People may not have always agreed with him, but Ector County Independent School District Superintendent Tom Crowe was described by people who have worked with him as someone with good people skills and one of the fairest people they know.
Crowe confirmed that he is retiring effective Dec. 22. He said he has been pondering the decision for about a month trying to decide on an appropriate time. He and his wife discussed it and went back and forth on a time frame, but Crowe said he wanted to give the district time to bring someone in to replace him.
The hope is that he can spend a couple of months with whoever is brought in so they can become familiar with the community. Crowe said there are some good things going on in the district and in the five years he’s been superintendent the district has moved from 22 schools on improvement required status under state accountability standards to eight.
Three schools — Ector Middle School and Noel and Zavala elementary schools — are in their fifth year of the designation. If the campuses don’t come off the list, they will face closure or the Texas Education Commissioner will appoint a board of managers over the whole district and there are plans to reconfigure Zavala and Noel to prekindergarten campuses and convert Ector into an in-district charter school.
He recently noted some double-digit gains in state test scores in fifth and eighth-grade results.
“It’s just time. We’ve made such progress and I think it’s just time for somebody to take it the next level. We’ve worked hard on a belief system. I think I saw the community and the school district turn a corner this year. Now that the belief system is there, they can carry it on,” Crowe said.
Although he’s had ups and downs in the job, Crowe said he has loved every minute of it and he’s going to love the next seven months. Crowe makes $267,903 a year which includes a $7,500.01 vehicle stipend.
He added that he’s also seen the community get involved in the schools. He and educational activist Lorraine Perryman and businessman Collin Sewell have worked closely on the Education Partnership.
The Education Partnership is comprised of a cross-section of city leaders representing various entities across the community, including members from the education, business, nonprofit and religious communities. Its goal is to encourage a common understanding of the educational issues and challenges facing the community, from cradle to career, and to work collaboratively to help solve these issues.
Asked if this was it for the school business, Crowe said, “I’m going to say 99.99 percent.”
“You never know what might happen. My wife says I’m done. We might do something away from schools. We owned antique mall in Bandera. She’s already got her eye on a building in Willis. … I want to play a lot of golf,” Crowe said.
“I’m very much at peace with this …,” he added.
ECISD Board of Trustees President Carol Gregg and Secretary Donna Smith said they are grateful for the years Crowe has given the district and realized they wouldn’t have him forever since he came to the district from retirement.
Gregg and trustee Delma Abalos noted his advocacy for students and teachers.
“I wasn’t here when he was hired, but from what I understand, he took over the district at a difficult time,” Gregg said. “He’s worked tirelessly to turn district around, improve scores and improve morale.
“He’s a strong advocate for students and teachers and has really pushed to move the district forward,” Gregg said. “We’re not where we would like to be, but we are certainly in a better position than when he came to the district, so I think we have to credit him with making improvements that were very significant to the district.”
Smith said ECISD is lucky Crowe stayed as long as he did.
“The thing I think that I appreciate him most for was the way he came in and sort of healed and smoothed. He came in during a really tumultuous time. He just had a real soothing presence that I think we needed,” Smith said.
In terms of searching for a new superintendent, the board hasn’t had a chance to meet since it was informed of Crowe’s retirement.
“I think it’s really, really important that we come together as a board and have a real strategic, specific discussion about what qualities we need in our next leader. It’s been suggested that we try to build a profile of what we need and hire to that profile. … I’d like to be really methodical about it. I think we’ve done some good work, last year in particular,” Smith said.
She added that the board is more on point than she’s seen it due to participating in the Lone Star Governance process.
“I feel like whoever takes Mr. Crowe’s place is going to have to be comfortable with, not an intrusive board, but one that that follows Lone Star Governance. We’re not the same board as when Tom came to us five years ago,” Smith said.
The Texas Education Agency website says the intention of Lone Star Governance is to provide a continuous improvement model for governing teams — boards in collaboration with their superintendents — that choose to focus on improving student outcomes.
Smith added that Crowe has “really strong people skills.”
“And I think it’s interesting that I have seen him actually grow as a superintendent. It’s not something that you would expect from someone at the end of his career, but he has adjusted himself to us and I feel like he’s ending his time with us more responsive and more collaborative than he was when he got here. He’s been good to work with. I think we’re all going to miss him,” Smith said.
Sewell, president of The Sewell Family of Companies, said whether he and Crowe agreed on all topics is irrelevant. He added that he wishes Crowe the very best.
He respects that Crowe has reduced the number of IR schools since he arrived and led ECISD through transition and improvement the last few years.
ECISD has more than 32,000 students and about 3,500 employees.
In the next superintendent, Sewell said when he looks at any position that’s responsible for thousands of people, the No. 1 quality is exceptional leadership and the ability to bring groups together under a common mission.
“So it’s a very tall order,” Sewell said. “I also believe what good leaders understand is not one person can do it.”
A leader has to develop a remarkable team around him.
“I think that’s one of the reasons I continue to be as involved as possible in public education is that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives impacted by the quality of work we do in public education,” Sewell said.
He added that the education of youth is one of the most critical things a community does.
Sewell said the quality of that education, not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but the values, determine the quality of the community.
In his career, Sewell said he has worked with five superintendents and looks forward to working with the sixth.
“I also think that while the direction and leadership of the district lies on the shoulders of the superintendent, the responsibility of the success of our community lies on the shoulders of the leaders of our community,” Sewell said. “Leaders come and go. That’s why the strength of the community has to lie on multiple shoulders, not just a single set.”
Abalos said she likes Crowe and that his heart is in the right place, but she believes the district needs to move in a new direction. She added that Crowe is one of the fairest people she’s ever met and he listens to people — a big plus for an administrator.
“… I do believe that as far he’s concerned no problem is too small to reach him. He’s really good about returning parents’ calls, listening to them and taking their concerns seriously. He really does a good job of that. To me that’s a
blueprint that every administrator at ECISD should follow,” Abalos said.
She would like the next superintendent to have those qualities and a strong academic background with experience in turning school districts around. Since she returned to the board in the last year, Abalos said ECISD has worked hard to turn the district around and Crowe has been at the head of that.
“He has listened to the board’s concerns and he has followed through on addressing and focusing on the needs that we believe needed to be dealt with,” Abalos said.
However, she said ECISD is “nowhere near” where it needs to be.
“This year, we have focused on trying to decipher what got us to low performing in the first place and working to get us out. We’re not there. We’re not even close to it, but I want to make sure we bring someone in who has experience in at-risk schools, or schools with problems,” Abalos said.
“I would like someone that comes from somewhere similar to ours in demographics and economics, who understands this population and has had some success in getting a district on the right road. … I just think we need to keep our options open; don’t limit it; make the search a wide search,” she said.