Xing out negativity, on and off the field

“Throw up the X” is known worldwide thanks to Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver and former Lufkin Panther, Dez Bryant. What some might not know is what the symbol that he flashes as a touchdown celebration even means. My husband, Joseph, played football back in the day, and I have a picture of him “throwing up the X” after a football game. Who would have thought that 25 years later that Dez Bryant would use the same symbol but (unlike my husband) uses it for a specific reason. After seeing him score more and more touchdowns and throw up the X in celebration, I finally found out what it was all about. He’s “Xing” out all of the negativity on and off the field. What a great message for the world.

Bryant, like so many others, are success stories today because of devoted community and family members as well as teachers, coaches, and staff at Lufkin ISD who influenced his life for good and helped him “X” out the negativity in his life. These individuals simply would not give up on him. We never know what influence we have on those around us, especially the little ones, and how we could be the difference to set a student’s life on the right course. The work we all do is important work, shaping and molding the futures of the likes of Dez Bryant.

I think about my own life and how there were plenty of people who discouraged me and told me that I wouldn’t succeed. I, too, had to “X” out the negative comments and strive to make my goals and dreams happen. I am so thankful for the teachers, family, and community members who told me I could succeed. I’ve since learned that you surround yourself with people who believe in you and encourage you, and that you pay it forward by believing in and encouraging others. There’s just simply not enough time in this life for all of that negativity and that seems to be what Dez is all about.

I know I am personally proud of Dez and his accomplishments on and off the field. His impressive catches are pure athletic talent (by the way, he caught that ball), but how he handles himself after a call is reversed is an indication of his character. Some times the stars aren’t aligned right and the way we want things to work out just doesn’t. That’s a big part of life and big part of growing up. All I know is that from what I hear, the stars were aligned perfectly when Dez Bryant stepped on the field at Abe Martin stadium where Panther fans were in awe and where he was supported by a community and school district who had his best interest at heart. What a privilege for this young man to be among us and grow up to show others the “Lufkin way”.

Dez, I wish you the very best in the new year and I suggest we all “X” out the negativity around us and look forward to creating a positive year!

New Year is Opportunity to “Throw Up The X”

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” With the end of the first semester behind us, we press ahead to make 2015 even better than the past. I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve accomplished as a team, and I look forward to the new year and the excitement that it brings. Speaking of teams, I’m sure you all know by now that former Panther, Dez Bryant, wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, is in the playoffs this weekend. He like so many others are success stories today because of people like you that influenced his life for good and helped him “X” out the negativity in his life. Yesterday, 300 Anderson Eagles, threw up the “X” to show support for Bryant from his former elementary school. You never know what influence you have on those around you, especially the little ones around you, and how you could be the difference to set his or her life on the right course. I wish you the very best in the new year and I suggest we all “X” out the negativity around us and look forward to creating a positive year!

Lufkin ISD's Anderson Elementary shows its love for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who attended the school.
Lufkin ISD’s Anderson Elementary shows its love for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who attended the school.

Gift of an Education

It’s the season for giving and what a blessing and privilege it is to serve as the superintendent in a very giving community. So many in this city share their time, resources, and finances with the Lufkin school district in order to enhance the educational learning experiences of all of our students. Perhaps the essence of this giving was experienced last week during our Education Foundation’s inaugural prize patrol grant reveal.

Imagine a group of approximately 30 cheering people being led by the Lufkin band drum line and cheerleaders through the quiet campus halls celebrating our grant-winning teachers. Students and teachers peeped outside their doors to see what was going on and what the commotion was all about. The winning teachers came up with creative, innovative ideas to implement in the classroom and solicited funds from the newly created Education Foundation. Once the committee selected the winners through a blind process, the prize patrol was put into action complete with drummers, noisemakers, balloons, camera crews and six very big checks. The group all piled on a yellow school bus to travel to five of Lufkin ISD campuses. Talk about a powerful experience!

