Q&A With Midlothian ISD Superintendent Dr. Fey

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Jo Ann Fey headshot
Photo courtesy Midlothian ISD

Meet Dr. Jo Ann Fey, Midlothian ISD Superintendent

The Midlothian School District is well-known for its passion in developing students and
preparing them for life after their days in the MISD.

So, when they went looking for a new superintendent, such thinking was, of course, at the top of their list concerning candidates. That mindset led them to Dr. Jo Ann Fey.

Fey took over as the new MISD superintendent June 1, coming from Southwest ISD in
San Antonio, bringing with her a dedication to students, teachers, staff and their families that continues to grow as she enters her second quarter century in education. An attitude that meshes perfectly with the one already in place in Midlothian.

As an assistant superintendent in SWISD for seven years, the school district from which she also graduated in 1989, her success included the opening of a ninth-grade center, a second high school, and a STEM specialty school. Prior to becoming assistant superintendent, she led a school turnaround effort at a high school with more than 3,500 students.

Fey has a bachelor of arts degree in political science from SMU, a master of arts in business administration from Central Michigan University, a second master of education in curriculum and instruction with an instructional technology focus from Houston Baptist University, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Lamar University.

And, along with her successful career in administration, she taught CTE classes and coached basketball.

Fey and her husband, a civil engineer, have three children. Their youngest daughter will be a freshman in MISD, while their oldest son is a graduating senior at Texas A&M-Kingsville, and their oldest daughter will be entering her sophomore year at Rice University in Houston.

As Fey begins the newest chapter of her career, she visited with Focus Daily News to give folks a little more insight into who she is, her accomplishments and her goals for the MISD moving forward.

FDN: I see you were assistant superintendent at SWISD for seven years. Have you ever been a superintendent before?

Fey: This is my first appointment as superintendent of schools. My career has led me to this point by serving in central office roles critical to leading a school district, including executive director of leadership development, assistant superintendent of both curriculum and instruction and administration, as well as human resources and innovation.

FDN : Do you recall what drew you to education for a career? What about administration?

Fey: After earning my undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University, I worked with soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia (now deactivated) as an academic facilitator. Serving these men and women in uniform was inspirational and laid the foundation for my career in education. As a military spouse, the education profession allowed me to serve others anywhere in the world.

Returning home to Texas, I moved back home to the San Antonio area to help my parents after my father had a massive heart attack. I started my career in public schools at this time, serving students in grades 6-12, and working with middle and high school students soon became such a passion.

FDN: What kind of success did you have as a basketball coach? Were you a head coach?

Fey: As a former athlete, I was called to be a coach and loved every minute being a head basketball coach, as well as coaching cross country and track and field. Coaching allowed me to focus on the value of teamwork among the teams I coached, which then served me to build strong campus teams focused on student opportunities and successes.

While the teams I coached were strong competitively and ranked among some of the best in the greater San Antonio area, the junior varsity and freshman teams were the most memorable. Building a team where all players learn and grow allowed me to make the greatest impact in young lives. Simply put, they were the core spirit of our success; that happens well when leadership is at its best.

Additionally, I was a girls athletic coordinator, which was when my interest in administration began. My athletic director, the late Manuel Valles, mentored and inspired me to stretch myself and venture to campus leadership. He always expected the best from his staff and he gave me incredible opportunities to drive strategic changes for our overall girls sports program. He let me take risks, learn from risks and help me process those challenges with a true growth mindset.

FDN: Has being a coach helped you as you advance in education and administration?

Fey: Yes, without a doubt, coaching has helped me advance in education but I would not say coaching basketball was the key. The key was that I had to lead other leaders to have an impact on student outcomes.

The biggest difference in coaching team sports and coaching other adults, other leaders, or an entire system, is that your leadership is measured in every game played and every play executed. There is no more vulnerable place that I have served as a leader than on Tuesday night in the gym, Friday night on the field or in one throw at a track meet.

FDN: Do you come from a family of educators?

Fey: No, I come from a family of very humble hard workers. My father was a technician for AT&T for more than 30 years and my mother retired from the cafeteria in the local school district where I grew up. I am a first-generation college student in my family, and my education has been a gamechanger for my life. However, I am extremely proud of my parents, my background and my values.

FDN: What drew you to Midlothian and what are your major goals moving forward for the MISD?

Fey: I believe Midlothian has the opportunity to be a national leader in educating all students in our system. We have great students, great parental engagement and downright amazing teachers in our classrooms. I want to be part of growing us to be one of the nation’s best school districts, where people visit to learn from our best practices, and this begins with leading ourselves and taking ownership of our own professional growth and development.

FDN: Can you elaborate on the importance of balance in a student’s education?

Fey: I am a strong believer in having students engaged academically in our classrooms, but I also believe that students learn so many valuable lessons from outside the classrooms such as on the field, at the halftime show, at the Final Pitch night at The MILE, and serving our community. Balance is providing students opportunities in and out of the classroom to foster the love of learning, servant leadership and being a productive citizen.

FDN: What were your major accomplishments at SWISD and can you elaborate on the turnaround effort there?

Fey: As I was appointed the Southwest High School principal, the campus was not performing well according to state and national standards. Within four years, our campus was performing on par with the state as well as meeting the national standards. This turnaround effort was due to several strategic changes, but one of the most important was giving students a voice to their learning experience. Student voice is incredibly important and we provided opportunities for them to share so we can make learning relevant and rigorous.

Due to this effort, teachers’ ability to meet the needs of our students changed largely because our turnaround was led and executed by teachers. Teachers are the most vital ingredient to learning, and we must continue empowering them to do incredible work with each student and with each other.

FDN: What do you feel is the biggest challenge educators face today and how do you think it can be resolved?

Fey: I think the biggest challenge in education is making education a priority across our state and nation. Teacher pay is an issue, and recruiting and retaining quality educators is a challenge. I think the state is taking some steps to encourage equitable pay for teachers through the Teacher Incentive Allotment, but that is not enough to attract, select and keep quality educators in our classrooms.

I also think academic standards are so incredibly vast, not deep enough and change too often. In addition, accountability standards have done little to improve public education overall, but I do believe it has been good to expose areas of growth for us.

I think these challenges can be resolved by creating space for talent development in school systems that are not necessarily tied to a credential. If we grow leaders in our system, we can meet any challenge head-on and be successful.

FDN: Any additional thoughts/comments?

Fey: I am proud to be a Midlothian citizen, and I hope to serve my community well. Together with our teachers, staff members, parents and community members, we will inspire our students and prepare them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

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Rick Mauch is a veteran of more than four decades in the media. He began writing in high school and immediately went into broadcasting for almost a decade after graduating, working his way to morning drive in Birmingham, Alabama. However, realizing how much he missed writing (though he did continue to do some during his time in top-40 radio), Rick returned to what he loved and has been doing it ever since. Rick's career has spanned a plethora of media outlets, including community journalism, sports, entertainment, politics and more. He's worked in print, broadcast and online media. He also spent several years doing public relations for a children's home in East Texas - still writing on the side, of course. When he's not writing, Rick loves to play golf and do Bigfoot research. He's an avid believer. He also made his first hole-in-one in June of 2020. Rick is married to Junell Mauch. They have five children and two granddaughters