Considering that Frisco Independent School District has grown 3,800% over the past 30 years, one wonders how an educational team successfully keeps up with 63,000 students. Frisco ISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip says it's challenging but rewarding...and always busy due to outstanding opportunities.
"We have wonderful students, an innovative staff, caring parents and a whole community supporting the district. We're all trying to achieve common goals of preparing our students to succeed in life when they leave us, so we constantly collaborate to get to positive outcomes, especially regarding critical thinking skills," assures Mike.
To get a better sense of this district's unique approaches, Frisco Life asked the superintendent what ongoing activities were like inside an educational system with so many schools, students, employees and citizens. Read on to discover his insights.
How does it feel day-to-day to operate one of the fastest growing public school districts in the nation?
It takes a lot of people to run this size of school entity. We emphasize the social and emotional aspects of students, as well, and pay attention to anyone who comes in contact with the students. If you don't care about the personal aspects of students, you may never reach the point of being able to take care of the academic part. We launched a number of programs through our counseling department regarding social curricula, and a few years ago, we hired personnel to focus on test preparation, which freed up counselors' time so they could really get to know their students.
What elements of coaching do you bring into your style of leading or managing the district?
We have constant conversations about meeting the needs of students. And we seek new ways to inspire students to do their best, both as individuals and as teams.
One of the district’s goals is to close achievement gaps in the whole (all) student populations by knowing each student by name and need. How are you going about that? How is it working?
There is a college-going culture in Frisco, with 85-90% of students continuing to higher education. Other students are preparing for trade schools. We instituted a college preparation and technical center program that includes 27 different certification areas that makes our students knowledgeable and very marketable. While we try to address the book worms, we also are seeking to recover students to complete their GED diplomas. We take a lot of pride in those accomplishments.
Another one of your missions is to ensure ALL Frisco ISD graduates will be college- and career-ready, including participating in advanced academics. How can you inspire or motivate ALL students? What extra efforts has that taken?
We create pathways for our students to be prepared for college, military careers or trade programs. We think of it as arming them with life skills to be successful adults in the future, whatever their passions may be. Someone would be hard-pressed to find a person working within the district who couldn't repeat the district's mission of knowing students by name and by need. That is key to our objectives, approaches and results.
Explain why you’re working on “cultural competence.” What does that mean?
In essence, it means diversity. Our diverse student population speaks at least 70 different home languages, and we're one of the districts with the largest Asian and Indian populations. We have a Diversity Task Force, and we host multicultural nights. A part of our teacher and administrative staff recruitment includes demographically matching up to our students' backgrounds.
Any unique ways you’re approaching mentorships?
Our business partnership program allows us to work with independent, external professionals in the community so Frisco ISD students have real opportunities to get exposure to career options, such as law and theater. We also have an incubator program that teaches students how to create a lean startup business and how others can invest in their endeavors.
What's the district’s biggest challenge?
The Future Ready Learning initiative. We have to work together to make school meaningful and interesting all the way from kindergarten forward. The district's enormous growth is challenging, but we think we have it down regarding how to handle it. We understand what the changing needs are, and that we're preparing students for a world that's in a huge flux regarding technology, careers and opportunities. We keep adapting, and we try to teach the students the skill sets to develop their own toolbox to take on what they want to pursue in life.
What's the district’s largest success?
Having students shine and finding their individual place in education and then in the world. Frisco also is a nice community with many benefits; it's a unique place that enables students and their families to accomplish so much, you don't have to leave Frisco to do anything. It's right here.
For Frisco area residents who don’t have students or grandchildren attending any of the district’s schools, what value does the district bring to empty nesters?
We have the lowest tax rate in recent memory for the region, at least since 1998. Property owners in Frisco ISD saw more than a 10-cent decrease in the school district’s tax rate in 2019, saving the owner of the average home $315 compared to last year. Frisco's city manager, George Purefoy, says whatever's good for the city is good for the school, and vice versa. So we try to partner whenever possible. A recent third-party study revealed that 80% of people who move to Frisco cited the schools as the reason for doing so.
Mike attributes much of the district's overall success to the "student opportunity model" adopted by former school board members when Frisco was smaller and represented only about 1,300 students. He says they knew growth was coming to the area and made the commitment to developing intentionally smaller schools, but more of them, so students could still get the type of personalized learning they deserved. The community still supports bond programs and responds favorably to surveys about education.
With the district's 11th high school under construction and plans for a 12th one, Mike says essential community and business partnerships enable them to fulfill the commitment made 30 years ago to stellar, local education.