It was so exciting to see the surprise on the teachers’ faces. There were some tears of joy and lots of happy smiles from the students. I was so proud of the Education Foundation and for what they have accomplished in one year of operation. They were able to award six grants for a total of more than $13,700. That’s money going straight back into the classroom for innovative and creative ideas that will take our students to another level.

I think back on my own education and how it truly was the best gift that I ever received. I know my own teachers would have loved to have an opportunity where funds were available for their own ideas. Not only that, but the special educational memories created for students lasts a lifetime.

The foundation stays busy exploring ideas to have a greater impact, sharing the mission with potential donors, and fundraising for these grants. This is where the community comes in to show support of the foundation’s efforts. Donors from all over stepped up and demonstrated how important education and innovative thinking is to them by opening their wallets and their hearts. It was incredible to see this board in action. Each one of the members understands the mission: to provide opportunities for excellence in education, promote innovation in teaching, and partner with the community to enhance the quality of education for all students of the Lufkin Independent School District.

I am looking forward to seeing the manifestation of the grants in our classroom in the near future. Our teachers work tirelessly to create meaningful learning experiences in the classroom and with continued support of the community, they can make these extraordinary experiences happen.

It’s with a full heart and sincere gratitude that I thank all of those who made the Lufkin Education Foundation possible. For those who want to get involved or to just check out the hard work of the foundation, log on to their website Not only would a donation make a great gift for the holidays, but you would also be contributing to something really big…the lifetime gift of an education.

November Monthly Message to Team Lufkin ISD

Dear Team Lufkin ISD,

During this time, we reflect on the beauty and simplicity of being truly thankful.

I am thankful for my family. I am truly blessed with a wonderful husband and two amazing kids who continuously make me proud to be their mother.

I am thankful for my career in education. There is a Confucius quote that says, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I know the power of an education and recognize that it was an education that changed the trajectory of my life. I love serving and making a difference for future generations.

I am thankful for each of you – for your hard work and faithfulness to Lufkin ISD. I am most grateful to be associated with you and proud of the work that you do each day as you work tirelessly to connect education to the American dream.

I pray that you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I hope you make time to express your gratitude, spend quality time with family and friends, and contemplate all your blessings.

According to Alice Walker, “’Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.”

In closing, thanks for all you do!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tooting our own horn for the Panther Band

When I became superintendent of Lufkin ISD in the spring of 2013, there were certain events I was asked to clear my calendar for that were “do not miss” events. One of those events, to my surprise, was band camp. Immediately I was informed that it was a tradition for the superintendent and high school principal to attend the Panther Band camp that’s held about an hour away at Pineywoods Camp every August. Of course, I accepted the invitation to continue the tradition. As a former trombone player in the band myself, I was excited to meet some kindred band students and learn more about the military style of marching.

Mark Smith, our high school principal, drove me out to a beautiful part of the country where the camp was held. As we walked out, I was greeted by parents who told us that our timing was perfect. The students were finishing up a drill. I looked toward an open field and saw student section leaders providing instructions and groups of students practicing their marching steps over and over. As I stood and watched in amazement, I began to realize why this was one of those “do not miss” events. I met parents who explained the week’s schedule to me and how every minute was planned from sun up to sun down with activities designed to strengthen their musicianship, marching ability, and teamwork. Once they had perfected what they were working on, they were released and reported to our area, where they provided us with our mini concert. I was beyond impressed.

The Lufkin Panther Band is known, even outside our city limits, for its tradition of excellence. The expectations are high and our students continually meet and exceed those expectations. Not only did our band earn all ones at the annual UIL marching contest this year, they also brought home the 5A division state championship in the National Association of Military Marching Bands for the first time ever. Our band is successful because of many reasons, including community support that generates funds so that all of our band members can have a unique experience during band camp, the diligence of our student band leaders, and the commitment of our band directors.

