Snell named to lead LHISD
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Steve Snell could have cited any number of professional reasons why he chose to come to Liberty Hill and serve as the school district’s next superintendent.
But he gave the same reason as so many parents who choose Liberty Hill as the place to educate their children.
“When the job opened and my family and I started looking at it, the number one concern was that I have a son who is a freshman in high school,” he said. “In Spring Hill we have an excellent educational environment and he is well taken care of there, so my number one concern was the educational environment would have to be equal to or greater than we have in Spring Hill. From everyone I’ve talked to and everyone I’ve seen, that educational environment is there in liberty Hill, so once I was comfortable with where my son might attend school, then you start looking at the professional opportunities.”
At a special meeting Nov. 8, the Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees named Snell as the lone finalist for the district’s Superintendent position.
He will replace Dr. Rob Hart who announced his retirement last summer, and will be leaving Dec. 31.
The Board voted unanimously in favor of Snell, though Trustees Anthony Buck and Vickie Peterson were absent. Board President Clay Cole said that though the two were not in attendance, they also supported the decision.
“On behalf of the board, we are extremely excited about the future of the Liberty Hill district,” said Board President Clay Cole. “It was clearly evident that this was a position that was extremely valued, and we were happy with the number of applicants we got. (Snell’s) consistency, experience, being a relationship builder and being a genuine, excellent leader made this right. He has a vision that we believe can help move us forward with the challenges we are facing.”
Snell is currently serving as Superintendent of Spring Hill ISD in Longview. He has 25 years of education experience as a teacher and administrator. Spring Hill ISD has about 2,000 students and has four campuses. It is a UIL 4A district and received an overall A Accountability Rating from Texas Education Agency.
By law, after naming Snell the lone finalist, the district must wait 21 days before voting again to officially hire him for the Superintendent post.
Though Spring Hill is a smaller district, and not in the same high-growth category as Liberty Hill, he is no stranger to skyrocketing growth and the challenges that come with it.
With three and a half years in Hutto as Assistant Superintendent of Administration and Strategic Planning, Snell was at the epicenter of a high-growth situation similar to what Liberty Hill is facing today.
“That was the middle of a planning process for the future building of Hutto,” he said. “Those contacts, those conversations over three years, seeing the struggles that Hutto went through, seeing the successes Hutto went through under some pretty good leadership there, has not only prepared me to lead a fast-growth district, but has also given me a wealth of resources in the community to reach out to.”
Snell – from Houston – is a graduate of Texas Tech University with a Bachelor’s in history and a Master’s in educational leadership.
He taught Texas History in Amarillo before moving to Brazosport, where he spent 14 years – five as an assistant principal, four as a junior high principal, and five as a 5A high school principal with about 2,500 students.
“During that time, not only was there a lot of educational success, but I got to be a part of a $140 million bond election,” he said. “I got to be involved from the planning stages all the way up to the design and buildout and even the move into the new building.”
The wide variety of experiences Snell has learned from over the years included the proposal, explanation and eventual passing of a Tax Ratification Election (TRE) in Hutto ISD.
“In Hutto, I was part of a tax ratification election and the process of educating the community on the struggle that we have in public education on the funding side,” he said. “I totally understand the taxpayers’ frustration with the burden they’re left with because of the state funding model we have.”
As much as any experience in his career, the TRE in Hutto reminded Snell of the importance of open, constant communication with all parties.
“You cannot communicate enough,” he said. “No matter how much you communicate, no matter how many ways you do it, it is such a complicated process, and not just school funding, but our accountability system and many other things. To me, part of the job as a superintendent is educating the community in the parents, and the staff, because a lot of times the staff doesn’t have a lot of access to that information. I’m a big believer that as many people as possible need to know as much as possible because when you’re armed with good, accurate information, then you can help communicate the message.”
Liberty Hill is a growing, thriving district, and while Snell has experiences he will bring with him to his new home, his first goal is to learn as much as he can about the schools and their needs.
“I need to get into the community in Liberty Hill and talk with the leaders of the district because they’ve done an awful lot of planning and they know the district inside and out,” he said. “I look forward to getting with them and seeing what has been done up to this point, and get as much information as possible.”
The recent bond package passed by area voters was a good sign to Snell, not only because it allows the district to address the need for more classrooms.
“It is always good when a community supports their schools and their plans,” he said.
His outreach plans to keep Liberty Hill ISD ahead of the growth curve, and prepared for any future issues – be it growth or even a slow in that pace – is to stay in tune with every part of the community.
“You’ve got to make sure there are no surprises and you have everything prepared to do what needs to be done on the school district end so nobody misses the beat,” he said.
Set to begin his second superintendent position, Snell relies on the memory of why he first got into education as a guiding force in how he approaches his new responsibilities.
“I feel it was a calling. It is what I always wanted to do, it is what I enjoy doing,” he said. “I think the years I spent in the classroom are some of my favorite years in this profession. I love teaching both students and teachers. I love learning from them as well.”
He said he will not be someone who simply walks around and observes, but someone who spends time talking with everyone involved.
“I want to make sure our teachers have a voice in the direction of the district, I want to make sure our students and parents have a voice,” he said. “It is the job of school leaders to provide a service, and we need to hear the needs of everybody before we move forward with a plan. I believe in bringing as many people to the table as we can.”
The ultimate goal is to prepare students for success beyond Liberty Hill ISD, and with an ever-changing workforce, Snell said that is the critical focus for Texas schools today.
“The challenges of a changing workforce is a big one,” he said. “We want to make sure our students are prepared and have opportunities in high school to acquire the needed skills for the highly-skilled, high-wage job market. I want the students of Liberty Hill to be very competitive in that world.”
On the administrative side, funding issues and accountability offer challenges, but Snell said those won’t cause Liberty Hill to deviate from the ultimate goal.
“Along with (other challenges) is the ever-changing world of accountability, but I honestly believe if you do things the right way it works itself out,” he said. “You can’t chase test scores, you have to chase great lessons and great ideas and think about what you want kids to create and accomplish in the classroom. If you focus on those things, the test scores follow.”
Snell and his wife, Amy, have been married 22 years. She is a former educator and will be heavily involved in the community as they settle into their new home. They have a daughter, Madison, who is a freshman at Texas Tech, and a son, Will, who is a freshman in high school.
If approved in the final hiring vote by the school board Dec. 4, Snell will start work in Liberty Hill on Dec. 5.
“I’m very excited,” Snell said of the opportunity. “Jobs like this don’t come open very often. It is an excellent school district and my family feels very fortunate to be a part of the Liberty Hill family. I will do whatever it takes to make sure this district stays on top, not just maximizing effort, but maximizing resources, being a good steward of taxpayer dollars and on a constant mission to make sure teachers have what they need to do their job to the best of their ability.”