Pirtle ‘livin’ the dream’ in new LHISD administrative role

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CHAD-PIRTLE copy-webBy SHELLY WILLKISON

Livin’ the dream.

That’s the only answer that Chad Pirtle has these days to the age-old, break-the-ice question as to how he’s doing.

The words may sound trite, but for Pirtle, who was recently promoted to Liberty Hill ISD Assistant Superintendent, his life these days really is a dream come true.

“I’ve been thinking about this position for years,” said Pirtle of his new assignment with the school district. He was appointed this summer after the retirement of Robert Parks.

And in the first few weeks on the job, Pirtle is getting things done.

Among the first tasks were “fixing” the public address system at Panther Stadium. And, he produced an employee newsletter that left readers looking forward to the next publication.

“I’m focused on helping build a team,” said Pirtle, a former junior high coach turned principal. “This (newsletter) is a way to build morale.” For those assigned to a specific campus, the digital newsletter is a way to stay informed about what’s happening on the district level. For Pirtle, it’s a way to build a “tighter team.”

Pirtle, 37, is beginning his tenth year in the school district. He was hired as a teacher and coach at Liberty Hill Junior High. Within a short time, he was named assistant principal at Liberty Hill Intermediate School and kept his junior high coaching duties. He served seven years as junior high principal.

Pirtle said in his first job interview with LHISD, Athletic Director Jerry Vance said he was looking for some stability among the coaching staff at the junior high.

“I told Coach Vance that if he hired me, I would give him that stability,” Pirtle said. Then, a short time later, he told Vance “the good news” — he would continue coaching the following school year and he was going back to school to work on a master’s degree. It was about the same time, that he announced to then-Superintendent Dean Andrews that one day, he would be sitting in his seat.

Superintendent Rob Hart, who selected Pirtle for the position, said Pirtle’s competitive edge was a characteristic he considered positive for Liberty Hill.

Hart said there were 50 applicants for the position, including several LHISD employees. Among the poole of applicants were also superintendents from other school districts.

“Chad is a student of the game,” said Hart. “He has a head-strong competitive nature, is detail oriented, and is focused on doing it right.”

Hart said the responsibilities of the Assistant Superintendent will expand somewhat. When Parks held the position, he oversaw the operations of the district including facilities, transportation and maintenance. And in recent years, Parks spearheaded the transition to newly-built facilities.

While Pirtle will be doing all of those things, team-building and getting things done are important.

“As I see the needs, I’m getting them fixed,” he said, referring to his quest to “fix” the PA system at the stadium.

“I guess that’s the coaching part of me,” Pirtle laughed. “I do have a hard time letting it (the competitive edge) go. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right.”

Perhaps influenced by his former mentor Principal Kathy Major, whose motto at Liberty Hill Intermediate School is “Just do it right…Achieve Success,” Pirtle has a reputation as a campus administrator of working hard to achieve success.

He points to a program he and Assistant Principal Annette Coe implemented at the junior high designed to provide students with additional instructional time in the middle of the day.

“We redid the schedule to build time in the middle of the day as an intervention time,” he said.

“Time is the enemy,” he said.

Because so many students are involved in after-school activities and arriving before school is a challenge for many families, Pirtle said the intervention time was an opportunity for teachers to work individually with students and getting the additional instructional attention was not an option.

“The core teachers took those students who needed help during this extra 27 minutes in the middle of day,” Pirtle said.

He said students who did not need intervention enjoyed going outside during the designated time.

For the past seven years, Pirtle’s professional partner at the junior high was Annette Coe, who was promoted from Assistant Principal this summer to replace Pirtle.

“She will out-work anyone,” Pirtle said. “She has the respect of the staff there, and she’s a wonderful person.”

Pirtle said the staff at the junior high left a lifetime impression on him and he feels “blessed to have had the opportunity to work with so many good people.

“Every day we were setting the standard at the junior high, and I took that to heart,” he said.

“I thank them for their willingness to follow me for the last seven years. They are the ones who set the standard. We wanted the junior high to be the place to be, and we set the sizzle,” he added.

Pirtle, who admits he rarely drops the smile from his face, describes himself as a positive person.

“I want to be that,” he said. “I don’t want to get to the point with someone where we can’t have a conversation.

