Dr. A. Tracie Brown

Chief Schools Officer, Arlington ISD

Districts set principals up for success

While principals are chiefly responsible for driving positive change for students in schools, they cannot do it in isolation. They must be well-prepared for the realities of the job and need continued support once they’re in the seat. This is the job of the district leaders.

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“Pre Holdsworth, we knew that we had untapped talent in our district. But we did not have a structured way to identify that talent, and provide meaningful learning opportunities for them.”

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Dr. A. Tracie Brown

Chief Schools Officer, Arlington ISD

In Holdsworth programs, staff work alongside district leaders to build systems that produce a stronger and deeper bench of aspiring leaders who are truly ready for the principal role.

Ideally, that means having at least two strong candidates for every principal job that opens up.

Open principal role

Many districts don’t even have one.



As a result of the investments we’ve made in districts, 100 percent of superintendents surveyed rate their leadership pipeline as stronger after partnering with Holdsworth for at least three years.

As of 2022, 33 districts were working on strengthening their leadership pipeline with help from Holdsworth.

Arlington ISD is one of those districts.

Building a pipeline of ready leaders at

Arlington ISD

Arlington, Texas

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In Arlington ISD, there are nearly three educators who are ready – truly ready – for every principal opening.

Open principal role

In the context of Texas public school districts, this achievement is staggering.

Too often, leaders are thrown into the principalship unprepared and left to figure it out through trial and error.

“When people move into the principalship and they are not prepared to take on that role, it can have dire consequences for the school.”


Dr. A. Tracie Brown

Chief Schools Officer, Arlington ISD

“When people move into the principalship and they are not prepared to take on that role, it can have dire consequences for the school.”

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Dr. A. Tracie Brown

Chief Schools Officer, Arlington ISD

Research shows* that under effective principals, high performing teachers stay longer.

Strong principals also improve a school’s learning climate, especially in high poverty schools.

*Source: Bartanen, B. (2020). Principal Quality and Student Attendance. Educational Researcher, 49(2), 101–113. Grissom, J. A., & Bartanen, B. (2019). Strategic Retention: Principal Effectiveness and Teacher Turnover in Multiple-Measure Teacher Evaluation Systems. American Educational Research Journal, 56(2), 514–555.

How did Arlington ISD build such a robust pipeline of strong, ready leaders?

Five years of focused work through the Holdsworth Partnership to create systems to identify, prepare and support leaders.

Working hand-in-hand, Holdsworth staff and the Arlington team began to mine and polish hidden talent throughout the district by creating ASPIRE, a suite of development programs that engages 1,100 teachers and administrators in professional learning to help them grow into leadership roles and have a greater impact on students.

The programs include leadership tracks for teachers who want to stay in the classroom, as well as programs for aspiring assistant principals and principals.

Opportunities range from earning micro-badges in different leadership skills to yearlong academies, internships and residencies.

“We could not have done this work alone without our Holdsworth District Support Team, who really held our hands and guided our thinking.”

Dr. A. Tracie Brown

Chief Schools Officer, Arlington ISD

“Our principals, teachers and staff, they're the ones in the trenches every single day. Our job is to provide them with support to ensure they're as successful as possible.”

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Dr. A. Tracie Brown

Chief Schools Officer, Arlington ISD

Preparing for a big job

In school districts, the leadership trajectory typically looks something like this: You’re a teacher who has found their groove. The principal notices you’re achieving great things and asks you to be a team lead or department chair, and encourages you to earn your principal certification. Next, you may become an academic dean or assistant principal.

With a certification on your resume and a little bit of leadership experience, you could be on the market for a principalship.

Most principals will tell you this is not enough to prepare them for the day-to-day reality of the job as the ultimate decision maker for the school.

At Short Elementary, first-time principal Betsy Berkebile leads a staff of 70 people who serve 400 students and their parents and caregivers.

As a principal, Berkebile's main role is to help teachers improve their craft to deliver better results for students. She also:
  • Manages the school’s budget and hiring process.
  • Helps resolve conflict among work teams.
  • Ensures the school is aligned with state & district policies.

To prepare for a job Berkebile calls an “awesome responsibility,” she completed an ASPIRE program called AIM, designed for deans and assistant principals who are ready to become principals.

For one year, she participated in quarterly professional development sessions and monthly meetings with principal mentors who answered questions, observed her in action and provided feedback.

By the end of the program, she had prepared an entry plan and a 3-minute speech to introduce herself to staff.

“The job as a principal has a lot of different roles that I think people aren't aware of. It's 90 miles an hour. It is non-stop. I do this job because I want to make a difference for kids.”

