New administrator looking to improve quality

With a background in law and education, Chad Crowson has parlayed his skills into becoming Ector County ISD’s director of planning and school choice.

In his position, Crowson has two “big buckets” — choice schools, formerly known as magnet schools, and helping improve the approach at schools that need extra support.

“We are always looking to improve the options that we have for our kids. And so, as you probably know, there are thematic elements to those campuses. My role is not to supervise the principal or to really dig into the work that’s happening, specifically in classrooms but more to think broadly about the approach at the campus and to act more as an interested peer with the principals, to help them to identify areas of improvement and then to … in small iterations improve the approach at their schools,” Crowson said.

“… Then also with choice schools overseeing the choice application process, the lottery and interacting with parents who have concerns about those issues. But the larger part of my role is really the planning part. That’s the part that’s new to our district and so, just this past year, ECISD became part of the fourth cohort of schools in Texas to be in the System of Great Schools, or SGS,” he said.

“This is a four-year program that is a problem-solving approach to improving campuses with the stated goal of providing high-quality, best fit schools for every child. We recognize in ECISD that we have some high performing schools and we have other schools that are in need of improvement. And so this plan helps us to, in a very systematic way, go about improving those schools that need improvement. And in concert with our district’s strategic plan, which has been approved by the Board of Trustees, we think that these two things — the strategic plan and the System of Great Schools — together, can lead to some pretty dramatic improvements in our schools in a relatively short period of time,” Crowson said.

Crowson arrived at ECISD in July 2020, smack in the middle of the pandemic. He said it made meeting people and learning about the district interesting.

“You see people in little boxes on the screen. Eventually, they’re like real-life people that you get to interact with. And so you get to know them in a different way, but yeah, it was interesting coming here in the middle of that, really the height of the pandemic.”

Assistant Superintendent of Student and School Support Alicia Syverson said Crowson is a “tremendous asset to the team.”

“He has a unique skill set in that he is an educator and former campus administrator who has his law degree. His knowledge and experience play a key role in district Strategic Plan work in the areas of in-district partnerships and creating new choice options for families. We are very fortunate to have him on our team,” Syverson said in a text message.

ECISD, he said, is just getting started with the System of Great Schools process.

“The first part of it is more about analyzing school performance and so we just conducted what’s known as a Quality Seats Analysis, or QSA. … It’s more about identifying seats in our schools where there’s high quality instruction that’s happening. It’s a very quantitative approach,” Crowson said.

He added that they are looking for particular seats in schools where instruction is high quality and seats that need to be improved and identifying where those high quality seats can be replicated.

“… Once we have the QSA, we build from that what’s called the annual portfolio plan. It’s updated every year, and it’s more the action steps that we’re going to take to go about improving those schools. Sometimes it’s just sort of traditional school improvement activities — principal coaching, teacher coaching, looking at small curricular adjustments, committing more fully to the professional learning community process; things like that,” he said.

Other times, it involves dramatic school actions like partnering with charter organizations, the School Action Fund grant program and RISE campuses.

Rapidly Improving School Effectiveness program, or RISE, is an initiative geared to bolster academic performance. With a focus on strategic staffing and student support, the RISE program identifies specific staff members who can best meet the individual needs of students at participating campuses, and then carries out a series of unique action steps to ensure that students’ academic, social, and emotional needs are met, the ECISD website said.

The School Action Fund grant program campuses are conducting what Crowson said is a redesign.

That process involves a greater commitment to blended learning and social-emotional learning lessons.

“… I won’t say that they’re minor changes. They’re still significant changes, but not at the same level as partnering with (a) charter organization or doing the full reconstitution like Bowie and Burnet. So I oversee all of that process. … For the charter organizations, I help to draft and negotiate the contracts and performance agreements. For this collection of projects, I wrote the grants with help from the team, of course,” Crowson added.

He meets with campus leaders and there are technical advisors, which are outside organizations appointed by the Texas Education Agency to help to provide resources that ECISD need because this is new to them.

Crowson is also working on charter contracts that ECISD developed with IDEA Public Schools, Third Future, which is taking over operations of Ector College Prep Success Academy, and the YMCA for the pre-k 3 year old program.

Now in his 15th year in education, Crowson has worked in various capacities starting off as a teacher, instructional technology coach, assistant principal and principal.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Texas at Austin in government and his master’s of education and administration is from Lamar University. His law degree is from the University of Houston.

He and his wife, Lin have a daughter, Laila.

Originally from the Houston area, Crowson got into education through Teach for America and taught in Philadelphia.

“I taught 10th grade geometry at Mariana Bracetti Academy … which was quite the cultural shock … living in Texas my whole life. I went to UT for my bachelor’s and then moved to Philly,” Crowson said.

Additionally, from the time he was in middle school, he wanted to be a lawyer.

“I really went into Teach For America just to … take a break before I went to law school. And so when I left Philly, I moved back to Houston and I enrolled in law school and completed the first two years. I was working as an intern at the Harris County DA’s office and during the second summer of my law school career I went home and told my mom that I wanted to quit because I (missed) teaching so much …,” Crowson said.

His mother wasn’t real happy about that.

“I think she was already telling all of her friends that her first son was going to be a lawyer. … She encouraged me to stay and I was lucky that I was at the University of Houston and they have a part-time, like a night school for law students and so I switched to part time.”

He applied everywhere he could to be a teacher and decided to take the first job that was offered to him. Crowson said he ended up teaching eighth-grade U.S. history at Lomax Junior High (in La Porte). I won Teacher of the Year my very first year there, so I was like wow this is amazing. Maybe this is right; I’m doing the right thing.”

Crowson also finished law school and decided he could use the skills he had learned as an assistant principal or principal. He sat for the Bar Exam right before he started applying for assistant principal jobs because that was the only instance he’d have enough time to really study for it. He passed the Bar.

Superintendent Scott Muri hired Crowson for his first principal job at Spring Branch, the district Muri came to ECISD from.

Crowson said he has the goal one day of becoming a superintendent.

“He (Muri) is a fantastic mentor. I’ve learned so much from him … so when I had the opportunity to come to ECISD and work with him again it was a real no-brainer for me. And so I’m incredibly thankful to be out here …,” Crowson said.

There are some choice schools that could be changed, but it’s early days.

“We’re still in the process of evaluating the programs. And so, I will tell you that we have certain programs that are very highly sought after, that fill to capacity every year. Programs like Milam Fine Arts Academy and Reagan and Hayes are both very popular academic programs. And so, I can’t imagine that we would be looking to make wholesale changes to those campuses. But we might want to use some of the things that are working really well there at some of our other campuses perhaps but we wouldn’t necessarily transport the theme from one campus to another,” Crowson said.

The matter of whether to have school choice at the middle school level has been identified as an issue. There are choice options at the elementary and high school levels with George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa, OCTECHS and Odessa Collegiate Academy. Odessa High School also has the International Baccalaureate program.

“… There are different things that you could do and also in high school, like even if you attend a traditional high school there’s, there are a lot of different options. You could be in a dual enrollment approach where you’re really focused on preparing yourself and getting as many credits as possible for your life after graduation and moving to college, or you’re fully committed to athletics, or fine arts, or whatever it might be in those really robust programs that existed our traditional high schools. But in middle school, there’s this sort of vacuum that we have right now where Ector College Prep is the only one that’s technically a choice school. And, like some of our elementary schools, many of the students who attend Ector College Prep are going there just because that’s the nearest school to them. They’re not choosing to attend there. And so we will be looking to expand options in the middle school ranks. And that’s something that’s step one,” Crowson added.