District Spotlight: Coppell Independent School District
Building Family and Community Engagement
November 9, 2021
The Change Agent
Dr. Brad Hunt
Superintendent of Coppell Independent School District
Building Family and Community Engagement
How can districts more effectively engage, collaborate, and communicate with their community? This week, Dr. Brad Hunt, Superintendent of Coppell Independent School District, provides real-world examples from his district on how to accomplish “collective engagement,” why it’s important, and tangible strategies districts can implement today to make it happen.
Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.
Welcome to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast. Join our host, Dr. Chris Balow, chief academic officer at SchoolMint, as we dive into thought-provoking, in-depth conversations with top educational leaders. Our goal? The advancement of education and improved outcomes for all students. Listen in be inspired, and ask yourself, are you ready to be a change agent?
Welcome everybody to ChangeAgents in K-12 where we bring to you some of the most insightful and action oriented people today in education today, I'm super honored to have Dr. Brad hunt from Coppell ISD in Texas. Uh, Dr. Hunt began his career in Coppell ISD back in 1990 as a special education world geography and American government teacher at Coppell high school. He later became the assistant principal at Coppell middle school west, and then moved on to Carol ISD as a middle school principal. He then returned back to, to Coppell ISD as director of human resources. He also took the lead role as a principal of Coppell high school and transitioned back as assistant supe for administrative services. Dr. Hunt has a bachelor's degree from north, uh, university of north Texas, a master's from university of Texas at Tyler and his doctorate in education from the university of north Texas. Dr. Hunt was recently recognized by the national school public relations association as a superintendent to watch in 2020 and received the, uh, award in 2021 for the communication technology award for superintendents. So Dr. Hunt, welcome to ChangeAgents in K-12.
Thank you, Chris. I'm excited to be, uh, able to visit with you and look forward to us talking and sharing this afternoon. We've had a chance to get to know each other through, um, various workshops and just reaching out. You are such a strong advocate for public education, and I'm just excited, Chris, to be able to talk with you this afternoon.
Awesome. Excellent. Well to my listeners, what happened was I was, um, I presented at the Texas superintendent conference and when I'm at these events, I always learn from all the others. And I saw a presentation by Dr. Hunt and his team about family and community engagement. And, and I feel in our current times, schools and districts really need a framework and a systematic approach to engage stakeholders in a positive and proactive manner. And the presentation was just so impressive to me. And I wanted to bring this helpful information forward to the listeners of ChangeAgents in K-12. So, um, with that as a backdrop, um, Dr. Hunt in Coppell ISD how do you define engagement?
Well, Chris and Coppell ISD, we value collective engagement, actually one of our core values as a district, we have four core values, uh, engagement, redefining success, relationships, and great teaching. In addition to the word, uh, we really focus on collective, but it is key that we're very intentional by joining together, uh, all of our stakeholders in the district and all of those stakeholders, including our parents, our students, our staff, our community members, our business owners, our civic leaders really take an inclusive approach to our engagement, where we really are looking at what works for all and doing our best to make sure that our interactions are a two way as well as just open, uh, open up opportunities to exchange ideas, uh, to not only share information, but also to receive information. So it is two way interactive and proactive also is really important too. We want to make sure that we are thinking about the things that might be, um, important information that our community would want to hear, and also, um, make sure that we are reacting to the needs of our community. Uh, because so often we do hear from our community, they want to hear more information about something or less about something else. So being proactive, proactive, and having that plan in place and being strategic, I think is important. I think it's also really important to make sure that collaboration has a purpose and that our engagement is collaborative in nature. And so, um, we also, you know, recognize that engagement is a continual journey. It's not really a destination, it's something we're always looking at as a district. How can we better engage with our community? How can we better communicate and collaborate with our community? I think it's real important also to surround yourself with great team members. And like you said, Chris, you heard from several of our team members when we presented earlier this fall about a collective engagement, uh, just some of the ideas and strategies we've been using, uh, making certain that those ideas are based in, um, you know, research and also what works in our community, but also they are ideas that have, uh, common and mutual benefits and goals and outcomes, uh, so that the end result is something positive for everyone.
