His first step: “I’m going to come in and listen,” he told Journal reporters during his visit here Monday. His entry plan calls for talking with 100 people during his first 90 days. He will meet with district staff, parents and people in the community.
It’s very encouraging that Dr. Hinojosa’s starting point is listening — an underrated art that produces enormous benefits. He will hear conflicting views and assorted complaints about various issues. With his experience, he should be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and come up with an accurate reading of the situation.
The top priorities once he’s on the job are issues raised by the unfortunate SACS inquiry into the school board’s actions — an inquiry prompted mainly by people disgruntled over the current board majority’s restoring a more traditional, later starting calendar.
On that topic, Dr. Hinojosa said flatly, “There is no evidence” that one starting date or another is better in terms of student achievement — contrary to the claims of “year-round” calendar proponents. “It’s a preference,” he said. Amen. The real issue is “how good of a system do you have for your kids.” Amen again.
Restoring the people’s trust in the school district is another priority for Hinojosa. From watching the last five school board meetings, he is well aware of the trust issue. But to his credit, he’s not jumping to conclusions. He wants to know, “What’s the story behind the story behind the story.” In other words, he wants to be sure he knows the facts before deciding on a course of action.
Hinojosa gets a thumbs up for his plan to spend every Wednesday (except when the board meets) visiting a school — unannounced. He’s done that his entire career. “I drive around the campus. I meet the head custodian, the cafeteria staff, the principal. Then I walk around, looking at all the classrooms. When you’ve been doing this a while, you can kind of thin slice what’s going on in the classroom. Are the students engaged? Are they learning? Is it rigorous learning?” He expects principals and executive staff to do likewise.
As for working with the school board, Hinojosa talks as if he is willing to accept the board’s oversight — as opposed to the outgoing superintendent’s essentially reversing the roles. Hinojosa got it right, saying of the duly elected board members: “They have a very critical role of oversight and asking questions and making sure you have things on track. In my opinion, the board sets the ‘what’ and the administration figures out the ‘how.’”
Hinojosa gets an A-plus for the approach he has presented. As noted, he talks the right talk. Assuming he gets the job, he will have to walk the walk, and here’s hoping he does it and leads the way as he said “to make this the premiere school district in America.”