Macatee, Woodward Face Off In Only Contested HPISD Race

The Highland Park ISD board of trustees will have three new faces after May.

Real estate pro Kelli Macatee and Crossmark vice president of sales strategy and operations Doug Woodward are vying to replace school board president Jim Hitzelberger, who’s not seeking reelection.

Board secretary Lee Michaels, who also isn’t seeking reelection, will be replaced by Maryjane Bonfield, the only person to file for the Place 2 seat.

Also, attorney Bryce Benson, the only candidate to file for Place 3, will replace former trustee Kelly Walker, who left the board in December.

Why are you running?

Macatee: I am running to be a voice for the voiceless, and so many students, parents, teachers, and administrators feel a little voiceless these days. I also feel like we need more working moms represented on the Board. With Kelly Walker rolling off, we are potentially looking at five men and two women. That’s a BIG reason for me throwing my hat in the ring. We need some balance and women bring a lot to the table in that regard. Being from the Park Cities, I’m rooted in tradition, but as a small business owner, I’m innovative for the future. I know where we’ve been and where we need to go. As an HPISD alumna (Class of 1997), I’m a recipient of the excellence in education that HPISD provides, something I’ve always been very proud of. This is a decision I took very seriously and evaluated for many months. I am a top producer in real estate, an entrepreneur, and I thrive in intense situations. My husband, Mark (Class of 1986) and I feel strongly that I possess a unique combination of knowledge, skills, gifts, and abilities that will serve our district very well at an intense time.

Woodward: Our community is special, and I believe that our schools are at the heart of everything that makes it so. That is what has driven me to dedicate my time and energy so tirelessly over the years to serve our kids in any way I can. I am running for HPISD Trustee now because I want to continue to serve our children and community by protecting and leading HPISD schools into our next chapters of excellence. 

I am the candidate who has spent the last 15+ years serving HPISD in numerous leadership and volunteer capacities including, in 2019, as a member of the highly visible HPISD Boundary Rezoning Committee tasked with analyzing and establishing updated school attendance zones for our elementary schools.  Today, I proudly serve the schools through the Dad’s Club, HPHS Choir Booster Club, cafeteria service and other volunteer roles as needed.  In addition, I am an active community leader with the Highland Park Education Foundation as a member of both the Finance and Scholarship Committees as well as a member of the City of University Park Commercial Retail Advisory team.  My past community roles have included Leadership UP, HPUMC Youth volunteer, HPUMC International Mission Trip leader, United Way Metropolitan Dallas and YMCA Youth Sports coach among others.

Professionally, my background and skill set have prepared me well to contribute and lead district activities quickly.  I have held a number of executive positions in sales, finance and strategy throughout my career and currently serve as Vice President, Sales Strategy & Operations for a large consumer goods firm based in DFW.  My responsibilities include assessing opportunity and strategic options, partnering with multiple stakeholders operating with differing priorities, building consensus and ensuring effective communication among all.  I strongly believe these skills, along with my extensive HPISD involvement and knowledge built through years of active volunteering, make me an ideal candidate to assume a role as HPISD Trustee.

Explain the ways you’ve already been advocating for and helping the students and families in Highland Park ISD.

Macatee: My heart has always been deeply connected to Highland Park ISD. As my mom likes to say, I’ve been serving this community since I was 5. I am a workhorse and a team player and I want to serve where I’m needed. I like to be on campus with the staff, students, and teachers so mostly I’ve been serving in the cafeteria at Armstrong and now MIS. I’ve been a cafeteria day chair, room parent a few times, parent reader, volunteer in the teacher workroom and garden, career day presenter, and am a financial donor to things like Armstrong Field Day, etc. My personality doesn’t tend to be “showy” about my service because it’s who I am, but as I step out into this new role, it’s important for people to know that my four decades of service to this community, and the city of Dallas, runs deep and wide. I’ve also been quietly researching and preparing for the role as a Trustee and feel confident that I have what it takes to be immediately useful and effective for the district. Plus, there’s training that Board members go through to shorten the learning curve. I have a masters degree, I got my real estate license very quickly, and am in the process of getting a Broker’s license. I do very well learning quickly and enjoy it.    

