Profile: Tom Trigg

Forging Ahead as a Team

by Francesca Duffy

Tom Trigg isn’t one who likes to accept praise, even when he became a finalist for the 2011 National Superintendent of the Year award. “Some accolades are misplaced, and they should be going to my staff, the teachers, the community and, of course, the kids,” says the superintendent of the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan., since 2004.

Humility is a personal trait Trigg began to embrace after reading Good to Great by Jim Collins, a best-seller on executive leadership, which characterizes Level 5 leaders as those who put their own self-interest on the back burner to unify an organization.

Tom TriggTom Trigg


He has engaged his administrative team, during staff development sessions, through discussion groups around Collins’ book so they might internalize the concepts of great leadership and apply them to their own work.

Trigg, who worked in two other Kansas districts before moving to Blue Valley in 1996, started talking about Good to Great even before the school board promoted him to superintendent. “Those concepts have given us a framework to operate in the district, and they’ve given us a common vocabulary,” explains Al Hanna, Blue Valley’s deputy superintendent of administrative services.

Under Trigg’s leadership, the 21,000-student district has implemented the Center for Advanced Professional Studies, or CAPS, an innovative education program connecting juniors and seniors to the business community through project-based learning. Students apply to the program, though there is no GPA requirement, and attend classes three hours a day. They mingle with professionals in the field and contribute to actual projects, such as designing a marketing plan using social media.

The concept for CAPS, which started in 2009-10, emerged from a strategic plan during Trigg’s first year. Together with local businesses, the district identified four career strands with inadequate pipelines: engineering, international business, biosciences and human services.

Teamwork made the program a reality, Trigg says. “We did surveys, formed interest groups and forged ties with the business community. We asked ourselves, what are our goals for our kids? That’s the question that drives us.”

Lori Hisle, a member of the Blue Valley Board of Education, points to the superintendent’s capacity for getting everyone on the same page. “Our district is one whole instead of fragmented pieces,” she says.

The 58-year-old makes a point to stay connected to students, whether by attending school sports events on the weekends with his wife, by reading the district’s five high school newspapers from beginning to end or by meeting with his student advisory group over lunch.

“As superintendent, you need to know what the kids are thinking and the kind of culture they are learning and interacting in, and you need to know about this firsthand, unfiltered,” says Trigg, who admits he learned a lot about relating to students from his parents, both teachers, while growing up in Kansas City.

He holds a special place in his heart for the 18- to 21-year-olds who attend the district’s community-based program where older students with disabilities develop life and career skills. Trigg takes the time to learn about these students, and then talks about each one during their graduation ceremony.

Hanna adds, “It’s then that you sense that genuineness about him, his willingness to connect with the students and with everyone in the community.”

Francesca Duffy is a former senior editorial assistant for The School Administrator. E-mail: fmduffy@gmail.com

BIO STATS: TOM TRIGG

Currently:
superintendent, Blue Valley School District, Overland Park, Kan.

Previously: deputy superintendent for administrative services, Blue Valley

Age: 58

Greatest influence on career: My dad taught high school math for more than 40 years, and my mother was a middle school math teacher. Their passion for student success was unprecedented and to live in a household where the love of learning was on display was an incredible experience.

Best professional day: This occurs annually on the Monday after our five high schools hold their graduation ceremonies. That day is our Access House graduation for our 21-year-old special education students who are completing their Blue Valley education and about to begin their life’s journey. I am asked to speak to the students and share in their joy.

Books at bedside: The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels; Multipliers by Liz Wiseman; Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi; and How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins

Biggest blooper: Several years ago, 10 minutes prior to beginning a presentation at the AASA national conference, I bent over to tie my shoe and heard a seam in the back of my pants rip open. I quickly looked in my briefcase and discovered a roll of white athletic tape. I was able to tape the rip together (from the inside) and begin the presentation on time. I often have wondered why I had athletic tape in my briefcase and what I would have done had it not been there.

Why I’m an AASA member: I value the collaboration that develops as I meet superintendents from across the country. I also appreciate the timely information provided on issues of national interest. I do not have time to research many of these topics myself and make good use of the information provided.