I value all of my professional experience. My LinkedIn profile only highlights my work since 2000. However, there are some very important formative experiences for me prior to then. I am sharing them below.
I have quite an interesting background.
I attended the University of Oklahoma and studied Computer Science receiving a Bachelor’s. This was in the mid-80’s, at a very different time in the world of computers. I was hired out of college to work at SEI Information Technology, a software consulting firm based out of Chicago. I was able to work on several very large projects.
One of the projects was helping redesign the POS system for McDonald’s and the other was working on a small start-up in Silicon Valley. We were writing code for systems that provided detailed driving directions in a variety of settings. The eventual goal was to have the database of directions be able to fit in a portable device that would enable companies like FedEx and Ford to deliver better and to sell more. At the time it was leading edge technology. Now we have this capability in the palm of our hands via the gas that is in our phones. It was fun working on that type of project, but I knew it wouldn’t last Because these projects come and go. But there was an even bigger reason.
While I enjoyed the work and the people I worked with, I was yearning for a larger purpose. I wanted to add a different type of value to the world and make a direct impact in the lives of people. I decided I would go back to school and get a Master’s degree. The question was in what field of study would I do so.
As I had some tme off before school started, I decided to go my local school district (in Garland, TX) and ask about substitute teaching. I figured I could use a little bit of cash to support my efforts. I was inspired to even consider this from my 2nd grade teacher Ms. Raspen. She was a phenomenal teacher and knew how to deal with energetic and bright students. While in her class, I remember thinking that someday I was going to be a great teacher like her.
I spoke with the HR Director of the school district to explore the opportunity. He saw that I had a degree and that I spoke Spanish, which I learned while living in Venezuela as a child. This was an important asset to him since we were in TX and the community had a large Hispanic population.
I was assigned to a classroom the very next day.
I vividly remember that day. It was my first day as a substitute and a teacher.
I arrived at the school and went to the office to find out what the heck I was supposed to do. This was my first day subbing and I had no idea at all what it was going to be like. The office assistant gave me a map of the school and circled where my room was. She told me I was going to be covering a 5th grade bilingual class. That sounded wonderful!
I followed the map through the maze of hallways and turns and eventually made it to my classroom. Before entering the room, I double checked to make sure I would be walking into the correct room.
When I walked into the room, the students were all seated at their desks and having soft conversation. When they saw me walk in, they looked up and started to smile. Then suddenly, as if someone stuck a pin in them all at the same time, I could see their smiles turn into a sad look of deflation. It was like air escaping out of a tire.
I happen to be a tall white guy. The best theory I have as to why they thought this was going to be another wasted day was that they saw me as some flunky sub who didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t have any idea of what he was doing. Of course, they were spot on about the latter!
I cheerfully and energetically greeted them by saying, “Hola!” It was not one of those American bad accent “Hola’s.” I actually speak with a nice accent. when they heard me speak, they perked up a bit.
This was THE PIVOTAL MOMENT for me that set the course for me professionally. The best way to describe it is that it was like the heavens were opening up, a beam of light was shining down on the classroom, and I swear, I heard a chorus of angels singing.
I knew this was where I was supposed to be and that I would be working in education for a very long time. Not everyone loves the work. Sadly, even many teachers did not love the work.
Let me be clear, I LOVE THE WORK OF EDUCATION!
I continued talking to the class in Spanish by asking them how they were and letting them know my name. After about a minute of greeting them, they were all smiles and I could tell it was going to be a great day.
With the greetings exhausted, it was time to teach. I walked over to the teachers desk and was so thrilled to see a clear set of lesson plans for the day neatly organized on the desk. For those of you who have ever taught, you know what a blessing this was for me! As I later discovered as a full time teacher and leader, this was not that common.
My first day was magical. Other than the “celestial” moment described above, I would have to say the best part of the day was eating lunch with the class in the cafeteria. The students were so excited that I wanted to eat with them and they were very impressed that I drank 4 cartons of milk. Lunch was so fun, that I continued the practice of eating with my students as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and now as a father of 7 children.
The work we do in education is so dependent upon RELATIONSHIPS and having lunch with my students was one great way to build them.
I was asked back to sub again the very next day. This time I worked in a first and second grade English as a second language class. What I remember most about this day is the students hugging me all day. I also remember eating lunch with them and observing how they communicated with each other without all knowing English. It was fascinating!
