Matthew Gutiérrez has become superintendent of two Texas school districts at times of unrest.
One of three finalists to become the next leader of the Madison Metropolitan School District, Gutiérrez said he hopes he can use the skills developed in those roles to build trust with the community here.
“That experience has made me a stronger leader, a more effective leader,” Gutiérrez said in an interview earlier this month. “Having had a background in human resources, I’ve learned how to place people first and work through very challenging situations.
“I do believe those unique experiences… would certainly serve me well in Madison.”
He will make his pitch to the Madison School Board and community on Wednesday, when he will spend a day in the district ending with a public session from 6-7:30 p.m. at East High School, 2222 E. Washington Ave.
Currently the superintendent in the Seguin Independent School District, which sits between San Antonio and Austin and has about 7,500 students, Gutiérrez has moved around the state for his career.
He began as a middle school teacher in the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, became an assistant principal in Austin, Forth Worth and San Antonio and eventually an elementary school principal in Killeen.
According to his resume, many of the moves were due to his spouse’s job being relocated to different areas of the state.
He became a director of elementary human resources in 2012 in Round Rock and moved to the Little Elm school district in 2013.
Gutiérrez was the interim superintendent for the Little Elm Independent School District from June 2014 to January 2015 and deputy superintendent until June 2016, beginning at a time of turnover and unrest on the School Board. At least seven people were fired or resigned shortly after a wave of new board members were elected, according to news reports. He was promoted from HR director to the position, and worked to put together the pieces left by the quick turnover.
He then spent one year in the Plano Independent School District, with more than 50,000 students, as a deputy superintendent in 2016-17 before being hired in Seguin for his current position.
Despite the size of Seguin’s total population being similar to the number of students in Madison, Gutiérrez said he’s confident he knows how to communicate well and bring the community in to help find solutions to the challenges here.
“The very same systems that I’ve been able to put in place here would be no different there, you’re just looking at a larger number of people, maybe a larger number of organizations,” he said. “It really boils down to the ability to establish relationships with people, the only difference is I’m going to be establishing relationships with more people.”
Ready for challenges
Gutiérrez identified a few specific challenges facing MMSD, though he stressed he wants to hear from people who have been here to get a full scope of how things are going.
From his initial research, though, he said bringing together the various school sites and central office, focusing on a smaller number of initiatives and improving academic performance for “underserved populations” would be among his priorities.
“There have been a lot of efforts over the years to make improvements, which the district should be proud of, but as the school district becomes more diverse with each passing year we’ve got to better understand those populations, better understand their role in the community and better understand how we can meet their needs,” he said.
He said that if there are too many initiatives being put on staff members, it can lead to poor results in all of them.
“Are we able to be laser focused on a number of a initiatives?” Gutiérrez said. “When you really do the research, the most highly successful systems have just three or four initiatives that they’re focused on, and you can do them really well.”
He also brings recent experience with one of the likely immediate roles he would take on, having seen Seguin voters approve a bond referendum last spring. He said he learned the importance of “proactive” communication throughout a referendum process, especially given the “conservative community” that had “a large amount of distrust in the school district” a few years before the successful referendum.
“To be able to have a referendum pass with those challenges I believe is pretty huge and something I’m very proud of,” he said. “When you can really take a proactive approach to community, a transparent approach to communication, really put yourself out there to meet with people, meet with different groups, you can certainly accomplish that goal.”
‘Why not Madison?’
While he’s in Madison, Gutiérrez hopes to find out the “points of pride” in the MMSD community along with what needs to improve.
“I want to know what the hopes and dreams are of the people in that community,” he said. “Where do they want to see their district go? What are they most proud of right now and what are their biggest challenges so that we can move forward?”
Saying he’s “humbled” to be considered for the job and chosen as a finalist, he hopes those he meets with while here see him “as a leader that can go in and have a smooth transition, someone that they can trust to lead the system.”
He trusts himself to do that, largely based on his experience at the variety of districts he’s led in Texas.
“I believe that the school district needs someone who can be a uniter, someone that can bring people together,” he said. “I’ve had that opportunity to be able to bring the community together toward one common purpose, that being to serve students in a school district.”
And the interest in doing that in Madison is pretty simple, he said, given its college town and the devotion to academic success for students. Asked what interested him about the job, Gutiérrez said, “An easy response would be, why not Madison?”