Do You Know? Dr. Scott Sheppard

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Photos by Libby Rogers

It takes a good set of track shoes to catch up with some people! One such person is Dr. Scott Sheppard, Superintendent of the Huntsville Independent School District who is on a mission to make “SUCCESS” the defining word for the Huntsville schools. Motivated, energetic, and enthusiastic, Dr. Sheppard is a team builder and one who believes solid relationships are key to achieving goals. Let’s meet our new HISD Superintendent, Dr. Scott Sheppard.

First things first. Tell us about your early years.

I was born in Port Arthur, Texas, and spent my childhood in Groves. As with most families in that area at that time, we grew up in a modest environment. We lived a simple lifestyle, yet lacked for nothing due to strong family and community support. I participated in sports and played trumpet in the band. My parents were very influential in my life, imparting to my sister and me the importance of an education, that it is a key to success in life. From early on, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher.

Tell us about your education and career path.

I attended Lamar University in Beaumont for my bachelor’s degree and, upon graduation, immediately went into the teaching field as a band director. I then received my master’s degree from Stephen F. Austin State University, and my doctorate from Texas A&M University. Over the years, I have served as band director in Jasper, and then in Kirbyville, before getting my first administrative job as principal of Kirbyville Junior High. I then became associate principal of Katy High School, then principal of Katy Junior High. My next career move was to serve as assistant superintendent for the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. Responsibilities included direct supervision of all 35 secondary school principals. The district is comprised of 91 total campuses with enrollment of over 116,000 students, so decisions affected many people.

After serving in such a large school district, what positives do you see in coming to Huntsville ISD?

Being in a “one high school” district allows us all to be on the same team, with the same team color, the same mascot, and the same goals. Unifying factors exist, and the community’s public school district should naturally be the center of the community. And regardless of the size of the school district or the enrollment numbers, people are people, and kids are kids. What parents and students want and need are the same.

Kids deserve an education regardless of their zip code, their ethnicity, their economic level, or the level of parent involvement in their education. The things they have no control over should not shape who they become. My mission as an educator is to be instrumental in providing a well-rounded and quality education for our students, the same as I was fortunate to have had.

How do you plan to achieve this goal for our HISD students?

The HISD Board and I have been holding community meetings to allow input from parents, grandparents, and other citizens of Huntsville who care about our kids and our schools. Ascertaining needs and setting goals is the first step in the systematic approach of improving academic performance over time.

Also, it is important to hire teachers who have a genuine love for kids. Content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge on how to teach and encourage success are important, but building relationships and having a heart for kids is what undergirds this. Students respond better when they detect a genuine concern for their success by a caring teacher.

I remember being hired as principal just prior to the beginning of a new school year when there were still several teaching vacancies, one being in an at-risk math class. This was a class full of kids who had failed the previous year’s state assessment and struggled in many areas. Our slate of teacher candidates for these positions was slim, so I ended up hiring a young lady who had just graduated from college. Soft-spoken and no bigger than her students, we questioned whether she would even survive the assignment! To my surprise and delight, she quickly turned that class of kids into a group of students eager to learn. How did she achieve this? Her approach to teaching these kids was heartfelt and genuine, and this connection allowed her to teach with almost zero disruptions. That was a huge learning experience for the entire staff. Before long, the veteran teachers were looking to her as a model teacher. I’ll never forget that.

What other qualities do you seek in the teaching staff?

We all, administrators and teachers alike, should have a passion for helping kids and reserving judgment. Giving students a second chance can benefit both students and teachers. As a very young band director, I had a kid who was a phenomenal band student, then suddenly, everything in his life fell apart. We never knew the reason. He eventually dropped out of school in the 9th grade. A year later, he returned to school and asked to get back into the band program, knowing that our policy was that once you quit the program, you were out for good. The principal left the decision entirely up to me, and after much deliberation, I allowed this student back into band. He became a leader to the other students and has now become an extremely successful band director. I enjoy staying in contact with him and admire his determination to overcome adversity. There is no doubt that he uses his experience to encourage the kids he teaches. I made the right decision, and it helped to shape me as a teacher and administrator. I encourage young teachers to err on the side of the kid. If you are teaching kids, you should be learning from them as well. And, as a rule of thumb, hire only those teachers who you would be willing to have teaching your own kids!

Your success and accomplishments have surely won you some awards.

Yes, I have received a lot of recognition as a band director and administrator. This is all attributed to the kids and staff who have done the work. The support of the community, the administration, and the kids have made it happen. I owe success to all of these people and, as a result, we have all benefited from our hard work together. This is what I look forward to in Huntsville as we, the students, the staff, and the community, all strive together toward the goal of success for all. It definitely takes a team to pull off success! Together, we will accomplish that here.

You have spent your life surrounded by kids! Tell us about your own family and how Huntsville will be a fit for you.

With pleasure! My beautiful wife Donna is a graduate of Sam Houston State University and currently serves as an Assistant Superintendent in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD. Together we have five children, spanning ages 14-24. Bobby lives in Florida and has just finished his stint in the Navy. Gayle is studying geophysics at Texas A&M University, and Spencer is working toward a degree in process technology at Lone Star College. Tyler is a junior in high school, and Walker is in the 8th grade. So, as you can see, we live in an energized atmosphere, and we love every minute of it! We all love the great outdoors and look forward to spending time boating and fishing on the lakes in this area. Both Donna and I grew up fishing on Lake Sam Rayburn and have passed the love of fishing down to our children.

With your extremely busy schedule, do you find time for hobbies?

In addition to fishing, my other love is music. I am active with the Texas Music Educators Association and continue to judge UIL contests, conduct honor bands, and teach region clinics, as time allows. This helps me to stay connected with kids. And playing percussion in our church’s orchestra for the past five years has been great fun for me.

Then there is my love for baseball! Over the years I have had the privilege to coach baseball teams, from T-Ball and Little League, to helping coach traveling high school select teams as well. I believe in what these activities offer to the kids and families. They teach discipline, hard work, and respect while offering the kids opportunities to learn new skills and the time to be with friends.

To wrap up our time, please leave a few nuggets of advice for our students and parents.

I would tell students to “write your own story.” Don’t let others determine what you will become, who you are, or place limitations on your achieving success. Don’t let circumstances dictate who you will become as an adult. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way and become what you want to become.

To parents I would say to never give up on yourself or others. If you have the fate of a young person in your hands, understand the power of your words. Give constructive criticism in a positive way, because kids will remember your words forever.

Dr. Sheppard, we look forward to the successes that you, as Superintendent of Huntsville ISD, and as “head of the team,” will accomplish here. This community is behind you, understanding that the success of our students is a key to the well-being of our families and our city. Thank you for your service.

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