Woodward: I made the decision early on that I would actively participate and immerse myself in my children’s school careers as I knew that would undoubtedly receive more back in return.  After happily volunteering my time & energy during my children’s preschool years, I sought out ways to get actively involved as they entered University Park Elementary School.  Through their years there, I served the Dad’s Club actively and raised my hand for any way to participate, including annually for school carnivals, field days, bike rodeos, cafeteria service, in-classroom book reading, field trip chaperone, etc. Even after my children moved on to MIS, I continued to volunteer my time and carpentry skills with U.P. as I built sets for their 3rd grade musical, the large “UP” letters that continue to grace the entrance of the school and a large jail cell to serve as a centerpiece to the annual school carnival.  It has been a pleasure to serve U.P. Elementary and I have been happy to give back to the school that gave so much to my children.

During the MIS/HPMS years, my oldest son migrated toward choir and drama which led me to the Drama Committee.  I assisted with set build during his first play in 2015 and then assumed full lead for building stage sets for the next five years.  In 2017, we built the biggest set that MIS/HPMS has seen for “Beauty and the Beast”, a labor of love that took me months to design & build.  The reward was seeing how excited the kids were to have the set serve as a platform for their performances.  I continued to build the MIS/HPMS sets for two years after my son had moved on to HPHS because, again, I was happy to share my time & work to give back.  In addition to the set work, I reliably served in the cafeteria each month, chaperoned school dances, volunteered for the water walks and took every opportunity to participate where needed.

In the HPHS years, I have continued my active involvement through cafeteria service, the HP Choir Booster Club, chaperoning during district competitions and serving as the volunteer team photographer for both the HP football teams and my daughter’s JV field hockey team.  I have even worked in another carpentry project or two for the HPHS drama group when needed!

Beyond these numerous school activities, I have advocated for our children via the HPISD Boundary Rezoning Committee as well as various roles with the Highland Park Education Foundation.  Dedicating my time and energy to HPISD and actively advocating for our children has not been a recent decision or one that I do when convenient – it has been a consistent, reliable, and dedicated labor of commitment and servant leadership. I have learned from the inside over many years the culture, process, priorities, and history of HPISD schools.  I look forward to applying my knowledge and skills to serving as an effective HPISD Trustee.

What are some of the biggest issues – even without the pandemic – that the district faces in the near future?

Kelli Macatee PHOTO: Ashley Lee

Macatee: Finances, Curriculum, Health & Safety, Diversity. There is MUCH I could say on each one of these very important topics, but to hit the highlights: 1. Finances – every single decision in the district hinges on finance and over 60% of our tax dollars go to the state through recapture. House Bill III was recently passed at the state level and it’s going to be critical that we get that right. We need someone who can sort through massive amounts of data quickly and get to the bottom of what that bill can really do for the district, if anything. I can do that.  2. Curriculum – our students and our teachers deserve the very best. Curriculum is critical because today’s student is tomorrow’s workforce and culture leader. Learning is a passion of mine, so I could talk on this one for days. The minds of our students and academic rigor when it comes to reading, writing, grammar, & STEM is of utmost importance. There are a lot of moving parts and entities involved in curriculum like the SBOE, TEA, and TEKS so understanding all the players and working together is a vital piece of the role. I deal with this sort of thing every day in real estate. There are brokers, agents, NAR, TAR, TREC, buyers, sellers, inspectors, appraisers, lenders, I could go on and on. You have to balance them all and I do that well. 3. Health & Safety – Health is an issue I’ve focused on for many years. In fact, after finishing grad school, I started Macatee Wellness, a health & wellness consulting company, which focused on the convergence of mental health and physical health. If our students and staff don’t feel healthy, safe, and secure then learning suffers. I am also a member of the North Texas Crime Commission, which is an incredible organization that works with many people around the city for the safety and welfare of us all. I look forward to bringing my expertise & connections to the table. 4. Diversity is near and dear to my heart. We are blessed to live in an incredible community that doesn’t always “do ‘diversity’” well. You have to know your strengths AND weaknesses. Diversity needs some work. As a district, we’ve definitely gotten better, but there’s still a long way to go. We have to inject some fresh energy & ideas into this very important issue.

Woodward: With the legacy of excellence and long list of achievements that HPISD can claim, there remain a number of issues that still need to be addressed as we execute against our priorities.  Continued excellence is our biggest district asset but also our most significant challenge as we seek to maintain and grow that legacy.  We are an independent school district for a reason, and we must never take excellence for granted as we set our strategy.

