Chamber CEO Looks Inside A School District

    Cedar Park Chamber CEO Shares Leadership Leander ISD Experience

    Tony Moline, President and CEO of the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce, outside Austin, reflects on his participation in the Leadership Leander ISD program and how many issues – construction, finance, transportation, curriculum, and more – go into managing school districts and schools.

    Over the last nine months I have had the great privilege of participating in the Leadership Leander ISD Program. As the President/CEO of the Cedar Park Chamber of Commerce, I found this program to be extremely informative.

    With 20 other business leaders also participating, we were able to learn the thought process of how a 200 square-mile-district is run. The diverse needs of a district the size of Leander ISD (which encompasses Leander, Cedar Park, parts of Round Rock and parts of Austin) is staggering.

    With a school district serving such a large group of students, you have to take multiple approaches on any given subject to ensure the quality of education holds throughout the district. There is a great deal of thought that goes into this, and it is not a “top down” approach on these things. The Board of Trustees, the administration, the curriculum coordinators all the way down to the principal and teachers are always listening to the “end product user” —  our students.

    The Board of Trustees, the administration, the curriculum coordinators all the way down to the principal and teachers are always listening to the “end product user” —  our students.

    Tony Moline
    Tony Moline, President & Chief Executive OfficerCedar Park Chamber of Commerce

    Transportation, weather, and a “safety first” approach

    Another “ah-ha” moment for me was thinking through the logistics involved in transportation and maintenance. While we think of school districts as helping educate our future leaders, we do not necessarily think of the “first point of contact” for our students as being the bus driver. In many cases, that is exactly what happens. Leander ISD trains their bus drivers to be that first point of contact for our students and that is valuable.

    One thing that we inadvertently learned this year was the process by which Leander ISD delays or cancels due to bad weather. Think through the logistics involved in making that kind of decision for a 200 square-mile school district.  The first thought is always the safety of the students. You have to go by the forecast as well; just because it doesn’t look bad at 6:00am doesn’t mean it won’t be bad at 8:30am. Then think about how to get them home safely.  All of these decisions are thought through within a few hours.

    It is a decision that is difficult to make and you are making it for a very large district. The thing about making that decision that I appreciated was, whether you make the call correctly or not, Leander ISD always erred on the side of caution for our students.

    When to build – and when to wait

    Our class had some unique experiences, which included visiting a newly built elementary school. This school was built during a time of big development for the surrounding community. When the development slowed down, the district was faced with a choice – do we go ahead and build the school we said we would, or do we wait? The district chose wisely in my opinion when it elected to wait.

    By building it and leaving it dormant for 2 years, the district was able to build it for less than anticipated. Costs were down and it was the right thing to do.  It is now scheduled to open in Cedar Park for this next school year and we are excited to see it come to fruition.

    The class was able to take a tour of the new elementary school and learn the thought process in how you build a school. Going to different campuses around the country, listening to teachers and principals, trying to think through all of the safety options, and even thinking through spending a little more on building so it will reduce your energy costs long term – we were able to hear about all of these things because we were part of this class.

    A district-wide commitment to developing future leaders

    With all of that being said, I was still amazed at the level of planning and thought that goes through every staff member’s mind when working with our future leaders.  These students show up for class and go home. The teachers spend hours making lesson plans. The principals spend hours working with teachers, parents and students to ensure they get the quality education the students need. The administration spends all of their time working to lower the achievement gap and make sure all students have the opportunities they are looking for as young learners.

    My hat goes off to Leander ISD and to the thousands of staff, parents and students that make this one of the best districts in the nation!

    Contact your local school and/or district to learn about opportunities to get engaged.

    Public schools, as well as districts, offer opportunities for parents, community leaders, business representatives, and others to serve on school committees and district-wide councils. Some of these may include:

    • Campus improvement councils
    • District-wide improvement councils
    • Financial leadership councils
    • Ambassador programs
    • “Watchdog” safety and mentoring groups
    • PTOs and PTAs
    • Classroom volunteers and speakers