As we close out the 2018-2019 school year, one word comes to mind: Momentum.

In this, my first year as the Gainesville Independent School District Superintendent of Schools, I embarked upon a “Look, Listen and Learn” tour and it has been quite rewarding and well appreciated. During this time, I have had the opportunity to hear from faculty and staff, parents, community members and most importantly our students. Various topics were brought to the table ranging from increasing parental involvement in our schools to campus/district expectations. It was great to hear from all of these passionate individuals who truly want what’s best for the faculty, staff and students of Leopard Nation.

On May 28, we celebrated the culmination of 192 students educational journey at UNT’s Super Pit Coliseum. The commencement took place in front of myriad proud family members and friends. Our seniors have been a class act the entire year and it was only fitting that they ended their GISD careers in the same fashion. We wish them all well as they transition to the Armed Forces, trade/vocational schools, post-secondary education or into the real world. These leaders of tomorrow are primed and ready to leave their mark on society and there is no doubt that they will represent us well. It has been an honor and privilege to serve them.

We then celebrated our faculty/staff at our annual service awards celebration at Gainesville Junior High School. During this festive celebration of excellence, we recognized 41 Service Award winners with a cumulative total of 510 years of service to Gainesville ISD, campus Teachers of the Year, gave excellence coins to staff members who were nominated by faculty, students and parents for their dedication to our wonderful staff and students.

We also recognized 10 retirees who have given a sum total of 189 years of service to GISD. It’s been a great ride and we want to thank these 10 individuals for their service and the impact that they have made within our district.

The Service Awards grand finale consisted of us naming our 2018-2019 Elementary and Secondary Teachers of the Year. Congrats to Mrs. Sharlene Bryan, Chalmers Elementary, and Mr. Francisco Bermudez, Gainesville Junior High School, on being selected for this prestigious honor.

Now that we are in the summer months, our dedicated staff members are working hard to close out the 2018-2019 school year while also planning for the upcoming scholastic year. As we plan for the future of GISD, I continue to pose the question that has and will continue to drive our efforts: “Are we doing what’s in the best interest of kids?”

This summer we have expanded our summer school opportunities to capture both students who are in need of remediation of key academic concepts and summer enrichment opportunities for those students who want to stay engaged in their studies. Through these efforts we anticipate closing some of the already existing educational gaps, helping students to be more confident in their studies and to see an upswing in the academic achievement of our students in the 2019-2020 school year.

We are also in the middle of hiring season and our administrators are busy interviewing and working to fill campus vacancies. To date we have hired roughly 60 new employees while also working to fill 13 new positions that have been added to various departments/campuses due to student growth. We are carefully monitoring our projected student numbers so that we can ensure that class sizes provide conducive learning environments and that proper personnel are in place to adequately educate and prepare our kids for success inside as well as out of the classroom.

Lastly, I want to say thank you to the Gainesville community for your undivided support. The late Mrs. Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” The citizens, local civic organizations and city officials are to be commended for their involvement in our school and helping us in shaping the minds of the future. Together, as a team, we can create an educational system that will provide numerous opportunities for our kids to make their wishes and dreams become a reality. I look forward to engaging in the work that lies ahead of us as we look to take our district to new heights. Are you ready for the challenge? I am. It’s a great day to be a Leopard!

DesMontes L. Stewart is superintendent of Gainesville Independent School District and has been in education for 20 years.