Thursday, January 29, 2015

Passionate About Learning- Meet Our New Superintendent, Dr. Howell Wright.

As everybody already knows, Dr. Howell Wright is our new superintendent.  Heck, you probably have already seen him around your campus. (And if you haven't, wait a few minutes because he will probably be back by pretty soon! )

Dr. Wright meets a candidate for the macho man contest- wait, is that HHS's Chijindu behind that giant moustache?

Not only is he quickly getting to know the district, he's also on a mission to get to know us and the children we teach.  We caught up with him last week and thought we would share here a little bit of what we found out about him.

Dr. Wright faces the media for an interview and photos in the corner of a busy journalism classroom.

First and foremost, the man is focused on our students, and student engagement.  He understands that one thing that we as teachers and staff can control with each of our students is the way we treat them.  We can't control where our students come from and the circumstances that got them there. The OTHER thing we can control is the quality of the work we design for them. 

Dr. Wright at the January meeting of the Walker County Retired Teacher's Association.
We depend on this active group's support, and we appreciate the time and effort they consistently deliver.

We control the type of relationship that we cultivate with our students.  That can be a relationship that is filled with rigor and accountability, as well as compassion and kindness. The choice is ours.

Dr. Wright chats with retired educators to help promote new membership among outgoing teachers.

For Dr. Wright, his focus on student engagement goes beyond any one technique or buzz phrase, and it's the solid rock foundation on which all lasting learning (and education) is built.

After the sit down, a snapshot.  HHS Hive's Grace and Dr. Wright.

To borrow a literary exercise from our schools, if Dr. Wright was assigned to write a Three Word Biography, it might very well read, "Passionate About Learning."

He would be clear to choose his words carefully, and acknowledge that he chose the word "learning" over "school."

That's because he is clear to draw a line between the two. The term "learning" transcends both the school day, and the years we spend in school.  Dr. Wright also is quick to point out that unfortunately (and tragically), school doesn't always include learning.

Dr. Wright meets Kyleigh and Myra, the photo editors of the

In talking to him about his school days, there are a few episodes that stand out to Dr. Wright and, like almost all of us, much of his personal journey was determined by remarkable educators.

That first encounter came from his second grade teacher.

The previous year, Dr. Wright had four first grade teachers.  Personnel issues caused the class to have several teachers, the last teacher which was (in hindsight) not only an ineffective teacher, but plain mean and borderline abusive.

Dr. Wright gives the editor some feedback on his project!

Compliance seemed her only goal.  She handled students who talked too much by taping their mouths closed, and kids who couldn't sit in their chair were tied to it.

It was a low point, but it set up Dr. Wright to meet one of the most important people in his life- his second grade teacher, Mrs. McCaffey.

Danielle Park, Cherie Countz & Dr. Wright listen to Brenda Moss at Scott Johnson Elementary.

Mrs. McCaffey was a year from retiring, but in no way ready to slow down.  She used all sorts of ways to engage students (role playing, peer tutoring, games) that allowed students to get into the learning and stretch and grow.

Long before he was a teacher, a coach or superintendent, Dr. Wright was Howell Wright, a second grader in need of a good teacher.

Seeing Eye to Eye:  Dr. Wright hangs out before the retired teacher association meeting.

In eighth grade at Dick Dowling Junior High in Houston, he was getting a little lazy, and science was getting a lot harder. When it came time to take a test, he opted the easy way out and he cheated.

Dr. Wright had a copy of the answers, and his teacher caught him in the act.  The teacher took up the test and the answers, and told Dr. Wright to see him after class.  Mortified, Dr. Wright's mind raced, thinking of all the trouble he was going to get in with every adult he knew (mom, dad, teacher, principal, coaches, et al.).

But what happened next took him by surprise and changed his life.  His teacher told him that he was to get one more chance, and that he was to retake the test the next day.

Dr. Wright seized this chance, dug deep into the subject, and discovered that, not only was science hard but that it was interesting, too!  The next day, he took and passed the test.  From there, he realized he actually really liked science.  Years later, Dr. Wright would graduate in the top ten percent of his class in New Caney and major in Biology at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Of course neither Dr. Wright nor his teacher had any idea what lay ahead for that kid who got a second chance.  However, this teacher realized that how he treated students determined their success or failure.

At Nurse Mary Carden's (a.k.a. Nursey's!) Retirement Party at Scott Johnson Elementary
L-R:  Dr. Wright, Cheri Countz, Danielle Park, Brenda Moss & Diana Teel

And now for some questions that you may have about his family.

As his father spent twenty one years in the navy, Dr. Wright and his family moved around many times before settling in Houston, Texas upon his father's retirement as Chief Petty Officer.

He has a brother Joe, two years younger who lives with his family in Houston and works in Global Operations.

Dr. Wright met Dorothy, his wife of 20 years, in just about as far East Texas as you can travel- she a teacher in Kirbyville and he a teacher and coach in nearby Burkeville.

In addition to teaching Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science, Health--and you name it, Dr. Wright coached track for 18 years, was a basketball coach, served as an assistant principal, principal, a deputy superintendent and superintendent before joining us here in December.

The couple has six children (Amy, Colleen, Cassi, Holly, Tim and Haley), and they all live either here in Texas, or nearby in Louisiana.

Their youngest is Haley, who is in her first year at Texas A&M.  Other children have graduated from Sam Houston State University and Stephen F. Austin State University.  And, like a lot of our students, not all of his kids chose to pursue college.  He has two teachers in the family and a golf management professional.  Dr. Howell and Dorothy are happy and grateful to be grandparents.

To answer perhaps one of the most burning questions on everyone's mind- Texans or Cowboys?- Dr. Wright says that he is fan of both, and has never really seen a conflict, as they have never played in the same division.  What he really is hoping for (ever since the original Oiler days in the 1960s), is an all Texas Superbowl.  Then he'll really have to decide.

One more thing. Dr. Wright made a slight but not insignificant change to the title of Superintendent.  If you ask to see his card (or you can check the website) it doesn't read "Superintendent of Schools," but rather something much closer to his heart:  Superintendent of Education.

See you around the District!

Matthew Lahey Huntsville Independent School District HISD

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