Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District
Where people make the difference
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District for our focus on Excellence in Education in Texas
The Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District (HEB ISD) operates 21 elementary schools, five junior high schools, two traditional high schools, one career and technical education academy, and one non-traditional high school in three cities located in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) metropolitan area. Taken together, these institutions encompass 23,000 students, and a workforce of approximately 2,500 employees – 1,500 of which are teachers.
Amid the wave of post-COVID staffing shortages, HEB ISD kept expectations high by giving teachers top priority as an investment for the future. “We believe the teacher is the most important resource for students in their learning,” offers Julie Cole, a member of the HEB ISD Board of Trustees. “We’re at the top of pay in the DFW metroplex. We have an engaged leadership, from the superintendent’s office all the way through to the individual campuses. They work really hard at keeping their employees happy and getting them what they need.”
While the pandemic changed the world of work profoundly for everyone, HEB ISD has remained a shining example of a government agency taking care of its people during a national crisis. “Last year was a tough year,” recalls Superintendent Joe Harrington. “Everyone talked about 2021 being the return to normal. The irony is that, without the prior year, last year would’ve been the most disruptive year in the history of education – and we called it ‘normal’. The number of people who were out because of the Omicron variant greatly increased the number of substitutes we needed, but they weren’t available. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. We did what we needed to do, but our teachers were exhausted.”
Harrington acknowledges that their focus has truly shifted to make employee wellness a central consideration in all school board decisions. He notes, “We don’t know if we have all the answers yet, but we’re going to see if we can figure it out. Student achievement will always be number one, but we’ve got to take care of our staff so they can take care of our students. That will be a top priority moving forward.”
For a number of years, HEB ISD has been able to outperform the nation-wide standards. Having long been evaluated by the Education Resource Group, an organization founded “to provide public education with a framework for managing continuous improvement” and “compares a district’s performance with peers to determine the effectiveness of district initiatives, programs and strategies,” the criteria repeatedly recognizes that HEB ISD surpasses all expectations set for them by the Texas Education Agency.
“Across our district, 51-57% of our students qualify for free or reduced-cost meals, but we consistently outperform districts with a similar demographic,” Harrington affirms. “Where most districts would land based on their low income numbers, we’ve always far exceeded those student achievement targets. That’s huge. That’s giving a group of students that may sometimes be marginalized, that may not be given the opportunities, the chance to achieve at a level that is as high as they can possibly achieve.”
HEB ISD also happens to be one of the most diverse school districts in Texas. “Over 70 languages are spoken in our homes,” Cole reports. “What that gives our students is a global look at, and feel for, building the way they see the world. They really have learned to see each other’s differences and to celebrate them in a unique and special way. Our programming is almost as diverse as our student population. The Board believes very strongly – and has for many years – that you have to educate the whole child. Of course we want them to have their core subjects. We want them to be strong academically. But we also want them to grow as people and that means many other things beyond just math and reading.” Some of the special programs on offer in HEB ISD’s Schools of Choice program include Spanish Immersion, World Languages, Suzuki Strings, and STEM at the elementary level, as well International Business Initiative, International Baccalaureate, and Orchestra at the junior high and high school level.
Community involvement is also a vital part of HEB ISD’s success. “For 10 or 12 years, the Board of Trustees has sponsored a twice-yearly meeting that we call our City Collaboration Meeting,” Cole says, “with members of the school board and all members of the Executive Leadership Team in the district. We invite the mayors and city councils of all three cities to join us. We invite the hospital and the community college as well. During these meetings, we open up a conversation about how we can work together. What has come out of those conversations are some really incredible programs, like an expanded summer reading program we call HEB Reads, and our Fire Academy.”
The mission of HEB Reads is to strengthen the community with a coordinated effort that provides educational and literacy opportunities for all. The program was designed to combat the impact of summer learning loss, otherwise known as the “summer slide.” Cole explains, “The school district and the three cities all collaborated to create one great, big summer reading program. It’s now a model across the country of how to maintain academic achievement and bridge that summer gap. We even have a mobile STEM lab powered by HEB Reads called the Think Tank that travels around the community, giving students access to more hands-on learning year round.”
The new Fire Academy program, launched in partnership with Tarrant County College and the fire departments of Hurst, Euless, and Bedford, also has them excited for what it could bring as far as a major workforce investment. “The key is our collaboration with the cities,” states Harrington. “We’re connecting these students with municipal fire services. We’re getting them their EMT certifications and giving them a way into that field. Essentially, we’re giving them options. Now, more than ever, students are going directly into the workforce. But they may not have the certifications they need to fully participate. So that’s our goal – to prepare our students so they’re ready for whatever’s next in life.”
Doing its part to promote workforce development and community integration in the Mid-Cities, the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital made a generous donation to the school district to address workforce shortages in the healthcare industry.
“They made a contribution to our health science program,” shares Lisa Karr, Director of Career and Technical Education. “They’ve been a partner in our district for many years, which started as a very small group of students who would go over to the hospital and shadow different departments. We’ve now deepened that relationship to add a Patient Care Technician program that was instituted this summer. The hospital has such a need for nurses, surgical technicians, and phlebotomists, so we’re facilitating that seamless pipeline for them to employ our students.”
Harrington calls it “the synergy of the area” and says it’s like nothing he’s ever seen before. “It’s unique, it’s special, it’s why I live here,” he affirms. “It’s why I want to be here.”
“What’s more is that our community organizations helped us out by buying rights to advertise, and that money was able to go directly to teacher and staff recognition,” contributes Deanne Hullender, Chief Public Relations and Marketing Officer. “It’s challenging for a PR department because we aren’t allowed to use taxpayer money for teacher appreciation gifts. But through advertising, our community partners raised $37,000 and we were able to touch every employee we have this year. That is a huge testimony to how this community sees the teachers, but also supports the school district that represents them.”
She adds that not many school districts could “build and rebuild” schools without a bond program. “Because of the district’s fiscal responsibility, we’ve allowed relief to taxpayers by building three schools without having to go to them and raising their taxes.”
As for educational recovery in the wake of COVID-19, Harrington believes they’re already well on their way to meeting the success factors agreed upon and outlined in Texas’ Education Recovery Plan.
“When we look at our preliminary State assessment scores, they’re outstanding. We’ve talked about a three-year recovery from COVID, but based on these scores, we’re on our way there.” Harrington says the school district is excited about “getting the students back where they need to be,” while acknowledging the commitment and effort that is already happening. “The data supports that when you fall two years behind, it’s difficult to recover,” he shares. “Moving forward, we’re looking at converting some programs and expanding others. We have low enrollment in a Collision program, so we’re looking into expanding that into a Welding program. The workforce is changing. Our job is to make sure we’re prepared, and that our students are ready to enter today’s workforce – not yesterday’s.”
AT A GLANCE
Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District
What: A progressive K-12 public school district recognized for its academic excellence
Where: Based in Bedford, Texas
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