was focused on teachers’ questions about everything from compensation and budgets, to testing policies.

Dr. Mike Waldrip

I polled colleagues near and far about their questions and concerns with the education system. I felt confident that Dr. Waldrip would answer our questions without hesitation, and I wasn’t disappointed. His message to teachers fosters a solid start to the 2017-2018 school year. I look forward to continued progress in Frisco ISD.

Lifestyle Frisco:  Many teachers are concerned that the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) may eventually be linked to the idea of tying performance to compensation.  What is your view on tying the two together?

Dr. Mike Waldrip:  To be honest, I don’t know where T-TESS and the State of Texas are going with that, but I know this has always been a big push – to do incentive pay for teachers. However, if you look at the research, these kinds of things have never been productive and they have never provided the outcomes they have been touted to provide. In fact, most times they end up having a negative impact on school climate and teacher performance.

LsF:  Something that has been brought up time and time again is the size of the administrative staff in FISD. Even we teachers don’t understand the role of many people or why they are necessary.

Dr. MW:  Maybe that’s part of transparency and something that we need to improve on as a district. Make sure everyone understands what the role of every single employee is. As an example, we had six grounds crews that took care of mowing and edging and part of the cutbacks were to reduce the grounds crews to four. We are already receiving communication from community members about the appearance of our grounds simply because those four crews cannot mow at the frequency people were used to. You could’ve asked the question, ‘do we need six grounds crews?’ and clearly we did to keep up with the work. It’s not for a lack of effort, but they just can’t keep up with it.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. When you pull something out and it leaves a void, sometimes you find out how important that particular thing was. I think there’s a better way to communicate the value of each and every employee in the district.

In comparison to the private sector, we run extremely lean in management. We run extremely lean everywhere, quite frankly. Ask our teachers about the larger class sizes. We need to get better at communicating our story for people who don’t understand what we do and how we do it.

Writer’s Edit: At this point in the interview, Dr. Waldrip and I spoke on rising insurance rates and stagnant paychecks for teachers (even with the 2% raise and Senate Bill 19, which mandates a $1,000 raise for Texas teachers). He expressed an understanding of the importance of teacher retention and how it relates to pay; however, his response applied more to the previously unfunded mandate portion of Senate Bill 19, which as of publishing time, looks to be funded, if approved by the House.

LsF:  I’m going to ask what every high school teacher talks about… At any point are we going to bring back semester exams or final exams? Our students report back time and time again that they weren’t prepared by us for these sort of all-encompassing assessments.

Dr. MW:  I remember when we decided not to have them years ago. I’m sure at any point all of those things are up for discussion.

LsF:  Or the retesting policy?

Dr. MW:  Sure. I mean all policies are reviewed every year and I think most everyone is in agreement that if there is a good justification for doing something, we will certainly go in and modify the policy.

LsF:  I know we have the infamous A-F rating policy right now. We fared fine and “Met Standard,” but what do you see coming from this?

Dr. MW:  I don’t put a lot of stock in the A-F rating system simply because it tells a very narrow story of what our school district is doing. If we do well with it, good, but there are a lot of other ways to measure how well we’re doing as a school district. It’s more than 50% reliant on the STAAR test, which is a one time, one shot deal; I just can’t believe that it tells the whole story of any school district. There’s so much more.

LsF:  Is there anything for which you want to hit the ground running in FISD?

Dr. MW:  I want to know what the important, urgent issues are that need attention and then I want us to get going on things that are important, but not urgent. I don’t for one second think that I can come in here and know exactly what I need to do. The biggest thing I need to do over the next one hundred days is familiarizing myself with everything that’s going on in the District, to develop a comprehensive plan of action on how we move forward. Because I don’t think I can come forward with a detailed plan without gathering input from staff, teachers, and community.

Of course, we’re also waiting on the Legislature to finalize their things and we’ll have to react to whatever comes out of that in the next few weeks.

LsF:  So how do you plan to stay connected with what’s happening here in FISD?

Dr. MW:  I plan to continue the advisory committees (such as the Student Advisory Committee) that superintendents have met within the past. I think that’s how you get student input and you stay connected with your student body. The same goes for the teacher committees. This is how you stay connected and hear feedback. Teachers need that face-time to share campus thoughts and ideas directly with the superintendent. As much as I can I want to be out in the district on the campuses, but it’s a monumental task. Just to get out and see what’s going on personally as a superintendent is important so I’m going to place a lot emphasis on that as much as I can — to get out and about in the district.

LsF:  I can’t leave you without asking about balance in our district regarding fine arts.

Dr. MW:  The arts are just as important as anything else we do. I think anything we can do to improve our programs is great. That kind of experience is vital. Academics, art, athletics, band, choir, orchestra, drill team… Pick anything. They’re all valuable in and of themselves and part of that comprehensive education that we offer our kids. They all contribute things that the others don’t. Everything is important in its own way and I’ve always felt that way even though I can’t draw, sing, or anything else – I admire those who do.

LsF:  No pressure, but do you have a general message to the teachers that I can share?

Dr. MW:  I plan to share this at convocation, but… Don’t forget why we got into this business. There are too many positive things happening in this district to focus on the negative. We all got into this because we wanted to work with kids and give them that leg up they need to do what they want to do with their lives. Let’s focus on the positive and what we can do for our kids and colleagues to make it a positive experience for everybody. Don Meyer always said that regardless of what’s going on around you, you can only control two things: your attitude and effort. There may have never been wiser words spoken than that right there. You can change the whole climate of your classroom just by having a good attitude. You are going to be the best part of some kid’s day.