Charting The Way Forward

Strategy: a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or
stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result

For the past nine months, nearly 100 people working in teams have undertaken a process to establish a new strategic plan to guide the work of Region 10 ESC. The three purposes for our center as originally outlined by the legislature nearly 50 years ago are obviously the foundation of any such plan, but they are insufficient to be anything more than the underpinning of our work. If our labors are not improving student achievement, making schools more efficient or carrying out initiatives from Austin, then we should be focusing our energy elsewhere. Relying solely on those three statutory responsibilities to actually guide us would be like a sailing ship with all sails unfurled in a hurricane. We would be blown in all directions and go nowhere.

The Strategic Planning Steering Committee will view the final draft of the larger group’s work next Monday; the Region 10 ESC Board of Directors will see it next Wednesday. After that, I will begin sharing it with all of you. I have seen the “near final” draft and it frames our work in a plan, provides us methods, and outlines a series of maneuvers for R10 to keep us focused on what we’re truly about: STUDENTS, SERVICE and SOLUTIONS.

Be Champions

by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

A couple of years ago, I was asked to be an adjunct professor for two of the universities in the DFW area. I love teaching, and this was my first real opportunity to get into a classroom since I had become a principal, so I jumped at the chance. In the next to last class that I was teaching for aspiring principals, one of the students asked me if I had one piece of advice for them to take into their first administrator position. I spent the next week thinking about what I could/should share with them, and I eventually settled on one message. I wrote it on the back of one of my business cards at the time, and I found that card while cleaning my office in December. This seems like a good time to share it with you.

Be Champions for students.
Be intellectually, morally, emotionally, and
physically engaged in your profession at all times.

I still like the message and believe it. I hope you have a great 2016 doing what you love to do professionally.

Happy Holidays, plain and simple

by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

We are ruining the English language. Yes, really. I truly believe we are ruining it. Maybe you’ve noticed: We’ve picked up a bad habit of attaching meaning where there isn’t any. Let me take a simple word to illustrate my point. Consider the word red.

Red is a color, nothing more, nothing less. Texas Tech uniforms are red; so are Coca-Cola cans and Santa’s suit. Red, in and of itself, isn’t a good thing or a bad thing – it’s just red. Although I do like the Red Raiders, Coke, and Santa, it’s not because I like the color red.

Unfortunately, people have managed to attach extra meaning to that little word. In accounting, for example, being in the red is bad because it means you’ve spent more than you have. From the ‘20s through the ‘70s, if you called someone a red, it was an insult because you thought that person was a communist. Today, you often hear reported in the news that Texas is a red state, because Republicans are politically in control.

You know what the worst part is? These newly invented meanings often usurp the word’s intended meaning and that can lead to plenty of unintended consequences. We live in a world of political correctness, where too many people are eager to label you as insensitive, rude, naive or stupid, simply because your definition of a word doesn’t align with theirs. So I repeat, we’ve ruined a lot of perfectly good words over time, forcing us to choose our words all the more carefully to avoid tripping into an unwarranted trap.

What, you might ask, has prompted this tangent?

In the past, I could wish someone a Happy Holiday, and it was received as a respectful greeting because it made no reference to a specific religion or belief system. I couldn’t possibly know if the person I was greeting celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Mawlid al-Nabi, or the Winter Solstice, so Happy Holiday seemed like the perfect solution. Now, however, because our language continues to be ruined, when I use that phrase to be respectful of others, I’m often accused of selling out my religion.

So… Now that I’ve taken over 300 words to explain myself: I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday! However you celebrate this most wonderful time of the year, I hope you find peace, fulfillment, and joy. Through our differences and our similarities, we are a wonderfully committed group of professionals who are focused on the future – the children and youth of our world. I love being a part of this staff and won’t apologize for saying so.

Honoring The Veterans We Work Alongside

by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

Educators are a breed apart. They’re naturally predisposed, almost by definition, to serve others. Often this means they neglect themselves and minimize the importance of their service. In my capacity as executive director for one of the 20 education service centers in Texas, I witness their selflessness and devotion to others every day.

Victoria Henderson

Victoria Henderson

It wasn’t a surprise when we emailed our 450+ staff members to ask, “Who among you have served in the armed forces?” and were soon inundated with responses – from employees like John Roberts, a Navy lieutenant who served as an air traffic controller on the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany during the last few years of the Korean war; from Mark McGahan, who manned an M-60 machine gun on a patrol boat in Vietnam; and from younger staffers like Victoria Henderson who shared that she was an “88 Mike” supply truck driver during her stint in the Army National Guard.

The list goes on.

Victor Cheatham

Victor Cheatham

Billy Rivers served 15 years as an Army staff sergeant. Arzell Ball landed at Normandy during World War II and was among the first Americans to cross the famed Bridge at Remagen into Germany in 1944. Former Fort Sill field artillery officer Victor Cheatham proudly recalls how he “prepared soldiers for greatness.” Dawn Lisenby served in the Army National Guard for ten years (until 1996) while Medical officer Lisa Burton is now in her 16th year of Guard duty.