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Betsy Berkebile

Principal, Short Elementary

Avoiding rookie mistakes

Avoiding rookie mistakes has been one of the biggest benefits of participating in Arlington ISD’s preparation programs, says Rachel Turnbow, a first-time assistant principal of Remynse Elementary.

Through ASPIRE, Turnbow spent one year earning her master’s degree in education from Southern Methodist University while learning what the assistant principal and principal jobs looked like from the inside as a “resident” at Rankin Elementary.

She learned two important things:
  1. When you don’t know something, ask for help. You don’t have to go it alone.
  2. When you’re new to a campus or leadership role, spend time getting to know people and showing them you care before whipping out your fix-it list and driving change.

“A good leader takes time. It takes time to really learn your campus, learn your people, learn systems, develop relationships. People want to be seen, want to be heard.”

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Rachel Turnbow

Assistant Principal, Remynse Elementary

Supporting leaders
to take risks

Achieving better outcomes for students takes bold leaders who are willing to try new strategies when the status quo isn’t working.

But just like students, leaders must feel safe to take risks. That means instead of being punished for failure, they’re allowed to learn from it and try again. When mistakes are made, there’s no shaming, just kind advice or redirection.

Ryan Hawkins’ experience in ASPIRE helped her to feel safe and supported as she moved into a new role as assistant principal at Arlington High School, a sprawling campus with nearly 2,700 students.

Encouraging and being there for students is Hawkins’ number one priority. She feels district leaders want to do the same for her.

“Knowing the district has invested in me makes me feel confident. And that's what I want to instill in our students as an assistant principal and future principal – you have someone on your side rooting for you. That's what the district has done for me.”

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Ryan Hawkins

Assistant Principal, Arlington High School

Building systems that last

When Dr. A. Tracie Brown reflects on the talent development systems she and her team were able to build over the course of the 5-year Holdsworth Partnership, she is amazed.

What started with defining the skills and behaviors of a good leader has blossomed into a suite of programs to cultivate homegrown leaders and a culture of coaching and care that permeates the district and will endure beyond any one individual leader.

Since beginning the Holdsworth Partnership, Arlington ISD has moved from an overall grade of C to B under the state’s accountability rating system. They received an A in school progress, which shows how the district's performance compares to others with similar ratios of low-income students.

“We feel confident continuing to lead this work and carry the torch because of the deep connection and support that we had from The Holdsworth Center. We're ready to take it to the next level.”

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Dr. A. Tracie Brown

Chief Schools Officer, Arlington ISD

Many districts are following a similar pathway as Arlington ISD: 100% of surveyed district leaders in Holdsworth programs report making meaningful progress on establishing a leadership pipeline.

Christi ISD

In the Holdsworth Leadership Collaborative, Corpus Christi ISD has created Leading in CCISD, a definition of leadership shaped in collaboration with a wide cross-section of faculty and staff. The next step is to embed it into systems for developing strong principals, and to model the leadership behaviors for staff and students.

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Gabe Trujillo, Superintendent, Nacogdoches ISD
“Using the Holdsworth process to create a leadership definition showed us that we had so much talent in our district. There were so many people in the same room sharing thoughts and ideas. People were proud of their contributions and felt a sense of ownership over the final product.”

Dr. Roland Hernandez

Superintendent, CCISD

Superintendent Leadership Program

Holdsworth is helping to grow and support 26 early-career superintendents from across the state as they navigate unprecedented challenges in a high-stakes role. The 18-month program gives newer superintendents the opportunity to work with an experienced mentor, learn from their peers and be challenged by leadership experts who push their thinking.

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Gabe Trujillo, Superintendent, Nacogdoches ISD
“We’re all facing our own version of the same challenges. Holdsworth is a safe space to have real talk and get advice from leaders in the same seat as you.”

Dr. Gabe Trujillo

Superintendent, Nacogdoches ISD

Pharr San Juan - Alamo ISD

Since beginning the 5-year Holdsworth Partnership in 2017, 75 district and school leaders in Pharr-San Juan Alamo ISD have completed the Center’s two-year programs to build stronger leaders. Those stronger leaders have made a huge impact on the district’s 30,000 students, the vast majority from low-income families. In a historic showing in 2022, 17 of the district’s 42 schools earned an A rating under the state’s accountability system, and the district earned an A overall.

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Dr. Nora Rivas-Garza of PSJA is pictured on stage receiving an award from Dr. Ruth Simmons, board chair of The Holdsworth Center.
“The legacy of Holdsworth is going to continue because it’s been instilled in so many people. Culture is difficult to change, but once you change it, you can never go back.”

Dr. Nora Rivas-Garza

Executive Officer for Secondary Schools, PSJA