Profile: Brian T. Woods

Ensuring Opportunity for 106,000 Children
BY LIZ GRIFFIN/School Administrator, August 2019

Brian Woods

THE BATTLE IN TEXAS over the fairness of the state’s high-stakes accountability system propelled Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside Independent School District in San Antonio since 2012, to speak out.

A passionate supporter of public education, Woods met with the Texas commissioner of education, then testified to legislators that the reading exam was too difficult and unfair.

Woods’ testimony illuminated what early failure means to young children: “Third graders suffer a serious blow to their self-esteem when they fail to pass a flawed test, and a child’s time is wasted on remediation that is not necessary.”

Three independent reviews of the STAAR reading assessment found some reading passages were aimed one or two grade levels higher than the tested child’s grade.

“I see a pattern,” Woods tweeted the day of the third review’s release in April.

M’Lissa Chumbley, who’s worked with Woods during her tenure as school board president and trustee, found he deals adroitly with controversy. “Brian does things the right way,” she says. “When he faces a situation, he looks at it from every possible angle. Then he makes a decision that will best benefit the child.”

Although relations have grown uncomfortable between him and the state commissioner, Woods persists because he believes adults are obligated to protect children from harm in all forms.

When Woods, one of four finalists for 2019 National Superintendent of the Year, took command of the 106,000-student district, he already had spent 20 years in Northside, having grown professionally and personally into an articulate, principled and humble leader.

After years as a social studies teacher, high school principal and deputy superintendent, he was well-groomed for the job.

Equity for students was at the top of his agenda.

Although the district has its share of high achievers, disaggregated data revealed major academic inequities at schools serving students of color or from low-income families.

“Some schools had less access to rigorous courses,” Woods says. “This was unacceptable. All students deserve to have challenging academic content.”

He pushed Northside’s 6,200 staff members hard on closing that inequity during monthly meetings with principals and through Monday morning messages to all instructional staff. The district ramped up advocacy for the advantages of rigorous coursework for all and the necessity of laying the groundwork in early grades. Woods ensured his expectation aligned with appropriate support for students and classroom teachers. 

Just two years later in 2014 (and again in 2017), the district earned the College Board’s AP Honor Roll distinction for increasing access to AP courses. Participation now includes more than 30 percent of Northside’s African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics and American Indians and students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

Woods attributes much of the success to collaboration with and among staff, soft-pedaling his own substantial contribution. Personal ego does not drive his work, says Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators. “For Brian, it’s all about the kids and supporting public education.”

LIZ GRIFFIN is managing editor of School Administrator.


CURRENTLY: superintendent, Northside Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas

PREVIOUSLY: deputy superintendent of administration, Northside ISD

AGE: 50

GREATEST INFLUENCE ON CAREER: John Folks, my predecessor as superintendent. I had the privilege to work directly for him. He led me to pursue the role of superintendent.

BEST PROFESSIONAL DAY: By far and away, the day I was named lone finalist for superintendent in Northside. I have grown up here professionally. It is my home.

BOOKS AT BEDSIDE: Old Robert B. Parker novels; When by Daniel Pink; and The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog by Bruce Perry

BIGGEST BLOOPER: Early in my career as a superintendent, I recommended a program that had weak support among staff and outright opposition from a small part of our community. While the program had benefits, they were far outweighed by the distraction of the debate. I made a quick decision to abandon the project and spend our time and energy on more impactful items.

WHY I'M AN AASA MEMBER: We have an obligation as school leaders to know the context that impacts our schools on local, state and national levels. I count on AASA to keep me informed.