(Seguin) -- Seguin ISD Superintendent Matthew Gutierrez is further explaining his views on the current state of the district, and how the district is working with the community to map out plans for the district's future.
Dr. Gutierrez recently talked with the Seguin Daily News and radio station KWED about his inaugural "State of the District" address held last Monday at Seguin High School. The address covered a great deal of ground. It focused on his baseline assessment of the district, the current work being done in local classrooms, and the process that's been started to develop a strategic plan for district.
Gutierrez says prior to coming to Seguin he had heard some things about the perceived problems occurring in Seguin ISD classrooms. He says once he got the chance to actually witness the instruction and learning taking place, he was pleased to see the level of engagement between teachers and students.
"What I found when I went into our schools, and interacted with kids -- was that it did not match what was I was hearing (versus) what I see in our classrooms every day. Day in and day out, our teachers are dedicated and are working really hard to provide quality education to our students. I see students, who are very eager to learn. Like I said last (Monday) night, (they are) really thirsty for knowledge, and the kids are on task. And (there's) this perception that there are a lot of discipline problems. There are a lot of discipline problems every where you go. I don't see (it). In fact, one school I recently went into (was) elementary. I went to every single classroom and did not see one discipline issue at all," said Gutierrez.
The quality of instruction was not only better than what he had originally heard, but he says, in some cases, there is exceptional work being done.
"There are a lot of (positive) things that I see in addition to walking into schools. But what teachers and what principals are sharing, via social media, are innovative projects, hands on lessons, and students facilitating the learning. Not to say there's not work to be done, any district there's work to be done. We're looking at ways we can increase the rigor of our lessons, but I'm proud and I've been pleased in what I've seen as I've visited campuses," said Gutierrez.
The early part of Gutierrez's state of the district address focused on his 90-day entry plan into the district. The 90-day plan is something that was created by Gutierrez before he was hired this summer. He admits that it was done in isolation and that it was an ambitious plan. But he says it has served them well over his first few months on the job. It was officially day 77 of the plan when the State of the District address was given last week. Gutierrez pointed to a number of initiatives that have paid off right away for the district.
"I have to say that the one that (comes to mind) would be the task forces and the progress that they've made in such a short time. The strong level of interest that there was from the community to participate. Of course there were limited spots, but those teams have already started looking at accountability data, reading articles, researching and trying to understand what our challenges are, as well as trying to understand the compliance pieces are that come to us from the state. Because there are certain things (that are required). There may be some ideas that people on the task force have, but there are things that we can't do, due to compliance. There's a lot of learning that's happening with those specific programs," said Gutierrez.
The plan was described as "overly ambitious" by some, but Gutierrez says he felt like they needed to move as quickly and responsibly as possible.
"You don't have a lot of time to waste when we're talking about students. You only get one shot at fifth grade or one shot at eighth grade, and I felt like there was a strong sense of urgency. Yes, there was a lot of work that happened within that plan, but it's all about making sure that we're addressing the needs of our diverse student population within Seguin ISD," said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez used the address to also lay out the process that's currently underway to move the district towards the creation of a strategic plan, which will serve as the guiding document for the district as it makes decisions about the future.
After the presentation, several community members asked questions about specific concerns that they had for the district. Questions ranged from things like "why do we struggle academically" to "how do we better align the district's CTE programs with the jobs that are available now in Seguin." Guiterrez answered in broad terms to most of the questions, and didn't offer much on specifics. He says that's because those questions will be largely addressed by the process that will eventually lead to a more comprehensive, strategic plan by early 2018.
"A lot of those components are going to -- I feel confident that they're going to -- be part of that comprehensive plan that's really going to guide the work in the district for the next three to five years, beginning next school year. It is a process that is not developed by the superintendent alone or by administration alone. It's a process that started back in October, really kind of kicking off with the key communicators and attaining feedback from key communicators. That following week, really working with teacher focus groups in a safe way to get some honest feedback from them, (and) attaining feedback from our student advisory team. Then (also) holding the community forums to garner additional feedback and having open and honest conversations about where the district is, and where the district has been. So taking all of that, putting it together to share with the 40 or so individuals, who are going to participate in a two-day retreat on December the 11th and 12th, to really dig in and do the work to create mission, vision, core belief (statements), and develop the goals that we're going to have that are going to drive us the next several years," said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez says that the Seguin ISD, over the years, appears to have gotten good at identifying problems, but he says too often there didn't appear to be real solutions discovered or implemented by the district or the community. He says he trusts that this new process will produce different results for the district.
"What we're going to be able to do, is really focus on those critical areas that are identified in December by that committee and have a document in place that's going to be the focal point of all decisions that are made by administration and by our board of trustees over the coarse of the next few years. What I hope to accomplish through the 90 day plan is (to) kind of use that as a model of what is to come through a strategic plan, and having a document that wasn't just going to look pretty on paper and be available on a web site. But with the strategic plan, it's going to be something that we are all going to be familiar with. My hope is that the community-at-large and the district community will know what our vision is, will know what our mission is, will know by heart those core values. My hope in addition to that is we'll have that continuity here within central admin., because there has been challenges with (the) support that is coming from the instructional team, because there has been a high level of turnover. My hope is that we'll have the same people in place to lead those efforts within that strategic plan in the next three to five years," said Gutierrez.
It's not clear if the strategic plan will call for a three year or a five year strategy. Gutierrez says that will ultimately be determined by those who work to develop the plan. He says it will include benchmarks that can be measured, so that the district and the community can track the progress being made.
Gutierrez says last week's "State of the District" address was a first for the district, but he says he hopes to make it a regular practice for the Seguin ISD. He says they will be looking for other community partners to host future events.