School Principal as Entrepreneur

    Dreams Defeat Doubt In Designing New Elementary School

    Matthew Brown, Principal
    Diane Patrick Elementary School
    Arlington ISD, Arlington, TX
    Raise Your Hand Alumnus ’13 (Harvard)

    School doors open.

    Bell rings.

    Teachers and students kick off a whole new year.

    Even for the most established schools, it’s never as simple as it seems.

    For a brand new school, as with a brand new business, challenges are guaranteed.

    Principal Matthew Brown leads the newly dedicated Diane Patrick Elementary in the Arlington school district. He’s spent hundreds of hours over the last year in a hard hat, surveying the ground-up construction of the building. But headgear won’t block some of the hazards of raising a brand new school.

    “Staffing has been the most difficult,” said Brown, “and making sure every candidate we select is of the highest caliber. The hiring process itself was daunting – over 70 staff members, and hiring them within a two-and-a-half-month window, being in competition with every other school in Texas. That was definitely the challenge.” The team he hired won’t just handle instruction – they’ll establish new traditions, an entire school culture that will endure beyond this first cohort of students.

    Now that construction has ended, teachers and administrators are in place, and students are registered and ready, the grueling work begins. The vision moves from paper and planning to a living, breathing building full of students and educators. And even with a new school, a solid strategy, and a team of talented hires, the confident leader gives in to his humanity for just a moment, allowing deep-seated insecurity to challenge all that led to this point. He invites in the voice that every leader hears. Telling him he isn’t good enough, that failure awaits.

    “I’m most concerned that all the hype and messaging and branding to prepare students, parents, teachers, and the community for what this school’s going to do for the kids, we won’t live up to,” Brown said. “We communicated we’re going to send these different, positive, inventive, and creative messages. My fear is that we’ll just be a regular elementary school with average scores. Students will kind of like to come and parents will kind of be okay with what we do.”

    Then, the shadow passes. The vision reclaimed, he moves beyond himself, and leans in.

    “But, I know better. We’re already working primarily on the culture, how we talk to students, how we greet them in the morning, and how we show them we believe in them.”

    Brown’s work is cut out for him. Patrick Elementary School was built to help alleviate an over-crowded neighborhood that already had two elementary schools and a distressing amount of portables. The campus will pull students from five different existing campuses in the district. And, 94% of the students at Patrick are economically disadvantaged. Understandably, Brown is nervous, but not thwarted.

    “When I hear things like this community has challenges and we come from a diverse background with low socioeconomics, that excites me because I know that with the right people in place, the right teachers, support staff, buy-in from the community and the students, our school will outperform every other school around.”

    “I know it’s going to be a huge task – opening a new school, setting up tradition, culture, expectations. At an older school, that’s already done. On that part of teaching, it’s going to be a huge task, and then adding instructional piece is even bigger, but I think I can do it.”
    Angela Peragine
    4th grade bilingual teacher

    The Building of Diane Patrick Elementary

    Under the pressure of a first-day-of-school countdown, construction crews feverishly worked all summer 2015 building the new Diane Patrick Elementary. Here, Principal Matthew Brown takes us on a tour of the 21st century, state-of-the-art edifice.

    Patrick Elementary will have two STEM labs that will be used to further hands-on learning. At each level, classroom area “pods” will have an open collaboration space at their center outfitted with the furniture needed to give students the opportunity to relax, dream and design.

    The library, or Media Center, will be piloted by Lesley Cano, one of the leading librarians in the movement of Maker Spaces. The center goes beyond book delivery with 3D printers and robotics, and will be the ideal space for students to interact and collaborate on assigned projects.

    Diane Patrick Elementary School

    • Arlington ISD, East Arlington area
    • Student capacity: 900
    • 94% economically disadvantaged
    • Campus Size: 116,000 square feet on approximately 20 acres

    Special Features of Diane Patrick Elementary

    • Two STEM Labs
    • Student Broadcasting Studio
    • 1:1 Technology
    • Collaborative Learning Spaces
    • Outdoor Learning Areas



    Principal Gary Henry recently opened the new Valley Oaks Elementary in Spring Branch ISD. Using some of what he learned during his Raise Your Hand Texas-sponsored training through the Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program (which teaches principals how to successfully run their schools like top executives run successful business,) Henry offers his fellow principal Matthew Brown these tips for building strong relationships with staff, students, parents, and the community.