At the beginning of the year, I was visiting the high school and I stopped by the band hall where I heard Scott Williams (otherwise known as “Band Man”) explaining the history of the Lufkin Panther Band being the best and how everyone had to do their parts to continue the tradition. He further explained the importance of providing our community with a great halftime show. The halftime performances have been incredible and the community support phenomenal as each show ends with a sincere standing ovation. When I think about all of the hard work, time and effort that Band Man puts in to choreographing performances, planning practices, and motivating nearly 200 students to work together to achieve perfection at the same time, I realize that excellence is not accidental.

Honor America Night, to me, was the culmination of our entire band program from the sixth graders who played sitting in their chairs, to the seventh graders who stood proudly playing, and the eighth graders who marched and spelled out “LP” to the LHS Panther Band marching and playing together all in honor of our veterans. I am so proud of our band and what they have accomplished.

The Lufkin Panther band is just one of the many examples of hard work and dedication that makes Lufkin ISD an exceptional place to be.

Motivation essential in crafting a positive learning experience

As the superintendent of schools for Lufkin ISD, one of my primary responsibilities is to effectively motivate leaders to lead, teachers to teach and students to learn. Motivation has been defined as “the willingness of a person to expend a certain amount of effort to achieve a particular goal under a particular set of circumstances.” With current federal and state legislation requiring schools to meet accountability standards on high-stakes tests, the issue of motivation can be challenging. The most important educational goal is for students to learn.

Another important goal is to make this newly acquired knowledge meaningful to students so that it may be retained and useful in their everyday lives. Motivation is the essential factor necessary in meeting these goals.

Each school year, we strive to implement innovative motivational strategies for all leaders, teachers, and students in our district. My philosophy of education is rooted in the humanistic approach, which focuses on the non-cognitive aspects of learning. As educational leaders and teachers, we must embrace this approach by addressing students’ needs, emotions, values and self-perception by providing relevant learning experiences for all students in an environment where students feel safe, have a sense of belonging, and experience increased self-esteem. This practice is the key to motivating students to love learning.

Many times, students are unmotivated because one or more of their needs aren’t being met. This is especially true for students who come from low socio-economically disadvantaged homes where there is not adequate food, clothing or shelter. Because their lives are inundated with inadequate resources, these students don’t feel safe, they lack a sense of belonging, and exhibit low self-esteem. Maslow defined human motivation as a search to meet basic needs that includes a five-level hierarchy of needs that begins with physiological needs at the bottom followed in ascending order by safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and self -actualization needs. Students who have any of their needs unmet may exhibit a lack of motivation.

I am proud to serve in a school district where teachers work fervently from the first day of school in the fall to the last day of school in the spring to create positive classroom experiences that make learning inviting to students. Learning is evident when teachers create warm and accepting classroom environments, which promote persistent effort and favorable attitudes toward learning. These environments stimulate learning and motivate students to learn.

To increase motivation for students to achieve at high levels, we must continuously emphasize goal setting and self-regulation. Teachers who embrace self-regulated learning encourage learners to take control of their own learning. Self-regulated learning is defined as the “systematic efforts to direct thoughts, feelings, and actions toward the attainment of one’s goals.” Students are able to focus on their own progress in mastering skills and acquiring knowledge. Research has shown that people are more inclined to engage in behaviors that they believe will contribute to achieving their own goals.

Our campus leaders in Lufkin ISD encourage a schoolwide climate of high expectations and positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is “strengthening the likelihood that a desired behavior will be repeated by presenting a stimulus immediately after the behavior has occurred.” When students are praised in front of their peers for an appropriate behavior, they feel validated and appreciated and the appropriate behavior is more likely to occur. At every opportunity, a zealous effort is made to provide faculty and students with authentic praise for their many strides toward improving academically.

The quote that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is certainly a true statement. Students are no different from adults. They want to feel validated, appreciated and encouraged to achieve their personal goals. My primary responsibility as the educational leader at Lufkin ISD is to make sure that this mission is accomplished.