Oh, that's, that's fantastic. I love those core values about, uh, you mentioned redefining learning was that one of them and then the relationship component and then great teaching. I thoroughly believe that, um, it all starts with a great teacher and it really does. And that's the key. Um, you know, I, and I love the notion of two-way communication. I think a lot of districts think about communication, just that one way that we're going to serve up information through various channels, websites, and newsletters and those sorts of things. And, um, in, in your experience, do you think some folks maybe are afraid to have that two-way communication that wow. If, if I asked for that information, I may have to do something with it.
That's so true, Chris, that's so true. You know, be careful what you ask for, because you might be asking or hearing things that maybe you don't necessarily want to hear, but I think that is really important because, um, it, it does need to be, like I said, continual and focusing on continual improvement. And if you're asking the questions, you've got to be willing to receive, maybe some of the answers you don't always necessarily want to hear, but I think it is important that we reach out to all of our stakeholders, that we look for ways to engage, uh, in different formats. Like you said, newsletters and social media, that's all well and good. We do a lot of face-to-face too. That's been somewhat of a challenge during COVID. And so some of that face-to-face has been, uh, via zoom or it's, uh, you know, done electronically. Uh, but as much as we can, we try to get in front of our public and, and, uh, you know, provide opportunities not only to present content and share information, but to open up the floor for questions, ideas, comments, and concerns. I think it's important to, um, realize that people, uh, engage differently now. And so for some people that engagement might be, uh, via the website or a newsletter, others like, um, print materials. And I think that's important to still have some of that as well. The face-to-face, as I've said to, we've used a lot with social media, uh, really trying to capitalize on the strength of it and the benefits of it. Uh, we've had some Facebook live forums where we've actually presented some content and that responded to questions, uh, live on Facebook. Uh, we've done some pre-taped where we've had content, and then we call them lunch bites. And it's just a little bit of information that the community can, can watch it any time. Uh, we kind of launch it during the lunch hour, but you can watch it anytime that's comfortable for you, but it also opens up an opportunity for people to send questions back in. And so we kind of have a, a, um, ongoing FAQ on the website so that as new questions come up, they get answered. And so it's somewhat of a, um, continual loop. And so it's kind of a wraparound service of getting things that are, uh, in person or, um, in the, uh, lunch by piece. And then maybe they go back and talk to their, their spouse or their kids or their neighbors, and they get other information. And so they want to come back and ask those questions too. We just want to make sure that people get their questions ask, and they come to us, you know, whether, um, you know, people are going to look for that information, whether they're going to social media or some other avenue. And we want to make sure that they're getting information directly from us, that we're engaging with them in a way that they like to engage, um, knowing that our student population very differently than our parents and business members and community members. And so looking for ways to engage with our kids has been a lot of fun to Chris. I've got, um, a student advisory group that I meet with on a regular basis. And so they tell me what's working and what's not working in the district. And then their schools they've also helped us craft more of a social media presence. So that demographic that usually that's through Instagram. And so we've had some student interns that have worked in our communications team, and they've kind of taken over our Instagram account for a short period of time, if you will. And that's really helped us kind of look for ways that the student body is engaging. And so we're trying to, again, reach all stakeholders through a variety of platforms.
Oh, that's, that's fantastic. Um, yeah, Facebook live, what a great way and question about lunch bite. Um, I love that idea. So you, pre-taped some things, um, and having an asynchronous is great, so people can watch it at their, you know, when it fits their schedule. Um, so with lunch bite is it mainly about happenings in the district, or do you maybe even share just education information, you know, best practices and, you know, maybe why we're doing a certain curriculum or, you know, just kind of from kind of to educate your, your, your stakeholders.
