Interview with Robert Sormani, Ed.D. - Associate Superintendent of Instruction and Innovation for the Hutto Independent School District on Educational Leadership
About Robert Sormani, Ed.D.: Robert Sormani is Associate Superintendent of Instruction and Innovation for the Hutto Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, a position he has held since 2017. In this role, Dr. Sormani oversees campus operations, program development, curriculum and instruction, student performance, and teacher and principal support across all schools within Hutto ISD. His expertise in curriculum and instructional innovation was and continues to be instrumental in helping school campuses adapt to the virtual learning mandated by COVID-19.
Prior to his current position as Associate Superintendent, Dr. Sormani was Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Manor ISD, and served as a Principal for Round Rock ISD for eight years. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in History, a Master’s in Educational Administration, and a Doctorate in Educational Administration, all from The University of Texas at Austin.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] May we have an overview of your role and responsibilities as Associate Superintendent of Instruction and Innovation for Hutto ISD? How do you develop, implement, and oversee innovative instructional programs and initiatives that support the over 9,100 students across all 11 schools in your district? Could you elaborate on both your typical short-term responsibilities as well as your long-term goals as Associate Superintendent?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] I have three major job responsibilities. First, I oversee all campus operations and the curriculum departments that support them. In one sense, I’m kind of like a chief operating officer for a business, where I try to make sure the district is humming along smoothly.
Second, I help various departments within the district coordinate with each other. Generally speaking, I’m the number-two person in the district, and part of the reason for that is to help ensure that the various departments work together and prioritize better. If there is a problem of practice that arises and involves multiple departments, I can draw in people from different departments—whether it is transportation, finance, human resources, or the campuses—and put them all in a room together so we can address the problem.
Third, my job involves innovation. Part of my role as an associate superintendent is to stay a few years ahead of where the campuses are currently at. For example, in my travels to different schools around the state, I noticed a new feature cropping up where people are building multipurpose common spaces. A superintendent from another district once showed me his remodeled multipurpose space. He told me, “This space is like a meeting room. Now look at it again, but only imagine that this is my e-sports arena in the evening when the club comes.” And I thought, “Wow, he’s right. It’s kind of built like an arena, and I wouldn’t have noticed it until now.” This got me thinking about how we could incorporate that into Hutto ISD’s schools–innovative multipurpose spaces that are truly designed to multitask.
These responsibilities are part of my role, and they translate into goals. I’m responsible for overseeing some of the common goals you hear about. Literacy, for example, is very important to me; we want to ensure that students are college and career ready when they leave. We have short- and long-term goals related to literacy, but I also have short and long-term goals related to innovative or new practices and projects within the district, whether those are initiated at the school board level, or just something that kind of bubbles up from the campus level.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] What are the student demographics within Hutto ISD, and how do these demographics impact the programs and policies that you and your team have developed and implemented to support Hutto ISD’s diverse student population and its unique needs? Could you explain the concepts of equality and equity and how they apply to the development of programs and education systems that allow all students to move forward?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] Let me start with equality and equity. This falls into the conversation of how to address disparities between different groups of students. For example, let’s say you have one third-grade student who is reading on a third-grade level, but you have another third-grade student who is reading on a kindergarten level. Handing both of them a third-grade book and saying, “Okay, let’s work on this” is equality. However, the student who is reading at a kindergarten level is going to get very frustrated very quickly because they are not able to read the third-grade book. But the students are equal – we gave them equal attention, equal resources, equal everything.
The reality is the kindergarten reader is never going to catch up unless they get a little extra time. Equity is about providing the resources for both children to move forward. I can hand a third-grade student a third-grade book that would challenge them while I sit down with the kindergarten student and work on a first-grade book that’s a little over their head but helps them get over the hump. This is not equal because I’m spending more time with the kid who is behind, but it’s more equitable because both those students are beginning to be able to move forward. This is the difference between equality and equity.
At the district level, I have all these different campuses and, interestingly, Hutto is pretty homogeneous. The schools aren’t that different from each other racially, ethnically, or in terms of economic advantage/disadvantage. Now, there is one school that’s a little bit of an outlier, so the question for me becomes, “What resources does that school need to be equitable, as opposed to being equal?” The simple solution is funding. We can give every school some-hundred-dollars per student to spend. This may be equal, but is that equitable when the principal at Veterans’ Hill has to buy some students backpacks every year because they don’t have them? To be equitable, we may have to give them more funding in order to make a difference because those students might come with more needs.