October Monthly Message to Team Lufkin ISD

Dear Team Lufkin ISD,

We have an amazing school district. There are many positive things going on at any point of the day on our campuses and in our classrooms. I have had the privilege of experiencing some amazing activities throughout Panther Nation, too many to mention all of them. I was able to see and smell firsthand the 7th graders dissecting sharks in the middle school science lab. It was incredible to see that the liver is actually 2/3 the size of the body and the heart is tiny. It looks like we have some future doctors or marine biologists at the middle school. I have also had the opportunity to watch some LHS tennis and volleyball, two of my favorites. I am super proud of our cross-country team for winning the recent 16-5A district cross-country meet. The athletic talent in this district is quite impressive, which is a credit to our coaching staff.

Literacy is one of our focuses this year, and I love seeing our staff and teachers model and share the importance of reading. At Lufkin Middle School and Anderson Elementary, teachers and staff are writing what they are currently reading on white boards or large posters that are mounted outside their classrooms. Our students need to know and understand the value of reading and see us reading, too. By the way, I am reading Word Class Learners by Yong Zhao right now. I also volunteered in the HOSTS lab this week, and that was such a rewarding experience for me. Our HOSTS lab has over 100 volunteers who come in weekly to read with our third graders at Brandon Elementary. It’s so organized and fun for both the volunteer and the student. Keep on reading!

The Realtors Breakfast at Lufkin High School was such a huge success. Local realtors joined us for breakfast and for a tour of the high school. There were three students who spoke after a brief welcome, introduction, and overview by the high school administrators. Our high school did an outstanding job sharing the success of our students, which is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our great staff. Our culinary arts classes cooked and served the breakfast. A lot of times, realtors are the first people who newcomers meet when they move to Lufkin. We will be hosting Realtor Breakfasts periodically to show them our district.

I appreciate all the hard work you do every day. May we continue to work toward our mission of educating and equipping all students for success through exceptional learning experiences. We are Team Lufkin ISD!

With Panther pride,

September Monthly Message to Team Lufkin ISD

Dear Team Lufkin ISD,

Congratulations, we have completed our first month of school and what a remarkable start we’ve had! I wanted to let every one of you know how proud I am of Team Lufkin ISD and how grateful I am for each of your contributions.

I have enjoyed my campus and classroom visits across the district. I am excited to report that I have witnessed engaging teaching and active learning, clean campuses and a lot of smiling faces. My focus has been on visiting our first year teachers’ classrooms and those who are new to to our district. The staff I have met with are thrilled to be at LISD and are very appreciative of all the support they have received. Keep up the great job of welcoming our newcomers to our team.

At the primary and elementary levels, and intentional focus on literacy is evident. We all know how vital literacy is to all areas of learning. Middle school continues to amaze me with the fact that there are three different schedules without any bells. Of course, our high school is the best preparation for college, which is apparent in all that is offered and the number of students who participate in the arts, band, athletics, and advanced academic courses. Recently, LHS hosted a large group of English teachers from a neighboring district for an entire day to learn from our staff. Word spreads when you’re the best!

To all who have polished, painted, mowed; to all who are preparing meals, driving buses, and patrolling campuses; to all who are educating and supporting our children each day – thank you. May we continue to work toward our mission of educating and equipping all students for success through exceptional learning experiences. We are Team Lufkin ISD!

With Panther pride,

Navigating via our strategic plan of action

I was 22 years old when I took my first flight, so it was very important to me that my daughter experience flying at an earlier age. Joslyn’s first flight, which was to Philadelphia for a family vacation, will forever be embedded into my memory. The clouds were thick and it seriously looked like we were flying into masses of cotton as we ascended into the air. As the evening approached, it was dark and we could hardly see anything out the window but clouds. I will never forget Joslyn’s profound question as she stared out the window, “How do the pilots fly the plane when they can’t see?”

For all intents and purposes, the pilots were flying blind, per se. They were seeing the same “nothingness” that Joslyn and I were seeing. However, they were charged with the task of navigating a plane full of hundreds of people through limited visibility.

