By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition June 2017
McAllen is a thriving south Texas city in every aspect. It has maintained its leadership with the surrounding cities trailing tightly behind. It boasts a school system that is among the best, with a mindset that the best people are working together as a region. Consequently, their emphasis is to hire only the best.
In August of 2016, the school board selected Dr. J. A. Gonzalez to become superintendent of the McAllen Independent School District (MISD). This reporter had an opportunity to meet him, and I can say that he is a unique individual, experienced and knowledgeable for the job.
Before becoming superintendent, he served as Interim District Superintendent. He had also served as district associate superintendent for instructional leadership since 2012 as part of his 19 years’ stance at MISD where he presently oversees 33 campuses with over 24,000 students.
Not only is he unique, but capable of taking on such responsibility. The McAllen ISD also has an exceptional group of professionals –trustees, who for years, have done an excellent job. It is also due to their commitment, dedication, and love for what they do that the McAllen schools have reached such excellence.
Dr. Gonzalez is married to Shahroo T. Gonzalez, a McAllen Memorial High School alumnus. Together they have a five-year-old son, Joe Douglas; a three-year-old daughter, Samantha Isabella; and a two-year-old son, Joshua Jay.
Dr. Gonzalez was born in Laredo, Texas. “I grew up in Hebbronville, Texas.” It is the county seat of Jim Hogg County and located about 110 miles north of McAllen. The population was 4,558 at the 2010 census. The community calls itself the ‘Vaquero Capitol of Texas and the USA.’
He said, “If you are a deer hunter, you know where Hebbronville is. If you go to Laredo the back way, you know where Hebbronville is. If you do neither, talk to me.”
He pointed out that it’s a small ranching community, but one of the things he loves about growing up there is about the people. “It’s about relationships, and it’s about having the work ethic and building the relationships and the trust necessary to excel in small town living.”
His love for McAllen dates back almost two decades to when he started working with the school district. “I saw the parallels, between the small town I grew up in and what I saw in this bigger city, in my mind.” He said, “Friendly people, people that care, relationships, trust, those types of things.” Every time he has a chance, Dr. Gonzalez says that he feels blessed by having the opportunity to be superintendent of McAllen’s schools.
Dr. Gonzalez started his teaching career in Bishop, Texas. He spent two years and moved to the Rio Grande Valley to start with the McAllen ISD as a science teacher. Dr. Gonzalez also did three years as the assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School and two years more as an assistant director at McAllen High School.
As he was building his career, he was also the principal of the instruction and guidance center, the alternative high school/middle school. “I went on to being principal at Dr. Rodney D. Cathey Middle School for six years,” he said.
As Dr. Gonzalez cemented his career in this community, he was also the associate superintendent for instructional leadership. This gave him the opportunity to work with all 33 campuses, to supervise, coach and work side by side with all 33 principals.
He concluded that the opportunity to serve as interim and currently to serve as superintendent is a blessing. “Some people say, ‘That’s a tough job.’” He continues, “It isn’t. It isn’t because I love what I do. I love working with people. My father was in the education business for 40 years. He was an interim superintendent, so I’m mainly following in his footsteps. I saw him as I was growing up as a kid; I knew what I was signing up for.”
His ascending career brings him blessings and satisfactions; however, it also comes with an enormous responsibility that can be seen and felt from every angle. He said that to do the very best for the students of McAllen ISD it is necessary to build synergistic relationships with business. According to him, it takes everybody in the community to make it happen.
“We also have to be committed to self-improvement and self-evaluation not just as individuals but also collectively.” He said, “We have to have systems and processes that blend the community and the school district together and then we all have to take a leadership role to make that happen.”
He noted that the challenging part of education today is that they are held to a higher standard regarding accountability. Also, he said, the students have a choice today. “Today, students can choose other schools. We are not the only show in town.” He continued, “As educators, we are entrepreneurs of the human spirit.”
Dr. González says that even though the school systems are in a friendly competition and they all want the same results, that the children in the world succeed. The question still arises, “How do we create an environment where we become the school district of choice?”
The school district follows, as a guideline, four goals that serve as an evaluation for Dr. Gonzalez.
“Every principal, every teacher, every content coordinator, every director, every assistant superintendent, all stakeholders within the organization know that this is how we are going to hold ourselves accountable,” he stated.
The goals are: 1. Student Achievement/Student Focus; 2. People Development; 3. Facilities Priorities and 4. Financial Priorities.
Was this in place before you, this level of accountability? “McAllen ISD has always had district goals. However, with the vision of our Board of Trustees, we have done a better job by aligning our 4 district goals with the 7 strategies of our Strategic Plan and our District Improvement Plan.”
He continued, “I believe in transparency, and that’s just my style. It’s gotten me this far, and I just want to be open and honest.”
Dr. Gonzalez is in a dedicated pilgrimage to build relationships. However, he knows he cannot do it alone. “If we work together then we can hit those four goals; we can do it. But we can’t do it alone,”
“The better we do as a district, the better the city does, the better the city does, the better the district does.” He believes it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Regarding the strategic plan, it revolves around working together with the community. “There were over 2,000 people that had a voice in this strategic plan, and we are very proud of that.” He said, “It wasn’t 2,000 people in a room; it was through a survey. It was through talking to students and to staff members, and we had a strategic design team that was a cross-section of the community that came together to build the strategies.”
The message from this participation was evident. “If we do these things, we think in this friendly competition that we could be the district of choice.”
“Our strategic plan is something that we are very proud of. I want to take this opportunity to thank our board members for their commitment to the school district and for everything that they do,” expressed Dr. Gonzalez.
Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient. TBB
To learn more about Dr. J.A. Gonzalez follow this link.