Now we can apply these concepts to another situation where you have students who have disparate levels of learning. The simple premise is that we want all our kids to read, be challenged, and to grow. This will mean different things for different students. So now you begin to have to make decisions: “How do we help different groups of students?”
For example, culture and ethnicity are factors at play when we seek to engage students. If you have a Latino student sitting in your classroom who is struggling to read and you’re having a hard time getting them invested, you might try some culturally responsive pedagogy. You might assign authors such as Gabriel Márquez or books from a Latin author where the students may relate better to and be more interested in that book. This will lead to them reading more, which will lead them to our ultimate goal of having all our kids be able to read and move forward. So this is where you might need to do things not equally, but a little bit differently, depending on what groups you’re working with.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] Could you explain the process of school and education program evaluation at the school, district, and county levels? How is student performance measured within Hutto ISD, and how is this data used to improve education programs and opportunities for students? How do these evaluations and assessments help to ensure equality and equity with regards to students’ experiences and learning outcomes in the classroom?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] I’m a point of connection between the Superintendent and the board governance level, and our schools’ campuses. As the Associate Superintendent, I have my feet in both worlds. In fact, I’m actually working on a data report for the school board for next week. At the macro level, the board is looking at, “Is the district overall moving in the direction that our community, through their school board members and elected members, want it to go?”
Our district and board have made it clear that there are particular data points that matter to them. In our district, we track math and reading for third, fifth, eighth, and tenth grade, and then college and career/military readiness indicators. The board also wants me to aggregate the data by different student groups because they want to see if our equity gaps are closing. By having me produce this report on a quarterly basis, I can show the superintendent all the data and answer questions about what we’re doing about it. This is how the board signals, “This is important to us. What do you need to make this happen because we’re offering it to you?”
Whenever I come to the board, like recently for the budget season, they want to know, “Is this going to help fix the things that we want fixed in the district?” If not, they don’t want to hear it. If it is, then that’s something that they’re going to approve because they control the district’s budget. So this gets translated into the work I do with principals and campuses. I’ll say, “We’re showing this data next week to the school board, and they’re not going to be real excited about this data point. What are we doing about it?” This then cycles down to the rest of the team, “Hey, we need to be paying attention to this.” The data could pinpoint specific issues or a particular campus that we want to focus on because it isn’t meeting our expectations. Or it could be something wrong across the district since something isn’t working if everybody’s not doing well.
The data can also show positive things where there has been a great amount of growth, and we’re excited about it. “What are we doing right, and how do we keep doing more of that?” Data is incredibly valuable for establishing what is working and where and how we can improve.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] What kinds of qualitative and quantitative data do you gather in order to determine the health of a particular school or whether you’re meeting those benchmarks? Is it primarily quantitative, like student scores, or is it qualitative, like teacher interviews? Or is it a mix of both?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] At the school board level, it is mostly quantitative data. There are annual stakeholder surveys to ask them how they’re feeling about various topics, which is qualitative data and gives some indication of customer satisfaction.
I was a campus principal for nine years, and I’ve been overseeing campuses for a while. So, I can gather a lot of qualitative data when I’m visiting a campus or when I’m talking with the principal and asking questions. I can get a good feel for, “Where are they confident? Where are they not confident?” Then you triangulate your qualitative data with the quantitative data–you match the qualitative data with the quantitative data to come up with a theory of action and you plan accordingly.
I was talking to a new principal this morning who has never been a principal before. I asked her, “Do you know how to tell when you have a curriculum alignment issue in a classroom?” And she replied, “No. I don’t really know.” I explained, “It’s pretty simple. If you walk into a classroom and it looks absolutely fantastic, but then you look at your data and your data is poor, that means the teacher knows how to teach, but they’re teaching the wrong stuff.” This is just an example of how you work with people on campus, especially with principals who tend to shy away from content that they don’t know a lot about. You can’t do that. You’re in charge of that.
Having experience being a principal is incredibly important. The principalship – and it’s hard to describe to people who’ve never been a principal before – is one of the more unique jobs out there. It’s hard. It’s a wonderful job. I loved being a principal. But wow, it can be something else.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] What are the most important elements of student engagement, and how do Hutto ISD’s schools help support and empower students in their learning?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] One of the things I noticed when I first came here is that our kids are so good. They would come into a classroom, and they’ll sit there and do anything you ask. It doesn’t mean they’re excited to be there though. And that, to me, was a problem in itself, because we want kids to be authentically engaged and excited about what they’re doing.