    • Engage the community (especially students) regarding your school logo and mascot. Use the staff and Campus Improvement Team to help develop strategies and timelines.
    • Create a Twitter account and begin tweeting happenings on campus.
    • Provide members of your community a couple of hours in the evening, or on Friday before school begins, to meet with teachers and see classrooms. This will give your community time to familiarize itself with the campus.
    • As a principal, be visible every day! It’s easiest to do this in the lunchroom and health fitness classes since there are more students gathered at one time in those areas.
    •      Allow your team leaders to create the procedures for the campus. For example, parent drive procedures, bus drive procedures, arrival, dismissal, lunchroom, walking in the halls. You will be amazed at what team leaders can do if you turn it over to them.
    • Involve the community by asking the PTA president, VP, and parents to listen to the team leaders present their procedures. It really helps with buy-in and long term consistency with procedures.
    • Have fun and always remain transparent!


    Principal Steven Zipkes is the founding leader of Manor New Technology High School in the Manor school district. The school is nationally renowned for its STEM focus, and for veering away from traditional high school concepts to foster student-driven, project-based learning. Zipkes offer principal Brown these ideas for creating an innovative and tech-rich culture at Diane Patrick Elementary.

    • Look at the method of instruction delivery and move away from Direct Teach to Project-Based Instruction. Ensure the staff has professional development in the deeper processes of project-based learning to ensure standards based, teacher created, authentic real world projects that will engage students with relevance and rigor.
    • Move away from teaching in silos or departments and integrate curriculum and content as much as possible to create real world application, not contrived application from one content.
    • Focus on 21st century skills as well as content. Today’s world requires much more from individuals than “book smarts.” Students need to know how to collaborate, communicate (orally, written, and visually), think critically (be able to problem solve), and develop agency.
    • Give students the tools of the world and allow them to use their technology. Seamlessly integrate technology in every aspect of the school – from instruction to planning.
    • Develop a culture that promotes a growth mindset, flexibility, and a mantra of “trust the process;” a culture where failure is acceptable because we learn from failures.

    Q&A with Diane Patrick

    Former Texas State Representative Diane Patrick has an extensive background in education, as a teacher, an administrator, a State Board of Education member, and a professor of education at the University of Texas at Arlington College of Education, Texas Christian University, and Dallas Baptist University. She has over 11 years service on the Arlington School Board (four years as president) and has been a member of the Board of Directors for the Arlington ISD Education Foundation for 19 years.

    Q. How did you find out a school was being named for you?

    A. On the evening of March 18, 2015, Arlington ISD Board President Bowie Hogg, accompanied by Board Members Gloria Pena and Peter Baron, along with Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos, appeared at my home unannounced to me (but my husband was clued in) to deliver to me an invitation to a called board meeting to announce the naming of a facility in my honor. They didn’t say what or when, just “a facility!” For the next two weeks anticipation increased as we waited to find out what kind of facility because the Arlington School District’s recent bond election included several different types of new and renovated facilities. That special evening had a very festive air, as student cheerleaders and bands played as we entered the called meeting where they announced a new elementary school on Timber Oaks Lane would be named Diane Patrick Elementary.

    Q. Who were the instrumental local leaders who made the new school a reality?

    A. Current and former Arlington School Board members made the naming decision through their usual committee procedure after getting community input.

    Q. Why is Principal Matthew Brown an ideal leader for Diane Patrick Elementary?

    A. Principal Matt Brown is an ideal leader for Diane Patrick Elementary because he is a collaborative visionary who is energetic, caring, passionate, and a tireless worker. As an experienced administrator in Arlington ISD, he knows this school community. He has put together a strong educational team to ensure access to exceptional educational opportunities for Patrick students.

    Q. What do you want the students of Diane Patrick Elementary to know about you, not as a successful educator or state representative, but as a person?

    A. My entire life I have been passionate about giving back to my community, and about the importance of education to preserve our American democracy. Thus, the significance of the chosen mascot, “Patriots.” As the wife of Arlington dentist Dr. Ned Patrick, I am very proud of our two grown children and their families, which includes seven grandchildren. I also want Patrick Elementary students to know that I believe in the importance of family, and all Patrick Patriots will be our great big family!

    “When I hear things like ‘this community has challenges and we come from a diverse background, low socioeconomics,’ that excites me because I know that with the right people in place, the right teachers, support staff, buy-in from the community and the students, that school will outperform every other school around.”

    Matthew Brown

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