Former Army Airborne medic Tim Freeman took part in Operation Desert Storm. Our colleague Nicholas Hernandez is also an Iraq War vet. Tony Esposito helped maintain F-106 weapons control systems.

Dawn Lisenby

Dawn Lisenby

Then there’s Travis Waddell, who landed on the front page of USA Today back in the nineties while stuck in Kuwait. He was photographed sitting on top of his tank waiting for a replacement fuel pump.

Omar Captain served a tour in Iraq with the 2/8th Cavalry. Co-worker Yvette Avila wanted to make sure we knew a few gritty details he was too humble to mention.

He almost lost his life after being shot multiple times. He jokes that when he woke up, he thought he was with angels – the nurses.

Bob Barnes supported the National Security Agency back in the mid-seventies. If the Cold War had ever gone hot, he would have been among those gathering intelligence and providing frontline communications.

Bob Barnes

Bob Barnes

Everyone has a story, like Scarlett Bayard, who traveled the world as a Navy sailor. She rode the waves from Cuba, the Caribbean, and South America, all the way over to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and even into the Arctic Circle.

At times, we forget to consider the service given to the country by vets’ loved ones. They may not wear the uniform, but they carry the burden that comes with waiting for a special someone’s return.

Scarlett Bayard

Scarlett Bayard

Our Ernestine Townsend served by sharing her late husband (Vietnam) and her son (Iraq), while Fanchon Sherley’s husband served in the Army Special Forces, long before their Marine son Andrew was deployed to Africa. Diana James’ son, Lt. Col. Devin James, has just concluded a 23-year career with the Army National Guard.

Bianca Coker’s father Edward retired from the U.S. Marines after 30 years of service. Rebecca Lara’s military ties extend from husband Ernest, an Army vet, to brother Jose, a Navy man, as well as to another brother, who served in the Air Force. Linda Alsbrooks watched two brothers leave for tours in Iraq as a third headed for Afghanistan. Rebecca Lara’s husband and two brothers have also served with (respectively) the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Our colleague Kendall Hendricks took a minute to write,

My ex husband is still in the Army. We have two beautiful daughters who don’t get to see their dad a whole lot because of his job.

Lisa Burton

Lisa Burton

Sacrifice in service to others takes many forms, as in the humanitarian work carried out by Hillary Keys’ son, Marine Corporal Etienne Sakouhi, a combat engineer. He recently arrived back home after a deployment to Honduras, where he helped build airstrips and schools in remote parts of the country. Hillary adds,

He also entertained local children by dancing “freestyle/hip hop” and participating in a cross-cultural exchange, where he and another Marine took part in a traditional dance contest.

Then there’s Lori Aden who proudly recalls how back in 1991, she sent letters and dealt with sky-high phone bills while her new husband worked as a Gulf War flight medic.

Not being able to hear from him was nerve wracking. His parents and I leaned on each other and his EMS buddies in Huntsville always checked on me to make sure I was doing okay. More recently, he worked in Iraq as a contractor protecting the U.S. Ambassador. I think that experience scared me even more, but Skype was a godsend because I was able to communicate with him almost daily. I didn’t like hearing the sirens going off in the background. He would have to hang up to go jump in a bunker. I’m very proud of him and his service!

John Roberts

John Roberts

Pride is a common thread that runs through so many of the notes Region 10 employees shared. Patti Matthews, for instance, says

My husband Anthony was in the Air Force for 12 years, 10 months, and 23 days. As a technical sergeant, he specialized in maintaining telephone systems and communications cables while based in San Antonio, Phoenix, and Wiesbaden, Germany. At Kelly Air Force Base, he was awarded the John Levitow Award – the highest award presented at Airman Leadership School.

Rosemary Manges tells of her youngest son’s two tours of duty as an Air Force medic stationed in Iraq. He survived harsh battlefield conditions only to return home and continue trauma work at Parkland Hospital. Of the old days, his mom recalls

His job was to go into situations where airmen’s lives were in jeopardy. He talks about all of his memories except those that involved the loss of two good friends and teammates. Did you know that the life expectancy of a field medic is 15 minutes in a battle situation? I was, and still am, extremely proud of him and his drive to save lives no matter what the personal cost, then and now.

Travis Waddell

Travis Waddell

All teachers can especially appreciate the three-decade-long friendship Laura Hodges has kept up with a former pupil who has since gone on to reach the rank of colonel.

I helped Craig Hollis apply to the Air Force Academy back in 1987 when I was just a green-behind-the-ears first year teacher. A student in my French class, Craig did all of the heavy lifting in terms of maintaining top-notch academic standing and physical fitness, while I single-handedly waged a one-woman letter writing campaign to the academy’s superintendent. He got in, graduated and has continued his career, serving in theaters all over the world. Across these almost thirty years, Craig and I remain in regular contact. He has served his country fiercely and proudly in many capacities, currently as a commander with the 31st Operations Group, Aviano Air Base, Italy, where I know he leads with a servant’s heart.

