As LHISD’s newest administrator, Hicks ready for new school year, new challenges

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Toni Hicks joins Liberty Hill ISD as its new Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability. Hicks came to Liberty Hill from Round Rock ISD where she served as principal at Walsh Middle School. (Christine Bolaños Photo)By Christine Bolaños

Toni Hicks has hit the ground running as new Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability at Liberty Hill ISD. Her passion and drive are assets that would make her predecessor Claudeane Braun, who retired in June, proud.

“I come from a family of doctors. My aunt was a teacher at Schertz ISD for probably 30 years plus,” Hicks explained. “She’s always been a mentor for me. She’s a great person and certainly my hero.”

Her entire family fostered and encouraged continuous learning. To, Hicks, education was the natural, and only, choice for her career.

“I can’t think of anything else I ever thought about doing,” Hicks said. “I enjoy helping others to learn and grow.”

Hicks considers herself a Texas girl, as she spent a good chunk of her childhood in the Lone Star State.

“I grew up a little bit all over. My dad worked in the computer industry so we did a lot of traveling,” she shared. “What I would identify mainly is as a Texan.”

She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from what is now Texas State University in San Marcos. She then moved on to the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor in Belton, where she earned a master’s degree in educational administration. Hicks is working toward completing her doctorate degree in cooperative superintendency program at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I spent 17 great years in Round Rock ISD where I was assistant principal and principal,” Hicks said.

She opened Walsh Middle School as its first principal and spent eight years at the campus. Prior to that, she was principal at Deerpark Middle School.

“The Round Rock family while widespread is very much connected,” Hicks said. “We were very much connected. Many of us were a close-knit team and very collaborative. It was difficult to leave but certainly a great opportunity to join the Liberty Hill family.”

She feels as though she transferred from one work family to another.

“Every day, from day one, it has certainly felt like a family,” Hicks shared. “Everyone has been incredibly encouraging and nice. Anywhere you go, you feel that small town feel to it, but yet, it’s also very encouraging and motivating to help one another. I love being a part of that.”

Hicks brings with her not only passion and drive for education, but experience at other school districts experiencing growing pains.

“It’s exciting to be part of a school district that has that close-knit family feel but is also growing,” she explained. “You’re at that level where you can be part of the growth and helping to encourage and support growth. It’s going to be rewarding and lots of hard work and energy is going to go into that.”

On her immediate to-do list is to visit individually with each campus principal.

“What are their needs and what can I to do to support them,” Hicks said. “I did the same thing with the central office staff.”

She acknowledges that each staff member and teacher is on their own individual course with regards to professional development and that it is not one-size-fits-all.

“Right now the biggest thing on the plate is making sure all the staff, when they return, feel welcome and excited to be here and looking forward to a great school year,” Hicks said.

Liberty Hill ISD has scheduled its convocation for the 2016-17 school year from about 7:45-11 a.m. August 9 at Liberty Hill High School.

“It’s really almost like a pep rally frame of mind for a great school year,” Hicks explained, adding that cheerleaders, bands and other groups of students will be involved.

There are already some hick-ups Hicks will have to sort through right off the bat. This includes delayed results for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). But Hicks has found the silver lining.

“If we can look at it as the glass half full, usually when families get results, they get them over the summer,” Hicks shared. “There are not a lot of resources to help them understand what the results mean. By getting closer to the start of the school year, families can sit down with educators and really create a plan of action. It’s a collaborative effort between the parents and the school.”

Putting herself in parents’ shoes who receive STAAR results and don’t have an educator to discuss said results with, Hicks said can cause anxiety.

“That can be a real stressor for the summer,” Hicks said. “I look at it as much as we’d like to have had those results early on so we can dig into data, we can still do that, now at the start of the school year. There’s no stress for families before a plan is crafted.”

Though she has only been at the school district a short while, Hicks said Liberty Hill ISD’s greatest asset are the people.

“As I plan professional development I can’t tell you how many people have come forward and presented to other educators their celebrations and their strengths and how we can share that,” Hicks said.

The greatest challenge will be staying ahead of inevitable growth.

“How do we keep ahead of that and make sure that teachers feel supported and everybody feels connected,” she explained.

Hicks plans to hold curriculum team meetings on Monday mornings. Staff will get to know each other as well as collaborate and outline what the team has going on moving forward.

“A vision and mission statement and how that supports our campuses,” Hicks shared. “We’re probably going to have a draft of one by end of September.”

Changes in curriculum, though admittedly frustrating at times, are an inevitable part of education.

“It’s about reassuring folks we’re going to be supportive of that process,” Hicks explained. “We hold our standards high for student achievement. We don’t lower our expectations. We increase our resources. Changes are just a part of every day and I don’t know that that’s going to go away.”

Hicks believes in transparency, or as she puts it, “clear systems.”

“So that no one has to guess what information is coming or how it’s coming,” Hicks said. “You have to say it, see it and write it. The more that happens the more people are aware of what’s being communicated.”

She is excited about continuing the collaborative relationships the school district has with community and business people in the area.

“John Clark has been an incredible resource for the district,” Hicks said. The School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) and John Clark are working on the Liberty Fit event, she said. It pulls the entire community together in celebration of health and wellness. She said this is just one example of the good that can come out of Liberty Hill ISD working with local partners.

She is also excited about the district’s new choir program and hearing students sing and share their talent with the community.

Hicks has much to celebrate in her personal life as well. She and her husband will mark 25 years of marriage in October.

“We love hunting and fishing,” Hicks shared. “We have two beautiful dogs that we spoil.”

The couple lives in Cedar Park, but is looking to move out into the country. Hicks, who volunteered for the American Red Cross in the past, would like to get more involved with the Liberty Hill community.

“I’m so excited about being part of Liberty Hill and getting to know everybody,” she said.

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