Tyler's new superintendent settling in

Published on Tuesday, 2 September 2014 00:09 - Written by Betty Waters, blw@tylerpaper.com

Tyler ISD’s new superintendent, Dr. Marty L. Crawford said he wants to guard against moving too fast, yet focus on improving academic achievement as he settles into his new position.

Crawford, 40, who comes to the district with 17 years experience at every level of public education, said the temptation for any new leadership coming into any organization is to want to speed things up.

“I think you have to resist that. I think you have to learn the organization, learn all facets of the community — the faith-based, the parents, business community, the legislative community, governance community and the student community,” Crawford said. “You have to learn their expectations and listen to them about what they think needs to occur, then investigate to see where you can make a difference.

“It’s OK for a school district, for any organization, to hit the reset button, so a fresh set of eyes can come in and take a look at things and do it in a way that you are untainted politically, socially, economically.”

On the other side of trying to make sure he is not going to be in a hurry-up mode, Crawford said, is a big challenge he sees of how the district is going to improve academic achievement.

“I think we’ve got some great room for improvement; I’m excited about that,” Crawford said.

The district needs to use results from state testing of students and other data to assess progress and struggles.

“We need to use that data to our advantage so that we can improve our academic achievement for each and every individual kid, not just a group of kids,” Crawford said.

A challenge also is going to be examining the question of whether the district is getting the most out of high achieving students and are they getting the most out of the district that they possibly can, Crawford said.

The biggest academic challenge is to get better in bilingual instruction and all instructional mechanics districtwide, Crawford said.

As well as serving English students, the district has to improve in serving economically disadvantaged students, Hispanic and Latino bilingual students, the superintendent said, observing that school districts in East Texas have not prepared for them as well as other parts of the state.

“That’s something we are going to be working fast and furious on because these kids only get one shot at their public education experience,” Crawford said. “We’ve got to work hard on the achievement gap between all of our ethnic students and our English students. We’ve got to do that without hindering any successful programs that we have.”

Another thrust will be early educational opportunities, an initiative already in Tyler ISD’s strategic plan.

“I am a big proponent of universal prekindergarten. We only have a smidgeon of offerings here in Tyler ISD for prekindergarten, but we’ve got to have a robust prekindergarten in the district,” Crawford said.

Outside the district, he said groups, such as The Salvation Army and a lot of churches, provide tutorial services.

“We need to ramp those up if we are going to truly make this a community effort,” Crawford said.

“The reason why that is so important is we are talking about long-term sustainability of not only Tyler ISD, but the Tyler work force and the Smith County work force, because we have a lot of kids who either graduate from Tyler ISD and immediately go into the work force or they go to college and return to Tyler and East Texas to work.”

While the district needs to invest in that effort, Crawford said, it needs partnerships from other entities such as cities, the community, businesses, faith-based organizations and higher education institutions.

“I think that partnership and that synergy is going to be extremely important to the success of the Tyler ISD program,” Crawford said.

“There is a lot of talent in the school district already, both with the staff and with our students, and getting those folks targeted in the right direction is going to be probably my first priority. I want to see what programs we have in place, which ones are being successful and which ones need to go away.”

At the top of his list of things to do, Crawford said, is not only overseeing completion of major Tyler ISD construction projects but working to implement rigorous programs in the new facilities, such as the new Three Lakes Middle School, the Career and Technology Education Center and the early college high school.

The first few weeks of school, Crawford said he will meet as many people as he can and talk with “key folks,” such as school board members and central office personnel and at the same time get out in the community to meet people.

Crawford considers himself a personable, approachable person.

“I may not have every answer for every question, but I will listen to anyone and everyone. I will get them connected with someone in the school district that can help them to the best of our ability,” he said.

Crawford also described himself as a career educator who has always been involved in education in some fashion, as the child of an educator, a student in public education, a teacher, a substitute teacher, a principal and a superintendent. He even spent a few summers as a kid working in grounds and maintenance for a school district.

Because his roots extend deep into East Texas, Crawford said he understands the region and the East Texas and Tyler way of doing things.

“I’m not one of these guys that’s looking for a two-year stint and then to leave Tyler. I really want to make a go of this. … I don’t want to move again anytime soon,” Crawford said. “I understand they want some stability in Tyler, and I’m going to do everything I can to provide that.”

Crawford acknowledged that his staying here depends on his job performance and the school board being pleased with him.

He came to Tyler ISD from West ISD where he was superintendent about five years. West has about 1,400 students compared to Tyler ISD’s enrollment of about 17,000 students.

But Crawford pointed out he also has worked in other positions in the much larger Dallas ISD, Highland Park, Oklahoma City schools and Hurst-Bedford-Euless ISD. In Dallas ISD, he served on high-level district committees.

His prior experiences and being superintendent in a district the size of West, Crawford said, gave him an understanding of the day-to-day operations of a school district on an acute level — transportation, food service, finance, curriculum, instruction and general leadership.

Crawford also oversaw West ISD’s recovery from a fertilizer plant explosion that destroyed much of the town, including three of the district’s four campuses. To get students back into school quickly, West ISD partnered with neighboring Conley ISD to use some of their vacant facilities for the seventh through 12th grades. Other school districts provided additional resources, such as portable classrooms.

Crawford said he likes the challenge that being a superintendent provides.

“It’s the scale and the scope of it that intrigue me,” he said. “You have such a wide array of responsibility that keeps me busy.”

“There’s a lot of appealing things about the superintendency that are still at the core of the mission of public education, and that’s student success. It’s still about teaching and learning. It’s still about academic achievement. It’s still about student success and the student experience. You can influence that on a much greater scale in the superintendency.”

Although born in the small town of Post near Lubbock in West Texas, Crawford and his family moved to Lindale in East Texas when he was 2, then moved to Carthage and eventually to Grand Prairie, where he graduated from high school.

Crawford earned a Bachelor of Science in education from Baylor University, played in minor league baseball a couple of years and started his education career primarily as a history teacher in Oklahoma City public schools. During that time, he received a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Oklahoma.

Then he taught in Highland Park and later Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD, where he earned principal certification. Crawford moved into educational administration upon becoming an assistant principal and then principal of Hillcrest High School in Dallas ISD.

“The principalship is one of the toughest jobs in education because there are so many things you have to orchestrate. I liked the challenge of moving into administration but at the same time still getting to be very involved with students and making a difference in their lives and still working with parents and teaching staff,” Crawford said.

During that time, he earned superintendent certification and a doctorate at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Being at Hillcrest was “a very diverse experience,” Crawford said. The school had students from 65 countries that spoke up to 30 languages and represented diverse religions, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

“It was truly a culturally diverse environment that was academically successful and very aggressive academically,” Crawford said. “That’s where I truly understood that kids, given the right opportunity, can achieve anything, regardless of their socio-economic status and their background. It’s all driven by teaching staff.”

Crawford said he loves East Texas and often came to Tyler growing up. When the Tyler ISD superintendent position opened up, Crawford said he took a hard look at it, knew that there are a lot of challenges here and looked at his background to see whether that might be a fit.

He decided he is suited to fill the position and is familiar because of his experience in Dallas and HEB ISD with the academic achievement challenges currently and ahead of the district, especially dealing with a diverse population, including traditionally underserved students, economically disadvantaged students and high-achieving students.

“I’m very comfortable with the demographics that we serve. I’m very comfortable with the expectations and traditions of East Texas and the community needs of East Texas. They were all available in Tyler ISD and that’s why I wanted to come to Tyler,” Crawford said.