Of all the notes we received, this poignant memory resonates. From 2006 to 2012, our colleague Eduardo Vargas kept Chinook choppers flying­­ over the skies of Afghanistan. He says,

Every night when I close my eyes, my thoughts still wander back to the desert, to the cold nights and the dark embrace of danger that our brothers and sisters continue to face every day. When I pray, I hold them dear in my mind. Those who wear the uniform are always with me, for in every service member I have a brother or a sister since there is no greater family than the one made facing the odds together. We lift each other up after we fall and we carry on, for there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.images (1)

These last stories prompt me to share my own connections with three military veterans. My Uncle Jim served as a field surgeon in a MASH in Vietnam during 1969-70. He has never shared his experiences other than to say it was the most intense medicine he ever practiced. He felt his service was not only to those on the surgical table, but also to their families at home. I’m proud of him.

Several of my former students have gone on to serve in the armed forces and I single out two of them as representatives of the larger group. David H. is currently a First Sergeant in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stationed in Italy where the proximity to the Middle East and North Africa means that he could be sent into harm’s way on very short notice. I think of David each time I hear news from that region of the world. Stephen L. has since left the Army, but his final posting was as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Standing post at Arlington National Cemetery, young men like Stephen pay tribute to those we cannot honor personally at this sacred spot on the calendar.

images (2)We owe a great debt to these women and men, neighbors, and colleagues who quietly carry the memories and stories – and in many cases, the very heavy burdens – of years spent in some form of military service.

On this Veterans Day, the Region 10 family will thank our veterans. We honor them with our appreciation, and we thank them from the heart, for all they’ve done to help maintain the freedoms we hold dear.

Experiences That Prepare Students For Life

by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

I recently had the privilege of announcing for the Wylie Marching Invitational band contest. That meant reading scripts, thanking sponsors, and making the occasional “lost keys” announcement while 26 marching band performances took place. I’ve been asked over the years to do this type of thing and I usually say yes if I’m available because I enjoy watching student activities.

As we were driving to the stadium that morning, my son Coleman asked what other events I’ve announced in the past. I began listing them: wrestling and track meets, awards banquets, drill team dance shows, FFA/4-H exhibitions, and elementary music programs. Once I even delivered commentary during the radio broadcast of a basketball game.

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I love watching marching bands – the very large groups like Allen High School’s which covers an entire football field with musicians and impresses everyone with its sheer size and volume. Then there are the smaller bands, like Sherman High School’s, which creatively mesh instrumental music with vocals, dance, and a staircase prop to simulate the movement of water.

As I ticked off the list to Coleman, I again realized the abundance of opportunities Texas students have to participate in activities which highlight their personal strengths, expose them to a variety of experiences, and prepare them for life. I hope we never allow those opportunities to die in the name of school accountability and educational rigor.

Seeking Leadership Balance

by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

I have a blue 3×5 notecard on my desk labeled “Leadership Balance”. It’s there to continually remind me about my personal role as a leader as well as Region 10’s role as a leader in Texas education.

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The points below from author and speaker John Maxwell force me to remember that leadership requires balance. The most powerful word in this list is “and,” but if you don’t read it carefully you can miss its importance.

  1. Leaders are both confident and modest
  2. Leaders communicate passionately and listen patiently
  3. Leaders give encouragement, and they are never satisfied
  4. Leaders protect people from danger and expose them to reality
  5. Leaders blaze the trail and show the way
  6. Leaders initiate change while standing for values that don’t change

Service Makes The Difference

by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

I’m writing this as I sit on a Southwest Airlines airplane returning home after my monthly meeting in Austin. I admit that I prefer flying on SWA compared to other airlines. But it is not because they are more efficient – although I think they are; it is not because they are cheaper – though that’s often true; and it’s not because I admire the fact that they have overcome a lot of challenges (dirty politics in some cases) since they started in 1970.

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No, I like flying on Southwest because of their EMPLOYEES. They are consistently the most helpful and the most friendly people I encounter when I travel.

Then I think about the thousands of people who encounter Region 10, especially during the month of August as we host or travel to deliver professional development. I wonder if all those wonderful educators leave with the same feelings about REGION 10 EMPLOYEES that I have about Southwest’s. I hope they do!

Moving Beyond Greatness

by Gordon Taylor/Region 10 ESC Executive Director

I often think about what Region 10 will be like in the future. What new service will we offer a year from now that will completely change how we help schools? What will be up to in five years? In ten??

Along with a number of well-placed school administrators from our region and three of our board members, Region 10’s leadership team has embarked on a strategic planning process. We’ve just had our first meetings to discuss our purpose and values.

I told the group about hearing a radio interview in which a CEO talked about his company moving (to borrow the phrase made popular by author Jim Collins), from good to great… to IMPORTANT. That’s where I want Region 10 to be.

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Every member of our Region 10 community will have the opportunity to participate in the strategic planning as it progresses this summer and into the fall. While I don’t know what we will look like in the future. I know we will always lead by serving.

I believe this strategic planning will set us up to be good, great, and eventually important as an organization. I’m excited that I’ll be along for that wonderful ride! I hope we can all get excited about that journey, too.