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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Taking the Helm

Brian Woods, M.A. '88, Ed.D. '12

In some ways, Brian Woods is just like any other parent.

He wonders whether his 8-year-old son is getting an appropriate education or is just being taught what's needed to pass a test.

He thinks about whether his son gets enough exposure to music and other creative elective courses, and about whether he is learning to be a team player.

But unlike most parents, Woods, superintendent of San Antonio's Northside Independent School District, the state's fourth largest, sees his concerns multiplied by almost 100,000.

Still, his goal is straightforward—high-quality education for all.

"Across all the dozens of ways that we measure student performance, we want to keep making progress. We want to have success," he said.

When Woods accepted the superintendent's post this summer, he inherited a school district with a booming population, a shrinking budget and a wide variety of student needs.

School districts across the state took a significant hit after the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion out of public education last year. As a result, Northside reduced its budget by $61.4 million and eliminated almost 1,000 positions.

The district stands to lose even more if a federal budget stalemate results in across-the-board cuts as part of a federal deficit-reduction deal.

"For a superintendent, when you talk about the things that you have to worry about, budget and finance are in the top two or three in any conversation," Woods said. The vast majority of Northside's budget—87 percent—goes to staff. "So when you're talking about big cuts, it impacts your ability to keep people on who help kids, and it impacts our ability to do those things that are above and beyond what the state requires."

But if there is anyone who can tackle these challenges, it's Woods, said former Northside superintendent John Folks, who is now a senior lecturer in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development.

"Education today is an especially complicated business with all the accountability and testing and school finance [issues]," Folks said. But Woods has intelligence, common sense and strong communication and decision-making abilities, he added.

Woods, who got his start teaching social studies in 1992, never imagined he'd be superintendent. His training through UTSA's educational leadership program prepared him to tackle the job, he said.

Now that he is leading Northside, he will be busy tackling finance problems, keeping the quality of education high and advocating for public education. But the driving force behind all his actions is clear: "You have to make the most of what you have, you do absolutely what you think is in the best interest of the students as your priority in decision making."

–Lety Laurel

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