The search is formally underway.
Last week, the Killeen ISD board of trustees signed off on a $40,000 contract with an Austin-based firm to find a successor to Superintendent John Craft.
The move came just two weeks after the district announced that Craft — who had served as KISD superintendent since January 2015 — had been named the lone finalist for the superintendent’s post with the Northside ISD, outside San Antonio.
The search firm, JG Consulting, was one of three firms the school board interviewed on March 6. The firm is expected to take four to five months to bring a finalist to the Killeen ISD board.
No matter how you slice it, this is a pretty big deal for the community.
With about 45,000 students, Killeen ISD is among the 25 largest districts in Texas. Moreover, because of its large military-connected student population and its dependence on federal Impact Aid, the district has some challenges that are unique among districts in the state.
In addition, KISD’s student enrollment is extremely large in relation to overall population of the local metropolitan area. With about 153,000 residents in Killeen, 34,000 in Harker Heights, 7,000 in Nolanville and several thousand more in KISD’s outlying areas — not to mention Fort Hood — the student population accounts for about one in five Killeen-area residents. Factor in students’ family members and district employees, and it is truly remarkable how many people in the Killeen-Fort Hood area are directly impacted by the school district.
The student population isn’t the only thing large about KISD. The district has over 50 school campuses spread across the area, including specialized STEM campuses and a career center.
No doubt, Craft put himself on the map by successfully leading a $426 million construction bond initiative in 2018 that passed with more than 57% of the vote. The bond funding paved the way for a fifth traditional high school, a new middle school, a $90 million renovation of Killeen High School — the district’s oldest — and the construction and consolidation of several elementary campuses.
It’s fair to assume that Craft’s ability to secure passage of such a large bond likely played a significant part in his hiring as the next superintendent of Northside ISD — a district with about 102,000 students.
Under Craft’s leadership, Killeen ISD had its share of challenges in recent years — from the public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the chronic teacher shortage that has plagued the district.
It can be argued that the two problems were interconnected.
As the COVID pandemic caused the school district to adopt health and safety protocols in response, many teachers opted to leave the classroom — some temporarily and some permanently.
The implementation of a virtual learning option in 2020 helped teachers in some ways, but ultimately hindered students’ classroom progress and frustrated educators.
Craft was quick to implement the virtual option at the outset of the 2020-2021 school year, but issues with internet access, laptop compatibility and dual curriculum caused administrators and educators a host of problems.
More than 1,330 Killeen Independent School District full-time employees — including 546 teachers — called it quits during the 2021-22 school year, putting further strain on those who remained.
The teacher shortage, though exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, has been a problem KISD has been dealing with for the past five years. As of October 2021, the district was 274 teachers short, and the board approved a signing bonus as an incentive. In April 2022, that number topped 300, and the district passed a “historic” 8% general pay increase for teachers in response.
Last October, it was reported that more than 250 of the district’s teachers were uncertified, as allowed by the TEA, with five schools reporting more than 20% of their teachers were uncertified. This follows a growing statewide trend, with districts looking to shore up shortfalls in their teaching ranks by using teachers who have TEA-approved certification waivers.
Obviously, simply raising teacher pay is not the solution to the shortage, as other districts are discovering as well. This will be a continuing problem that Craft’s successor will have to deal with for the foreseeable future. What strategies will the next superintendent employ?
Some other questions come to light as the search for the next superintendent moves forward.
Shortly after Craft took over the top spot at KISD, the district was investigated by TEA for program noncompliance, among other issues. Since then, KISD has made significant progress toward meeting goals set by TEA and two subsequent internal audits, but the department continues to have challenges in the areas of student evaluation and services.
Will the next superintendent make special ed a higher priority, and will that entail a restructuring of the department? That’s for the board to find out during the hiring process.
Also, will the board focus on an established superintendent from a larger school district or focus on “a rising star,” as one search firm termed it?
It can be argued that Craft fit into the latter category when he was hired by KISD in 2012.
At the time, Craft had experience as a teacher, a coach and a principal. However, the school district where he was serving as superintendent — Hamilton ISD — had a student population of just 820, compared to KISD’s 40,000 students.
Still, he was hired as deputy superintendent in 2012 from among 16 candidates, and began serving under Superintendent Robert Muller at age 35.
Three years later, when Muller left the district, Craft was hired as KISD’s superintendent.
Now that Craft is leaving the district, longtime Chief Financial Officer Megan Bradley has been placed in the superintendent’s post on an interim basis.
She’s by far the most qualified when it comes to knowing the district’s finances inside and out. However, she lacks experience as a principal and doesn’t appear to have her state superintendent certification.
So, aside from an internal candidate, who should the board be looking for?
It could be argued that the district needs a superintendent who has experience dealing with special education, or one who has specialized in recruiting and retaining teachers.
Another possibility would be a superintendent who prioritizes the district’s financial dealings and federal aid money.
A case could also be made for hiring a superintendent from a large district, or one who has worked in a military community.
Ultimately, the board needs to settle on someone who has a strong history of exhibiting leadership.
That’s a tough commodity to measure, but it’s key to the district’s success — as well as its standing in the community.
If the incoming superintendent can face the tough challenges, create strategies to succeed, and always put students and teacher first, the board will have found a great leader to move the district forward.
That’s not an easy combination to find, but the school board has to try.
Whoever the board chooses will have a major impact on the district’s students and staff — not to mention the local community as a whole.
However long this decision takes, let’s make sure to get it right.
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