Victoria schools' new leader seen as catalyst for change

June 2, 2012 at 1:02 a.m.
Updated June 3, 2012 at 1:03 a.m.

The city is about to change.

That's what Harlandale school board member Tomas Uresti predicts when Robert Jaklich takes over as Victoria ISD's superintendent.

"Your city's about to change, your school district's about to change, and your employees in the school district are about to become very happy," Uresti said. "When you meet this man, he's going to light up the room, and you're going to be shocked as to what kind of change your district is going to receive."

The Victoria school board unanimously voted on Thursday to make Jaklich the district's new superintendent.

Jaklich was with Harlandale for 15 years - the past four as superintendent.

VISD "is really a jewel and a great opportunity for someone at my stage in my career to put down my roots and feel part of a community and to create something really special," Jaklich said.

He comes to a district united in his hire from a board that was beginning to show signs of discord, despite what appears to be a record of compounding successes.

Among the district's accomplishments during Jaklich's tenure are two H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards, which proclaimed Harlandale the best large district in Texas last year, and the best in early childhood this year. The district is also one of 367 school districts in the nation to be placed on the Advanced Placement Honor Roll by the College Board. In the past few years, Harlandale's pre-kindergarten program has increased from 700 to 1,255 students, and Harlandale was the only school district to earn a spot on the Top 50 Workplaces as named by the San Antonio Express-News.

That's not to mention the $42 million fund balance he's helped build up from a negative balance that loomed when he took the reins at Harlandale, Uresti said.

"We set out looking for certain qualities in a superintendent - someone who could use systems approach, who was fiscally sound in management of the district he served," VISD Board President Tami Keeling said. Jaklich "had every single parameter we were looking for."

Meanwhile, Uresti summed up the qualities he's seen Jaklich bring to Harlandale.

"He loves children, and he definitely takes care of employees. He knows how to balance a budget. He runs a tight ship, no two ways about it," said Uresti, who's known Jaklich for five years and calls him a friend.

In Uresti's opinion, it's that tight ship that led to two board members giving Jaklich the lowest possible rating on a recent evaluation.

"He'll run (the district) correctly, but he'll run it his way. If you allow him to run it, it will be successful," Uresti said. "Unfortunately, some board members just did not want to allow him to run it his way, and that's kind of where we bumped heads."

But Velma Ybarra, one of the board members who gave Jaklich low marks, said the part of the evaluation that was leaked to San Antonio media didn't tell the whole story. She said she gave Jaklich favorable ratings in some areas, but she was concerned about the district's dropout rate, the number of teenage pregnancies and lackluster performance on the STAAR test.

Still, she called Jaklich a wonderful person who's served the district well, and to whom the district has served well. Harlandale's board unanimously decided to extend his contract for three years, Ybarra said.

"Our achievements are really accredited to all, including Mr. Jaklich, but also our taxpayers, our teachers," Ybarra said. "He did excel this last decade with us . and that was because of the efforts of many."

Jaklich provided a similar take.

"Any school district is a power of its people," he said. "You galvanize skills and create stakeholders. Everyone's responsible for decision-making and the outcome."

As part of his interview this past week, Jaklich visited a few VISD campuses. After that, he said he knew "the future is so bright" for VISD.

"You could see and you could hear the passion and the pride in the voices of the people that I talked to and how much they cared about students. That was something I was very impressed with," Jaklich said.

Jaklich said community support for schools - as evidenced in the last bond election - the smart leadership of the board and the legacy of current Superintendent Bob Moore also attracted him to Victoria.

Moore is not renewing his contract because of health concerns. Jaklich is expected to sign a contract at the end of June.

Uresti offered one more prediction for when Jaklich - who he called the Energizer Bunny - officially takes over Victoria schools.

"Your children are going to be motivated, your staff is going to be motivated, and the community will be motivated. Wait 'til you meet him."



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