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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
Faced with the resignation of Superintendent Dr. Emilio Castro late last month, the board of trustees at Dilley ISD has something of a dilemma on its hands.
By all accounts, Castro’s departure for Houston was unexpected. The general consensus was that the superintendent would serve at least another two or three years at Dilley schools before looking to advance his career elsewhere. Now, just weeks before the new academic year kicks off, the school district finds itself headless.
That’s not to say Dilley ISD is the proverbial decapitated chicken. Far from it. The school district is in good shape and can function admirably without someone in the leather swivel chair. For a while, at least. It’s not about to go crashing into the grain bucket.
Herein lies a sign of good leadership having been maintained and systems put in place to continue operating without constant interference. Dilley’s campuses run like well-oiled machines. There are very few surprises.
Eventually, critical business decisions will have to be made, policies enforced, and morale maintained. A school district without a head runs the risk of drifting aimlessly toward an uncertain goal. Someone will have to watch the district’s long-term affairs, lay plans for development, keep a finger on the pulse of state government and anticipate changes that could mean a world of difference to local taxpayers.
Administrative decisions go far beyond organizing luncheons and drafting bulletins about acceptable hair length.
Times have changed a lot, and they’ve done it rather quickly in the world of education. Castro guided Dilley ISD through two unanticipated crises. The coronavirus pandemic put Texas education into a terrible spiral when campuses closed and children stayed home. Internet connectivity in rural areas was poor, and many children didn’t have laptops or tablets. Castro pushed the district into the modern age, buying hundreds of hotspots and supplying mobile devices to all. Teachers were shown how to manage classrooms on their screens; everything suddenly went digital.
Last year, all Texas schools were thrust into yet another spiral, and it was considerably more frightening than the last. A mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde prompted statewide panic over children’s safety. School districts examined their facilities for weak spots; teachers were trained in active-shooter response; school buildings were sealed, visitors halted, and windows plated with ballistic film. Double-door vestibules became the norm and, ominous to behold, campuses were surrounded by eight-foot fencing.
Whoever is chosen to pick up where Castro left off – and there are at least three eligible candidates in Dilley already – inherits a district that has survived challenges we could never have imagined when we were in school and is now looking to make good on its promise of providing the safest environment for children to learn in the most advanced way possible with our tax dollars.
It will go a lot further than that. The new generation of school superintendents must understand where today’s children are coming from after these crises, what makes them tick, what motivates them and what excites them, and how to harness both their energy and the impressions they have gained of the world through the social media over which virtually everything is passed to them.
We have mocked the science fiction writers of the past for their absurd projections of what the new age people will ingest and how they will behave. From Wells to Asimov, the dogeared paperbacks were the stuff of fantasy far removed from the present at the time we read them.
Today’s children live in bubbles not of our making and on streams of information that travel at speeds enough to fling us into the ditch. A modern superintendent must grasp the new concepts and be able to do so at the first step.
The age of learning curves is as far behind us as the paperbacks we stashed away half-finished.
Are you ready?