Exactly. As I said, we have our four core values and Coppell ISD, and they really serve as the filter by which all of our decisions are made. And so oftentimes those lunch bites are an offshoot of one of those four core values, either great teaching, redefining success, relationships, or engagement. And for example, for great teaching, oftentimes we're pulling something out about assessment, whether it's our community-based accountability system, or maybe we're doing something different with instruction, a digital learning, and we want our parents to get that information and know a little bit more about it. So we'll do a short lunch bite with some content. Uh, and then again, kind of open that up for some FAQ's, we've done a lot with social, emotional learning and mental health. That's been a real big focus for us over the past few years, but especially this year, coming into a situation where COVID has hit our community pretty significantly. We want to make sure that the social and emotional needs of our students and staff are being met. And so we might do something with our support counselors, where they provide some tips on how to be, um, how to address any kind of stressful situations or mindfulness to help students overcome maybe any anxiety or things along those nature or along that nature. And so those support counselors give some tips, resources, share that with parents. And just, again, try to provide information that is, um, both not only informative, also helpful and useful to what we do with our, uh, kind of happenings around the district is each week I do a short video called catch up with hunt. And so it's a little play on words with my last name. It's been, it's been a lot of fun with that. And, um, so that we do this little short catch-up video, and that is Chris, where I kind of tell the community, okay, this is what's going on. So they'll be looking for this information at might be a special event that we want parents to come to our community members. It could be a highlight of a campus or a teacher, or maybe something cool. One of our students has done, or a student group. Our band's been receiving all kinds of accolades recently with some of their performances. And so it might be a highlight of band or athletics. It's just kind of a quick fun way to, to showcase some of the great things going on in CISD.
Fantastic. And I definitely endorsed the whole mental health SEL support as a licensed psychologist. That, that area is very important to me. And, and that, that's just a great idea that, um, I hope our listeners can steal from you kind of, uh, circling back a little bit. Um, do you use surveys in, in any form or fashion with, with your stakeholders?
We do. We do quite a bit of surveys. We really base our entire engagement plan on, um, uh, an overall strategic design, uh, viewpoint. And so we use a system for engagement really that follows a three-step process. We listen and build relationships with our stakeholders from that listening feedback we create and customize engagement opportunities. Uh, again, keeping in mind that simplicity is important. So we do keep that in mind. And the third step is to test, learn and refine our engagement activities. And so from that listening piece, we utilize surveys quite a bit that the surveys really can serve as a springboard to help us either solidify what we're doing or open up the doors to new opportunities, or even sometimes strategically abandoned some of the things that we're getting from doing. If we're getting a lot of negative feedback from our community, that might be something that we might need to possibly rethink or retool, uh, in a more productive and positive way. So surveys are a definite tool that we use in Coppell ISD.
Fantastic. Um, so with, you know, when you have that data coming in from surveys, and you've got people clicking on this and they're tuning into this and they're downloading a video, do you track that engagement data in it in any way? And maybe you have like a data system that you bring it all together.
We do. Uh, Chris, we really do, um, look at all of that because we collect a lot of quantitative and qualitative data in our district related to engagement. And we have actually developed an internal dashboard. Uh, it coincides with all of those engagement initiatives. We monitor that frequently. We look at that data from different areas and we track it. We use that data as one piece of information that we can use and adjust our strategies if we need to. And then measurement data also helps us guide our plans. It gives us real time feedback so that we can refine and adjust as needed. Our measurement dashboard does really allow us to be innovative too, and to kind of take risk and engagement because as we're tracking and monitoring that work, we also want to make sure that we're staying on the cutting edge and we are being innovative. And so again, uh, what, like here's a good example. We were, we do a weekly newsletter that comes from the district called informed. And what we were finding is that our click rate was kind of declining. And so we sent it towards the end of the week and we were finding, it was kind of getting lost and everyone's end of the week emails, or maybe they were starting their weekend earlier. So we shifted that click rate, or so we shifted the delivery to go out at the first of the week. And we saw an automatic increase in our click rates that people were, I guess, planning out their week and looking at what was going on in the district. And so that was, I think, a positive shift also with our catch-up with hot, when that was first introduced, it was, you know, kind of, uh, catchy and novel. And so we had some pretty good view numbers, but then it kind of lagged a bit. And so at one thing that we've been doing is we've had some students actually do the intros for us. And so we've picked the kids from all around the district, different ages at different grade levels, different campuses. And so that's been really fun. And that has also elevated that click, right, because they see a kid, uh, you know, kids always bring in a lot of attention. And then also if they're attached to a school that school's helping to promote it, that's, again, it's been fun for us to do that. I've been actually on location at different campuses where we did the filming and some of the kids would introduce me and I would kind of get to know them a little bit. And, um, that's been fun. So just again, constantly refining and, and improving and retooling what, whatever we're doing, just so that we can, um, just provide the best opportunities for engagement in our community that we can possibly create.