One of the things that we began working on, independent of the COVID-19 pandemic, is increasing the amount of technology and creating blended learning at different levels, especially at the secondary level where you can have students working independently. Students can control their own learning, such as pacing or topic, which would be a way of getting kids more engaged.
Research has shown that kids tend to work harder if they have some control over what they’re learning and how they’re learning. So, we start with engaging students by giving them some control over their learning. This also provides teachers with an opportunity to have students working independently using technology while another group is working with the teacher and another group is reading a book independently. Technology and student-controlled learning provide opportunities, especially at the secondary level, for teachers to do interventions that they hadn’t imagined before.
In a lot of ways, it’s nothing really innovative when you come down to it. First-grade teachers have been doing it for years. It is really about trying to get secondary teachers to envision themselves in different ways and using techniques other than whole-class teaching models or just giving everybody the same assignment while the teacher goes to work with a few kids. It is really about having technology help us have variation in what we do.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] How does educational technology achieve this variation? How do you gather data that helps inform teachers about what they need to do to optimally engage, support, and/or intellectually stimulate different students based on where they are at?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] Back in the old days, if I’m a sixth-grade reading teacher, I would sit down with my notebook and one student, and they would read to me. I’d do this one student at a time over two or three days to get a reading level. Now instead of me sitting in front of the student, I can have the computer help me judge the student’s reading level – as long as I can encourage the student to do their best on it. The computer will automatically aggregate it for me, and it can do all kinds of things to help me know, “What exactly is the problem that I’m dealing with here, as a teacher?”
You move from that to a blended learning situation, where I have some kids working at computers doing a diagnostic or working on a specific skill that a student is struggling with while I can work individually with another student. This way I can have that personal touch and ensure that the student is meeting their goals while another group of students is working on something that’s independent and on their grade level. Technology provides an efficiency in that regard, which we haven’t had in education in years past.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] What are Hutto ISD’s core values, and how have you and your team upheld these values through your management of all schools under your purview, including not only their fiscal and budgetary needs, but also teacher professional development, recruitment, and support? Furthermore, how do you as Associate Superintendent serve as liaison to local, state, and federal governments, and how much of your work involves implementing, evaluating, and improving education policy at the local level?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] I arrived at the district in November 2017, and the Superintendent got here about a month before me. It was a new leadership team. It all started with a strategic planning session over multiple meetings across several months with community board members and a lot of stakeholders. We developed a mission, a vision, and a set of values that we believe in that has remained the same ever since. There is really no desire to change those things. The school board then tries to base what it wants and what it’s asking for on those core beliefs, so that it matches the mission and vision of the district.
I can then translate our values for our principals. “If we have these ten values that we believe in, this is what it means when you’re a principal. For example, with our value, “Every decision should be made in the best interest of students,” how does that translate into the principal’s role and responsibilities? If it comes down to making a decision to help the little people or help the big people, you help the little people. That’s what we’re here for.
There are different political pulls on the school board and so it is a constant battle for all of us to maintain focus on those core beliefs. But they do help anchor the work we do, so I feel it’s important to have something like that.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] How did the COVID-19 pandemic and required quarantines of 2020 affect education programming within Hutto ISD? In addition, what kinds of education inequalities and inequities did the pandemic expose? In what ways did you and your education leadership team employ innovation and collaboration to ensure students from diverse backgrounds received quality and equitable education during those challenging times?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] For some context, we had already begun to embark on this idea of blended learning prior to the pandemic. We were incredibly lucky to have already put in an order for a massive amount of computer devices and technology before the pandemic lockdowns. So when a lot of districts were struggling to get access to devices, ours were all arriving.
On top of that, we had just finished upgrading all our internet infrastructure at all the schools, so our internet capabilities had greatly improved. I don’t know what we would have done if that hadn’t happened prior to COVID because I know a lot of other districts that couldn’t even get the equipment to do it even if they wanted to. So that was incredibly fortuitous. But I think part of the reason why we did these upgrades is due to our discussions about equity and kids having access to technology.
We were trying to make sure our kids could have access to technology as needed. It’s just that we didn’t realize how badly people were going to need it and that we were going to be sending it home with students instead of keeping it at the school due to the pandemic. In that regard, this particular inequity—access to the required technology to learn remotely–wasn’t exposed. What I think got exposed more than anything else is, when we began to come back to in-person learning, there was a very stark divide.
