By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Superintendent Bret Champion is leaving Leander ISD — and a lasting legacy — to lead the Klein ISD in northwest Harris County in Houston.
“It has been a blessing and an opportunity to walk alongside quality educators and a great community,” said Champion, who has worked in LISD for 22 years, starting as a teacher, then assistant principal, principal and administrator.
He became the superintendent in 2008 and will begin as Klein’s superintendent in July.
LISD is a fast-growth district with nearly 37,000 students and Champion will be going to another fast-growth district with 50,000 students.
“The great news is that both districts are well prepared for the growth,” Champion said.
Will Streit, LISD board president said, “He leaves Leander ISD the strongest we have ever been in terms of academics, student achievement, financial management and devoted educators.”
Champion agrees that LISD is in a strong position, and he also reminds that LISD is much more than him.
“Overall, the district is in great shape. We have a terrific board, our administration and teachers are fantastic, we have great parents and community partnerships,” Champion said.
Energizing the culture
“I am incredibly proud that we’ve been able to sustain the culture we have in the school district,” Champion said.
In 2008, he helped enhance an already strong LISD culture when he became the superintendent. “‘Continue to improve’ was in our genes,” he said.
“I think I’ve been able to bring a bit of energy to it,” he said of how he’s influenced LISD culture.
As he moves to lead another fast-growth district, Champion will be taking some of his strengths that he’s learned at LISD.
In growth planning, Champion said that it is essential to have a quality demographer’s report which targets future growth.
The LISD board is agile and flexible in planning, which has helped him in his job.
“Adjust as things change,” Champion said. He cited the example “like when bottom falls out of economy,” and the LISD board was able to look ahead and slow down the opening of a new school, and as a result of the delay, save a lot of money.
Another of Champion’s strengths is building relationships.
“Sustaining and maintaining high quality relationships is true here, and really it’s true for any superintendency anywhere,” he said.
Another key is “ensuring to hire great folks… which comes with the added challenge of maintaining culture,” Champion said. He does not plan to take any LISD administration staffers with him to Klein.
Although there are many things that he will leave behind that he considers top accomplishments, Champion narrowed it down to a handful.
Under Champion’s leadership, LISD has worked hard on getting feedback from the community, and has stressed the importance of listening.
For example, Champion said, managing debt was an area that LISD asked for the community’s help, asking “How do you want us to work with debt and growth? What do you want us to see?”
LISD continues to host focus groups and issues surveys to hear from students, parents and teachers. Then LISD takes that data and incorporates it into the planning process.
“We see feedback as an opportunity to grow, not as just criticizing. Often time we use feedback to feed the system, to make improvements,” Champion said. “We’ve definitely gotten more robust in that area.”
“People want to be here and parents are so supportive,” Champion said.
LISD has the highest teacher retention rate in the area compared to all of the districts in the Greater Austin area.
Another accomplishment under his tenure is Literacy Partners where people in the community volunteer to read with students.
“The number of student lives we’re able to affect is incredible… students get to see that ‘the community cares about me and about my growth and learning,’” said Champion.
Currently Literacy Partners has 395 volunteers, 65 faith-based organizations and chamber of commerce groups, with 790 students receiving weekly reading time.
Another great accomplishment is raising the academic bar.
LISD experienced a 178 percent, five-year increase in academic scores earning accolades like National Merit Commendation or National Hispanic Recognition.
Next up for LISD
Champion expects LISD to get a lot of applicants for its top job.
“This job will certainly drive a lot qualified folks to apply,” he said. “This is a great place to live and to work, it’s working for a great board and terrific community and staff that is so student-focused.”
The LISD school board met Monday night to discuss next steps in a search for a new district leader.
“The good news is there are a lot of details to be worked out and the board is on top of it,” Champion said.
He added, the board will need to hear from the community, staff and parents in what LISD is looking for.
Champion, who is usually out and about throughout the 200-acre LISD, was at his desk during this interview. He looked around at the stacks of things yet to do, and said there seems to always be the attitude of “this is great, how can we make it better” in many different areas. But some of these things will have to be for the next superintendent to accomplish.
With his new job opportunity, Champion is going full circle. He started his teaching career as a Teach for America teacher, first in Louisiana for one year and then Houston for another year before coming to Leander ISD.
Now his sons are in college and he and his wife Marcee, “decided to start a new adventure.”
“I am heading back to Harris County. I got my under grad at the University of Houston, it’s an area I’ve always loved,” Champion said. “It’s a unique spot with amazing heritage. I look forward to working with Klein.”