H-E-B’s Charles Butt pledges $100 million to train school leaders


The training and leadership institute will be named for Butt’s mother, an educator and lifelong philanthropist.

The Holdsworth Center’s first program will begin this summer with six school districts.

Until the permanent center is done, the program will rotate among conference centers and hotels.

H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt has pledged to invest $100 million in the creation of a training and leadership development center in Austin for school district leaders from across Texas.

Butt envisions that the Holdsworth Center — named for his mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, who was an educator and lifelong philanthropist — will support current leaders and develop future superintendents and principals in the Lone Star State’s 1,200 traditional public school districts and offer them the opportunity for sustainable improvement.

“The Holdsworth Center will help to ensure we have inspired and enlightened leaders at every level within the education system making daily decisions that positively impact the future of our students and the state,” Butt said.

The nonprofit Holdsworth Center’s acting executive vice president — joined by two of the center’s board members and Austin district Superintendent Paul Cruz — is expected to announce the creation of the center Tuesday morning at Garza Independence High School.

There is nothing quite like this new center, which will draw upon best practices in strategic talent management, said Ruth Simmons, former president of Smith College and Brown University, who chairs the 17-member board that will govern the center. The governance board comprises an impressive list of experts in their fields: multiple current and former university leaders and other educators, current and former heads of corporations, a former secretary of defense and director of the CIA, a former congressman and secretary of the Army, and a retired chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, among others.

“Whatever the problems may be in public schools, we know leadership is critical in improving our public schools. There is no way around that,” said Simmons, who was the first African-American to run an Ivy League university. “The quickest, most efficient way to transform schools is to make sure you have the right leadership in place with the right vision.”

Research shows effective teachers and principals are two of the most powerful factors in affecting students’ academic success.

The center will be run by educators and will pull from best leadership training practices in education, the military and the private sector.

The center’s training will focus on school leaders identifying and tackling barriers to leadership development within their district, which will be broken into three programs: one for sitting superintendents and their key cabinet members; another for principals and their team of assistant principals and lead teachers; and a third for the district support staff, a group embedded in the districts to help the school leaders with implementation over five years.

“Holdsworth is not prescriptive in how districts tackle these things,” said Kate Rogers, acting executive vice president of the center. “What a district decides to work on largely will be determined by the district, but they will have world-class support in solving the challenge.”

The center’s organizers estimate that more than 3,000 education leaders will go through the program in its first 10 years at no cost to the districts.

Work to create the center began two years ago when Butt gathered state and national educators, business leaders and other experts to examine innovative approaches to developing strong school leadership, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of education and students’ academic achievement.

The center will launch its first program this summer with six school districts chosen from a short list of 16 invited to apply by Feb. 1. The Austin and Round Rock school districts are among those invited, and those selected will be notified in March. In subsequent years, any district will be eligible to apply.

The training will start with superintendents and select cabinet members. One year into the program, training will begin for cohorts of principals within the same districts. The superintendents, and probably some of their team members, will examine best practices regarding talent, including from the private sector and the military, and will be able to travel to London and Singapore to examine what the center representatives said is where some of the most innovative work is occurring in school leadership training.

The Austin location for the Holdsworth Center has yet to be selected. Until such a facility is ready, the program will be housed in hotels or conference centers and rotate among locations near the chosen districts.

Butt has long been an advocate of education and public schools, annually granting thousands of dollars in prizes to outstanding teachers, principals and school districts through H-E-B’s Excellence in Education Awards.

“The Holdsworth Center is about helping people be extraordinary in the job they are in today,” Butt said. “In addition, we want them to reinvent the way future leaders are selected, developed and supported within their districts, so when a position opens up, they have a tremendous bench from which to select the next superstar.”

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