When I got home after that second day, my phone rang. It was the district’s HR Director and he told me the principal from the elementary school called him and told him that I was the best substitute teacher she had ever seen. He asked me if I wanted a full time teaching job teaching Spanish in middle school. Without hesitation I told him yes. The outgoing teacher was moving to a high school position the very next week. He asked me to start the next day. And I did.
When I met with him for orientation the next day, he let me know that since the Spanish program only had 80 students, which was not a full load, I would have to pick up some math and language arts classes. I was thrilled. I later learned that it also meant a lot more planning for me to prepare for those classes!
I loved teaching Spanish. When I first started, only the highest performing students were allowed to enroll in my class. I thought we might be holding back students who could benefit from the class. I was able to convince the school and district leadership to allow me to accept all students. If it failed, we would not repeat it the following year. So in my second year, we opened enrollment to all students. My enrollment more than doubled and surpassed 170 students. Best of all, every single student passed the course. I did not inflate grades or make it easy for them as they had to pass a year end test to receive high school credit for the class. In fact, my middle schoolers outperformed the high school students on that end of course assessment.
The next year the principal came to me before the school year started to tell me that he had 247 students enroll in my class. He wanted my advice on who we would let in and who we would have to turn away. The thought of that turned my stomach. I asked him if we could take them all. I told him I would teach all 7 periods with no planning period. His response was that even if I did work all 7 periods, the classroom would not be big enough to handle the class size. I proposed that he assign me two classrooms, the kind that had the movable partition dividing them. I would then just keep the divider open all the time. He agreed.
For the next two years I had over 240 students. I taught 7 periods and my highest class size was 47 students in one period. I never had a student fail. I certainly had students struggle but because I was available every morning for tutorials and my students were motivated, they were all able to achieve success.
While teaching, I enrolled at Texas A+M to get a Master’s in Educational Technology. I graduated at the end of of my fourth year of teaching and was offered a position to open a new technology program at a high school in Georgia. While I did not want to leave my program in TX, this was a good opportunity for me because it provided another opportunity to build a new program. Furthermore, I was accepted into the doctoral program at the University Georgia in Educational Leadership.
After my first year of getting the new technology program started and growing enrollment from 18 to 65 in one year, I was offered an Assistant Principal position to help open a brand new 1,600 student high school. It was a great decision as I was able to have a life-changing mentor as my Principal. She challenged me, coached me, corrected me and encouraged me. In short, next to my 2nd grade teacher, she was an strong influence in shaping me and my career.
In that same district, at the end of my first year as Assistant Principal, the Superintendent, who turned out to be yet another influential educator who shapped who I am today, approached me about opening a new non-traditional high school for the following year. The concept of this school was to recapture students who had already dropped out or who were at risk of doing so. My job would be to do whatever it takes to get these students to graduate.
I loved that challenge!
The Superintendent told me the school would open in August. This conversation took place at the end of May. This gave me June, July and part of August to recruit, hire and train the best teachers, find and develop curriculum, find a facility, and recruit students.
While this school received national recognition from the National School Boards Association, I am most proud of graduating 117 students that first year. I remember one of those students, Amber, who was a 17-year old single mother and also the first student to enroll at the new school, coming up to me at the end of our first graduation ceremony. She was holding her child and she passed the child to her parents who were with her. She walked up to me and gave me a big hug and whispered, as I could feel tears falling on my neck, “I could have never done this without you.” After wiping the tears from my own eyes and coughing the frog out of my throat, I told her that this success was hers and the only way I could ever be successful was if she was successful first.
After we had established success at this school, the Superintendent came to me again and asked if I would be able to help her open a new career oriented high school, and at the same time, serve as one of her assistants. I was honored, but more than that, I wanted to work closely to her so I could learn as much as possible from her.
While serving in that role, I had amazing leadership opportunities and ample coaching from my boss. One of the leadership opportunities was working on the district wide site-based decision making leadership initiative. I was able to work with a diverse range of leaders at all levels and roles throughout the district. It was preparing me for what came next.
In the fall of 1999 I graduated with my doctorate from the University of Georgia. Somehow the combination of my new degree and my work in my current district put me in a position to be recruited for superintendent of schools positions. I was recruited by three smaller districts, but I fell in love with SAU #2 in Meredith, NH. They asked me to start in January of 2000. It was a challenging proposition to move from the warmth of the south to the -22 degree weather of New Hampshire in the middle of winter. Even so, it was a move I will never regret.
This lengthy backstory now leads into the content that is available on my LinkedIn profile.