The majority of the kids who decided to stay virtual tended to be the students who were furthest behind. I don’t have a lot of good answers as to why. I could speculate as to why that is and how that came about. I’m not saying there weren’t people who really had medical issues and needed to stay home, and there were definitely people who were successful in virtual learning. But there is no doubt that a lot of my students who really needed to attend school in person decided to stay virtual. No matter what we tried, including reaching out to parents to explain this, we couldn’t bring them back. So, a lot of these kids are even further behind.
The other real negative effect that we’re still dealing with to this day is an epidemic, at least in Texas, of students using THC, vaping, and smoking. We did a quick little study. Almost 75% of the kids that we’ve caught doing it were all virtual learners the previous year. They didn’t come back when the other kids did. While I don’t want to overgeneralize, it makes me wonder if some of the kids were just hanging around at somebody’s house whose parents weren’t home and smoking because it seems that there’s such a strong correlation between smoking and virtual attendance. And once again, these are the kids who are furthest behind to begin with.
One of our biggest challenges right now is trying to help these 16-year- and 17-year-olds in high school who are really far behind to catch up because they’ve been virtual for almost two years. And so now they’re back, and they’re not feeling successful, and we’re not feeling very successful. While this is one of our big challenges moving into next year, I am very proud of our district and community.
On the positive side, we worked with our parents and principals throughout COVID-19 and the educational challenges it posed. I remember one family where one parent was an EMT and the other was a police officer. They said, “There is no way my child can get any work done during the school day according to your instructional plan.” So, we scratched our heads and said, “You know what? Just do it all on Saturday and Sunday. We’ll grade it all on Monday. The state makes us count you absent but we don’t care.”
This can happen because we gave our principals the autonomy to work with parents, and say, “I’ll do the work. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry about the rules. We’ll just figure something else out.” I think this bought us a lot of buy-in with the community, and we are all trying to work together to get through this. It wasn’t an easy process, but I think we came out less scathed than some people did.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] What key insights and skills did you gain during your enrollment in your Master’s degree and Ed.D. in Educational Administration? What was the topic of your doctoral dissertation, and did your research on this topic inform your future career goals and achievements? For current Ed.D. students who are considering their dissertation topic or working on their dissertation, what advice do you have for them in terms of getting the most out of this intensive research experience?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] I’ll start with the Master’s in Educational Administration, which was focused on the principalship. I think most importantly what I got out of that program are the leadership frameworks that you can apply to novel situations to help you with decision making. I think that’s so important in a business such as education, where you never know what you are going to get when you show up on campus. You are always faced with situations that reading a book or policy manual can’t prepare you for. You have to make quick judgments based on morals, ethics, values, and the data you have in front of you. Having developed and practiced with those frameworks was very valuable to me in that setting.
For the doctoral program, I divide it into two parts. The doctoral program prepared me to understand the inner workings and interconnectedness of a school district. I advise new administrators coming to the central office, “You have to move a lot slower than you did at a campus because at a campus when you make a change, you know what’s going to happen, you know how the dominoes fall, and you know all these people. At the central office level, there are ripple effects when you make a change.”
If you’re inexperienced, you won’t know how the change affects the technology department or payroll. You don’t realize the dominoes. Since all these departments don’t work together like a campus does, they won’t understand why you made that decision. You can have unintentional consequences, so you have to take more time to work with different groups to make sure that everybody is aware of the change and how it will happen. So, the doctoral classes help you understand the interconnectedness of an administration and how everything affects everything else.
My Ed.D. dissertation was on superintendent leadership in the field of special education. Special education has been a passion of mine for a long time. I was never a special educator, but I was always involved in special education from the beginning of my career as a teacher to now as an administrator. I decided to focus on that in terms of: How does the superintendent influence the outcomes of students with disabilities? And probably more directly, what is the superintendent’s role in working with the special education director and department to have strong student outcomes? Doctoral research and the dissertation helped me recognize the importance of communication.
What you talk about with your employees, special education or otherwise, really demonstrates what is important to you and what they’re going to talk to you about. In other words, what special education directors found out on the job is that most superintendents want to discuss money and legal problems. As a result, many special education directors think superintendents mainly care about legal problems and money. However, when you ask special education directors what they think is important, it is a totally different answer. My research helped me understand the power of what questions I ask when I walk into a room with other people, and how my position can influence their view of what’s important.
