By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Pam Waggoner is ending her tenure on the Leander ISD Board of Trustees after serving for 16 years and helping to shape one of the fastest growing school districts in the state.
Waggoner has witnessed the district’s growth from 15,000 students to over 42,000 while helping improve many facets at LISD.
Waggoner and her husband Chris moved to Steiner Ranch in the late 1990s. Juggling a busy household with their three young children, Waggoner saw an opportunity to get involved by helping at the local school level.
Steiner Ranch Elementary was the only school in Four Points at the time and she became its second PTA president. She started attending LISD board meetings nearly two decades ago and found out very few people were getting updates from the action taken at these meetings, especially at the south end of the district in Four Points. Not long after that, she ran for the LISD board.
Waggoner, who has been a fixture in the Four Points community, is not running for reelection and soon starts a new chapter of her life.
1) Share a little background about you and your family.
We have three young adults now: Christopher, Keith and Morgan. We moved to Steiner Ranch in 1997 and all three of my kids have attended Leander ISD. It provided them with the tools needed to go to college, get a job, and be completely independent today.
I couldn’t ask for more from a school system. Although we lived in several houses while the kids were growing up, they were all in Steiner Ranch. The entire family had a sense of community, belonging, and safety. Last year (2019), my husband and I moved out of Steiner and currently live in Leander while I transition off the board. We have been planning for this for quite some time.
2) Tell us how long you’ve served on the LISD Board?
I was first elected to the Leander ISD Board of Trustees in May 2002 and served until 2008 when I was defeated. I was simultaneously running for State Representative and while I won the primary, I lost in the general election. I ran for LISD trustee again in 2010 with more determination and understanding of the position and how one can make a real difference in local decisions. I served as president of the board from 2012-2015 and 2017-2018 and as vice president of the board from 2015-2017.
3) What drew you to running for the board?
Like most kids growing up, I had no idea who the superintendent was or that a school board of trustees existed. I started paying attention when my own kids entered the public school system. We moved to Steiner Ranch in 1997 in the “new section” of Rocky Ridge. That seems funny now that due to growth, the neighborhood hosts three elementaries and one middle school.
Steiner Ranch Elementary was a new school back then and I became the 2nd president of the PTA. I decided to attend every school board meeting and report back to the community what was going on and who was making the decisions. There were no audio recordings or videos of meetings and the district usually set out about 10 chairs or so for the audience, there was no audience.
I remember thinking why doesn’t anybody care about this process? This is important to our children, neighborhoods, etc… During a contentious time in the district around 2001-02, new middle schools were being decided and the south side of the district began to worry about their kids being transferred across town to new schools. I was in Foley’s Department store (now Macy’s) and received a phone call and asked if I would be interested in running for the school board. About that same time, one of the current board members was stepping down and I decided the timing was right and I ran in this open position.
I learned quickly as a board member that the district is only as great as the whole and you must make decisions based on what is best for the whole district. That does not always make you popular.
4) How have you seen the district grow?
I have seen the district grow in every way imaginable. The obvious answer is the student population. I believe we had under 15,000 students when I was first elected until now over 42,000. I know several students have not come back because of the pandemic, but this will change in time.
For many years, the number one concern was building schools. We never had enough seats inside a building for as fast as we were growing. We were opening three schools a year. Most of our board conversation was around passing bonds, building schools and boundary changes, and in 3rd place, academics. This is not a criticism, it’s just where we were and we had a high functioning curriculum department that seemed to be meeting the needs of our kids.
I cannot remember exactly the year, but the board really wanted to start looking at our academics, we started asking questions and comparing ourselves to “like’ districts. We found we had a long way to go and our focus became sharp. We wanted to use data and best practices to give our kids every opportunity to succeed in life and if they wanted, attend the college of their choice.
I believe the board does its best work for the district when we are in this lane. We challenge the administration as much as the parents challenge us. It is a great partnership. Having a shared focus makes for a high level of success for students.
The district has also become much more transparent and easier for teachers, staff, parents and students to have a voice. We now have videos of board meetings, unlimited citizens comments, social media, standing committees, and a host of other ways to communicate with administration and the board.
5) What were a couple of the biggest challenges through your tenure?
With growth, there definitely comes big challenges, and sometimes it is hard to talk about without being mis-understood, but I will give it a shot. While transparency is absolutely demanded for honest government for and by the people, it also has a tendency to limit real discussion in open sessions. Board members and staff are very aware of making “I gotcha” comments, therefore, discussions do not happen for fear of being mis-understood or being the next topic on social media. Real understanding and deep diving into issues is hard to do because questions do not get asked and debate is seen by the public as arguing and political agendas. This has had the tendency of making the board more political and interest groups forming to push their agenda. It is hard to hear the individual voices.
Our district is diverse, and more people are moving in everyday who do not know anything about us but what they read on social media and from state test scores. I hope they will see we love all of our kids, we want them to be safe, mentally sound, and engaged in learning and even though we fail on occasion, we are human and will do the best we can for all. Having open and safe conversations with a goal of understanding the needs of all will make us a better place to be and we need the publics’ help, understanding, and partnership in the spirit of moving forward to succeed. This has been the biggest challenge on a district level, maybe I should say a societal level, since I have been on the board.
6) What were a couple of your greatest rewards?
The best of times and the worst of times is during elections. During elections, it is always rewarding to see those willing to give their time and energy to help you get elected. Some are your closest friends willing to let you cry, scream, get angry and use them as a punching bag while loving you at the same time, and some are people you have never met, but you cast a vote or said something that made a difference in their kid’s life. I am grateful to all and I want to give them this very public and heartfelt thank-you.
Other moments and times I will remember is forming the Four Points Traffic Committee with some of the most talented and hardest working community members in the world. These people worked hard for the betterment of us all and although we have not been successful in building the back road to FPMS and VHS, we have been responsible for many road improvements around our schools. The plan for the road is finished and it sits in Fish and Wildlife. I hope it continues when I am gone, but it will take the effort of other board members and more importantly now, city council members and county officials to make it happen.
As everyone knows, our current elected officials do not support the road.
Other rewards include being one of the first seven members of Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation and being part of the board for many years. Those first three visionaries who founded LEEF will never get their due in importance of what they mean to LISD.
I have enjoyed being part of the advocacy group fighting for education for all whether it be as a Leander ISD trustee or part of Texas Association of School Boards, fighting for Texas students as a whole. This has defined much of my time on the board.
Lastly, seeing our students go out into the world can only make it a better place for all of us. Hearing about the success of our students after they leave LISD is a great reward. 2e have so many of our students changing the world and leaving a mark.
7) Why is now the time to retire from the board?
I said when I ran four years ago, it would be my last term. I keep my promises and it is time. My kids have been out for several years now and it is true you lose touch with the goings on inside the schools when you are not in them everyday. I believe others can do a better job now and have that fire they need to represent all students. I believe knowing when to step down is as important as knowing when to run.
8) What is up next for you, what plans do you have in your next chapter?
I own a home in Montgomery Tex. (north of Houston) and my husband and I plan on moving and working from there. It is time to move closer to family and be part of my kids next chapter in their lives. My attention has always been divided and I have missed many events and important moments in their lives for service to LISD. For better or worse, they have my full attention now. I do not want to miss another thing.