Strengthening academic achievement and operational efficiencies is Dr. James Cowley’s mission. Feeding the souls of his students and staff is his method.
That philosophy is why Cowley was named Superintendent of the Year by the Texas Rural Educators Association.
“If we want students to stay in school and excel academically, we first need to fill their souls,” says Cowley, superintendent of Linden-Kildare Consolidated Independent School District (located 40 miles south of Texarkana) and a Brashear resident. “Most students don’t come to school because they love geometry or Shakespeare. They come to school and find joy in school because we find ways to connect with their interests. That’s why our schools offer so many extracurricular programs such as fine arts, athletics, and a variety of clubs and organizations.
“I want to be able to start at the foundation level, where nearly all kids are excited about school. We lose them at junior high and high school. We have to find out what it takes for them to keep that spark. So I start at the foundation level and grow up,” Cowley said.
School is about much more than academics, Cowley says.
“School is a vehicle for young people to explore their interests and develop a strong sense of moral character,” he said. “We are preparing young people to use their minds creatively, to be problem solvers and to work effectively with others. Traditional academics are certainly a big part of that, but they’re not the only part.”
Cowley stresses the importance of being a proactive citizen, and leads by example. He has served in and volunteers with many community service organizations. He is a graduate of the Hopkins County Leadership Class, serves as certified Lay Speaker for the First United Methodist Church, has volunteered for several organizations in Sulphur Springs, currently serves as treasurer of the Texas A&M University-Commerce Alumni Association Board, and has served on and held numerous church and community groups over the years. He volunteered with Boys Scouts, serving as a Northern Tier crew leader, council Philmont contingent leader, den leader, cubmaster, council unit commissioner and district commissioner, but retired as Troop 66 assistant scoutmaster in 2011.
He also periodically fills in at Methodist churches preaching. For the next two weeks, he will be giving two sermons at the Methodist church in Linden.
Cowley has launched a series of new programs in Linden-Kildare CISD, a district which serves 800 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade, aimed at strengthening the core focus of academic achievement by strengthening the culture of brotherhood among district staff.
“We’ve partnered with Friends of Texas Public Schools to help boost staff morale and unite our team around our purpose, which is to help every student reach their highest potential. We’ve got to remind ourselves regularly why we are here because the distractions of legislative policy, state mandates, high stakes testing and incessant, false accusations of failure can and has beaten us down,” he said.
Linden-Kildare students have also benefitted from Kickstart Kids, a program created by Hollywood legend Chuck Norris dedicated to giving students the tools and support necessary through martial arts to resolve conflicts, avoid gangs, choose a drug-free lifestyle, resist negative peer pressure, stay in school, strive for a higher level of academic success and become productive members of society.
In conjunction with the Kickstart Kids program, Cowley said the school is introducing Rachel’s Challenge this semester. The program will be implemented at the junior high level (sixth through eighth grades), gradually expanding it down to fourth grade and up to high school. He’d tried to introduce Rachel’s Challenge in previous years but due to scheduling and other constraints, the district hasn’t been able to bring in a foundation speaker until this spring.
Cowley has also invested resources and energies in upgrading classroom technologies to support future-focused learning, completed $1.3 million in facility repairs, brought nationally recognized authors such as Stephen Kellogg, John Erickson, and Dave and Pat Sargent to L-KCISD campuses, and has managed to maintain a balanced budget through what has been one of the darkest times in school funding history.
“Faced with the challenges of our present state finances, Dr. Cowley was able to create the ideal plan for our district and we obtained the funding necessary to renovate and repair our facilities,” said Linden-Kildare CISD board member Tracy Spaniol. “One of his true strengths as a superintendent is his ability to lead with solutions, not problems.”
Cowley noted that while many districts have had to make considerable reductions in staff “we’ve been very forturnate. We’ve only cut one half position.” The district has reduced payroll expenses in the last few years through attrition — not filling positions when staff retire — and other adjustments of assignments.
“Finance is a big component. We work to meet the needs. L-K is a high economically disadvantaged district with traditional challenges,” Cowley said. “There’s a large push on E-rate federal funding — technology. We got $1 million, with our cost only $100,000. The district is 70 percent economically disadvantaged. That helps bring in federal dollars. It’s allowed us to upgrade our facilities.”
Other areas being addressed are making the campuses wireless and installation of safety cameras. All campuses have interactive white boards and data projectors, and 300 computers have been purchased. With a $1.33 million maintenance tax note the district is in the final stages of facilities upgrades: gym floors, restrooms, door hardware systems, fire alarms and other needed things. They’ve resurfaced the track, and purchased three motorcoaches — Greyhound style tour buses complete with restrooms, TVs, radios — that are used for all extra- and co-curricular travel; that is anything other than bus routes between student’ homes and school. And, they’re used for any other travel reason including UIL, DECA, BPA and other activities not just athletics teams, cheerleading and band. The first group to ride in them was a jump rope group that’d earned a pizza party, Cowley noted.