For the dissertation itself, I put my learning into two different categories. One is just the knowledge about the content—the subject of what I was researching. The other side of that is what I learned about organizations that can be applied to other content areas and other disciplines. When I looked at special education research, there was a lot of information about what superintendents thought of special ed directors and what they should be doing. There wasn’t a whole lot of information about special ed directors and what they thought superintendents should be doing for them to help them, and what special ed directors wanted from their superintendents.
So essentially my job was to find out how superintendents can better support their special ed directors, at least in the opinion of special ed directors. I had interviews with special ed directors at fairly large districts. In some smaller districts, special ed directors can sometimes wear different hats, but I wanted to get people who were purely special ed directors. I just asked them a few questions. I let them talk, and they just talked for an hour. I didn’t really end up asking questions, and I used a research design where the questions were open-ended intentionally. My job was to just keep them talking and from there begin to gather insights from those conversations, rather than coding for particular questions.
What was intriguing, though, is how often the special ed directors all came back to common themes. I didn’t have to do anything; they were coming up with the themes for me without me ever asking the question. All I had to do was ask, “What does your superintendent think is important for you?” They would all say, “Compliance and staying out of spending money in legal settings.” Then I’d ask the next question, “What do you wish your superintendent was asking about?” and then they were off to the races, and they would go on and on about instructional programs that they have, about human resource development of personnel, and various other topics.
It was fascinating, and it led me to two core insights. First, I began to realize that what I was really developing here was a set of interview questions for a superintendent who wanted to hire a special ed director, because the special ed directors I interviewed were saying what you need to know to be able to do this job and what you should be able to do. Second, if you’re overseeing a special ed director, I could literally hand them my dissertation and say, “Here’s what your special ed director really wants you to talk about, so ask these things every time you meet with them.”
I walked away with a good set of content knowledge. And lo and behold, I oversee the special ed department, and I’m probably one of the more knowledgeable district administrators overseeing the special ed department to the point where I could step in as the special ed director in an active capacity as needed.
The other big piece that I learned that’s really important to my position is that there are always things you can learn that you can take away and apply to other areas—common truths about organizations and leadership. For example, different districts like to structure their districts (i.e., who reports to whom and who meets with whom) in a lot of different ways. It really isn’t so important how you structure people and who answers to whom; it is important that key personnel who have common challenges have informal and formal opportunities to discuss those challenges.
An example is in one district, the special ed director told me, “I have absolutely no ability to impact special education students’ outcomes except by going to my boss’s boss.” They had to have the principal’s boss tell the principal that they need to make a change. This is a situation where this special ed director didn’t feel like they had the ability and authority to talk to a principal and work together to make the change. They felt that they had to go up and around.
Now that special ed director felt that the problem was an organizational issue. I walked away saying, “No, a lot of districts work that way. This to me is a culture and informal conversation structure issue, where there are two parts of the district that don’t work together and aren’t communicating well with each other, if at all. They see themselves as their own separate silos and are not willing to work towards a common goal when they are really united in their interests.” This then comes full circle to when I told you part of my job as Associate Superintendent is to ensure that all the departments in the district are working towards our district’s common goals.
I get everybody in a room together and say, “Here’s what we’re trying to accomplish. How do we make this happen? What do we need? What are the costs? Give me some parameters here.” What you end up with is the principal saying, “Okay, I understand what you’re trying to do. I need to block off that end of the hallway because you all are going to be doing construction.” The construction guy says, “I need x amount of dollars and I can remake those rooms, but what are you going to do with the kids?” The special ed director says, “You want this to happen? You need to find a place for the kids for x months.” Unlike the story where the special ed director had to go to another boss to reach the principal, we can solve our problem faster by getting everybody in the room together to problem solve.
One other big lesson that I learned was that a lot of the special ed directors felt that nobody wanted to hear from them except when there was bad news. The problem is that the only time the superintendent wants to hear from the special ed director is when something bad happened, and the only time the school board hears about the special ed department is when there is bad news. I love the one special ed director who was working closely with their superintendent, and they arranged that no matter what, four times a year the special ed director would present to the school board about all the wonderful things that were happening.
Crowding out the bad noise with the good stuff is not just for special ed. We try to make sure that we’re always communicating about the good things that are happening so that when the bad thing does happen, people don’t assume that is all that has been going on. There is a lot of good stuff that is happening on a daily basis, and it is even more important, given the past couple of years, to share the good things that are happening.
