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Estrada helps christen innovative facility

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On a steamy day in late June, Lockhart ISD Superintendent Mark Estrada and Lockhart Junior High School Principal Edgar Torres were part of a banner day for Texas educators.

The two LISD administrators helped cut the proverbial ribbon on The Holdsworth Center’s new $200 million campus on Lake Austin. The resort-like facility situated on 44 acres of lakefront property was built by H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt, the center’s founder, to develop leadership skills in Texas educators in a setting intended to rival that of what CEO’s and business executives experience when they go to training and continuing education conferences.

In 2019, Lockhart Independent School District was chosen as one of six school districts selected for a 5-year leadership program and $6 million investment by the center. LISD is the smallest of a total of 19 Texas school districts selected by The Holdsworth Center since the launch of its institute.

As a chosen guest speaker, Estrada, himself a recent graduate of the leadership program, took the podium and shared examples of how the center had been a boon to his district.

“Our leadership team focused on how to learn to be better leaders as individuals, and how to impact others,” Estrada said. “Now, we have a leadership that clearly defines everything we do and what we value. We’re focused on unlocking potential, and during our most recent principal hiring, we were only able to interview internal candidates because we had such a deep bench.

“In a recent survey, our staff indicated that our district has successfully evolved into a more people-focused district while holding on to our competitive market culture. The district exceeded our goal for 1.5 years growth in reading and math, and 90 percent of our staff say they are proud to work in our district.”

Developing today’s leaders

Charles Butt founded The Holdsworth Center in 2017. He named the nonprofit organization for his mother, a former schoolteacher and lifelong advocate for social justice.

Described as intelligent, strong, persevering, always compassionate and the embodiment of absolute determination, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth dedicated her life to alleviating the suffering of the sick, disabled and mentally ill. She believed deeply that “one solitary life can make a difference” and showed it with her extraordinary actions.

As a young woman in the 1920s, Holdsworth became a schoolteacher in Kerrville and Center Point in the Hill Country. She’s said to have spoken often of how much she cared for her students, making a deep impression on her youngest son, Charles Butt.

Butt has directed much of his personal and corporate giving toward education, developing initiatives such as the annual H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards, the H-E-B Read 3 early literacy program and Raise Your Hand Texas, an advocacy organization focused on public policies that support and improve our public schools. The Holdsworth Center builds on those efforts by strengthening the leaders who serve educators and students.

“A rapidly changing reality has confirmed leadership matters,” said Dr. Lindsay Whorton, President of the Holdsworth Center. “The skills you need are not something you’re born with. That set of skills and capacities is forged and sharpened over time. This is why The Holdsworth Center exists and why this program exists, because Charles Butt believed our public school leaders are nation builders who shape our collective futures and deserve rigorous professional learning in a world-class setting.”

The center includes classrooms and learning spaces, an outdoor theater, a boat dock with a two story classroom, social common areas and guest lodging.

“There is no path to equity and excellence without great leadership,” Whorton said. “Our goal is to build on the talent and skill that already exists in our schools to produce great leaders for our schools.

It’s an ambitious mission, but we know where we have to start. It starts with people — people like you and me, who experience an inner awakening before igniting others to join them on a path to transformative change.”

Helping Lockhart evolve

The leadership program that a handful of Lockhart ISD administrators recently completed provided onsite learning for participants to study examples of education leadership in Singapore and Toronto, Canada, and H-E-B’s organizational leadership in San Antonio. The Holdsworth Center also invited internationally renowned thought leaders to facilitate the learning for program participants.

“When we looked at our district needs, we realized we did not have a clear definition of what a leader in Lockhart ISD should look like, nor did we have a system to identify and develop high-potential leaders to expand our capacity and deepen our leadership bench,” Estrada said. “We also realized, based upon staff feedback, that we needed to move more towards a people-focused culture to create a feeling of connectedness and belonging. We had a lot of work to do.” 

That Lockhart ISD made it through the rigorous application process and was selected for the program speaks volumes about what LISD is and where it’s headed, Estrada said.

“It says a lot,” Estrada said. “It speaks to the type of people we have in our district that a center like this would commit to investing $6 million in our district. It speaks to the high functioning system that we’re a part of. It says a lot about our board of trustees, our campus leaders and the capacity and potential we have to grow as a district.

A good school district is also important in terms of economic development, Estrada acknowledged.

“When people look at investing in the community, the school system is important,” he said. “Being a part of The Holdsworth Center signals that the school district is doing good things.

“Iron sharpens iron, and I think that will speak to investors who are looking at Lockhart.”

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