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Education

New Manor ISD Superintendent Brings Fresh Focus to Growing District

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Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Since he became superintendent of Manor ISD, Royce Avery says his message has been "growth through innovation.”";

"Good morning, everybody. How we doing?" Manor Independent School District Superintendent Royce Avery asks a room full of staff members about to participate in a training session early one October morning.

“We’re getting a lot of new parents, a lot of new businesses in our community, and sometimes the front line of individuals that will embrace these different members of communities are our secretaries, executive directors," Avery says. "We want to make sure we send a message that we are at your service. We are Manor ISD, the new Manor ISD.”

The new Manor ISD. That’s what Avery is hoping to create during his first full year as superintendent. The past few years haven’t been smooth sailing. The district has dealt with lawsuits alleging racial discrimination, civil rights complaints, financial investigations and in-fighting between school board members.

Last year, the district had three different superintendents. Avery was hired in the spring, following the appointment of an interim superintendent after former Superintendent Kevin Brackmeyer resigned. Between leadership and money issues, lawsuits and discrimination complaints, the growing district needed a fresh face. Avery felt he was up to the job.

"I just felt I had a skill set to be able to support that," Avery says. He isn’t new to regaining community trust. He came to Manor from El Paso ISD, where he was brought in as assistant superintendent to rebuild trust after a major cheating scandal. "It’s really about the community wanting the change, and the communities wanting more.”

Last May, residents in the district said they wanted more by approving an $86 million bond proposition to build new campuses. The money will be used to expand pre-K, construct the Manor Tech Middle School and more. Manor’s student population is expected to double in the next 10 years to around 18,000 students.

Avery says Manor isn’t a quiet, rural town anymore, and the schools reflect that.

“In a rural setting most families stay. They’re homegrown, ready to go and they come from pre-K all the way through the system,” he says. “Now every year you have different families and kids coming in at different levels, and that impacts your system and you can’t keep doing the same thing you’ve always done.”

Part of Manor ISD’s boundary is in the city of Austin. Sometimes, students bounce back and forth between the two districts. And as Austin gets more unaffordable, families start looking farther east for housing.

“That one or two individuals coming into a classroom can totally change the dynamic of the classroom,” Avery says. “And we can’t blame the kid. You have to make sure the system you set up will support any impact to that system.”

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Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT News
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KUT News
Avery shares a moment with fifth-grade teacher Lisa Werst before an orchestra performance at Manor Elementary School.

Since he became superintendent, Avery says, his message has been "growth through innovation.” How can Manor offer a 21st century education while accommodating the rapid increase in students? One way is through a renewed focus on career and technical education, which is why some of the bond money will be invested in CTE courses. It's a key aspect of Avery’s vision to make sure students are ready for college, a career or both.

“Kids can’t just walk out of high school and expect industry to welcome them,” he says. “They have to walk out of a high school with some tools and some avenues.”

Manor ISD was recently awarded a $400,000 grant from the state to bolster its advanced manufacturing CTE courses.

“We’ve got to move away from the 45-50 minute classroom, sit down, get it, go from there," Avery says. "It has to be a collaboration of project-based team building, being exposed to the industry, business, internship, apprenticeship, those kind of things -- a combination.  We gotta knock the walls down a little bit and say, ‘Give us the environment they need.’ ”

After lunch, Avery heads to Manor Elementary School for a student orchestra performance. On the way, he says he has high hopes for the district, if it can be patient as it rebuilds.

He says there's been a lot of mistrust and the community needs to understand rebuilding that trust just doesn’t happen overnight. "There’s a process that we have to go through, and we have to evolve in what we do. You know what I'm saying?" he says. "To me, that’s a challenge in itself. We have to be able to articulate that and make it come together.”

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