Yeah. I, I love it, Brad. Um, so people are probably asking if, if they, if we were live, they want to know, well, did you build your own dashboard? Or what, where did that come from? That sounds amazing.
We actually did. We had used an external one that actually got a little costly. And so we, um, moved away from that. Like I said, we have a phenomenal team in CISD, some really sharp, uh, innovative people. Our communications team actually are the ones that produce the video each week of the catch-up with hunt. And another team member is the one that has a real technical background. And she has been the person to monitor that dashboard. She created one that works not only for her and her team, but also for the district. And that's been just nice to have that person on staff that just was able to come up with that and utilize that in a way to, um, just track our work because you know, what you don't want to do is spend a lot of time and energy and with an engagement tool that might not be meeting its audience. And so that dashboard has really helped us look at the analytics behind what's working and what's not working. You know, when we really looked down as a team and focused on engagement, we were excited that that became one of our core values because we recognized how important it is as a district. We have about 13,000 students in Coppell ISD and families that cover several municipalities, not just the city of Coppell, but also some other cities in our area. And so wanting to make certain that everybody in CISD felt like they were a part of the CISD family, that that engagement piece was critical. So it didn't matter if you were in the Northern part or Southern part or, or wherever you were in the district that you were all a part of CISD. And so looking at those statistics too, and those numbers and that data also helped us see, okay, are there different pockets of our community that respond differently to various elements of engagement? We recently celebrated our 60th anniversary, and that was actually during the 19, um, during the 2019, 2020 school year. And so we were really able to launch a lot of that before COVID hit, and we all had to go into quarantine, but we did these pop-up parties all over town. Uh, we would just go to different, um, uh, schools or restaurants or parks. And we would have a little pop-up party. We brought, um, outdoor games and we'd have a food truck. And we had our, um, upper administration and school board members come and interact with the community. And people really loved that. They, we did it with the whole birthday party theme. So there were always cupcakes or party hats and things like that just to promote the district. And so that was, again, one of those ways where we looked at, what could we do to make it fun because engagement needs to be fun. It needs to be something you feel comfortable with, but also be strategic and not just do things haphazardly, but really develop a plan, a plan that works for you with your community. Again, making sure that there's ways to involve your school board members because they like to be plugged into. And I think that's important for the community to see that the school board and the staff are on the same team. Um, trying new things. That's been a real stretch for us. Uh, we have had podcasts. We've had, um, the, uh, the videos, the newsletters, the in-person pop-up parties, just looking for different ways to better engage with our community. You know, focusing on the strengths of our team. Like I said, we've got someone that's great with analytics and, uh, she developed that dashboard. We have another, that's very creative and does the video work, uh, just, you know, really expanding upon, uh, our team I think is really, really important and, and focusing on their strengths. And then also, like I said, at the beginning, just try to involve all stakeholders, look for all kinds of ways to, to plug everybody in and just to make sure that everybody feels like they're part of the team when they're engaged.
