East Central Independent School District is one of six districts selected to partner with the Holdsworth Center, an education advocacy and leadership development nonprofit.

For the next five years, East Central ISD will work with the Holdsworth Center to build the district’s capacity to develop its leaders in a sustainable way that will endure after the partnership ends, Holdsworth Center President Lindsay Whorton said. The Austin-based center’s work represents a $6 million investment in the school district.

The six districts were chosen from a pool of 43 applicants, a 130% increase from the last application period in 2019, Whorton said. The other five districts are Laredo, Victoria, Cedar Hill, Garland, and Dallas ISDs.

Whorton said East Central has the characteristics Holdsworth looks for when choosing districts to work with, such as a “thoughtful, creative” leader in Superintendent Roland Toscano and an aligned district team. The district has “innovative, visionary leadership” that can accomplish a lot in a short period of time, she said.

“We don’t believe there are any quick fixes in education. Investing deeply in the skill and capacity of the people working in our schools is the only way we will see true transformation,” Whorton said. “This five-year partnership will help leaders expand their view of what’s possible for their district, create a vision for change, and drive the innovations needed to deliver on the promise of excellence and equity for all students.” 

“East Central ISD is grateful and thrilled about this partnership with the Holdsworth Center,” the district said in a statement. “The investment in leadership that can rise to any challenge will help our students succeed. We have been doing a lot of work around developing leaders and this partnership will support us in realizing that vision.” 

Because of the pandemic, Whorton said she did not expect to get twice as many applications from school districts as the previous year.

“The message I took away from the 43 districts that applied and the conversations that we had with them is the deep recognition that if we don’t develop our people and we don’t develop their leadership capabilities, we won’t have the critical resource that we need to conquer the other challenges that are in our way,” she said.

Whorton said the districts go through a “very rigorous” application process to be selected for the program. The applicants are distilled down to finalists, which the center then visits. Holdsworth conducted virtual site visits this year because of the pandemic.

School districts must be “ready, willing, and able” to be chosen, Whorton said. They have to be willing to improve and be open to new ideas, ready to take on this work, and possess a track record for implementing organizational change.

The Holdsworth Center, founded in 2017 by H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt, aims to support and cultivate “the professional capacity and leadership capacity of educators,” Whorton said. With a statewide teacher shortage and high levels of teacher turnover, teachers do not receive professional training from seasoned educators, so districts struggle to find teachers to promote to assistant principal and principal positions, she said.

“We’re really trying to build a system, a systemic solution to ensure that there will be a strong bench of educational leaders both in the classroom, but also in key roles like the AP and principal role,” she said.

East Central ISD has 10,000 students on 15 campuses and 1,300 faculty and staff.

The Holdsworth Center serves 19 school districts in Texas. By 2028, the partnership is expected to reach more than 4,500 educators, including teacher leaders, assistant principals, principals, and central office administrators.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.