Just a week into his job as superintendent of Red Oak ISD, Scott Niven already has a long list of things to do. From working out a schedule of multiple bond projects, completing the budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year and meeting many, many new people, Niven has a busy summer and fall in front of him.
Niven was announced the lone finalist in April for the job left vacant after the retirement of Craig Stockstill in November. He comes to Red Oak after serving as superintendent for Liberty-Eylau ISD since 2003, which was also his high school alma mater.
“I went back home to be superintendent. I’ve always felt that it is very important to give back to your community,” Niven said.
When Niven graduated from Liberty-Eylau, working in the education field was not on his list of things to do. He graduated from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 1988 with a degree in business administration. He became a certified public accountant and worked for Thomas and Thomas, CPAs, for six years as an accountant and auditor.
However, education was never far away.
“My wife is a teacher and principal, my mother is a teacher and my sister is a teacher. I’ve been a member of the education field by being in a family of educators,” Niven said.
While working with Texarkana ISD when with Thomas and Thomas, the door into education opened for Niven.
“Texarkana ISD was one of my clients and they recruited me,” Niven said, who served as the district’s associate superintendent and chief financial officer at Texarkana ISD. “I realized being with a school district and working with students was my calling.”
Niven’s teaching career includes teaching economics and accounting in high school and public school finance at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.
After a 10-year stint with Texarkana ISD, Niven took the job of superintendent with Liberty-Eylau. Looking back on his time at Liberty-Eylau, Niven is proud of the accomplishments of the district.
“We were able to do a lot for students academically and athletically that I think will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” Niven said.
While at Liberty-Eylau, the district was ranked 13th in the state for providing the best education to African American students by the “Best School Districts in Texas for African American Students 2002-2005” report.
Niven also implemented the “Culture of Success” program in the district, encouraging the promotion of post-secondary education and opportunities for students in the district.
“Liberty-Eylau is a district that is 70 percent low socio-economic. A lot of students there were not education non post-secondary opportunities. It was very much first generation - post-secondary. At the pre-K level we began to develop the thought process of ‘what are you going to do after high school?’,” Niven said.
The program increased the focus at the middle school level and at the high school level.
“At the high school level we really tried to focus on their future, whether it was college or the work force. One of the biggest disservices of a school district is to graduate students with no opportunities for the future,” Niven said. “Every student had to take a career and technology course. We had 50 career and technology courses to offer. We also gave students the opportunity to graduate with up to 29 hours from dual-credit courses. So students could graduate with most of their freshman year completed.”
Through the program the district paid for the first nine hours of dual-credit courses and offered discounted rates on the remaining courses.
As part of the Culture of Success program, every high school senior participates in a field trip at the end of the year to area colleges. The program also allowed for sessions with students and parents to help fill out applications for universities.
Although Niven has many plans, he realizes the need to meet with members of the community to see what ideas will be best for the success of Red Oak ISD students.
“I think you’ll see a high level of strategic planning. We have to look at the plan and see where this community wants to go. Do I think you’ll see more dual-credit offered in our high school? Yes. Do I think our school will be academically ranked? Yes. Do I hope for state championships in sports? Yes,” Niven said. “School districts are a balance - you try to satisfy all students. To sum it up, I expect us to be the best at everything.”
As far as goals for the district, Niven expects to nail those down after getting a feel for the community and its goals for Red Oak ISD.
“I do have things I’m thinking about. But the important thing to remember is a school district belongs to the community. I have expectations, but I need to know what their expectations are,” Niven said.
Immediate issues to address include the fiscal year budget, planning for the start of the 2007-08 school year and the $95 million bond that voters passed in May.
“In the fall you will see a very aggressive process for strategic planning and by fall bring that plan to the board for approval. We’ll begin to discuss the bond issue and construction. I can’t say enough about the overwhelming support of the community for the bond,” Niven said. “Our goal is to move the projects forward on time and on budget, but also make sure we are transparent in the process.”
Niven is also introducing his family to a new town and a new school district. He has two daughters, Morgann, 14, and Makenzie, 12, and a son, Matthew, age 1. His wife, Christy, plans to leave her job as an elementary principal to be a full-time mother.
“It’s an opportunity she hasn’t had before - to be there for Matthew at age 1 and our two girls,” Niven said. “This is something new for her. She’s completing her contract this month with an elementary school. We know she’ll miss it, but we felt like it was in the best interest for our children.”
In directing Red Oak ISD to be the best in everything, Niven believes strategic planning, goals and having the same focus across the board are keys to the district’s success.
“The process with any school district is focus and alignment and expectations. Focus beginning with a good plan that involves the school board, staff and community so we’re all focused. Once we agree on the goals, then we align the district with those goals and make sure our academic and athletic programs are aligned with that goal,” Niven said. “There are certain non-negotiables in dealing with a school district and student issues. One non-negotiables is a high level of customer service and a high level of academic expectations from students and staff.”
E-mail Mandy at email@example.com.