As Walter Dansby begins his third year leading the Fort Worth school district, he lists passage of a $490 million bond and new programs for indigent children among his key accomplishments.
He has also helped mend a school board that was best known for infighting during the tenure of Melody Johnson, the superintendent Dansby replaced.
His annual performance evaluation began on Feb. 18 and is expected to be completed in early March. Dansby’s contract makes him eligible for a $10,000 annual bonus if the board is satisfied with his performance. With a base pay of $338,817.60, which excludes fringe and health benefits, he is one of the highest-paid superintendents in the state and among the highest-paid public officials in Tarrant County.
“I earn every penny of that,” said Dansby, 63. “What I do ... my days are not traditionally from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I work, basically, seven days a week.”
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While the $490 million bond package overwhelmingly passed by voters last year is his most significant accomplishment, Dansby said he also started programs for indigent children and increased the number of high school counselors. At the same time, the district is still struggling academically.
Among large districts of similar size, Fort Worth has the highest percentage of low-performing schools in the state. The total number of low-performing schools in the Fort Worth district climbed to 38 campuses from 23 last year, according to the Texas Education Agency’s list of Public Education Grant Schools for 2014-2015.
Going into his evaluation, Dansby earns more than superintendents in Houston and Dallas and he also makes more than the city managers of Arlington and Fort Worth, who are paid $228,866 and $233,396.80 respectively. Dansby’s base salary is closer to the $375,950 earned by Tarrant County Junior College Chancellor Erma Hadley-Johnson. But it’s not as high as the salaries of area university presidents or the chief executive of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
Dansby said he never looks at his pay to determine how hard he works to improve student performance and district operations.
“In my entire career, I’ve taken the jobs on for whatever they paid. I haven’t worried about what it was,’’ he said. “My responsibility is to do the best job I can regardless what my income.”
While many of his peers have hopscotched between school districts, Dansby has stayed put. He is a rarity among Texas superintendents — his career has been in the same district where he was educated.
Dansby grew up in the Stop Six area, got his diploma from Dunbar High School, a bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and a master’s from Tarleton State University. He joined the school district as a teacher and coach at Rosemont Middle School in 1974. He was principal of O.D. Wyatt High School until he was promoted to area dean of instruction, and he continued to rise through administrative roles overseeing instruction, athletics, student affairs and maintenance.
“The fact is that I’ve been here for 40 years,’’ he said. “I’ve been in FWISD all my life.”
Teachers praise Dansby for being involved.
Chelsea Baldwin, deputy executive director of the United Educators Assocation, said teachers appreciate the “hands-on” superintendent who is a regular at district campuses.
“I think it’s very important to stay engaged and involved in what goes on with students,’’ Dansby said.
Also to his credit, Baldwin said: The district expanded its teaching ranks even after workforce reductions.
According to the TEA: fewer than half — 46 percent — of the district’s 10,957 employees in 2009-10 were classroom teachers; by 2012-2013, the figure was 51 percent.
The district is making efforts to reverse the number of low-performing schools, but results don’t come easy, board member Norm Robbins said.
“We’re in that interim period now where we’ve got the things in place we need but we’ve not seen results we desire yet,’’ he said.
Board member T.A. Sims said the board and superintendent share a goal: better academics.
“The key to improving education has to be an idea of how we as board members can work together for the good of the children,’’ Sims said. “I think that’s simple.”
Several board members said test scores are expected to come up during Dansby’s evaluation.
Of its 141 schools, 27 percent of Fort Worth’s campuses are on the Public Education Grant schools list. By comparison, Austin had 11 percent of 122 campuses; Dallas, 24 percent of 236 campuses; and Houston, 19 percent of 277.
Schools are placed on the PEG school list as a result of low passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. The school can also appear on the list if it was rated “academically unacceptable” in 2011 or “improvement required” in 2013.
Dansby said that the PEG list and its new accountability standards have caused confusion among educators. The new STAAR tests are more rigorous and the district is still trying to adapt to the changes.
“There are still some unknowns there,’’ in terms of how TEA will measure student achievement, Dansby said. “There’s a lot of factors and we’re dealing with a new test.”
Board member Judy Needham agreed that districts have received mixed messages on testing.
“We’re still on a learning curve,’’ she said.
Robbins said strategies are in place to improve scores.
“We have talked for a long time about making sure that we are putting in the resources where the needs are greatest,’’ Robbins said. “It’s something that we’re doing right now, trying to focus the resources where the needs are.”
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705