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A look at the county's top female educators - The Galveston County Daily News : Profiles: Education

July 30, 2014

A look at the county's top female educators

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Posted: Saturday, April 20, 2013 1:00 am | Updated: 1:29 pm, Sat Apr 20, 2013.

More women occupy the highest leadership positions in Galveston County schools than ever before. Women head the school districts in Texas City, Friendswood, Dickinson, Hitchcock, High Island and Santa Fe. They also head charter schools and the College of the Mainland. Here’s a look at some of the county’s top female educators.

‘The First’

Beth Lewis, president of College of the Mainland

Beth Lewis knew she was a qualified candidate when she applied to be president at the College of the Mainland. Her doctorate in educational leadership and master’s degree in English from Sam Houston State University topped a résumé that included 25 years of experience in higher education and administration.

It seemed beside the point that she might be the highest-ranking woman in the history of the community college, Lewis said.

“I think good leadership is crucial for all student success,” she said. “If some girls are motivated and feel empowered by seeing so many women in leadership positions, that’s great, but it’s a by-product, not the goal.”

After moving to Texas City, Lewis joined the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce Legislative Affairs Committee and Leadership Mainland to learn more about the community her students hail from.

In addition to a bevy of educational and professional recognitions, she was named executive fellow in viticulture and oenology by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2008. In other words, she is a nationally recognized wine expert.

“Sometimes people have this perception that a college president is some stuffy (academic),” she said. “That’s not me. I’m a girl from East Texas who went to college on scholarships and worked for everything she’s got.”

‘The Mentor’

Trish Hanks, superintendent of Friendswood ISD

Trish Hanks has served as superintendent for 11 years and is the longest-serving superintendent on this roster.

She serves as a mentor for new superintendents in the area, including Dickinson school district Superintendent Vicki Mims and Hitchcock school district Superintendent Barbara Derrick.

“The advice I give to all of them is to keep their focus on the most important thing, which is the education of our students,” Hanks said. “It is easy to get distracted by other things, but they were hired for their unique qualities and vision and they need the courage of their convictions and faith to succeed.”  

Hanks started teaching in Friendswood in 1985, but she is proud that student performance has consistently ranked among the highest 1 percentile of school districts in Texas and that the district was awarded exemplary status by the Texas Education Agency since she took the top position in 2002.

“The superintendency is a servant-leadership position,” she said. “The community trusts us with their children and their money and with that comes a great deal of responsibility. We must always strive to deserve that trust, especially when making tough decisions.”

Hanks holds a master’s degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

‘The Unstandardized Tester’

Vicki Mims, superintendent of Dickinson ISD

Vicki Mims has served in many capacities since joining the district in 1979, but reached the pinnacle of her career in 2011 when she was named superintendent.

She’s most proud that the Texas Education Agency upgraded Dickinson to a recognized district in 2011 when she was assistant superintendent.

Mims holds a master’s degree from the University of North Texas and has completed post graduate work at the University of Houston-Central Campus.

Even after devoting her life to academia, Mims said she is no more a fan of standardized testing now than she was as a student.

“By their very nature, standardized tests are limited in the level of skills that they can assess,” she said. “I do not believe that bubbling in answers is a real life skill. Students need to have a broad base of knowledge to think critically and creatively to solve real problems in the 21st century global economy. They must also learn to work cooperatively with others while applying their knowledge. Those skills are impossible to measure on a standardized test.”

Professionally, Mims is a member of the Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Equity Center, Texas Association of Suburban and Midurban Schools and the Texas Fast Growth Schools Coalition. Locally, she is active in the Rotary Club of Dickinson, the board of M.I. Lewis Social Service Agency, the Dickinson ISD Education Foundation and church.

‘The Cross Trainer’

Leigh Wall, superintendent of Santa Fe ISD

This has been a good year for Leigh Wall, who was nominated Superintendent of the Year by the Santa Fe school board, after serving in that capacity since 2008.

Wall holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Walden University and a master’s degree in education from Louisiana State University. She said early experiences working as a dance instructor as an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University tuned her into the passion for teaching that is still with her today.

Wall spent the next 32 years teaching at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, and coaching varsity sports, during which she learned that a good educator can teach anyone, inside and outside of the classroom.

“Teaching children is an honor and a joy in all content areas and age groups,” Wall said. “My teaching experiences are unique and special, but similarly rewarding. My appreciation for teaching, learning and shaping the future of children extends through all ages and content areas.”

Wall is a board member of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, and active in the Rotary Club as well as numerous professional and educational affiliations at the state and national level.

‘The Educator’s Ally’

Cynthia Lusignolo, superintendent of Texas City ISD

Cynthia Lusignolo recently earned her superintendent’s stripes in the Texas City school district, but her records show this was not the educator’s first rodeo.