First and foremost, the issue of strong financial stewardship is our biggest issue in the face of state recapture and the systemic disadvantage it creates for us to recruit, support, and retain our high-quality teachers.  With limited dollars available to compensate our teachers above state median level, it is critical that our HPISD leaders exhibit fiscally conservative rigor in building our financial budgets and executing against our stated priorities.

Other issues that the HPISD trustees must continue to address in the coming years include:

  • Protecting the ongoing health and safety for all students, teachers and staff as we look to move past the restraints the pandemic have imposed upon us and map a path back toward normality for our HPISD families.
  • Finding more effective ways to assist our children as we build broader awareness of mental health issues within our schools.  We have made progress in our journey to build resources available but, candidly, we have not yet done enough.  We don’t yet know what the hangover effect of the last year of COVID will be on our kids who have been isolated, lonely and disrupted from their routines for too long. This must be addressed thoroughly and quickly.
  • Assessing the current strategy and resources directed at ensuring our children in Special Programs are receiving the support they require.  Many HPISD families continue to struggle to navigate the complex systemic requirements to secure the support and customized services needed for their children to thrive and succeed.  We should better understand and align with what our tradition of excellence means for these families and how we may better serve them going forward.
  • Continuing our efforts to ensuring we build and maintain an environment that truly values diversity and inclusion.  Although progress has been made and current programs have been effective in at least raising awareness, students and parents still report problems that we must have the courage to address.
  • Assessing the enrollment drop that has occurred in recent years. Our total enrollment has dropped during the 2020-2021 school year and is down 6% from the high point achieved in FY 2015. There are numerous drivers of the decline, including the recent pandemic impact, but it is imperative that the Trustees and Administration understand and address the controllable root causes as there are funding implications to a declining enrollment.

Are you comfortable with the level of preparation and safety precautions the district has done for staff and student safety during the pandemic? What, if anything, would you change about the safety protocols the district has in place? Why?

Macatee: It’s easy to criticize and hard to actually make the decisions. Certainly decision making last year was difficult, and not perfect by any means. I feel like many parents are just grateful to be back in school. I know we are. What’s done is done, but now it’s time to revisit protocols and course-correct. Adversity always brings opportunity and now we must use the past year’s struggles as an opportunity to be better than ever. My background in clinical psychology uniquely equips me to deal with any struggles that children and parents may face coming out of this pandemic. Loss of learning, anxiety, depression, bad habits, etc. are major issues that must be addressed. We cannot operate from a place of fear nor can we be too focused on non-essential issues that we lose sight of our real job: to educate children. We have to understand that there will be massive emotional and academic consequences from COVID-19 and face them head on. I’d like to see our district providing vaccines to any teachers and their families who want it and I believe that effort is in process.

Woodward: Undoubtedly, the HPISD Trustees and Administration have been faced with unprecedented circumstances in light of the challenges and restrictions that COVID has presented over the past year.  While the second half of the Spring 2020 semester was less than ideal with limited virtual learning opportunities for our children, the district worked diligently through the spring and summer to build a comprehensive plan to get us back to school for Fall 2020.  With only a two-week delay in opening, our children have been able to experience an un-interrupted school calendar, a roster of extra-curricular activities with only a few bumps and minimal transmission of the virus along the way.  Starting with the Spring 2021 semester, our HPHS students were able to join our other campuses with an option to return to a five day in-person schedule for those comfortable doing so.  At a time when parents are pleading for schools to reopen, our district has been able to navigate the path well and keep us open.

This is not to say that there have not been sacrifices and challenges in the response.  Mask restrictions and plexiglass dividers are less than ideal and something that we ALL want to go away as soon as we can safely do so.   The district’s school reopening committee – formed last spring with a cross-functional team of Trustees, administrators, health professionals and parents – has worked tirelessly to assess all the issues and seek to maintain a balance between shifting safety protocols and the desire to return us all to normal.

With hindsight, we all can identify areas for improvement. Contact tracing and protocols have created sweeping quarantines at times for our kids, creating havoc in their school and extra-curricular experiences that have been difficult for many.  Some of these quarantines have seemed extreme and perhaps too wide-sweeping and conservative in retrospect.  Health expertise identified for membership on the school reopening committee was too limited, tapping just one medical expert tied to Dallas County when countless other health experts and HPISD parents would have provided broader, more diverse perspective on all the issues.  In addition, HPISD parents would have benefited from more open, frequent communication and transparency on the assessment and decision process the committee was following to make these decisions that deeply affected our children and families.

