RED OAK — Bouncing in and out of classrooms Tuesday afternoon, first-year superintendent Dr. Michael Goddard had a smile that couldn’t possibly be hidden behind the oversized Mickey Mouse hands he often dons.

The Disney hands are fun and engaging, and there could be a pair of hawk claws from an online store on the way, but the premise behind the gloves is real: connecting students to education and educators.

True, Tuesday, Aug. 29 was his birthday, and the students knew as much with some even preparing renditions of “Happy Birthday to You.” But a birthday wish or 30 was not the sole reason the man with a personality larger than any billboard Red Oak ISD has utilized to highlight its students’ achievements was out of the office.

The campus visits were another opportunity to further live by at least one of the newly established “Four Talons” of a Red Oak Hawk.

Following his first full week as the superintendent of Red Oak ISD with students and staff physically on campuses, Goddard said he is amazed, daily, with the culture and attitude of the students, who he describes are “some of the most respectful and loving kids that I have ever been around.”

“You show them respect, and you show them love, and they give it back in return. What has been really neat is starting the process of developing a lot more pride in who we are in Red Oak and in our talons because we are Hawks.”

Goddard explained the four talons to focus on being academically ready, developing grit, making sure a student is a man or woman of character, and giving back with service.

“When you do that then we are all on the same ship going the same direction. The kids have embraced it and they love it. It has been a great week,” he added.

The talons have since evolved into a new sense of school and districtwide spirit, culminating in a new “hawk claw” hand sign and #4talons hashtag to use on social media sites. The claw is formed by tucking the pinky finger under the thumb while holding the index, middle and ring fingers upward with a slight bend.

After relocating with his wife, Dena, to Red Oak, Goddard said he quickly noticed a lack of Red Oak stickers on cars or signs in yards around town. The claw, he feels, has helped to offset that a little more each day and quickly become “a rallying point.”

“We are trying to rally around the fact that we are all in this together. Collectively it is going to take us as a community and all of the adults to be examples for our kids,” Goddard explained. “Also, when you start gathering these students together about the right kind of things and they start having pride in what they are doing, it is not just about the score on the scoreboard it is really about the score in life and what you are doing. Are we creating great young men and women when they graduate?”

To answer his own question, Goddard has a rather simple goal for each and every student or faculty member in the district — improve by one percent each day. Applying the goal to each of the four talons will only further enhance the community as a whole, he explained.

Whether giving back through services such as with the Red Oak baseball team partnering with the ballclub in Corsicana to raise relief for Hurricane Harvey victims or displaying stand-up character outside of the spotlight in churches or organizations, Goddard said his team has a goal to prepare students for life after Red Oak High School.

"That, for us, will be a true measure because then when I shake their hands or hug their necks at graduation, and they walk out that door then I’ll know that we prepared them for what life is,” Goddard said. “That starts not just their senior year but the moment they walk through the doors with us at Red Oak. For us, collectively as teachers and staff, that is our mission now — to see the development in our kids, planting seeds in their life about who they are and then when they walk out there into the real world they are proud to be a Red Oak Hawk.”