Q&A with Trustee David Wilbanks
Today, we’re catching up with board member David Wilbanks. Wilbanks has been a board member since 2019.
The theme for the month is locally elected, community connected. How important is community support to you?
Community is very important. As trustees, we represent the vision and values of all stakeholders in our community. How do we do that? By listening — which is hard in a district this large. Staying connected with the teachers, parents and students is vital though. Our taxpayers are important constituents, too. We have to balance the need to be good stewards of our taxpayer’s money with the need to provide all students with a world-class education. You can’t balance that without connecting and communicating with all stakeholders in the community.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Hands down: graduation time at the end of the year. When folks find out we sit through nine graduations over two very long days, they often ask how we can make it from 7:30 in the morning until 10 at night each day. It is easy because nothing brings me more joy than seeing the fruit of all our efforts. Seeing all our students graduate exceptionally prepared for college or career makes it worth it. After it is all over, I am filled with renewed purpose to continue our work on the board — to make Arlington ISD a premier school district where any student can realize their dreams for life and turn them into reality.
How challenging was it finding the right superintendent in Dr. Smith?
It has been 11 years since Arlington has hired a new superintendent. Fortunately, [board member] Dr. [Aaron] Reich had some experience when Dr. Cavazos was hired back then — but he was an internal hire. None of us had experience hiring from the outside. It took some time to get our sea legs and we had a hiccup the first go around. But that experience allowed us to learn a lot about the process and we applied what we learned to the second round with great success. The big take away was it takes time, and you can’t rush the process. However, the secret is it was easier than you think. Because of the great work Dr. Cavazos did here during his tenure, Arlington ISD was widely known across the state (and country) as a district with a great reputation. We are blessed with a great strategic vision, the staff to execute it and a high-functioning board without the drama that is all too common in other districts. Those facts made us an attractive destination for superintendents. The hardest part of the process was trying to whittle down the candidate pool because there was no shortage of outstanding superintendents applying.
What are some of the biggest challenges the board faces in 2024?
Anytime you have a change at the top, it elicits questions about the future. Will my student be affected by the change? How will teachers and staff react? We are fortunate that our new superintendent is not the type of person who is going to want to come in and change everything. He is very respectful of our team and what we have been able to accomplish to date. He is a listener first and foremost.
Most of 2024 is going to be spent listening to all stakeholders assessing what is going right in this district and discovering what areas we need to grow in. How well are we serving the needs of our students? No matter what, our North Star goal remains the same: To become a premier school district. Dr Cavazos did an outstanding job transforming this district in the 11 years he was superintendent and getting us ever closer to that goal. COVID knocked some of the wind out of our sails, but it is time to maximize on our successes and course correct only where necessary to continue our journey to become a premier school district.
For the board, the challenge will be to give the new superintendent time to listen and learn. It is great that we have a fresh set of eyes who can look objectively at where we are in relation to our goal. But that assessment will take some time in a district this large. We as a board must resist the urge to rush it. If after that, we need to adjust the course, how do we do so without disruptions? How do we manage that change? One, we need to do it in a way that is respectful of our teachers’ time and respectful of what their needs truly are in the classroom. We learned in our first strategic plan to avoid the disruption of forcing down some new strategy/strategies de jour to the classroom with unrealistic timelines. Two, we need to involve all stakeholders and give them true agency in the process. It all starts by listening and making sure stakeholders are heard. I am excited for the year to come!