Sam Wellington (Place 7)
What inspired you to run for Place 7 on the Coppell ISD Board of Trustees?
I have two kids at CISD and care immensely about preserving the district’s excellence. The primary reason that I moved to the district is for the exceptional education that it can provide my children, most specifically for the choices that are available to adapt to learning styles and objectives. My youngest son is currently at Wilson benefiting from the DLI education provided by the district. My eldest, now at Middle School North, is reaping the benefit of anticipating High School Spanish credits in Middle School as a result of successfully going through DLI in Elementary School. As an IB graduate, I look forward to my children having this option when they get to High School, or to have the choice of NTH@C.
Sadly, the district has now found itself facing an operating deficit of 7M$ for the upcoming year if significant changes are not made. The projections show this worsening beyond that if unaddressed. Hard choices lie ahead, and depending how our costs are challenged, and how out-of-the-box revenue solutions are assessed we may need to sacrifice programs which, in my opinion, are an important part of what makes CISD exceptional.
I felt compelled to stand-up and offer to help at the highest level to protect what I consider to be one of the most valuable and important assets that we have. If I can apply my skill set and the experience from my career to the problem solving that we as a district have ahead of us, this is something I felt I owed my children and our community.
What experiences prepared you for Place 7 on the CISD Board?
I was schooled in K-12 in a DLI program in Portuguese and English, earned an IB diploma in high school, and a Master’s degree in Engineering – making me appreciate what is on offer in our district, and the importance of working to preserve these alternatives and to help communicate their value to students and Parents. The fact that I am now fluent in Portuguese, French, Spanish and English is a direct result of having benefited from school programs which exposed me to different languages, and the fact that I was accepted at one of the United Kingdom’s top Universities is to me proof of the value of IB.
I work as the Director of Transformation at the US headquarters of a multinational group in the aviation industry. Our whole industry has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, and we have had to reassess how we work to ensure that the company is able to continue in the new economic reality that the pandemic has brought. This necessarily required coordination with every department, working closely with them to review every process, challenge the teams to seek improvements and define more efficient and lower cost ways of delivering our services. Through the teamwork and dedication of my colleagues, we have successfully managed to optimize our costs without degrading our services.
I believe that my background in industry, in particular as a transformation specialist, could bring a fresh outlook in challenging how the district addresses its costs. CISD is experiencing a transformation. For years, the district has known predominantly revenue growth, as Coppell continued to build out and this was compounded by strong value growth in real estate. The outlook always showed revenue growth. This was the period where we introduced many of our outstanding programs and grew our exceptional talent base. Currently, as most of Coppell is built out, our revenue base is now stabilizing. This is a different phase and requires different outlooks and different decision-making processes. The district will need to carefully manage trade-offs and challenge processes and decisions to optimize its cost and continue to be successful.
What are the biggest issues currently facing CISD?
As I said above, the need to address the budget deficit in the most effective manner while preserving choices such as IB, DLI and New Tech High so our learners and their parents can choose programs most adapted to their learning styles and their goals.
The need to ensure that the transition from the current system of concurrent virtual and on-site students to traditional content delivery is as smooth and efficient as possible. Furthermore, that the district addresses in the most effective manner any gaps or losses experienced by students during these unusual times. Our educators have been asked to do their jobs in a way they were never trained for, and the entire system was asked to turn on a dime, and they should be applauded. Further into the crisis the schools were given a new challenge to accommodate both students returning to class and catering to those who remained virtual, and again they got the job done. An entirely new way of delivering content emerged. But, as students return to schools, educators must identify gaps or losses, the schools and the district will have to assess and understand the needs, develop and deploy content that addresses these gaps. This will again be a team effort between the educators with their understanding of what their students need, and the board’s duty to empower the schools to deliver in a financially responsible manner.
And finally, the district’s growth patterns have changed, despite the recent redistricting there is still an imbalance in enrollments across the district. Growth patterns have shifted the center of balance of the student population further to the south of the district. The district must find a way to optimize the utilization of its campuses, which are currently at or near capacity in some schools of the district while seemingly underutilized in others. Furthermore, this must be done with the understanding that this is a delicate balance to strike with class sizes, as well as the impact to the students and the cost of increasing bussing distances.
What are your plans to address these concerns?
The strongest contributions that I can make to the board are linked to helping with the tough decisions we will face to rebalance the budget. Participating in the committees that will assess options and encouraging these teams to look for possibilities to optimize how we utilize resources and how we approach our challenges. For any matters raised to the board for approval, I would be more challenging of information presented, make sure that alternate solutions were studied and that every solution presented is that which provides the best balance of positive impact and minimized disruption. I would focus my efforts on what we can do differently to offer what we offer today at a cost we can afford given our new economic reality.
We have to recover attendance post COVID to assure we maximize our state funding revenue. But, for this we must understand the causes of departures; was this just COVID? Have we contacted parents of departing children to understand these causes? Are we addressing these?
But that isn’t all that is needed. Addressing the imbalance in enrollments across the district can contribute to this. We must make sure we optimize the student/teacher ratios and the utilization of our school buildings as growth patterns shift to the south of the district while balancing the impact to our students and to our budget of potential additional bus distances. Schools, like any other operation, have basic overheads that are not proportional to the population served. Operating too far below capacity at any school means additional cost per student.
We must also assess how to transform the cost imbalance of Pre-K moving to full day into something we can capitalize on for students who do not currently qualify.
Can we use our unique programs to attract learners by a targeted expansion of Open Enrollment toward currently underutilized campuses only? This can bring additional state funding revenue with incoming students and help balance the overhead costs for the schools that are currently undersubscribed.
Finally, how can we use the balance of our Bonds, which have been so well administered, to fund projects that lower operational cost – effectively transferring money from where we have it to where it is needed?
How would you describe CISD to a stranger?
CISD is a top-class public school district reputed for its excellence and willingness to innovate. With a near absolute graduation rate, and testing scores that place the district in the top 1% in Texas the results speak for themselves. The district has been known to attract and maintain top talent, with a low turnover rate of its educators and its excellent facilities. The district is able to offer choices to best suit student learning styles and life objectives through programs such as the International Baccalaureate, the Dual Language Immersion programs and a New Tech High School.