8 things to know about Lakeland and its new superintendent

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

Dr. Ted Horrell was hired as the first superintendent of the Lakeland School System in January. Horell sat down with Chalkbeat to discuss his career, the challenges of starting a district from scratch and what people misunderstand about the new Lakeland district.

Listen to or read Horrell’s answers below.

 1.  Is there a moment in your education career that exemplifies why you are in this business?

Lakeland Elementary School has a guitar club, and so they got wind that I played the guitar.  And somebody said, well you need to join the guitar club.  And I said I am definitely joining the guitar club.  And the teacher invited me to play some of my songs for the students.  We interacted back and forth and they played some songs for me.  It was very fun.  It was very grounding.  It was at the most simple level of why it is that we’re doing what we’re doing, is because it makes a difference to kids. 


 2.  What is your dream job?

Right now this is my dream job.  This has been a great opportunity to learn the superintendency on a smaller scale.  It’s about as small as you can get with one school.  Because it’s so small I don’t really have a staff to speak of.  I have got a secretary and I work really closely with the school.  But that’s given me the opportunity to see every single aspect of a school system.  Because even small school systems have to do many of the same things that larger school systems, in fact most of the same things that larger school systems have to do.


3.  What are the challenges of forming a new district?

There’s nothing that you can take for granted is quote just going to happen. When you walk in as principal, there are a lot of things that you don’t have to worry about. They’re going to happen. The alarm system probably works, the closed circuit TV probably works, the light bill has probably already been set up. In this situation there is nothing, there’s almost nothing that is going to keep happening unless you do something.  

4. How do you know what are all the things you need to do?

One of the best parts about this experience for me is that all of the six munciipal superintendents meet together regularly. We have a standing meeting once a week.  We sit down and we kind of benchmark and go over our punch lists.  And somebody will say I had a thought to call the garbage pick-up folks, has anybody else called?  This is a couple months ago.  And we’ll say yeah I called them and left a message.  And sometimes we’ll say let’s just bring them in here together and we’ll all meet with them.  Or sometimes somebody will say, I did this application for the state, would anybody else like to see it?  And usually we’re all like, yes, we all have to see  it, I haven’t done that, I didn’t think about that or in some cases I didn’t even know I needed to do that.  So we do a lot of sharing.

5.  What challenges are left to make sure everything is rolling on day one?

The buses is the one thing that we’d all like to have resolved.  Some of that has to do with the process and some of it has to do with the complexity.  But we don’t have bus routes yet and we’re not 100 precent sure of start times yet. Althought we’re working under the assumption that we’re going to have the same start times.

6.  How does being your own separate district allow you to focus more on improving the quality of education at Lakeland?

Before it’s over we’ll have done 250 or so policies that we’ve done since January essentially, which is a lot.  Some of them have a lot of complexity to them.  The teachers gave me feedback on what they wanted to see in those policies on things like grading and discipline and attendance and things like that…. When you’ve got 50 or 200 schools you just don’t have that luxury. You’ve got to do something that is going to fit everybody. And most things don’t really fit everybody. So you wind up with a lot of top down things….But with ours it’s going to be very very specific to our kids, our teachers and our community.

7.   Lakeland has such a close relationship with Arlington and many of their students attend schools together.  Why are there two superintendents rather than one?

Ms. Mason [the superintendent at Arlington] and I, we’ve talked a couple of times [about that], at the time we both applied to be one superintendent for both systems, and now I think we both agree I don’t even know how you would do that with two different boards. It seemed a lot simpler in my head.  It’s really hard enough to kind of work with and respond to one group of five people, if you had two differnt groups that would be a tough gig.

8.  Are there any misconceptions about what you’re trying to do at Lakeland?

I think what’s good for any of us is going to be good for all of us. There’s a politicizing of this story as there is with everything.  And there are certainly a lot of political aspects of it.  But at the end of the day we sat down with Superintendent Hopson in Shelby County Schools and his staff several times to work through problems and we got them worked out.  And at the end of the day we had to ask what’s best for the kids.  That’s really what we’re all trying to do.


This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.