Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

October 13, 2011

Leaving too soon

Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent Ronny Collins announces his plan to retire at the end of the school year

Mineral Wells Index

By Libby Cluett | lcluett@mineralwellsindex.com

He came, he set things on a straight course for the future and now he’s leaving. That would be Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent Ronny Collins, who publicly announced his retirement Tuesday, which will come at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

While he’s in his fourth year at the helm of MWISD, Collins, 57, has been in the public education realm for 34 years, with 22 as a superintendent.

“I’ve kind of hit the end of my career,” he said. “Not many [superintendents] go even 20 years.”

Part of his rationale for leaving is to spend more time with his grandchildren – he has four, one in Sherman, Texas, and three in Grandview, Texas.

“Right now I plan to stay here, my wife’s still teaching,” he said of Terri Collins, a fifth grade teacher at Travis Elementary.

“We’re living in between our two sets of kids,” he added as another reason Mineral Wells is a convenient location.

Collins began as MWISD superintendent in the summer of 2008 and is in his fourth academic year with the district.

“I’m probably going to do something with photography. It’s the thing I enjoy more than anything,” Collins said of his well-known, visible hobby. Since coming to Mineral Wells, he said, “I wore out one camera and it’s gone now.”

“He had his vision,” said Mary Creighton, MWISD director of public relations. She said his vision extended beyond the schools and district into the community and its history.

Creighton not only worked with Collins at MWISD, but worked with him to administer the project restoring the historic Fort Wolters entrance gate, announcing it as the U.S. Army Primary Helicopter Center. She recalled Collins saying, from the week he started here, that he remembered the gate as it once looked when he passed through Mineral Wells and would like to see it restored.

For this project, Collins and Creighton were recently awarded the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce “beautification award.”

“He has a real interest in community and a love for history,” Creighton said. “He brought about the gate project and now we’re working on the Medal of Honor project. There were 12 [Medal of Honor] recipients who went through the old Camp Wolters and Fort Wolters.”

Creighton said they plan to have two Medal of Honor ceremonies, beginning March 23.

“When he came here he was up for [Texas] superintendent of the year, from Snyder [ISD],” she noted.

“I found him very knowledgeable and easy to work with,” she said of working with Collins at the District Services Center and on community projects. “He never tried to push his ideas on folks, but had concepts on the way things should go and he let the administrators do their job.”

“All of us work well with him,” said Houston Elementary Principal Kelly Wilkerson. “He’s created a collaborative.”

“I’m a little disappointed he’s going so quickly,” she said, adding, “I’ve learned a lot from him, though.”

Wilkerson described the superintendent’s qualities with adjectives like “accessible,” “available” and “supportive.”

“We had a direct line to him. He visited the campuses and every year asks for pictures of staff, so when he’s on campus he has a reference. He really cares,” she said. “He’s patient. He sits back and watches and makes good decisions [including] solving problems for the long term.”

This included foreseeing and communicating with staff about the probably impact of anticipated  legislation on MWISD.

“He had us well planned for what hit us,” she added of the 82nd legislative session that cut about $5 billion from public school funding to help balance the state’s budget.

Collins had the MWISD administrative team talk about and begin planning for cuts “way before they became a reality,” Wilkerson explained.

“I even thought about retiring last year,” Collins said, but added, “Knowing what was coming in the Legislature I didn’t feel I could walk off and leave. I felt I had to stay to get everyone through that. I hate to bail out when it’s tough.”

Collins and his MWISD staff trimmed about $8 million over four years, he said, “and didn’t have to raise taxes.”

“We were able to get through this last session of the Legislature and didn’t get rid of anybody,” he added of staffing. “Those who are not here chose not to be here. It was handled by attrition.”

While he noted class sizes are larger this school year, Collins said of the district, “I think we’re good for this biennium with the reductions we made.”

“He did a wonderful job of empowering me as a principal to lead my campus based on what we have identified as student needs,” said Mineral Wells Junior High Principal Jay Walsworth.

“The thing I appreciate most about Dr. Collins was he was extremely visible on my campus and was always supportive of our campus initiatives,” added Walsworth. “He was always there to say, ‘How can I help you.’”

He said this ranged from helping with Destination ImagiNation fundraisers to decisions on changes to the junior high master schedule.

“The thing I took from him … it’s the old adage, ‘Measure twice and cut once,’” Walsworth added. “That’s the kind of guy he is. Everything is thoughtful and his decisions are thoughtful.”

Prior to moving into administration, Collins began his public education career as an ag teacher in Grandview, Rio Vista and then at Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State University in San Marcos.

“When I was an ag teacher, I thought superintendents were something that grew on the bottom of a rock,” he said.

But he moved into administration as a vocational ed director at San Marcos ISD. In Wellington ISD, he served as an elementary principal then as superintendent for seven years. Next he headed Jacksboro ISD for six years, followed by Snyder for five years and now MWISD, where he will retire at the end of his fourth year.

“The average superintendent lasts two-point-two years,” he said. “I told [the MWISD board] when I interviewed this would be my last stop.”

“I’ve seen a lot over the years,” Collins said, but noted that success in schools and leading a district “still comes down to the teacher in a classroom … that’s what school’s all about.”

“You have to make sure teachers have what they need to do their job,” he added. “I’ve been in Class 5A and Class 1A school districts and I never wanted to see such a bureaucracy – the pyramid type – where I’m up here and the teachers are down there. I tried to get out on campuses and they can tell me what they need to do their job.”

 A district can lose sight of this as they work to meet mandates.

“We get so busy trying to address all the state and federal requirements,” he added.

Collins’ suggestions on a replacement include having someone who:

• Understands this finance system. That’s what [the job has] turned into. Now we’re thinking two years ahead.

• Understands what it’s like for those teachers. You’ve got to take care of the troops. We’re “Recognized” because of the job those [teachers] did in the classroom. You have to keep that in perspective.

• One of the most important things I’ve seen is you’ve got to want to be part of the community instead of running away on weekends.

He also shared keys to successful superintendent decision making.

“Have tried and true policies in place and stick with your policies and you’re all on the same page,” he said. “And do what’s best for the kids and that will solve 90 percent of your problems.”