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MISD hires new superintendent

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Penny White, MISD superintendent

Penny White was born in Port Lavaca on the Texas coast and spent many summers on her family's farm in East Texas. With parents who were educators, it was a natural progression for her to go into education and end up in East Texas. Recently hired by the Medina ISD board to fill the position of superintendent, White looks at the move to Medina as the start of "a new adventure" for her and her family.
"I love this community already," said the affable White. "The people here are real, they're genuine...and they support our students 100 percent."
White took over the reins at MISD from Dr. Jack Cockrill, who served as interim since December 2013. Cockrill led the board, the district and the community through a financial crisis compounded by dropping enrollment and the classification of MISD by the state as a "rich district."
White said she has every intention of calling on Cockrill for advice in the future. She credits him with making her feel welcome in the district and thoroughly briefing her for the new job.
White comes to the Hill Country from Yantis, a small town in north East Texas, where she served as superintendent since 2012.
"It's a very small community with a 1-A school of about 370 students," said White. "Medina is smaller with just 270 enrolled. But the facilities here are larger, and we have football!"
White's sixth grade son, Jesse, felt the opportunity to play football was a big plus. Medina switched to 6-man football last season and Jesse is excited about being able to participate. He also likes hunting and fishing and apparently happily adjusted from leaving one of Texas' bass fishing hot spots to Medina when he commented to his mom, "Just look at all the deer!"
White's husband of a few years, Tommy, has retired from working in Houston and has not yet fully moved to Medina. "He's taking care of some pregnant cows on the farm," said White. "I don't want him here until all those mommas are OK!"
White has already become familiar with some of MISD's positives. "You get a real sense of community here," she said. "The students are flourishing. Everyone wants to help the kids succeed."
She has also contacted neighboring school districts "interested in working with us on programs like dual credit courses."
Small schools offer a lot of benefits for their students, White contends. "When you know every single child and their family, you can tailor programs for a specific child. Kids can participate in a lot of programs instead of being limited [as they often are in larger schools].
"Every day our students get boosts from people who know them well," she added.
White aims to increase the district's use of technology to offer its students even more learning opportunities.
"School finance challenges remain [for MISD]," she said. "We are classed as a property rich district and are expected to provide programs that are unfunded mandates from the state."
For the last few years, White has been living in her parents' house, "the house where they died. And it's just not the same without them," she said. So, even though she was happy with her job with Yantis, she felt it was time to break away and put some distance on those emotional ties.
Her decision to accept the offer from Medina was based on what she saw and experienced when visiting the school and community for her interviews. "We [the family] were looking for a low crime area... for kids who were happy and flourishing."
On one visit, she stopped at the Apple Store and had the apple ice cream. "I told the board that since I had had the apple ice cream, I was okay no matter what happens!"
Although she has been on the job for only a few weeks, White said, "It's more exciting by the day. I want our kids to be so proud to say they come from Medina."
White earned her bachelor of science degree from East Texas State University in 1987 and, shortly after, returned to pursue her teaching certification. In 1993 she earned her master of education from Texas A&M Commerce.
White began her teaching career with Roxton ISD as a vocational ag teacher. In 1993 she moved to Como-Pickton CISD to teach fifth grade math and science.
After being with the district for 12 years she moved into the curriculum coordinator position; became assistant secondary principal the following year; and in 2008 became the junior high principal. She was named high school principal for the district the following year.
In 2012 she accepted the superintendency with Yantis ISD.