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Profile                                                            Page 51

 

'A Genuine Inspirational Voice'

 

BY PAUL RIEDE

Daniel King
Daniel King

When Daniel King became principal of Hidalgo High School in 1988, he knew he had a challenge on his hands. The school on the Mexican border some 250 miles south of San Antonio was in a shambles. King was the ninth principal there in 13 years.

“The discipline was very, very poor,” he says. “The academic focus was poor. The caliber of teaching was not good. I really felt that the students were being shortchanged.”

As he settled into his office a few weeks before school started, he found no master schedule. He personally selected courses for each student, giving each a tougher schedule than he or she had the year before.

“As you can imagine, on the first day of school they were very upset,” King says. “I got to meet a lot of parents that way.”

In the end, King got the academic results he expected. By challenging students and taking time to explain what education could do for them, he turned things around. Two years later, Hidalgo got a governor’s award as one of the most improved schools in the state.

King, now 58, took the same approach when he became superintendent in Hidalgo in 1999 and then leader of the 32,000-student Pharr-San Juan-Alamo district, a few miles up the road in South Texas, in 2007.

In both systems, King raised expectations not just for current students, but also for former students who had forsaken education. He recruited dropouts to new schools where they could finish high school while beginning college work.

In PSJA, the first three Saturdays of the school year now are major events, says Linda Carrillo, principal of the district’s College, Career & Technology Academy. That’s when teachers, administrators and community volunteers knock on doors to persuade dropouts to come back.

They come to the CCT Academy, a school King created in an old Walmart with South Texas College. This year, it has about 200 students 18 to 26 years of age.

When King started at PSJA in 2007, the dropout rate was twice the state average. Now it’s less than half the average, and the heavily Hispanic, low-income district boasts an 88 percent graduation rate.

He’s rolled up his own shirtsleeves to make it possible, inspiring others by example.

When the staff goes out on Saturdays, King goes with them.

“He is definitely a hands-on leader who walks the talk,” Carrillo says. “He’s passionate, and it flows through him. You can feel it.”

Narciso Garcia, a fellow superintendent in nearby La Villa who earlier worked with King as a principal in PSJA, considers him a mentor. King speaks quietly, Garcia says, but the communication is powerful.

“It’s a genuine inspirational voice,” Garcia says.

King may have inherited some of that inspirational spirit from his father, a Baptist missionary who toiled with farmworkers and others in poverty on both sides of the border. As a youth, King worked the cotton fields for 10 summers.

Now, the veteran educator sees his mission as not just providing opportunities for children and families but convincing them that they can improve their lives and their communities through education.

“It’s important that they be approached in the right way, in a way that they are valued,” he says.

Paul Riede is a staff writer at The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. E-mail: hoffried@twcny.rr.com
 

BIO STATS: DANIEL KING

Currently: superintendent, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, Pharr, Texas

Previously: superintendent, Hidalgo, Texas

Age: 58

Greatest influence on career: My parents came to the Texas-Mexico border as missionaries and spent their lives ministering to “braceros” (temporary farmworkers), undocumented immigrants, migrant workers and other families in housing projects.

Best professional day: Graduation days are exceptionally gratifying, especially ceremonies for our dropout recovery high school.

Books at bedside: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris; Digital Disruption by James McQuivey

Biggest blooper: When introducing special guests at public events, I often left out a key individual because I was focused on my message. After several major blunders, I now assign two individuals to identify all special guests in attendance who should be introduced.

Why I’m an AASA member: Membership gives me many opportunities to read, learn and grow professionally.

 

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