A word from Victoria I.S.D. Superintendent Quintin Shepherd

Closing Thoughts: Innovation

The following is an article provided by Supt. Quintin Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.

Innovation is an interesting word. When asked to describe an innovation, most people say things like the iPhone (or iAnything really). The blackberry was an innovation for its time. The introduction of the automobile was an innovation to be sure. Electric lights were also an innovation. These are big innovations of course, but there are small innovations as well that have massively impacted our lives. Take luggage, for example. Bernard Sadow applied for, and was granted, a patent in 1970 to put wheels on a suitcase. Before that, people actually carried a suitcase (that’s why they have handles!). Innovation happens in both grand and discrete ways, and I think this is something you’ve known for a long time.

Innovation though comes from Latin innovare and means to make new. In one sense, everything described above was made new (telephone, lighting, suitcase, etc.). In fact, everything above and everything you are likely thinking about as it relates to innovation is an example of product innovation. For some reason I do not understand, almost anyone who talks about innovation seems to be usually talking about product innovation. This happens in education too. New companies are always inventing new innovative products. Schools are forever trying new tools. In education, when we add new programs or course offerings it is product innovation. We have lots of examples of product innovation at V.I.S.D. as part of our pathways development. Countless campuses have taken a different focus or program curricula. P-TECH at the High Schools are a product innovation, as an example. The interesting thing about product innovation is that the cost is usually higher, and it tends to be an “all or nothing” proposition. Rarely does it “kind of” work. To that end, product innovation can be quite risky when it comes to a cost/benefit analysis. The upfront investment is usually high and the return on that investment can take a long time before it is known.

Product innovation though is just one side of the coin. There exists another type of innovation that is arguably more important, less expensive, and iterative at scale. What I am writing about is strategy innovation. Strategy innovation could be found in equitable funding structures designed to support student learning in our highest need areas (we do that). Strategy innovation could be in creating new quality assurance frameworks that are deeply tied to community values to build ownership (we do that). Strategy innovation could be a summer learning camp opportunity where enrichment opportunities abound for our students to discover their geniuses and find their & (we do that). When I think of all the strategy innovation we have done in the past five years compared to the product innovation we have done, the two don’t even compare. By a factor of at least 10 to 1, we focus on strategy and the payoff for our students as it relates to their learning is incalculable. The same is true for our financial outlook. Strategic innovation has helped us carve a path forward that has resulted in a perfect FIRST score for the district, defeasance of nearly $30 Million to the taxpayers, construction of a new campus at Mission Valley, and a reduction in the tax rate that puts us at the lowest point in nearly 30 years. All this strategy innovation allows us to iterate at a much faster pace than the average school district and allows us to reduce the cost of strategies that aren’t working while increasing the value (fail forward without devastating consequences).

Next Friday, the Texas Commissioner of Education is visiting Victoria to celebrate our innovation success and will be visiting several of our campuses. I’m proud to show off our great programs (product innovation) and equally excited to talk about our strategy innovations. Together, these innovations are changing the trajectory for our students and community in fantastic ways.

By Supt. Quintin Shepherd of the Victoria I.S.D.