Pt. 1: Head of the class
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard recently discussed his plans to turn Oklahoma’s largest school district into an A+ system. Here, in two parts, is a portion of what he had to say.
MK: You’ve been superintendent almost a year. Describe your first year. How do you feel about the job at this point?
KB: My first year has been one of learning. While I’ve been involved in various leadership roles for a number of years, I had to adjust, to adapt and to learn about the urban setting. … learning how to deal with a district of this size.
... We had to get the right people in the right place on the bus. … I had to get a lot of input because I’m a highly collaborative person. I have to listen in order to really understand what the problems were, what people wanted and where we could go forward.
It’s been a serious challenge to bring everybody together because we are a highly diverse setting.
I have come to enjoy the job, and it’s extremely demanding. I just have to be candid and tell you it is more demanding than anything I have ever done in my life. I was surprised at the demands that it takes on your time and on your energies just because of the enormity of it. Today, I am very optimistic because I think we are really on to solving some of the problems at the core level.
MK: What has surprised you most about Tulsa Public Schools?
KB: The pockets of excellence. I don’t think the perception on the outside looking in is true. There’s some marvelous pockets of excellence. I was really surprised at some of the schools that I had been in and some of the programs.
Also, I was a little bit surprised at the caliber of people here. I am working with the most talented people I’ve ever worked with in my life, deep, talented, caring people.
To be frank, another surprise was … I don’t think the bureaucracy served the district when I was (first) here. ... This is about kids. This is about 42,000 kids, and all of us should be geared to what is in the best interest of the kids — not in what is the best interest of the bureaucracy. I was a little bit surprised that not everything here was focused on the kids, and I’ve tried to change that. The Education Service Center exists to serve the schools.
MK: How many hours a day do you think you spend working? 15?
KB: Yeah. … Many days I get home at 9:30 or 10 and that’s just because you have various activities and things. One of the things I am struggling with, if you just want to be frank, is that I am a family person … so trying to ensure that I have time for my family is one of the adjustments I have to make.
MK: Your predecessor made a lot of show about going to all the schools. What’s your approach to knowing the TPS system and its outlets?
KB: Excellent schools have to have good building leaders and teachers. … I want to have a relationship with the principals and I want to get to know the principals. And I think visiting schools is an important part of that because I think you need to know where they are.
Plus, I will tell you the funnest part of the job is visiting schools. … When I go into a school — it might sound corny — but I pick out a kid, or more than one, and I look at that child and I think, “What I do impacts your life.”
… I’m a quiet visitor. I never take anyone along with me … I don’t need an entourage. I go to see the kids and I go to see the principal and I prefer to go by myself. I’ve been in a lot of the schools, not nearly as many as I want.
Stay tuned for Part II to learn just what Ballard thinks TPS has accomplished and hear his thoughts for its future next week.