HEB CEO Announces $100 Million Donation to Establish Educational Leadership Institute

HEB Chairman and CEO Charles Butt will invest more than $100 million to create a nonprofit leadership institute for Texas public school administrators.

The institute will be named Holdsworth Center in honor of Butt’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, who was a teacher in the Hill Country before her marriage. Although potential sites are still under consideration, the Holdsworth Center will be located in Austin and will serve school districts in all regions of Texas.

“With our size comes an enormous responsibility to provide the highest quality education to all students,” Charles Butt, 78, said in a prepared statement. “The Holdsworth Center will help ensure that we have inspired and informed leaders at all levels of the education system who make day-to-day decisions that positively impact the future of our students and the state.”

The announcement of the legacy gift, which will come from Butt’s personal fortune, will be made today at Garza Independence High School in Austin.

The center will open this year with a cohort of six school districts out of at least 15 invitees to apply by Feb. 1, said Kate Rogers, spokeswoman for HEB and acting executive vice president of the Holdsworth Center. The San Antonio Independent School District will be invited to apply, as will the Austin and Round Rock ISDs, Rogers said. Selected districts will be notified by the end of March.

“We know we’re on the brink of a severe teacher shortage nationwide and that’s going to affect us in Texas as we continue to grow our student population here,” said Shari Albright, chair of the Department of Education. education at Trinity University. “We better make sure we attract the best and the brightest to our schools and support them.”

Teachers and principals are the most important factors in student learning, Albright said, echoing studies over the past decade. Better teaching, teacher retention and principal leadership will better equip districts to manage a failing school financial system and disadvantaged student populations, Albright said.

“That’s Charles Butt’s gift to public education in Texas,” Albright said.

Ruth Simmons, former president of Smith College and Brown University, will chair the 17-member board governing the new center. Besides Albright, other board members include Robert Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, CIA Director and President of Texas A&M University and current Chancellor of the College of William & Mary; and Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America.

“This whole undertaking is a vote of confidence in our public education system,” Gates said in a prepared statement. “We have great admiration for the work of state superintendents and directors and owe them a debt of gratitude for dedicating their lives to educating, inspiring and nurturing our children. There is no more important work.

To participate, a school district must have between 8,000 and 85,000 students and demonstrate strong relationships among key administrators, including the superintendent and the board of trustees, Rogers said. The districts chosen will not correspond to a single demographic or academic profile.

The program will begin with leadership training sessions for superintendents and their cabinet members, lasting about three days a month for two years, Albright said. During a district’s second year of participation, directors will begin their own two-year trainings, Rogers said.

The program will involve international travel to places such as Singapore that have installed effective talent management systems, board members said. In addition to travel, directors will meet strong leaders in the private and military sectors, attend lectures and discussions with renowned professors, and assess their own leadership. Topics will include change management, team building and school board relations. Between learning sessions, Holdsworth Center staff will work to support administrators in their districts.

“We want them to reimagine the way future leaders are selected, developed and supported within their districts so that when a position becomes available, they have a formidable bench from which to select the next super star,” Butt said.

The program will rotate between conference centers near selected districts until the Holdsworth Center is completed. Starting in 2019, new cohorts will be introduced each year and the application process will be open to all districts, Rogers said.

To cap off a long history of public education advocacy, Butt decided about two years ago that he wanted to make a legacy donation to public schools in Texas, center board members said. He convened an organizing board to ask which giveaway would have the greatest impact, and they quickly realized the importance of developing and retaining education leaders, Rogers said.

“If you could help leaders be stronger in their role, supporting educators on the front lines and providing them with many opportunities for development, we believe that would go a long way to demonstrating a true appreciation for the difficulty of the work of a educator really is,” she said.

Texas was ranked 43rd in the nation for student achievement earlier this month in Education Week’s annual “Quality Matters” report, which gave the state an F for school spending. Texas independent school districts serve more than 5 million students, or about 10% of the nation’s students.

Writer Joshua Fechter contributed to this report.


Janice G. Ball