Get to know Frisco ISD’s new Superintendent
SET COLLEGE AS A STEPPING STONE: Growing up in a small town in West Texas, there was never any doubt that Frisco ISD Supt. Mike Waldrip and his younger brother would go to college.
“It was a non-negotiable as far as my father was concerned,” Waldrip said. “He didn’t really care what we did or where we studied, but we were going to college because he always felt like it was going to do things for us that he and my Mom never had the ability to do because they lacked that kind of education.”
The Waldrip family viewed education as a gateway to success – a philosophy Mike Waldrip carried with him and has shared with thousands of students over the course of his 35-year career as a school teacher, coach and administrator.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, CREATING CAREERS: Now as new Superintendent of schools at Frisco ISD, many of the lessons he learned as a young person, such as the importance of hard work and personal relationships, have shaped the leader and educator he is today.
As a student in Post in northwest Texas – a rural community (pop. 3,800, 2,600 elevation) founded by C.W. Post, who launched Post Cereals – Waldrip played every sport available, including football, basketball and track. He says his coaches, along with his fourth grade teacher, inspired him to pursue a career in education.
“I made that decision very early on that that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I just remember thinking in middle school, it would be really cool to teach and coach because these guys look like they’re having a lot of fun doing what they’re doing.”
COLLEGE DAYS FOR WALDRIP
At a towering 6 feet-6 inches, Waldrip played basketball for a year after high school at Angelo State University.
Waldrip earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech, where he studied physical education and biology.
After graduation, he put Lubbock, Texas, in his rear view mirror to take on his first teaching and coaching job in in the South Texas community of Victoria, before moving on to Goliad and then west to Seminole. In all, he spent 16 years as a biology teacher and basketball coach.
“I always liked trying to create a situation in the classroom where kids could involve themselves in the learning and they could be inquisitive and ask questions and learn some things for themselves,” Waldrip said.
He went on to serve as assistant principal at Seminole High School and earned his master’s degree from Sul Ross State University in 2000.
BOUNCING TO FRISCO, TEXAS
In 2002, a one-time rival on the basketball court – former Centennial High School and Clark Middle School Principal Randy Spain – recruited Waldrip to Frisco ISD.
Waldrip served first as principal at Clark Middle School; and then as the District’s first-ever director of secondary instruction.
Waldrip opened Liberty High School as principal in 2006, something he says was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of his career.
“Just being able to put a complete staff together, open a high school brand new and set the vision and course for what the school was going to be like,” Waldrip said. “I always said I wanted Liberty to be a place where kids enjoyed coming to school and teachers enjoyed coming to work, and that’s what we tried to focus on to create that type of environment for everyone.”
BECOMING DR. WALDRIP
Waldrip earned his Doctor of Education from The University of North Texas in 2008 and in 2010 he move to central administration, where he oversaw data systems, program evaluation and various Frisco ISD departments.
“I have always believed that you can’t make informed decisions unless you have some things to inform your decisions,” Waldrip said. “Data doesn’t necessarily give you all the answers, but it certainly helps narrow the areas where you need to look to find those answers.”
BECOMING A SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT
In 2014, Waldrip accepted the position of superintendent of schools in nearby Coppell ISD. He says the experience prepared him for the job in Frisco ISD, which now has more than 56,000 students. Frisco ISD is poised to soon become the third largest school district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“I think being the leader of any school district, you see the importance of engaging the community in what you’re doing and telling your story,” Waldrip said. “It’s important to solicit the community’s input because it is their school district and you want to provide the kind of education that they want for their kids.”
HOME IN FRISCO TEXAS
Frisco ISD is home for Waldrip and his wife Lisa, who have two sons who graduated from Frisco ISD schools. Waldrip said he’s inspired by the school district’s mission statement to know every student by name and need
“I think they [Frisco families] think, ‘Well that’s a place that I would like for my kids to go to school, if those people are really focused on knowing my child by name and knowing what their needs are,’” he said. “I think that’s a huge unifying factor for the school district, even though people come from different communities, areas and backgrounds.
“Frisco ISD has a long legacy of providing a quality education and there is no reason for this not to continue,” he said. “We have educators up for the task and a community that desires and supports this type of education for their kids.
“I am very blessed to be able to lead Frisco ISD in that work,” he said. “My wife and I couldn’t be happier to be moving back to the place we call home.”
Dr. Waldrip succeeds Dr. Jeremy Lyon, who retired in June after more than four years as Frisco ISD superintendent and 31 years in public education. The selection of Dr. Waldrip as lone finalist concluded a two-month search for Dr. Lyon’s replacement. With the assistance of Jenny Preston Consulting, the Board garnered public input from community members as well as FISD staff to develop a wish list of qualities the District desired in a new superintendent.
During the almost 60-day process, applications were received from across the country.