Awesome, you know, district of 13,000, you're kind of a mid-sized district. I would characterize how many folks on your team, um, in the communication department or whatever, um, are involved in, in this work to, to give folks a little bit of an idea, cause you're doing so many cool things. Um, just how, how much, uh, people power does it take?
Well, we have a five-person communications and engagement team. And so that team covers our website. Our video work, our written communications are public information act requests. I mean, they do all kinds of things. They are again, very strategic and very involved. We just had a meeting this morning with our PTO president. So we have parent teacher organization, which is just like the PTA, but it's just a different version. So once a month I meet with all of our PTO presidents and I give them information. They give me information it's very much two way. And somebody from our communications team is always there to, um, take notes, share information out. Uh, it's a great way again, to involve more stakeholders and make sure that our message is getting shared, but also that we are hearing from our community as well.
Awesome. Awesome. So as a district leader, how, how do you inspire engagement throughout the organization? I feel like at the district level, your team is right there, but then you, you need all these ambassadors and advocates out there at every level of the organization. How do you inspire that?
It's really important, Chris, like you said, to have those ambassadors to create, buy in, to build capacity with all of your stakeholders. So for our students, as I said, we have a student advisory group that I meet with on a regular basis. We do something similar with our teachers where we have two representatives from each of our campuses. We have 18 campuses and we meet on a regular basis to, again, for me to get information from our teachers, as well as for me to share information with them from the district, our board members are very involved, um, which is a real important too. We've implemented something called fun Fridays in CISD, where we've just Tom, uh, you know, taking some time just to have some fun. It's been a very stressful past two years and fun Fridays as a chance for our staff to just, you know, do something fun, like play bingo or outdoor games if the weather's nice. And so just again, having board members be a part of that, I think that's real important too. And I think that when you, you know, what gets recognized gets repeated and when you show that communication, engagement, all of those things, building relationships are important, then that really does help elevate that to a new level. So making sure your principals are on board, that they are, um, engaging with the community, uh, looking for opportunities to not only be visible, but to be interactive so that we're establishing those relationships and making certain that people know that, uh, CISD really truly is a family.
I mean, really what you really listed, uh, really a, a roadmap for, for folks in terms of how they can really make that engagement irresistible and, and really make it, um, in just fond as, as you said. And, and I know from the presentation I saw, I mean, you guys have just lists and lists of activities and different things you do. Um, I'm hoping that we can do a webinar later this year, where we can bring some of your team members in, and then we can visually see some of the things you do. Um, it's hard on a podcast to go through all of them, but trust me, listeners, they're, they're, they, they've got a laundry list of things they do with their community. Um, so board members, that's an interesting thing to talk about, and I've worked in many districts in my 40 years of education and they come in all shapes and sizes and strengths and weaknesses. Um, how have they been in terms of, um, okay. Your role now, I really want you to get out in there in the community and rub elbows. How has that, how have you managed that?
Well, again, we've really tried to tackle those events as a team so that the community sees that we are a team. We may not always be on everything. And, and quite frankly, many times we don't, but there is one thing that we can all agree on and that's focusing on our kids and doing what's best for our kids. So when we look for ways to engage with our community members, we think about some of our like chamber events. We have a local chamber of commerce that we work with several, um, not only the Coppell chamber of commerce, but we have the Indian, Asian, uh, local commerce. Um, and then also we're in parts of Irving, Texas. And so we have the urban chamber that we work with. Metro crest is another one. And so when we interface with those different groups, our board members are typically a part of that process, as well as civic groups, uh, faith-based groups. Um, again, it's just nice to have our board members, uh, interacting there alongside staff and going together sometimes just, you know, me and the board, uh, because again, you know, showing some, uh, collaboration and a sense of unity, but also our board is a representation of our community. And so we want to make sure that we're engaging with them as, as, and making sure that our community members know that we're all on the same.