“So far we’ve not had to affect any programs except the after-school tutorials. It cost $94,000. We just couldn’t afford it,” Cowley said, explaining the district had to discontinue transportation for the program.
He has served as superintendent at L-K CISD since July 2011. From 2007-2001, he worked at Sunnyvale ISD, first as curriculum coordinator and director of communication from 2005-2207, then as assistant superintendent from August 2007 to April 2011.
Cowley comes from a family of educators whose roots are in East Texas. His mother, late Jane Rawson Cowley, was raised in Cooper and Tira and graduated from North Hopkins ISD. She became a business teacher and librarian in public schools, retiring after 35 years. His father, Harold, was born in Titus County, graduating from Winfield High School and currently resides in Sulphur Springs. He was a vocational agriculture teacher, an elementary principal, business manager/vocational director and superintendent. He retired after 35 years in education.
James initially planned to become a veterinarian, but after learning how many years of college were required, decided to follow in his father’s footsteps as an ag teacher, which would allow him to work with animals.
“Vet school was eight or nine years. I didn’t want to be in college that long. So instead, I ended up in it 11 years,” he laughed wryly. “So I decided to become an ag teacher. That’d didn’t work out either.”
House Bill 71 “wiped out ag jobs,” so he taught junior high science for 15 years, he explained.
Cowley served as a junior high science teacher, teaching grades sixth to eight at Lone Oak Junior High from 1987 to 1990; grades six and eight at Mount Vernon Junior High from 1990-1992; then grades seven and eight at Sulphur Springs Middle School for 10 years. At SSMS, Cowley served as UIL director for four years, was a member of the district calendar committee, held spokesperson and secretarial positions within the science department and was sponsor for three years for solar powered race cars.
James Cowley began his administrative experience at Saltillo ISD, where he served as elementary principal and director of assessment and technology for two years, then was promoted to high school principal.
“I enjoyed my time there. I had two great years before they asked me to move up to high school, to the other hall. I expected to stay there several years. But, when an option to move to central office presented itself, I made the move,” Cowley said.
After a year as high school principal at Saltillo, Cowley took a central administrative job at Sunnyvale ISD.
In more recent years, Cowley has also taught at the college level in addition to his administrative duties at school districts. He serving as an adjunct professor of communication in summer 2001, fall 2003, spring 2004 and summer 2005 at Texas A&M University-Commerce, from which he earned his bachelor of science in 1987, master of education in 1990 (when it was East Texas State University) and doctor of education in 2003. Last fall and this spring, he’s taught curriculum, educational administration, school law and school and multicultural society classes as an adjunct professor for the College of Education at Dallas Baptist University.
Cowley said working at all levels within the schools gives him an advantage, an insight into the needs at each level and what drives them. He draws on that when making decisions as superintendent that affect each level for students, staff and community.
“Each level is different, and each thinks their job is the hardest. And it is to a point,” he said, noting that each is important to the development of students and requires various focuses and has unique challenges.
Cowley stays in Linden during the week, returning to the 138-acre property he and his wife Carol own in Brashear on the weekends.
Although he hasn’t lived in Hopkins County his whole life, he considers Sulphur Springs and the surrounding area home; his family has owned property in Hopkins County for nearly a century. In fact, some of his more vivid memories from his youth are of his granddad’s hayfield here. His family moved to Sulphur Springs in 1988, and when he and his wife retire (she’s a former teacher and currently serves as lead counselor at Sulphur Springs High School), they plan to live in the log cabin they’ve built in Brashear.
The Cowleys also have two children: Jarred, a senior at Sulphur Springs High School who plans attain his master’s and eventually earn certification as a CPA; and Jessica, a junior at Mississippi State University, where she is majoring in animal and dairy science with an emphasis in veterinary science, and is one of only 27 in the nation accepted for the MSU early acceptance program for the College of Veterinary Medicine.
James and Harold Cowley are also partners in a 550-acre ranch. They have a cow-calf operation in Hopkins County and a timber operation in Titus County, where he laments he no longer has time to hunt.
And in his spare time, what there is of it, James Cowley enjoys his “toys” — a 1946 Aeronica Champion 7AC airplane, 2005 Honda Gold Wing motorcycle and a 1931 Model A Ford Fordor.
|< Prev||Next >|