One-on-one video podcasts help this superintendent connect with kids

Superintendent Lewis Brooks leads a top-ranked school system in one of Alabama’s fastest-growing counties.

Superintendent Lewis Brooks connects with his students in a unique way: He highlights their “interests and exceptional accomplishments” during individual interviews for his “One-on-One with Dr. Brooks” video podcast. It’s just one reason the Shelby County Schools leader was named superintendent of the year in this region of Alabama.

“I understand that the Shelby County community is trusting me with their most precious commodity and it is up to me to be the first line of service, care and trust for them,” says Brooks, who has been superintendent since 2018 and has also been named a superintendent to watch by the National School Public Relations Association. “I also believe that as a leader you have to be transformative and willing to make the necessary investments to improve and enhance student learning.”

Brooks further engages with his community at VOICE meetings—it stands for “vision, openness, insight, communication and engagement.” Teachers, parents and students discuss issues that are important to them and Brooks gets insight on how he and his team can be better as a district. Shelby County Schools, which is just south of Birmingham, is the seventh-largest district in the state, serves 21,680 students in 31 schools and employs 2,880 staff members.

“We take pride in building relationships with parents and community partners and through these relationships, we have been able to create a small-district feel for our students,” he explains. “We embrace a Spirit of Service and our district seeks to elevate and celebrate the unique contributions of each employee.”

Spotlight shines on Shelby County Schools

Brooks chatted with District Administration about his district’s improving state report card, the importance of trust and coping with rapid population growth.

DA: What achievements over the last year led to your being chosen as regional superintendent of the year?

Brooks: “I am blessed and honored to be recognized by my regional colleagues as the District Five Superintendent of the Year and even more grateful for the privilege to serve our students and the greater Shelby County community. This recognition is not just about me, but about the unwavering dedication of our teachers, support staff and leaders who play a pivotal role in the success of our students.

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Over the last year, we have successfully focused on having students achieve high academic performance and creating high-quality instructional environments for them. Ultimately, I hope that my colleagues see that my leadership efforts are aligned with my commitment to doing what is best for students and promoting their continuous growth.”

What are the things that are you most excited about that are happening in Shelby County Schools?

“Foremost, our student achievement data district-wide continues to trend upward. Our state report card score improves each year and we have several high schools ranked as top high schools by U.S. News and World Report. We were one of only two school districts statewide identified as a ‘Spotlight on Reading District,’ which recognizes schools that have demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in foundational literacy for Alabama’s K-3 learners.

Superintendent Lewis Brooks leads a top-ranked school system located in one of Alabama’s fastest-growing counties.

We have also fostered innovation through instructional initiatives, including a new surgical technician and medical diagnostics program and an aviation program. In addition, we have extended our Advanced Placement courses in the ninth and 10th grades and broadened partnerships with colleges and universities to increase the number of dual-enrollment class offerings for high school students. Lastly, our investment in the district’s infrastructure has yielded a $43 million capital plan to provide classroom upgrades and facility improvements throughout the district.”

What are the keys to your leadership philosophy, and how do they contribute to your district’s success?

“Three simple precepts characterize my leadership philosophy: service, care and trust. As with many longtime educators, servant leadership is at the core of my work as a district leader. Serving is a requirement for leadership, and it permeates our district culture. My disposition has been described as approachable, calm and measured. You can collaborate and communicate more effectively when people feel comfortable around you. Trust is indeed the foundation of leadership and it is imperative in building healthy relationships with all stakeholders.”

How have your job responsibilities changed over the last few years?

“As a leader, I believe we have to be more intentional about what we are doing for students and more transparent about how we plan to get things done. While one cannot be all things to all people, increasing your level of intentionality and transparency builds the trust of your constituency in you. I cannot say the word ‘TRUST’ enough.”

What are the biggest challenges your district is facing right now?

“Shelby County is one of Alabama’s fastest-growing counties and the Shelby County School District is one of the top-ranked school systems in the state of Alabama. Due to the educational and economic appeal of our county, one of our greatest challenges is keeping pace with the rapid population growth. We continue to focus on capital improvement projects to meet increasing student enrollment and the needs of our ever-growing community.”

Have you seen an increase in student misbehavior over the last few years?

“Our district has not experienced an increase in student discipline; however, we have noticed that the behaviors we encounter are different than they were five or 10 years ago. For example, issues presented through social media are carrying over more often into the school environment, creating a new area of focus. We have also seen an alarming rise in student vaping incidents.”

How are you coping with staffing shortages?

“We continue to highlight the remarkable, service-centered culture that our district is known for. Our aim is to tell our story to job seekers and share more about the great and wonderful things that our district can offer to qualified candidates and future employees. More specifically, we recently instituted a ‘Choose Shelby’ marketing campaign, which features videos of our teachers and staff members sharing their personal thoughts about serving in our system. In addition, we have offered some financial incentives for support area positions.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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