Estrada named finalist for superintendent of the year
Special to the LPR
The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) named Lockhart Independent School District Superintendent Mark Estrada Jr. as one of five state finalists for 2021 Superintendent of the Year.
Estrada had advanced to the state-level competition after being selected as the 2021 Regional Superintendent of the Year in June by the Education Service Center Region 13, which comprises a total of 57 school districts in Texas.
Estrada has served as superintendent to Lockhart ISD and its nearly 6,200 students since 2018; however, his leadership has impacted LISD students for the past nine years. He initially joined the district as principal of Plum Creek Elementary School in 2012. In 2014, LISD tapped Estrada as principal of Lockhart Junior High School and asked him to jointly serve as principal at Lockhart High School’s M.L. Cisneros Freshman Campus in 2016. In that same year, the district promoted Estrada to assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. His record of success made him the top choice for superintendent of schools in 2018.
“The Board of Trustees and I are thrilled to hear the news of the selection of Mark Estrada as a Top 5 state finalist for Superintendent of the Year, an honor that is well-deserved,” said Board President Steve Johnson. “I believe the leadership we have in Lockhart could effectively lead any school district in the world, but our students and community benefit from his exceptional leadership right here in Lockhart ISD. We are proud of the way he has a ‘LockHeart for People,’ is ‘Locked on Excellence,’ and is ‘Unlocking Potential’ in students, staff, and the community. He truly exemplifies the core beliefs of our district values and has made a significant impact.”
Sponsored by the Texas Association of School Boards since 1984, the Superintendent of the Year program recognizes outstanding leaders for achievement and excellence in public school administration. Honorees exhibit exemplary and visionary leadership toward improving student performance.
A superintendent must be nominated by the local school board, providing specific examples related to five topics: leadership, management, and school climate; school board-superintendent relations; school improvement and instructional leadership; fiscal management; and school-community relations.
“Superintendent Estrada’s drive for excellence, creative and visionary problem-solving, and passion for creating the optimal learning environment for our students to feel challenged, healthy, engaged, safe, and supported has been especially valuable during this pandemic,” noted Board President Johnson. When schools shut down in March 2020, Estrada felt a sense of urgency in meeting the needs of students as 75 percent were economically disadvantaged, and 60 percent lived in rural areas with no internet towers or service. He quickly approached the Board for approval to build internet towers to ensure all LISD students in need would be able to access free internet within its 300 square miles to continue learning, accelerated the district’s pace to become a 1:1 district two years ahead of schedule, and mobilized school buses to start delivering free meals to students in rural areas in addition to the curbside meal service.
During the 2020-2021 school year, Estrada ensured every pre-Kindergarten – 12th-grade student received free school supplies during a time when many families faced hardships resulting from the pandemic, and he continued bus delivery of meals to students who were distance learners to ensure nutritious meals. In fact, during this time, LISD served a total of 1.26 million free meals to its students. His focus has been to empower everyone to thrive, identifying barriers to equitable access to education, and with the support of the Board, working to close the gaps.
As superintendent, Estrada holds high expectations for students as the architect of the district’s commitment to growing every student by 1.5 years each year in reading and math, whether they are struggling learners or advanced learners. In 2020-2021, elementary campuses had a goal of 75 percent of students making the goal of 1.5 years of reading. During this pandemic, district teachers exceeded the goal with 77 percent of students achieving 1.5 years of growth. In 2016, only 17 percent had achieved this growth in reading.
Estrada’s visionary leadership sparked a transformation of innovation in teaching and learning across the school district through the LISD Visionary Instructional Plan. The initiative launched an innovative instructional vision for the district, leveraging technology in the classroom to build the “classroom of tomorrow” today for students. Teacher-created and teacher-led, this program created the next generation classroom in LISD. Innovation has been the key in this initiative—not just doing the same things differently, but doing completely new things to push learning into new frontiers for students.
Estrada’s instructional leadership is devoted to whole-child education. As superintendent, he expanded the district’s capacity to provide full-time music and art teachers at every elementary campus and launched a string orchestra program for secondary students to complement the district’s robust fine arts offerings.
In 2019, Lockhart ISD was selected for the prestigious Holdsworth Center leadership program because of his belief that effective leadership is the key ingredient to driving and sustaining positive growth and change. He and his team engaged all staff to learn what was most important to them in LISD leaders, and based upon their feedback, developed a formal leadership definition that clearly revealed the district’s shared values of having a “LockHeart for People” to build relational capacity, “UnLocking Potential” to develop and empower self and others, and being “Locked on Excellence” in relentless pursuit of excellent and equitable outcomes. The district launched a districtwide study of these shared values and leadership behaviors during the past year to anchor the district’s work during the turbulent pandemic year.
Connected to the district’s focus on leadership development, LISD launched its Emerging Leaders Program in partnership with Texas State University, Seguin ISD, and San Marcos CISD. This program provides teachers who demonstrate a desire to become equity-oriented school and community leaders the opportunity to pursue a Master’s in Education leadership with Principal Certification. Participants benefit from a unique program that tailors curriculum and coursework to align with the district’s diverse needs.
Additionally, Estrada launched the Lever Leader program, intentionally designed to build teacher leadership across the school district. Over time, LISD aims to move every campus to a shared leadership model to provide leadership pathways that offer opportunities for teachers to take on leadership in non-administrative and administrative roles to retain, greater compensate, and empower the district’s excellent teachers; distribute leadership so that teachers share responsibility for the leadership of the school and increasing teachers’ level of influence with decision making, and attain excellent and equitable student outcomes. This model was piloted at Plum Creek Elementary in 2020-2021 and is expanding to Lockhart High School this upcoming school year.
The impact of Estrada’s leadership on the district was evident in LISD’s most recent employee engagement survey. He implemented new ways to engage people to solicit feedback on important district and school issues, championing shared ownership and transparency as superintendent. During this pandemic year, 73 percent of staff stated district administrators made good decisions overall in the survey. That same measure in 2018, prior to his hiring, was 49 percent. Also, 91 percent stated they were proud to work for the school district, compared with 79 percent prior to his tenure.
Estrada’s contributions and achievements to Lockhart ISD, the community, and Texas public education earned him the 2020 Texas State University’s Young Alumni Rising Star Award as well as the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Orgullo Award.
“It is truly an honor to be selected as a state finalist for Superintendent of the Year, and it is one that I share with the Board and leadership team of Lockhart ISD,” said Superintendent Estrada. “Our collective focus on taking care of our people, holding high expectations, and ensuring we are unlocking the full potential of every student and staff member is allowing us to build a legacy of excellence together for every student in Lockhart ISD.”
In September, the five state finalists will be interviewed, and one will be selected as the state winner of the 2021 Superintendent of the Year award. The winner will be announced at the Texas Association of School Administrators/TASB Convention in Dallas on September 24, 2021.
In addition to his contributions within LISD, Estrada participates as a leader in a number of local, statewide and national organizations including the Lockhart Evening Lions Club, Texas State University College of Education Advisory Board, E3 Alliance RaiseUP Texas Steering Committee, E3 Alliance Principles of Promise Steering Committee, Educational Leadership Magazine Readers’ Advisory Board, and Austin Area Research Organization (AARO), for which he serves as the social equity committee co-chair.
As a writer, his articles about innovation in education have been featured in Education Week, and he has been invited as a guest on BAM! Radio Network as an expert on a variety of educational issues.
He earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Education at Texas State University in San Marcos. Estrada is currently a doctoral candidate in the Cooperative Superintendency Program at The University of Texas at Austin, which is consistently rated in the top 5 programs in the country.