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10 Questions for a Leading Superintendent

Superintendents play a critical role in establishing school district leadership strategies and pursuing achievement goals. We talked to Dr. Joseph Burns about some emerging K-12 trends and the specific steps he has taken to position his district for long-term success.

Dr. Joseph Burns

Superintendent (Copperas Cove ISD, TX)

This month's guest is Dr. Joseph Burns, Superintendent of Copperas Cove ISD, a district of more than 8,200 students in central Texas. 

1) Thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions, Dr. Burns. First off, the superintendency seems to be one of the most rapidly changing roles in public education. In your opinion, what is the primary function of a superintendent today?

The superintendency has evolved into a much more complex leadership role than what has ever existed before. The emergent role of the superintendency is that of an advocate for research-based decision making. Many times those who make decisions regarding education funding, the implementation of education related laws and educational programs focus exclusively on subjective data or data that is not valid or reliable. 

It is the responsibility of the superintendent to make sure that decisions are grounded in research and that accurate, reliable data is foundational for good decision making. 

2) What is the #1 new or ongoing initiative that your district will be focused on over the course of the next year?

Providing tools to assist teachers as they plan, deliver and manage instruction. In addition, effective tools must also be provided to parents in order to assist parents as they work to monitor student progress and performance. Students need effective tools to allow them to quickly and efficiently submit work, review important components and effectively manage their learning.

3) How important is it for you to have accessible and accurate data when making decisions about your district’s future?

Valid, reliable data is the cornerstone for decision making. The ability to access this information in a timely fashion and follow data trends over time is paramount for making sound educational decisions.

4) One of the trends we’ve seen in this increasingly competitive and scrutinized K-12 landscape is the need for an effective community relations program. What are you doing to foster a productive partnership between your district and the community?

We use the services of a public information officer to keep our community and stakeholders informed about the activities taking place in Copperas Cove ISD. Our PIO utilizes FaceBook, Pinterest, Twitter, apps and the World Wide Web to share news with our stakeholders.

5) Have you noticed a correlation between parent engagement and student outcomes in your district?

Yes, positive parent / guardian engagement is the foundation for student success. Parents are the first teacher for their child and provide emotional, instructional and physical support for their child. Parents are crucial partners in the education of their child. Parents know their child better than anyone.

6) What steps have you taken to position CCISD as a “future-ready” district and prepare your students for life in the digital age?

CCISD is working to make sure all of the students we serve are prepared for whatever undertaking they choose in life after high school. We work to provide a strong educational foundation focused on math, science, English Language Arts, social studies and foreign language. In addition, we encourage students to be a part of co-curricular organizations that help to foster leadership skills, team work, responsibility, and accountability. 

We encourage our students to participate in AP coursework, dual credit coursework, and CTE courses. We want our students to have a broad foundation and experience that serves them well not only in school, but in life. 

7) What kind of impact has the strategic use of technology had on student achievement in your district?

Technology plays a key role in the way we work now and in the future. Our students are learning that technology is a tool that can be used to enhance our ability to communicate, organize our thoughts and ideas, and solve problems in creative ways.  

8) The past few years have shown us that large-scale technology rollouts can be disastrous in the absence of effective planning and implementation. Do you have any recommendations for other superintendents who are considering a district-wide tech initiative?

Remember, that technology is a tool. Plan, plan, plan – then review and adjust as needed. Make sure that support and professional development is a major component for teachers. Don't chase what you can't quantify. The technology you desire may exist, but the infrastructure for integration may not. Find an excellent, third party consultant who does not sell any products to be your guide. I would recommend the Renaissance Institute and Dr. Andrew Berning in Dallas, Texas.

9) The face of education is constantly changing. What is one recent trend that you think will have a major influence on school districts in the years to come?

Blended learning and educational access. I believe technology is going to provide schools the ability to reach students as never before with instructional services, educational feedback and tutoring and support. Schools have the opportunity to embrace this change or to ignore this trend. If we ignore this trend we run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

10) Is there one particular innovation or achievement that you are especially proud of in your time with CCISD?

Yes, our focus on educating every child we serve. It may sound trite, but every child really matters. Parents send schools their very best and it is our job to help those young people realize their full potential. We must realize that every child does not learn the same way or on the same day, but they all have potential. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed. That is where CCISD excels. We work diligently to provide exceptional learning opportunities for each and every student we serve.  After all, they are our future.


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