[OnlineEdDPrograms.com] Having worked in the public school arena for over 23 years and held leadership roles in public education for over a decade, how have you seen public education at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels evolve? What challenges do you see new education leaders facing in today’s rapidly changing education landscape? How do you advise these leaders best prepare for and meet these challenges?
[Dr. Robert Sormani] I think one of the biggest challenges we are seeing now is the teaching shortage. It is even more acute in Central Texas than other places because we have so many employers moving here due to the economy. There are just enough teachers to meet the increase in the number of kids entering the school system. However, you couple the large growth in enrollment with the unfortunate political attacks that our own state government makes on the teaching profession, and it constantly sows suspicion to the point where I actually spend portions of my time talking to community members saying, “No, we don’t teach critical race theory in the school system.” Yet they just insist that we are because they read that we do, and they assume that we’re hiding it somewhere. We really do spend time doing this. However, this exacerbates the teacher shortage because no teacher wants to be accused of doing something wrong when all they want to do is educate kids.
These are the big challenges that we face. And as a leader, my advice to everyone is that while it is easy to dismiss people who are coming at you for this reason or other, we have to engage with them; otherwise, all they are going to do is go back out in the community and spread more rumors. You actually have to actively engage with people, even though they have a diametrically opposite view of public education than you do. I’m not even talking about conservatives and liberals; I’m just talking about people who are not happy with the public education system, and it’s generally because they don’t know what’s really going on.
The hopeful part about this is that by engaging with the community, you’ll find that people will say, “You know what, I am suspicious of public education in general, but my school district is doing well.” And I always laugh about it because it always reminds me of that old adage that everybody hates Congress but they love their congressman. I’ve seen it where we can win over people in our local school district by showing them what we’re doing, how we’re doing things, and why we’re doing things. They can be suspicious of public schools all they want, but they will also say, “Don’t mess with my home district,” which is really how it should be. The whole public school system in the United States was set up on local control, and so unfortunately the state government of Texas tends to forget that and wants to get involved in policies that elected officials here in the district should be handling.
In the end, if you get people to realize that we are here to teach kids how to read and write, do math, and do well in life, there isn’t anybody I’ve ever met who will then say, “No, I’m against that.” No, they’re all for it. It really is a question of how we are approaching that and are we doing it in a way that the community agrees with. Once you begin to sit down and talk with people, I think you can come together with a common brand and a common belief that we can make this happen.
They can begin to understand that equity doesn’t mean I’m taking away from one kid and giving to another. I want all the kids to succeed, but sometimes I’m going to have to do something different for this kid versus that kid. People then say, “Oh, that makes a whole lot of sense.” I reply, “That’s exactly what I’m doing when I say equity. I’m just giving kids what they need and your kid’s needs are different than another kid’s needs. You don’t want me to treat your child the same as this other person’s child because your child is different.” Parents understand that. I’m a parent too; I don’t want my kids to be treated like other kids. My kids are different. Parents begin to understand this, and they’ll support the school system.
If you walk away with anything from this, as an educational leader, it is to always engage your community—sit down and talk with them and go to school board meetings. I sit in the back of the room sometimes and talk to the random person who sits next to me. Now, I’m no longer that person who e-mails out an instructional plan. Instead, they think “Oh, I met that guy. He seemed pretty nice.” Hopefully this makes them more open to what we’re doing.
We’re your neighbors–we all live and work in the same place. We are part of the same community, and our school district and school board reflect the values of our community. The idea that somehow we are outside of the norm and doing things that are liberal or which conservatives think are wrong is just not true. We are doing what our community wants us to do because we live here and this is what we would want for our children.
It reminds me of Lisa Delpit who wrote that book Other Peoples’ Children, and I know she wrote it in one context, but quite frankly I tell people “They’re all other peoples’ children. Unless your child is standing in front of you, they’re all other peoples’ children and parents have a right to want their child to be taught a certain way. That’s not a bad thing.” We work with that, and we should never forget that or be arrogant enough to think that we know what’s best. I serve a community. If my community is ever out of line with my own personal values, then it is time for me to leave. But I love this place, it’s a great community.
Thank you, Dr. Sormani, for your excellent insight into what it takes to excel in education leadership, and for your commitment to fostering academic excellence, student enrichment, and community engagement within Hutto ISD!