Lusignolo began her 20-year career in education as a civilian instructor for the U.S. Air Force and was the superintendent of Liberty ISD before accepting the position in Texas City.

Even with a doctorate in educational leadership from Lamar University, Lusignolo said the teaching techniques she learned in her Air Force technical training instructor’s course still hold true today. Military recruits and students alike learn better when a teacher uses a variety of instructional methods to address the learning style of students — learning works best when instructors incorporate games, competitions and activities whenever possible, she said.

“The most important thing (for an educator) is to make sure the students know you care,” Lusignolo said. “That’s a necessary component of any quality education program, regardless of the age of the student.”

Lusignolo is an active member of the Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, United Way, Rotary Club, Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce and church.

‘The Model Student’

Barbara Derrick, superintendent of Hitchcock ISD

Barbara Derrick, a 1979 graduate of Hitchcock High School, said she wouldn’t be where she is today without the “support and prodding” of her predecessors.

“My teachers took an interest in me and helped me develop my skills and talents by encouraging and convincing me that I could do anything if I just tried,” she said.

As superintendent, Derrick encourages her teachers to challenge students, just as her teachers challenged her.

“I ask each teacher to find one student each year that they feel can give a little bit more and then encourage them to do more,” she said. “Then they need to follow up and take a real interest in them.”

Derrick received accolades last year for her contributions to education and to the community. In 2012, she was named superintendent of Hitchcock ISD, Hitchcock Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year and District Rotary 5890 Club President of the Year.

She has a doctorate in educational leadership and a Master of Science in educational management from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, as well as a Master of Science in supervision from Texas A&M University.

‘The Parent Teacher’

D’Ann Vonderau, superintendent of High Island ISD

Longtime educator D’Ann Vonderau remembers attending state-level educational meetings as a principal 17 years ago, when she said there were very few female superintendents in the state.

“Females now represent more and more school districts as chief executive officers,” she said. “I am proud to have joined the ranks of female superintendents and am confident in our ability to successfully lead the education system of our great state and nation.”

She was named superintendent in 2010 and takes pride in helping to write a successful grant that provided funding to purchase a personal computer for every student in the district, which she said improved student-teacher connectivity exponentially.

“No other profession has a more profound impact on shaping the future of our nation as education does,” Vonderau said. “Once children enter the school system, educators spend more time daily with students than their parents do, so I take the responsibility of molding children into successful, productive citizens very seriously.”

Vonderau holds a doctorate in education from Baylor University and a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Houston-Victoria.

She is involved in the Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of Rural Schools, Texas Association of Community Schools, Texas Association of Women School Executives and the Superintendent’s Advisory Board.

‘The Dreamer’

Jennifer Goodman, superintendent and principal at Mosbacher Odyssey Academy

When Jennifer Goodman agreed in 2005 to stand in as interim principal for a month at the Odyssey Academy, an island-based charter school, she had no idea she would still be at it nearly a decade later.

Goodman, who has 22 years of experience in the field of education, said she felt like she really belonged at Odyssey.

“Although I loved all of my experiences in the traditional ISDs, I’m exceptionally passionate about this school and school family,” she said. “My proudest moments at Odyssey are the times when a student or teacher shares with me a goal or dream they accomplished. My heart just sings for them. Every child should have the opportunity to follow their dreams.”  

The influx of women in education at the administrative level will expose students to a diversity of thought and positive role models, Goodman said.

She holds a master’s degree from Texas A&M University, is the co-chair of the Galveston Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, the conference chair of the Texas Charter School Association and a member of the Rotary Club of Galveston.

‘The Motivator’

Patricia Williams, superintendent and principal of Ambassador’s Preparatory Academy

Patricia Williams has been educating Texas students for nearly four decades. She was named superintendent and principal of Ambassador’s Preparatory Academy in 2006. With a history in traditional independent school districts, Williams said she enjoys the flexibility of a charter school.

“My happiest moments are centered around a culture that inspires teaching and learning; therefore, education was a perfect career match for me,” Williams said. “I enjoy the fact that I can educate children in an environment that is nontraditional with a focus on global learning and travel.”

She’s on a mission to change the opinions of teachers and students who are hesitant to embrace new technology in the classroom.

“The educational environment has changed significantly with the advancements in technology,” Williams said. “These advantages have caused a revolution in the educational environment. My quest is to motivate all students to use their talents to find their purpose in life using education as the foundation.”

Williams has a Ph.D. in education — administration and supervision from the University of Houston, and a master’s of science and master of arts in education supervision from Texas A&M University-Prairie View.

She is a member of Galveston Community Action Council, Galveston United Way, Galveston Girls Rites of Passage, the University of Texas Medical Branch, Reedy Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Texas Association of Black Administrators.