I was both amazed and thankful at how they could perform such a feat with absolute precision. By faith, three pilots guided a 30-ton piece of metal through a dark sky filled with thick clouds. The pilots trusted the guidance from the air traffic controllers on the ground, and relied on other pilots to do their jobs, to safely guide the plane.

As educators, we work to prepare our students for a future that does not yet exist and quite possibly for careers and jobs that have not been created yet. Sometimes, it may seem like we are flying blind, but I am confident that we are equipped for the task.

To Joslyn and me, it appeared that the pilots were flying blind, but in reality they were relying on their training, their experiences, their knowledge, the technology in their hands and a voice on the ground that gave them their flight course.

Although the teachers are the pilots of the classroom and the students are the passengers, there is a huge support system in place to help students become successful. Parents, community members and all district staff share in the work to get all of our students from where they are to where they need to go.

More than 100 members of Team Lufkin ISD stakeholders met last year and participated in a strategic planning process that started with the school board members creating a mission, vision and belief statements for Lufkin ISD. As a result of their hard work, we are not flying blind but navigating with a strategic plan of action.
We are all working together toward a common goal of accomplishing our mission, which is to educate and equip all students for success through exceptional learning experiences.

It’s been said that faith and fear are very similar because they both are rooted in the unknown. The difference is that with faith, there is hope. We are very hopeful for a bright future for our students, and we want to share with you our vision, mission and the state of our district at our upcoming Panther Community Forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Tom Jack Lucas auditorium at the Lufkin High School. The sky is the limit for our students at Lufkin ISD.

Team Lufkin ISD Ready for New Year

One week from tomorrow, the yellow school buses will be running the roads, pencils will be sharpened and the doors to 15 school campuses will be opened for the first day of school for more than 8,600 Lufkin ISD students. Team Lufkin ISD is prepared and committed to not only teach and educate our students, but to also inspire and encourage success.

As I start my second year as superintendent of Lufkin ISD, I want to keep the momentum of excellence. Looking back over this past year, we have made some huge accomplishments: creating vision, mission and belief; implementing systems; standardizing protocols; approving salary increases; upgrading technology and purchasing additional buses, to name a few.

We celebrate the fact that 97 percent of our 2014 graduates will be entering higher institutions of learning or the military to further their education. Recently, we were notified that all 15 of our campuses met the state’s standard and received a total of 21 distinctions.

But more important than the state’s requirements is the connection our team makes with each student. Every member of Team Lufkin ISD is a child’s best hope, best chance, best educator. Helping all children reach their ultimate potential is our job, our mission. As educators, we must plan to work as if each student’s life depends on us, because it does.

Recently I received a friend request on Facebook from Sue Ogden Allen Murphy. I didn’t immediately recognize the name, but I accepted the request anyway. Later that evening, I received a direct message that said, “I am so proud of you!” I was still puzzled, so I went to her profile page and when I saw her, I remembered Ms. Sue Allen who served as my school counselor in middle school and high school.

I could feel the tears forming as I remembered my seventh grade year. She was the first person that I confided in about some of the struggles of my life. Tears flowed as I recalled that during my senior year, Ms. Allen was the one who encouraged me to go to college. She helped me to complete the FAFSA application, and assisted me with scholarship and grant opportunities. As I reflected on all of the memories, I immediately responded to her message and explained how I would be forever indebted to her for the difference she made in my life.

As superintendent, I recognize that the work we engage in is not like any other job, per se. It is indeed mission work. Our success provides choices and opportunities for students, which in turn enriches communities and changes the world. I have a sign on the wall in my office that I read every single day that says, “On your worst day on the job, you are still some child’s best hope.”

Together we unite for the betterment of all of our children at Lufkin ISD. We are educators, no matter our title or position, with the tremendous responsibility of being constant shining examples and teaching life lessons to our young people. Each of us has a duty and responsibility to connect as a team to support our students. We are all here to make a positive difference for the children in our care.

Monday, Aug. 25, is the big day. It will be the first day of school, and the first day for our students to reap the benefits of an exceptional education where Team Lufkin ISD staff members are prepared to make this the best year ever. Welcome back!