GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — As the district with the unique distinction of serving the country’s fastest-growing city, Georgetown ISD is racing to keep pace with its exploding student body population.
However, in the words of Superintendent Dr. Devin Padavil, “there’s no such thing as keeping up.”
Thursday, the district with 13,155 students returns to school, facing new challenges related to growth, safety, and staffing.
Padavil talked with KXAN ahead of the return about the district’s plans for the upcoming school year.
Tom Miller: Georgetown made headlines this year as the fastest-growing city in the country. As a school district, are you able to keep up with all of that growth in terms of having the [facilities] for the students?
Devin Padavil: In terms of keeping up with the growth, Georgetown passed a 2021 bond that’s going to take care of a lot of infrastructure issues. But there’s no such thing as keeping up in Central Texas. So the need to keep up with facilities is going to be pretty great. Currently, we have six schools that have portables outside of them. So obviously, the growth is happening at a rate that requires the school district to make sure that facilities match.
Miller: What about the teachers and staff? Can you hire at the rate that you have students entering the district?
Padavil: I’m real proud of our staff and our principals for being able to hire and make sure that [the hires] have the quality that matches the culture here in Georgetown ISD. Currently, we’re at about 30 or less vacancies across the teacher ranks out of 1,300 teachers. That says a lot about us being able to keep up. We are going to need to continue to do two things to improve retaining and recruiting high-quality teachers, which is [keep] the amazing culture that’s here in Georgetown. Just a real positive vibe is the only way I have to describe it. Then the other part is compensation. Teacher compensation continues to be a need that we need addressed by the Texas Legislature.
Miller: What about the staffers, the bus drivers, the custodians, the cafeteria workers?
Padavil: The same variables apply to our hourly workers. Central Texas is the most expensive area of Texas to live in now. We have to be able to improve compensation for all of our people, have a great workplace climate, and make sure that we are taking care of the people that take care of kids.
Miller: This is going to be your first year as superintendent here, you were just hired. What do you bring to the table as the new superintendent?
Padavil: I’m honored to join Georgetown ISD. My goal is to leave it better than we found it. The previous superintendent did an incredible job establishing a great culture here. What I really want to see for our students is expanded opportunities for student success. That is everything from our career and technical education programs, which are really thriving here at East View High School and Georgetown High School, and opportunities for every kid to have a sense of belonging, like there is something for me, at every school, and that we have systems to make sure every kid is successful.
Miller: Going into this year, there are a lot of new security requirements coming from the state including an armed guard on every campus, are you going to be able to meet that?
Padavil: Georgetown ISD is working closely with the Georgetown Police Department to make sure that we have security at every school. Now that is going to take a lot of effort on our part, we’re going to have to go deeper into a deficit budget, but school safety is the most important thing we do. The Texas legislature put this requirement on schools late in the summer, and also didn’t provide adequate funding to allow school districts to do this. So we are racing to meet the legislative requirement. We currently have school police officers at our middle schools and our high schools and they rotate to all of our elementary schools, but we are upping the amount of officers and spending whatever it takes to make sure that our kids are safe.
Miller: Are you considering arming school staff?
Padavil: Currently, we’re working with a district committee to determine do we want to even consider a staffer being armed. But the number one thing that’s important is to make sure that parents know there will be a rotation of security at every school to make sure kids are safe and that we are working toward meeting the legislative requirement.
Miller: There are a lot of neighboring districts here in Central Texas that are considering or already have their own district police force. Is that something you’re considering?
Padavil: We’ve talked with the Georgetown Police Department about considering a district police force. While that may not be something that takes place this year, it is an option for the future. Keep in mind, any action in that direction is going to be an additional cost to the school district.
Miller: In terms of academics, looking back at the district accountability ratings, the last rating Georgetown ISD got a “B”. It was an 82. How do you keep improving the academics here?
Padavil: We have to be able to focus on high-quality instruction. The focus and the goal for our school district is that every student has a high-quality learning experience. If we teach in a way that maintains the standard and is aligned to the standard, kids are successful on however the state measures us.
Miller: With the first day of school finally upon us what is your message to parents in the district?
Padavil: I just encourage every mom and dad to stay involved in school. Communicate with your teacher, we want to communicate with you. Keep your eye on what your son or daughter is working on. Even if they’re teenagers and their answer about school is, ‘it’s fine.’ Keep pushing harder, stay involved in your kid’s life because that involvement in that connection between home and school helps strengthen every kid’s experience.