He said he rarely gets angry, but he does get “frustrated” from time to time.

He said the junior high staff knew to tread cautiously when Pirtle had “the look.”

“You know, it’s the look of disappointment that you’d get from your dad growing up,” he said, unable to replicate it while he was smiling. “I do get the look, but I’m not a yeller.”

Pirtle said the most common reason for “the look” was if something wasn’t right for the kids.

As an example, he said he was often frustrated by parents who wanted the school to lower the standards for their child.

“Junior high is a difficult age. A child is starting to become more independent. They grow from the challenges and learn from it. You have to hit the wall — it’s part of growing up.

“Ultimately, school is a protected environment. If we’re not teaching them at the junior high, it’s difficult the rest of their life,” he said.

When Pirtle joined the junior high staff eight years ago, there were 320 students. At the end of the school year in June, there were 520.

“That’s 200 students in seven years,” he said.

“Growth effects everything in the school district. As we get bigger, we have to get smaller and tighter in our procedures,” he said.

Pirtle said keeping classes at a “reasonable size” is important. While elementary classes are limited by a state ratio of 22 students to one teacher, Pirtle said keeping class sizes smaller in junior high and high school improve learning opportunities.

“Another thing that will make us better is vertical alignment in our communication,” he said.

By providing teachers the opportunity to communicate from campus to campus, and making sure that the teaching vocabulary is consistent throughout the grade levels, student success can improve.

“I will miss the kids, getting to know them, and watching them grow up,” he said. “But I’m excited about being able to get on different campuses. Being around elementary kids, see what they do in their day. And getting to know the teachers better at the elementary level.”

Although a few shorts weeks ago, Pirtle was a peer to the other campus principals, he said he hopes to be a mentor for them in his new role.

“I’m there to help, and will be there to brainstorm and offer organizational techniques,” he said. “Principals get hit is so many directions.”

He said some research shows a principal is interrupted every 16 seconds during a typical school day. So staying organized is essential.

While Pirtle may be the public relations cheerleader for LHISD, he admits things “aren’t perfect. But we’re working really hard to get there.”

Pirtle, who is working on a doctoral degree now from the University of Texas and finishing up his dissertation, said he has been preparing for the position of Assistant Superintendent for years, and his dissertation topic is evidence of that.

Pirtle’s topic is the superintendent’s role in school bond elections. With Liberty Hill’s next bond election as early as May 2016, Pirtle’s topic is especially pertinent.

“I wanted to do something that was going to help me as a superintendent some day in a growing school district,” he said.

“I put it all out there on the line,” he said of the interview process. “I’ve been thinking about this position for years. I wasn’t just applying for a job. I’m a very hard worker and I came in with ideas to make things better.”

Pirtle grew up in Paris in northeast Texas where he played baseball and made good grades. He was a good student and has fond memories of childhood school days. He graduated in 1996.

While attending college at Texas A&M University Commerce where he earned a degree in business, he served as a volunteer fire fighter and emergency medical technician in Lamar County. While he enjoyed the experience and considered it as a career option, the unpredictable work schedule was a deterrent as he thought about family life.

After earning a degree, Pirtle worked two and one-half years as a sales representative for an occupational health care company that consulted with employers as to how to keep employees well and able to work.

Within a short time, he realized he had chosen the wrong career path. His real interest was coaching, and his wife, Emily, encouraged him to pursue it.

His first teaching job was in neighboring Clarksville where he worked two years on a probationary teaching certificate. He taught Algebra I, TAKS remediation math, keyboarding and math models. He enjoyed the work so much that the Pirtles both decided to go back to school, and moved to central Texas.

Mrs. Pirtle, who teaches at Liberty Hill High school and is the director of the Liberty Belles, earned a master’s degree from the University of Texas while Pirtle went to Texas State University for a master’s degree and now UT for a doctoral degree.

The Pirtles met as college students. She was attending Paris Junior College on a cheerleading scholarship and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M Commerce. The Pirtles married just before moving to Liberty Hill 10 years ago, and have two sons — Jack, 3, and Ryan, 1.

So how is Pirtle doing two weeks before the start of school?

“Just livin’ the dream,” he smiles. “Really.”

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