However, by any quantitative measure, the district has been successful in defining a course for our schools through this unprecedented event.  I believe the vast majority of our HPISD families greatly appreciate all their tireless efforts to keep our schools open and our children safe.

What do you see as the district’s biggest challenge? How would you address it?

Macatee: Finances. For the life of the bill, we are approaching billions of dollars leaving the district through recapture (aka Robin Hood). Among other things, our teachers aren’t paid enough and we have attrition and retention issues that must be figured out. The single most important part to providing a great education is a great teacher. Have you ever seen a gifted teacher in the classroom? They are AMAZING and need to be compensated accordingly! The Texas Legislature recently passed House Bill III (HB-III) and that is going to alleviate some strain, but only if we fully understand what it does and effectively use it for our specific needs. We also have to do a better job communicating to our constituents that Mad for Plaid goes straight to the teachers. They are in the trenches every day with our children and yet many cannot afford to live here. I have lots of ideas and vision around this and other finance issues, so I’m excited to offer my business expertise and passion.

Woodward: As noted above, the biggest challenge that faces our district is the ability to define a financial path to success in light of recapture challenges the State of Texas continues to impose.  We remain at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers and other investments required for the continued excellence of our schools.

In our latest fiscal year budget, HPISD projects $168.6M in total revenues while required to return $100+M back to the State of Texas – a staggering 61% of our revenue base sent away, leaving us with limited funds to cover all the programs and staffing initiatives we envision for our schools.  The gap in operating budget requires significant local fund raising and support just to cover existing programming.

As a Trustee, my top priority will be to continue to educate myself on the financial details and to constantly review and scrub current expenditures to ensure that we are making the best use of every dollar that remains in our district. In addition, HPISD must continue to partner with HPEF to ensure an aligned strategy in maximizing private giving and identifying potential new sources of private funding sources to support our focus on rewarding and retaining our best teachers.

With a focus on longer term policy changes, we must continue to work with Representative Morgan Meyer and others in Austin to make sure our voices and needs are heard.  We must continue to lobby our state legislators to move the State of Texas to fund a significantly higher percentage of school funding and to allow each local district to first pay operating expenses prior to recapture being imposed.  Only this type of systemic change will significantly alter the financial situation of our district and reliably fund all of our programs for our children.

How would you pitch Highland Park ISD to a prospective parent?

Macatee: I’m in real estate, so I promote the district all the time! There are a lot of really amazing things about HPISD, especially the safety factor through our own fire and police departments. How many neighborhoods, in big cities, can your 8 year old safely ride their bikes around? Not many. That’s pretty special. But the real treasure in HP is generational love and community support. We rally around and support each other in a very unique way. Nothing will melt your heart like seeing a little girl in a Scots cheerleader uniform get an autograph from a Highland Park Cheerleader. Or a young boy in a Scots t-shirt taking a clinic from a Scots ball player. We also have so many talented parents who lend their abilities to support the schools. The role parents play in this district is invaluable and a treasure. I went to the University of Georgia after graduating from Highland Park High School in 1997 and while I always knew we lived in a special community, you really start to understand how special it is when you spend time in other parts of the city and country. 

Woodward: What stands out about our community is that Highland Park ISD offers (1) a unique blend of a top-quality elementary and secondary education, (2) a broad array of engaging extra-curricular activities and highly successful sports teams and (3) unprecedented community and parental support to create a truly special experience for our families.

Doug Woodward COURTESY PHOTO

HPISD schools consistently rank among Texas’ finest public-school systems and have a long history of preparing our children to be confident, self-assured learners ready for success in the world. Over 97% of our students attend college, many at some the nation’s finest and most prestigious institutions.  Our students consistently earn ACT/SAT scores that far exceed state and national averages and over 550+ were recognized last year with AP Scholar Awards for their achievements.

Our schools also offer a wide range of academic organizations, fine arts clubs, community service groups and competitive UIL & Club sports from which our students may choose.  Our sports teams have won a record 11 prestigious Lone Star cups from the UIL, recognizing our success in many areas and points earned in academic, fine arts and athletic competitions. 

