By: Jackie Hardy
NDG Contributing Writer
Irving Independent School District (IISD) hires first African American Superintendent, Dr. Dana Bedden, Ed. D. Bedden comes to Texas after serving three years as Superintendent at the Richmond County School District in Augusta, Georgia.
“This is a District where 80 percent of its students live in poverty (according to a Dallas Morning News report). It’s impressive when the majority of schools within the District have received academic acceptable ratings or higher facing obstacles such as high poverty rates amongst its students and that says to me there is an opportunity for greatness here. ”
Bedden understands the challenges of leading a district where more than half of its students come from economically disadvantage homes. Richmond County School District consisted of a student body where 67 percent of its students were economically disadvantaged.
Under Bedden’s leadership Richmond County’s graduation rate improved from 64 percent to 76 percent and most recently 74 percent of Richmond County schools met the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a yearly report to show the progress schools and districts are making toward the goal of having all students reach proficiency in English Language Arts and Mathematics by the year 2014.
Bedden expressed his goal to increase the current graduation rate for IISD from 84 percent to 90 percent by the end of his three year contract. He hopes to accomplish this goal by applying some of the same initiatives he implemented in the Richmond County School District.
“I want to challenge the staff to think outside of the box in how we deliver educational opportunities. It is important that we recognize not only the economic challenges facing our students, but that we understand and recognize not all students learn alike, especially students that come from diverse backgrounds. Changing the dynamics on how we approach teaching is one of the things we have to address in meeting the needs of a diverse population, advises Bedden.”
Some parents and IISD faculty members have expressed some concerns with not having a Hispanic Superintendent. Many feel the leadership within the District is non-reflective of its diverse student body. Within IISD, 31 percent of minorities hold professional positions with an over 70 percent minority student population.
“Dr. Bedden is a great communicator. He has the ability to be fair and communicate with concern and I believe having that strong skill crosses all ethnic lines,” states Dr. James Whitson, Deputy Superintendent of Richmond County.
Bedden has already taken steps in addressing the issue of minorities having more leadership roles within IISD. Under his direction, the school board recently passed the rewriting of the job description for a position that was held by a Latino District staff member to Special Assistant to the Superintendent. By the restructuring and rewriting the job duties/description, it changed the status of this employee to a senior-level staff member.
“Recruitment, Retention, and Development are three critical components we will focus on with respect to our staffing strategies. Finding the best candidate for the position regardless of race is the ultimate goal.
Diversity beyond race is also an important factor and having a staff that is also diverse in gender, as well as promoting/hiring both internally and externally will be equally as important to me when looking at ways to increase diversity among the staff,” explains Bedden.
Following the footsteps of long-time IISD Superintendent, Jack Singley who passed away in October 2009, will also be one of the pressures Bedden will face. Singley served IISD for 44 years and 21 years as Superintendent.
“The legacy I hope to add to the IISD is that I made it better than what it was when I came. It is my hope to make a good District better,” states Bedden.
Some of the ways he will do to make IISD better is strengthening the curriculum particularly at the secondary level (middle and high school); strengthening workforce development by creating a strong partnership with the business community in the effort to create workforce opportunities for the Junior and Senior students; better define the support and participation needed from parents via hosting collaborative discussions with the parents, as well as utilizing technology to better communicate and inform parents.
Another important issue that is plaguing many schools in America is childhood obesity.
Bedden’s goal to address this national issue is to have not only healthy menus within the District, but encouraging the staff to model good nutrition among their students.
“We must model nutrition as a team. I want the staff to set the example and because this issue is important we will work hard to ensure we are making good decisions as it relates to nutrition for both our staff and students.”
Bedden has been married to his wife, Ava for six years and have three children. Bedden’s stepson resides in the D.C. area and he comes to Texas with his wife and two children. Both children will be attending schools within IISD.