LHISD fills admin ranks
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
With the school year coming to a close, Superintendent Steve Snell and the School Board were busy Monday night filling positions to be ready for the new school year kicking off in August.
The Board approved the employment of Ikram Sharif Mezayek as police chief for the planned school district department, an assistant superintendent – Brad Mansfield – to fill the vacancy left with the departure of Chad Pirtle, and the next Bill Burden Principal – Tanya Lambert who is Assistant Principal at Rancho Sienna Elementary – to replace Terrie Chambers who is retiring.
It has been a lengthy process for Liberty Hill ISD from the first discussions of how to handle law enforcement in the district last spring to Monday’s final decision on a new hire to build that program.
“We wanted to get it right,” Snell said of the lengthy interview and decision-making process. “We wanted to make sure we got the right person not only for the forming of a police department but to keep our kids and staff safe.”
There were about 120 applicants for the position and Snell said they narrowed it down to four candidates before naming Mezayek to the position.
“He brought a lot of experience to the table and really for me, the feedback I got checking his references was pretty amazing,” Snell said. “He was in Round Rock ISD as a School Resource Officer (SRO), he led the SROs in Round Rock for a time and they had nothing but good things to say about him.”
Mezayek has worked in law enforcement for 31 years, including the last 24 with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department. He has worked as a patrol sergeant, narcotics detective, and from 1997-2001 he was a SRO. He was involved with SRO leadership from 2004-2018.
“He also brings a wide range of experience beyond the SRO position,” Snell said. “He’s been working with Williamson County for many years. He has brought crime prevention programs into the school, drug-related programs, and he has worked with the County and school districts on safety events and safety plans.”
His experience working with students and school staff was important to Snell.
“An important part of this job is knowing kids and how to navigate kids, from the young kids to teenagers at the high school, and he knows that,” Snell said. “He’s worked with counselors and school administration before.”
The new police chief’s official start date is July 1, and he begins with a lot on his plate in establishing the new department.
“That includes the formation of the department, which is going to be a heavy lift of a job, working with budget, supplies and things like that,” Snell said. “To know what it takes to be an SRO, and have that mentality when they go in to hire our future officers, I think that knowledge is going to be very, very valuable to us as well.”
Through the planning and establishment work he will be tasked with to get the department started, Mezayek’s official title will be chief of security.
“The first big task will be all the paper work and everything associated with becoming a certified police department,” Snell said. “That’s a process that will take several months to complete, and while he’s working on that process he will start to interview and hire school resource officers as well.”
The district anticipates beginning the school year with at least one officer hired, and over the course of the year, Snell said he’d like to see at least four total including the chief.
Tanya Lambert will move from her current position at Rancho Sienna back to familiar surroundings as the new leader at Bill Burden Elementary.
Of 65 applicants, Snell was pleased to see the applicants from inside the district rise to the top, but in the end Lambert was the top choice.
“We interviewed people inside the district and outside the district and we felt like we had some really strong candidates inside the district so that’s who we put in front of the committee,” Snell said.
Lambert has served as a first grade teacher, reading specialist, math and reading interventionist, and then served 11 years as a counselor in Royse City ISD. She has been an assistant principal since 2015.
“She did an excellent job in her interview, but she’s got a wide variety of experience,” Snell said. “She taught at the elementary level, she was a counselor at the elementary level and she’s been an administrator.”
He said Lambert worked briefly at Burden before moving over to Rancho Sienna, but she made an impact in that short time.
“In her short time at Bill Burden, I think she made some lasting impressions on them, how she affected culture, her compassion toward kids and staff and just her leadership capabilities made an impact on them in a short time,” Snell said. “She’s continued that over at Rancho Sienna, so a lot of those things really resonated with the committee, so when it came time to make the decisions she was easily the number one choice overall.”
Mansfield comes to Liberty Hill from Leander ISD, where he has worked in administration since 2004. He served as an assistant principal, then was principal of Leander High School for seven years.
“There were a couple of things I was looking for because obviously Mr. Pirtle did a great job with us so there were big shoes to fill,” Snell said. “But I was looking for a little different type of role for this position. With all of our campuses, except for Mr. Motal who we just hired, we have some pretty new-to-the-position campus leaders and Brad brings a wealth of knowledge and many years in administration. I think he will be a huge asset to all of our principals.”
In Liberty Hill, Mansfield will be in charge of student services on the campuses, maintenance and transportation, some technology and safety and security.
“The other thing he brings is he is over safety, security and emergency operations plans, so as we start a police department he brings a wealth of knowledge in that aspect as well,” Snell said. “He currently serves as a liaison to the chief of security in Leander ISD.”
Since 2014, Mansfield has served as the District Director of School Improvement and then Executive Director of Student Services.
“He has been in Leander for a while, experienced their fast growth and has seen how they’ve managed that, has gone through their growing pains and I think he brings that with him that can greatly help us as we grow and become a larger organization,” Snell said. “On top of that he has a great leadership presence and a very calming presence.”
LHISD hired Sledge Engineering to represent the district in the list of upcoming bond projects, beginning with the construction of Santa Rita Elementary that is just beginning.
“One of the Board expectations when I was hired was to go find an owners rep to really fight for the district, work with our architect and construction manager to represent the district at those meetings,” Snell said.
The role for Sledge Engineering is to provide oversight and look for ways to save more money on bond projects.
“That can be anywhere from the design end to the construction and really analyzing every aspect of the project to make sure things stay on time, stay on budget so we can save money,” Snell said. “Part of it is accounting oversight to make sure every dollar is spent where it is supposed to be and on what it is supposed to and we don’t get double billed. It’s not that we are scared of that, but it’s a big project and a lot of money and a lot of bills with a lot of subcontractors and we just want to make sure that Liberty Hill ISD is getting the most value for its money and everything is accounted for.”
The list of projects for the $98.6 million bond package passed in November 2018 includes one elementary campus, which has a guaranteed maximum price of $27.2 million – $5 million less than the anticipated cost when the bonds were approved – as well as a new middle school, renovations to the Intermediate School and additions to the high school. Sledge Engineering will work on all four projects.
“This is for this bond that was just passed,” Snell said. “They will provide oversight and representation for each project in the current bond,” Snell said. “They start with the umbrella of a percentage, which is about 2.25 percent when you add up all of the different aspects of it. What it is in reality is a pay as you go and the contract can end at any time. We’re hoping for every dollar we spend on them that the district realizes a savings of three dollars.”
Snell said down the road, as the district continues to grow, that Liberty Hill would likely have a similar representative on staff.
“I still think as we move forward and will continue with construction that we need an in-house person down the road, but right now Sledge Engineering offered the most and the most personal touch and could give us the time and energy that we’re expecting from an owner’s rep on the project.”
New board officers
Once new Place 7 Trustee Megan Parsons was sworn in Monday, the Board elected new officers for the upcoming year.
The Board reelected Clay Cole as President, and elected Clint Stephenson Vice President and Kathy Major Secretary.