Highland Park ISD superintendent Mike Rockwood shared district accomplishments and remarked on upcoming financial challenges during the annual state of the district breakfast with current and former board of trustees members on Tuesday, Jan. 23.
“There’s a gold standard here in HPISD, and I need to make sure that I continue the work with our staff and with our kids to meet that expectation,” Rockwood said.
Rockwood highlighted the academic and athletic success of HPISD students, noting that graduating classes average about $10 million in scholarships and complete 45,000 hours of community service.
He also praised the district’s “hands-on experiences,” including a recent dissection at Bradfield led by physician parents, an opportunity for high schoolers to meet with a Formula One team, and a speech from Mark Cuban.
The 2021 Golden Penny Election “really was a game changer,” he said. Voters’ decision to provide the district with additional tax revenue has enabled it to raise staff salaries by 3% in 2021-22, 5% in 2022-23, and 5% in 2023-24.
Rockwood said he spent his first full semester as superintendent visiting schools, listening, and learning. His areas of focus were long-range planning, ensuring that teachers have the resources to make the district’s revised language arts and math frameworks successful, staff evaluation, and communication.
“I think our biggest opportunity is our greatest challenge, and that is community and parental involvement,” Rockwood said.
Rockwood said the district faces additional challenges due to the outcome of the fourth legislative session, which ended in December with a stalemate on school funding.
“We’re moving forward after this session really with no additional funding from the state, which is tough,” he said.
The district’s finances are healthy, but its enrollment is declining, Rockwood said. Although numbers have fallen from 6,991 students in 2017-18 to 6,437 students in 2023-24, the district has maintained 454 teachers.
“It’s important that we right-size the organization through attrition over time,” Rockwood said. “We all recognize everyone wants their cake and they want to eat it too. But this is where the leadership comes in and you have these tough decisions over time.”
Another hurdle will be the chiller piping systems at Highland Park Middle School/McCulloch Intermediate School, which look “like lasagna” he said. “We have to fix this, and this is an $8 to $10 million budget hit.”