Frisco ISD School Board President Anne McCausland said: “Hiring a superintendent is the most far-reaching decision a school board will ever make. This Board focused its energies to find the best fit for our students, staff, parents and community. We are thrilled to have Dr. Mike Waldrip continue our commitment to student achievement and keep Frisco ISD a destination district.”
But his fellow Republicans have questions about his candidacy
The Houston Chronicle is reporting this morning …
By JOE HOLLEY
Craig James has never run for public office, but he has no doubt why he is a Republican candidate to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. “I don’t want to seem weird and like a spiritual freak,” he said last week over a cup of coffee in Austin, “but I really believe God placed it on my heart to do this.”
With flashing ice-blue eyes and a no-huddle, hurry-up approach to life, the 51-year-old former SMU football star and ESPN football analyst seems to be a man on a mission, although his garrulous, good-humored personality leavens the zeal a bit.
James himself wondered whether God had the right number when he first heard the call a couple of years ago. He said he asked his minister how he was supposed to know whether it really was a call from above.
James recalled his answer: “ ’Craig, what I’ve found is, if it’s my idea, after two or three or four days, it goes away.’ And it wouldn’t go away for me.”
God may move in mysterious ways, but a number of James’ fellow Republicans also have questions about his candidacy.
They wonder what niche the rookie candidate fills in a race that includes an establishment candidate with $200 million of his own money to spend in Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; a fiery tea party favorite in former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz; and a well-funded North Texas favorite son in former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Recent polls show James, who joined the race at the last minute, with 2 percent support statewide.
“I’ve never met him, which seems odd,” said Jonathan Neerman, former Dallas County Republican Party chairman. “I had heard of his interest a couple of years ago, but I sort of laughed it off. It’s hard to see where his base of support is.”
James’ backers include two of Rick Perry’s longtime financial supporters, Houston investor Jim Lee and Dallas insurance executive Roy Bailey, who supported former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid in 2008.
Lee, who helped raise money for Perry’s presidential campaign, is one of three founding partners on Texans for a Better America, a nonprofit James set up last April to promote conservative policies. James also is a board member at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank with pervasive influence over Texas Republicans.
Known for football
James’ politics generally are in line with the ultraconservative views of his fellow GOP hopefuls, but it’s his football persona that still predominates – and polarizes.
A high-school football phenom, he led Stratford to the 1978 4A championship, and then teamed with fellow running back Eric Dickerson as part of SMU’s fabled “Pony Express.” Although the Mustangs won two Southwest Conference championships, the team was found guilty of repeated rules infractions.
In 1987, the NCAA levied the so-called “death penalty” for payments to players from wealthy alumni and supporters. James has maintained that he was not involved.
After a professional career with the Washington Federals of the United States Football League and the New England Patriots, James joined ESPN and ABC. He also got involved in ranching and communications. More recently, he has been involved in a high-profile squabble involving his son Adam, formerly a football player at Texas Tech, and Mike Leach, the winningest coach in Red Raider history. James accused Leach of forcing his son to sit in a dark equipment shed during practice after being diagnosed with a concussion.
Defendant in suit
Leach denied mistreating the younger James, but lost his job over the incident. Recently named head coach at Washington State University, he is suing Tech and has named Craig James as a defendant.
“Mitt Romney will take less heat for Bain Capital closing whole factories than Craig James is already facing for how he got one football coach fired,” Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford wrote recently.
Neerman agreed. “Tech has a huge alumni base of support around the state,” he said. “Plus, I would guess he has zero support west of Fort Worth.”
Not so, says James, who insists he has supporters in Lubbock and West Texas. “I look at it like this,” he said. “I supported our son against a bullying act, bottom line – nothing more, nothing less. For anyone who doesn’t get that and wouldn’t support their son or child in a bullying act, in an unheard-of act, I don’t care for them. I don’t want their vote. Keep their vote.”
Unfamiliar with issues
James is a forceful and articulate speaker, but as he morphs into a politician his communication skills are thin cover for an unfamiliarity, for now, with the issues. At a candidate forum last week, he came out strongly – for freedom.
“I will never, never back down in fighting for freedom,” he declared. Beside him, Dewhurst wondered whether anyone would disagree.
James, who likes to say he lives on “real street,” also declared, “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and it’s never right to do wrong.”
At the Texas Association of Business-sponsored forum, James voiced support for eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education. He also echoed his rivals’ support for cutting the number of weeks individuals can receive unemployment benefits.
‘I’m still standing’
Two qualities, James insisted, distinguish his candidacy – his experience as a private-sector employer and his determination in the face of adversity.
“I’ve been kicked in the backside, and I’ve been hit in the mouth,” he said. “I don’t have to have someone explain, ‘Hey man, I bet it really hurts to get hit in the mouth.’ I’ve been hit in the mouth, I’ve been on the ground. I had to get up off the ground, physically as well as emotionally, and I’m still standing.”
Joe Holley writes for the Houston Chronicle. firstname.lastname@example.org