So it sounds like a real effective strategy is go together as a team. You can all support each other. I've seen some situations where one board member goes to one part of town and another board member goes to another. And, and, and maybe that won't work very well in some places, but I like that idea. Um, talk about the, the business and civic leaders. Um, you know, a lot of district superintendents, uh, have different kinds of business partnerships. Um, tell us about Coppell and, and how, how that has gone for you.
Like I said, we have a really active and, uh, dynamic, uh, chamber the Coppell chamber, as well as the Irving chamber. And they are, um, great at including us, uh, in their work. Uh, oftentimes we will come as a guest speaker and share updates from the district and what we're doing, uh, oftentimes as well, we're working on joint, um, activities together and partnerships together actually serve on the Coppell chamber as one of their exfacto members. And so that lets me kind of hear from community members, local businesses, um, community partners of just what's going on in the community and the business sector. And it's important for me to hear from them as well as them hearing from us so that, uh, we can look for ways to better engage. Oftentimes from those opportunities are developed where our kids are able to do internships, job shadowing. Uh, maybe the businesses want to come in and host an event for us, those fun Fridays, as I've mentioned, uh, other activities, we had a really fun, uh, retirement party last year, um, where it was kind of a race track theme, and one of our, uh, local businesses helped to sponsor that. And so they were actually here to see our retirees and congratulate them. I just think those kinds of, um, partnerships are essential and as, um, finances are getting tighter and, and budgets are getting leaner, just looking for ways to partner with our local businesses can really help create, um, kind of win-wins as far as that is concerned, sponsoring us with financial pieces as well as them being able to interact and, and support public education. I think again is always a win-win.
Oh my gosh. Absolutely. And I love the notion of, uh, uh, project-based learning for students. I mean, the research is so strong that, that, that for engaging students in, in taking charge of their own learning is so important because they're doing something that they're passionate about and getting them out into the community with community experts. Um, boy, it doesn't get any better than that. Um, so, um, I wish we had more time to really dig into that. Um, I think all districts should be doing that. And, and I wonder too, if your interactions with the community helps guide some of your strategy and planning and innovations around preparing students for, um, for work
Very much. So I think that that's really an important piece because if we're hearing from community partners and business leaders that, um, you know, these areas should be a greater focus and maybe those are areas where we're not giving as much attention to in our school setting that we might want to re-look at our curriculum and thinking about other ways to incorporate, you know, career technology, uh, college career readiness, all of those kinds of components that are real important when you look at, um, problem solving skills and communication skills, uh, all of the soft skills, I think that's really a critical piece. And so sometimes what we'll hear from business partners is there might be some components of that that are lacking. And so what can we do to infuse that into what we're doing every day so that our kids are better prepared for whatever their next step is, uh, when they graduate from Coppell ISD.
Fantastic. Well, um, Dr. Brad hunt, we've, we've, uh, come to the end of our time here today. And I know that my listeners are excited about all the things they've learned from, from the things you and your team are doing in Coppell ISD. Um, but before I let you go, um, you have to do our fast five game and five is very simple. I'm going to ask you five questions and you have to rapidly tell me your answer. Okay. Don't think too deeply on this stuff. Okay. All right. So if you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I know this sounds lame, but I would say Coppell Texas it is the best place to live here since 1990. Um, my wife and I love it here. We have two kids that are students here. I mean, it really is the best place. I know that sounds so cliche. And that's where I'd like to live right where I am.
Gosh, I think I would go back to the eighties, you know, um, probably that whole decade really any year in the eighties would be great. Uh, I love the eighties, loved all the music, the movies, the clothes, Ronald Reagan, all of it.
Wow. God there'd be so many, you know, my favorite superhero is Spider-Man, but I don't know if I necessarily want to be able to climb those buildings, but I would probably say Superman, you know, just his ability to get from point a to point B quickly. Uh, I think that could help me in so many parts of my life, Chris.
Giraffe. All right. They are pretty cool. Definitely. Um, Dr. Brad hunt, thanks again for taking the time to share this wonderful information about, uh, engagement, uh, for, uh, school and district leaders.