By Liz Morse, Director of Marketing and Communications, AVID Center
This piece also appeared in our latest issue of Access, AVID’s Educational Journal.
“Picture about two million students. Now, I want you to visualize a huge field with 700,000 students on one side,” she began, moving her arm in a sweeping motion across the expanse of the room to create a vision of an enormous field. “Students on that side of the field have had AVID and are confident and know that they can achieve their dreams through determination and hard work. And then, on the other side of the field, I want you to see 1.3 million students who might even be afraid to dream because they really don’t know where to begin or that they can even do it. Can you picture that? 700,000 confident students on one side of the field who know where they’re going and that they can get there, and 1.3 million students on the other side who want the confidence and skills their friends have over there?”
“Now, every morning, after you’ve taken care of yourself and those close to you,” she continued, “I want you to think about what you can do to help those 1.3 million students join the 700,000 college-ready students on the other side of the field.”
In her first address to all staff, AVID’s new CEO, Dr. Sandy Husk, added clarity, focus, and energy, updating her vision for AVID to impact more than two million students in the next few years. “For more than 30 years now, AVID has been changing the trajectories of thousands of students, providing them with opportunities, skills, and the belief that they can achieve what they’ve dreamed about but never really thought was possible,” she says. “Our job is to make sure every student has a chance to experience that sense of self-confidence and accomplishment—that every student understands that their individual determination and hard work will pay off.”
Husk speaks from experience. Over a span of 18 years as a superintendent in three districts, Husk was intent on ensuring that schools provided students with the best opportunities for success. “I believe children have tremendous potential and it is our responsibility to discover that potential. Our job as educators is to believe in, and develop, that potential in every child.” In each of the three districts she led, Husk implemented AVID as a solution to raise student expectations and achievement.
An educator at heart, Husk knew in fourth grade that she wanted to teach. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Georgia, graduating in three years. Her first job was teaching sixth grade while living at home and working in the evenings to save money for graduate school. She attended the University of Colorado in Boulder and earned her master’s degree in guidance and counseling while substitute teaching, and then worked as both a teacher and a counselor in Colorado schools.
She moved swiftly through the administrative ranks while obtaining her doctorate in administration, curriculum, and supervision at the University of Colorado in Denver. Husk then served as a staff development supervisor, principal for the alternative middle school, and then principal for the bilingual elementary school. She held the position of Executive Director for Learning Services prior to her first superintendent position in Mapleton Public Schools in Adams County, Colorado. Her first experience with AVID came when the high school principal sought to energize the school and told Husk she was ready to implement AVID. Husk approved of the initiative, and AVID was implemented the following fall.
“We saw an amazing transformation in the high school,” Husk reported. “The leadership was strong, and parents and students had new hope. Within the next couple of years, we implemented AVID in the middle schools.”
Husk served in Mapleton for five years before becoming the superintendent in the Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools in Tennessee, a district more than five times the size of Mapleton. There, she worked with her leadership team to implement AVID, and again, saw solid gains in student achievement and college-readiness, especially for those students who would be the first in their family to go to college.
“The results I saw for students, teachers, and schools in Colorado happened in Tennessee. Teachers told me that AVID’s Summer Institute provided them with the best professional development they had ever experienced. It improved their instruction and ultimately, student performance.”
Ready for a new challenge after five years in Tennessee, Husk accepted the superintendent job in the second largest school district in Oregon, Salem-Keizer. That district, located in the capital of Oregon, was economically diverse, educating a large percentage of children from high poverty families. Sixty percent of the students attending Salem-Keizer schools qualified for free or reduced lunch, and nearly 25 percent of the students came from homes where English was the second language. As is her style, Husk asked many questions and listened. When she put together a plan, it included AVID.
The Salem-Keizer community watched as things improved. Dropout percentages declined and so did discipline referrals. More students were thinking about college, and more were deciding to attend.
It wasn’t unusual for AVID students to present at school board meetings. One evening in particular stood out to Husk. “After the student’s heartfelt presentation, his father came to pick him up to take him to his wrestling match. As they were leaving the boardroom, the father interrupted the meeting on his way out. ‘You’ve changed this family’s life,’ he told the board members proudly, ‘not just this kid’s life.’”
Improvements in the schools were noticeable, and the Salem-Keizer community was pleased with their superintendent. And then Husk received a phone call about the AVID CEO position; would she be interested?
As someone with years of experience implementing AVID, Husk was intrigued about the opportunity to make a difference for students on a global level. After a national search by the AVID board, Husk was selected to replace Jim Nelson, who was retiring to return to Texas.
“Sandy’s 18 years of educational leadership as a superintendent, and her extensive sponsorship and success in implementing AVID, made her the best choice to lead AVID forward,” stated AVID Center Board President Melendy Lovett, a senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Trinity Industries Inc. “Her leadership and experience are a great fit for what’s needed in the AVID CEO role. Sandy deeply understands the overall education ‘system,’ how to close achievement gaps, and how to improve student achievement through the AVID College Readiness System. And, her personal values and commitment are wonderfully aligned with AVID’s mission.”
Known for her skills in building strong leadership teams and a willingness to listen, Husk is already making her mark on AVID. Behind her own vision of two million confident and college-ready students impacted each year by AVID, is a strategic plan for growth, quality, improvement, and spreading the word about the difference AVID can make for both students and teachers. “AVID has consistently experienced growth for the past 30 years, but there are far too many students who have not been exposed to AVID and the opportunities AVID creates for a better future. I know what it’s like to be a superintendent, searching for a silver bullet that will help every student achieve at a higher level. AVID transforms both students and teachers. Moreover, AVID acts as a catalyst for systemic reform within a school and district. By improving the performance of educators, AVID increases opportunities for all students.”
With her energy, commitment, and plan in place, no doubt those two million students will confidently stand together on that field under Husk’s leadership.
Author’s note: AVID’s stated vision is to impact at least one million students annually by 2020. Knowing the great need and sense of urgency to improve educational opportunities for all students in this country, AVID’s CEO set her sights on impacting at least two million students … and even more in the future.