Past Superintendents Discuss the District’s History with New Superintendent


Superintendent Jeannie Stone speaks as part of a conversation to educate the public about the RISD’s history, accomplishments, and challenges. Photo by Chad Byrd

By Isabel Costian

Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone, former Superintendent Dr. Arzell Ball, and former Superintendent Dr. Carolyn Bukhair participated in a panel discussion moderated by Board of Trustees President Anne Foster last Wednesday to explain how the RISD has maintained excellence from its inception.

Members of the community attended the event for the rare opportunity to see past leaders of the district have a conversation with Dr. Stone, who took over the reins in January.

“I think it was a great opportunity to hear from two fantastic leaders of the district,” Stone said. “We are where we are because of their leadership. I can only hope that I can carry on this rich legacy of leadership.”

Each superintendent answered questions posed by Foster in order to shed light on accomplishments, challenges and values during each of their tenure.

“They’ve lead us with such vision and with a servant’s heart,” RISD Board of Trustees President Kim Caston said. “People want what we have in Richardson, which is great schools and a warm sense of community, which has sustained us for over 100 years. But it comes with the leaders that have that heart and that perspective.”

Ball, a World War II veteran, served as superintendent from 1982 to 1994, when the district had only 33,000 students and 47 schools.

“We’re in a community that expects, and really demands, excellent schools,” Ball said. “It draws people that are willing to carry it out. I feel fortunate to have been a part of it.”

Bukhair was the superintendent from 1996 to 2004 and stepped in as interim superintendent for the 2009-2010 school year. She accepted the position around the time that the district began to add more advanced technology, like a telephone in every classroom at Richardson West Junior High.

“We were going through a lot of change when I was superintendent,” Bukhair said. “A lot of districts would have just kind of fallen to pieces, but our community really united with us and did some fantastic things to be sure we could serve all children.”

The superintendents spoke about challenges during their times of service. Ball faced declining enrollment while Stone struggles with the opposite problem. Bukhair talked about the challenge of increased urbanization in the district.

“That was the bottom line: we will serve all,” Bukhair said. “We don’t care where they come from, we don’t care what language they speak – we’re going to serve all children.”

Among the serious questions Foster asked, she threw in a lighthearted question about each superintendent’s funniest moment in office. After hearing Ball’s response about a principal’s misunderstanding of the purpose of a staff fitness program, Stone said that she learned that “he has a great sense of humor.”

“Sometimes, you don’t get to know them as a person,” Stone said. “If you come to the administration building, you’ll see a big portrait of Dr. Ball, because we have all of the superintendents there. Behind every one of those portraits is a lifetime of service and the great qualities that they have.”

Each superintendent dealt with a different political climate in terms of education. Even with a new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who supports public funding for private schools, Foster believes that the community will support the RISD.

“You can’t dictate [state and federal laws], but you can bring input on how they impact local school districts,” Foster said. “If you have enough advocates for your schools, they’re going to let the legislators and congresspeople know what they desire in the laws that govern public education, and I think that’s powerful.”



Senior Ricky Maasz plays in the lobby of the auditorium as part of the 4 Man Trio. Contact the group at [email protected] for booking purposes. Photo by Chad Byrd

At a reception before the event, Culinary Magnet students served snacks and drinks, and four orchestra students performed in the foyer of the auditorium. The ensemble, called the 4 Man Trio, began with a performance at the Chamber Music Festival, and has since been recognized by the district.

“It was an honor to perform at quite the prestigious event,” junior cello player Brian Le said. “Our quartet was specifically requested by RISD communications staff and the fine arts superintendent, which was an incredibly humbling and enlightening experience.”

Before the superintendents made their way to the stage, audience members stood as senior Destiny Bentley performed the national anthem a cappella.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Bentley said. “They’ve shaped the district, so I felt like I was representing students of RISD.”

Since the district’s founding in 1854, leaders have aimed to follow RISD’s mission statement: “Where all students learn, grow, and succeed.”

“We have to work to be sure that we do our job, and we do it well so that we can be an example of what can happen in public education,” Bukhair said. “We have to be smart about influencing and about telling our story, because we have a great story to tell.”