ECISD, community say farewell to interim school chief

After about 10 months as Ector County Independent School District’s interim superintendent, Jim Nelson is about to enter the next chapter in his life.
An attorney, former Texas education commissioner, executive director of the national AVID program, among other things, Nelson plans to take a break starting at the end of June and then possibly do some consulting work.
The district held a reception for Nelson Monday in the dining room of the administration building.
In the short term, he said, he and his wife, Karen, plan to stay at their place in Taos, N.M., for a few weeks. She is still working at the University of Texas at Austin, but she’s taking some time off.
“We just had another grandchild, so she’s been doing that, too. After that, one of the groups I used to do some consulting for wants me to help them some so we’ve had a couple of limited conversations about that,” Nelson said. “Everything’s kind of on hold. I need some time to decompress and just let the stress kind of fade away a little bit.”
Overall, though, Nelson said he’s glad he came back to his hometown of Odessa to help ECISD.
“This has been an incredible experience. I’m so glad I did it. But there’s a lot to do. I’m so happy for the district that Scott’s coming in because he’s going to do a great job,” Nelson said.
Scott Muri, currently superintendent of Spring Branch ISD, has been selected as the new ECISD school chief. He starts July 1.
As for his impact on the district, Nelson said that’s for others to judge.
“The goals were relatively simple. I wanted to help the community pass the TRE (tax ratification election), which we did. I wanted to reorganize the central office team so it much more focused on assisting campuses and we’ve done that. It took many months to do, but we’ve done that. Obviously, we want to work closely with the various community groups so that everybody was kind of pulling the same way. I think we’ve kind of made progress there. The chamber, the (education) partnership, the foundation, everybody’s been really supportive,” Nelson said.
The one major obstacle is the teacher shortage, he said. He said some headway has been made, but “it’s going to be a battle for the foreseeable future.”
“Tomorrow night,” Nelson said referring to tonight (June 18), “we’re going to present a plan to the board with one of the big apartment groups that will hopefully allow teachers access to a little more affordable places to live,” Nelson said.
“So we’re doing small things (and) we’re tying them into big things. That’s the key to really turning around the academic performance of the district (around) is having high quality, well-trained professionals in every single classroom. We’re not there yet by a long stretch, in some cases,” he said.
“But I do feel really good about the report mechanisms we’ve put in place. Between Dr. (Stephanie) Howard and Dr. (Lilia) Nanez, getting the leadership roles, the executive directors of elementary and secondary that was something I felt like really had to be done. It took much of the year to get that system in place. I know in talking to Scott (Muri), he’s just thrilled that that is the situation he’ll find himself in when he gets here because they are providing direct support and help to the principals, who of course are then are going to be able to better support their teachers. But … there’s a lot to do. Ten months is just a drop in the bucket in lots of ways,” Nelson said.
Asked if he’s worried about competition from new school that have recently come on line or are planned, Nelson said he views that differently than others might.
“I don’t worry about competition. Competition makes you better, if you look at it that way. We have a lot of challenges, but we also have a lot of advantages. We have good facilities. They need to be better. We need more of them, but we have to prove to parents that we are the best choice they can make for their children.”
Many of those who attended the reception said they felt blessed that Nelson was able to be the interim superintendent and that he bought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the position and stability to the district. “We’ve been blessed to have him here. He’s had a positive impact on this community because he’s an Odessan at heart, from his time serving on the school board many years ago to coming back here now to be our interim superintendent, he has had a very positive impact on our entire school district and on the community,” Education Foundation Director Celeste Potter said.
ECISD board member Nelson Minyard said Nelson has provided good, steady leadership between Tom Crowe, who was superintendent before Nelson was named interim, and Muri.
“We’re just happy he was here happy, he was available to give us a nice, good transition. It stabilized the district and he’s made some real good moves moving staff around, so he’s definitely affected the district kind of from behind the scenes in a real gentle way,” Minyard said.
Board President Donna Smith said ECISD has been lucky to have Nelson’s leadership and support for the past school year.
“I feel like he is leaving us a really strong place and there just aren’t very many districts in the state that would be lucky enough to be able to take advantage of his knowledge and his experience,” Smith said.
Lorraine Perryman, an education advocate, said Nelson has done a phenomenal job.
“He has brought the wealth of experience that he has from being commissioner of education for the state of Texas, being a superintendent, running the national AVID program, so we were the beneficiaries in ECISD of all of that wealth of experience, so I think he has begun to turn the ship here in a very positive way and I’m really looking forward to our new superintendent coming next month,” Perryman said.