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New Dickinson ISD superintendent focused on students’ ongoing needs from Harvey

August 22, 2018

New Dickinson ISD superintendent Carla Voelkel’s priorities for the new school year includes an awareness of ongoing needs of students and families in the district whose lives were disrupted by Hurricane Harvey a year ago, which flooded 90 percent of homes in the city.

Voelkel formally took the district’s helm in July after trustees approved her appointment.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for the district now going after Harvey?

Although the repairs from damages caused by Hurricane Harvey have been made to our district facilities (Gator Academy, Bay Colony Elementary School, Sam Vitanza Stadium), we have many families of students and staff who are still recovering. Some are back in their homes with repairs completed, while others are in homes that are partially completed or they are still displaced. The recovery process for many of these families will take a long time, and we must be very understanding of the impact on our families and their needs.

This year, the (nonprofit Galveston County organization) Family Service Center has been very generous, and they are providing four mental health counselors to help our students and staff deal with the impact of a major storm and devastating loss.

Despite missing numerous days of instruction because of Harvey, I am very happy to report that our district and campuses made exceptional progress and growth in 2017-2018. In many performance areas, our students are exceeding the state and (the seven-county) Region IV. This did not happen without a lot of focused effort and support, and for that, we are very proud of our students and staff.

What changes are coming that you’re excited about?

For 2018-2019, our continued focus on growth is paramount, and our theme is “Launching Forward.” We chose this theme for several reasons:

We are opening a new junior high campus named in honor of Gene Kranz, a longtime Dickinson resident and NASA pioneer who served as Mission Control Flight Director for Gemini and Apollo programs.

We have a laser focus on student growth and expect all students to move forward and not fall backwards.

We want all students and staff to feel safe and secure at school. A comprehensive Safety and Security Committee comprised of board members, parents, administrators, teachers, students, law enforcement officials, mental health officials, and faith-based leaders will begin meeting soon to review data, evaluate DISD safety needs and make recommendations related to safety and security.

Dickinson High School will begin the year with 3,000 students, and construction is underway on the Ninth Grade Center. Work is progressing and this new building is on track to open in August 2019.

The STEM Academy will begin its third successful year of implementation and it will expand to seventh grade at Kranz Junior High.

Why did you want to be the Dickinson ISD superintendent?

I decided to apply for the Superintendent position because I wholeheartedly believe in Dickinson ISD — our students, our staff, our talents and abilities, our practices, and our community. I want to see processes and programs we have worked to implement the past few years become systemic. I feel that initiatives we have started need more time to grow and develop, and they do not need to be changed. For me personally, the timing is right. My family is 100 percent behind me, and I am 110 percent committed to making Dickinson ISD a shining star in the state and nation.

How long have you been involved in education?

Public education has been my chosen career for 39 years. I started my career as a teacher at Texas City High School. After eight years in the classroom, I moved to Roosevelt Wilson Elementary and Heights Elementary (also in Texas City) and served as assistant principal at both campuses. My next stop was TCISD’s Levi Fry Intermediate, where I spent a short time serving as assistant principal before becoming the campus principal. After nine years at Levi Fry Intermediate, I became the director of elementary education in Texas City.

In 2003, I moved to Alvin ISD and served as director of curriculum services and executive director of secondary education. In May 2010, I moved to Channelview ISD to serve as the assistant superintendent, and in 2013, I returned to Galveston County and Dickinson ISD to serve as deputy superintendent for educational services.

I am thankful for the career opportunities provided to me by four different school districts. The multiple experiences I have had working with some exceptional educational leaders helped prepare me for the new opportunity I am beginning in DISD.

What do you like about the Dickinson community?

My husband and I moved to Dickinson in 1979. After being here three weeks, our new home was full of flood water from a tropical storm.

We were evacuated by a DISD school bus to the McAdams Junior High cafeteria. In 1996 we moved to Friendswood, and this year we were lucky; our home escaped damages from Hurricane Harvey. I understand how it feels to lose everything and to live in a flood-damaged home for months until repairs can be completed. In Dickinson, people genuinely care about each other. After Harvey, my husband and I spent many days at the ESC helping receive donations from across the United States. It was very humbling to see the generosity from people near and far, and to see so many from the Dickinson community and Dickinson ISD reach out to lend a hand. Dickinson is a community filled with people who have generous and compassionate hearts. My husband and I look forward to the completion of our home and our move back to the community where we started our life together.

Tell the community a little about yourself.

I am married to Jim Voelkel, and we have one son. My husband, son and daughter-in-law are all Aggies. Our pride and joy are our two precious grand-daughters who are 15 months and 3 weeks old. I am an active member of Rotary Club of Dickinson, and my husband and I are members of Grace Community Church.

I am honored and excited to be the Superintendent in Dickinson ISD. My work is my mission, and in DISD we will inspire excellence - every student, every day, whatever it takes.

jennifer.bolton@chron.com

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