Accomack superintendent ready for challenges

Accomack superintendent ready for challenges

Credit: Jay Diem

Accomack County School Superintendent Dr. Kregg Cuellar listed his goals for the upcoming school year during a recent interview in his office in Accomac.(Photo: Staff photo by Jay Diem)

Print
Email
|

by Carol Vaughn, Eastern Shore News

WVEC.com

Posted on August 22, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 26 at 10:31 AM

ACCOMACK COUNTY -- He began as a teacher's assistant. Now he is in charge of the whole school system.

Accomack County's new public school superintendent started his career in education quietly and worked his way up to the position of principal at a Houston, Texas, middle school before moving into central office jobs, most recently as chief schools officer for the Des Moines, Iowa, public school system.

"I know the importance of every single role," said Kregg A. Cuellar, 33, a Brownsville, Texas, native and Eagle Scout who earned his doctorate in educational leadership from University of Houston.

Cuellar's philosophy is that educators' job is "to ensure that every single child is given high-quality learning opportunities to be prepared for college and beyond ... Our kids do not deserve any less."

From Texas, Cuellar moved in 2012 to Providence, Rhode Island, where as executive director of schools transformation he oversaw the 13 lowest-performing public schools in the state.

From there he went to Des Moines, where as chief of schools for the state's largest school district last year he was responsible for 65 schools and 33,000 students.

As Accomack County's school superintendent, Cuellar will oversee almost 1,000 employees and around 5,000 students at 11 schools.

"All of my experience in public education has been with high-needs, diverse populations — so I don't know anything but working with diversity, working in high-need areas where there needs to be a concentrated focus on academics for kids," Cuellar said.

The new superintendent signed a four-year contract, at an annual salary of $155,500, in May. He began work in Accomack County on July 1.

The school board chose Cuellar out of more than 50 applicants, including 11 superintendents. There were 36 out-of-state candidates from 23 different states, including California and Alaska.

"I'm excited about the new year and I have high hopes that the division will continuously excel and keep moving the needle for kids—we are primed to do great things," said Cuellar.

When the Accomack County superintendent position was advertised, Cuellar and his wife discussed his trying for the job.

She is the daughter of a Gulf Coast shrimper, "so my wife has known nothing but the water," making the Eastern Shore an attractive option, Cuellar said.

The couple has been married nine years and have no children.

"It was not only a great opportunity professionally, but it make sense for the family. My wife and I are ready to grow roots. We really were looking for an area that valued family, that was very slow-paced," Cuellar said.

Both were raised in large cities, "so we were looking for a change, and Accomack offered all of the many opportunities we were looking for."

After touring the Shore and meeting people, "my wife fell in love with the Shore — it just felt like home," Cuellar said.

Cuellar's immediate priority for the district is to be ready for the first day of school, Sept. 2.

Accomack County Public Schools has around 40 new teachers this year and has seven teacher positions still open.

Additionally, there is a new director of special education, Nancy Lewin, who also comes from Houston, Texas, but who did not work previously with Cuellar.

Cuellar also advocated for a newly created position, which was recently advertised. That is a coordinator of public affairs and strategic partnerships, who will be responsible for public relations, business partnerships and communications.

Cuellar's plan for his first 150 days mainly involves listening and learning about the people and the culture of the district and the region before engaging the school board in developing a strategic plan.

That plan almost certainly will address among other topics the perennial one of teacher retention.

Cuellar called attracting and retaining the best teachers to the school district "a critical priority."

"We need commitment. We have a lot of mobility among our teachers," he said.

One key to improving teacher recruitment and retention is enhancing the image of the school system in potential and current employees' eyes, according to Cuellar.

"That's going to be my number one project—how can we re-brand our school district," he said, noting, "This place is so beautiful, but you can't really find that on a web page."

The school system's website is its number one marketing tool, he said.

It is currently being revamped to be more user-friendly and to better showcase "all of the great that exists in the county and the school district," Cuellar said, adding, "Somewhere on there we have to put the top 10 reasons to live on the Shore."

Additionally, teacher pay is important.

"We have a lot of work to do to keep enhancing our salary structure to make it more competitive with other school divisions," he said.

Beyond teacher retention, there are other priorities, some of them common to school systems nationwide.

One is bullying.

"That's critical," said Cuellar.

As principal of Jackson Middle School in Houston — a highly at-risk, low socioeconomic demographic school with about 1,100 students — Cuellar became known for his anti-bullying efforts, for which the Houston Independent School District named him Anti-Bully Hero of the Month in 2010.

"We were one of the first schools in the state of Texas to actually develop a very stringent anti-bullying policy and we were somewhat an influence on the adoption of House Bill 1942—Texas was one of the first states to make bullying illegal," he said.

Among more than a dozen anti-bullying initiatives he and his staff launched at Jackson Middle School was an Anti-Bully festival for students, parents, teachers and community members, which featured training sessions on bullying and anti-violence.

The festival is an idea that Cuellar is thinking about introducing in Accomack County.

"Our division has already taken steps to put a structure in place that would help address bullying, but there's going to be a lot of work that needs to be done to create that culture that needs to exist, not only district-wide, but also in every single school," Cuellar said.

"It's a lot of work. It's a lot of hands on deck — it's going to take the work of parents, community members, business partners, central office administration and all teachers and staff members, but I think we don't have a choice when it comes to children's safety and well-being and health."

Meet the Superintendent

Accomack County's new public school superintendent, Kregg Cuellar, started his career in education as a teacher's assistant and worked his way up to the position of principal at a Houston, Texas, middle school before moving into central office jobs, most recently as chief schools officer for the Des Moines, Iowa, public school system.

From Texas, Cuellar moved in 2012 to Providence, Rhode Island, where as executive director of schools transformation he oversaw the 13 lowest-performing public schools in the state.

From there he went to Des Moines, where as chief of schools for the state's largest school district last year he was responsible for 65 schools and 33,000 students.

As Accomack County's school superintendent, Cuellar will oversee almost 1,000 employees and around 5,000 students at 11 schools.

Print
Email
|