As a community, we love our Scots and seek out many ways to support, advocate and advance our schools within the region.  Our PTAs and Dad’s Clubs are staffed with hundreds of dedicated parents that willing donate thousands of hours of their time, resources and expertise to support all levels of strategic and operational elements within the classroom and school environment. From youth sports tied to our elementary schools to cool Friday nights at Highlander Stadium, our community support is consistently displayed across our district and highlights how well we all come together to support our schools!

How do you think the district’s done with implementing the 2015 bond program? Why?

Macatee: Hindsight is 20/20 and as I previously mentioned, it’s easy to criticize and hard to make the decisions, not to mention the unforeseen impact of 2020/COVID. We have enrollment issues to address and course correcting is always a part of implementation. I bring a lot of invaluable business experience to HPISD and I will be a very effective advocate for us to utilize our dollars wisely going forward. 

Woodward: In 2015, HPISD voters approved a $361.4M construction bond aimed at updating facilities and enabling our schools with modernized facilities to serve the community over the next decades.  Once approved, the district began the complex task of supervising the large number of construction projects, executing a multi-phased elementary relocation strategy to accommodate the demolition and construction of four new schools, realigning school boundary zones to balance enrollment and ensure timely, reliable communication to all stakeholders.

By and large, the district has completed the construction projects within defined budgets and largely on schedule.  Some delays were to be expected and occurred with drainage issues at the MIS/HPMS campus and some slowdowns at HPHS last spring as COVID hit.  The new HPHS student entry, student commons area, lecture hall and classrooms were finished over this past winter break and available for student use beginning in January 2021.  The final piece of this long journey is the construction at the Natatorium in-fill site scheduled for completion in August 2021 in time for our students’ return for the 2021-2022 school year.

Given the size and complexity of the project, I believe HPISD has done a good job implementing the bond, communicating the challenges and progress clearly to the community, working through the elementary school relocation stages and rezoning plan and delivering to the HPISD community the results we asked for.

What standards should educators, students, and trustees be expected to follow with their social media posts?

Macatee: Social media posts from educators and trustees should exhibit the principals we’re teaching our students: freedom of speech and ideas; intent to understand and be understood; and respect. My business requires me to use social media, but it must be balanced. Also, we are less inhibited with each other when we’re not face to face. That’s a dangerous trend in social media. It can lead to all sorts of destructive behaviors, such as bullying, both online and in person. Social media is a communication tool for the community. Social media is one tool in the toolbelt, it’s not the tool belt. The communications team does an excellent job and works tirelessly to do the best they can. I do think social media has a place in the world, but it’s shifting, evolving, and changing. I understand the Board sets policy, but I believe finance and curriculum are bigger concerns for the Board. We need to be innovative when it comes to finance solutions and educating our children, not necessarily social media. 

Woodward: Social media can be a positive tool for use in communicating and engaging the community on issues of common interest.  But there are pitfalls to consider when our teachers, students, administrators and Trustees choose to engage via social media posts.

As Trustees and administrators, we should look to social media only as a vehicle to share content that has already been released to the community or as an additional way for the community to connect with us.  We should never engage in expressing personal opinions, publicly debate or deliberation of HPISD issues. HPISD business records must be maintained in accordance with defined record retention schedules and should not be conducted outside of normal business channels.  As a Trustee, I will expect to have minimal social media presence.

Of course, students using social media for personal use have much broader standards of compliance but, regardless of use, should focus on maintaining a respectful and safe environment.  Parents should ultimately set usage and tone guidelines but, in regulating my own HPHS children, I stress no mean or bullying comments, no questionable or compromising photos, no offensive jokes and no highly emotional content.  I ask them to always remember that, if you don’t want someone to see it or use it, please don’t post it!

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

One thought on “Macatee, Woodward Face Off In Only Contested HPISD Race

  • March 27, 2021 at 1:31 pm
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    Interesting that both candidates believe HPISD doesn’t “do ‘diversity well’,” or maybe well enough.

    What does that mean, exactly?

    For many years, the chief selling point of Highland Park schools (which no one will admit in these “woke” days) has been a conspicuous lack of diversity. Many parents moved there precisely to escape diversity. Even now, when Asians win virtually all its science and math awards, Highland Park remains overwhelmingly un-diverse.

    So, is that a problem? If so, how? C’mon, candidates, try not to talk around the subject, or use euphemisms – for once.

    Reply

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