(ROCKWALL, TX) The Rockwall Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed retiring Rockwall Independent School District Superintendent Jeff Bailey at its Quarterly Partnership Breakfast on Thursday, April 12, at Mellow Mushroom (550 I-30 Frontage Rd), recognizing the district’s noteworthy growth and success under Bailey’s leadership.
“The past seven years have been one of unprecedented success at Rockwall ISD,” Murphy said. “The district has experienced impressive growth in student success and financial stewardship, and these results are the work of many dedicated professionals throughout our district and our school board. But one person has been at the center of it all, and that’s our Superintendent Jeff Bailey.”
RISD has added nearly 2,000 students during Bailey’s tenure, placing it among the fastest growing school districts in the state. The district has seen impressive growth in students’ academic success as well, with a three percentage point increase in the graduation rate in Bailey’s seven years leading the district. RISD has also seen a 2/3 decrease in the dropout rate during that time span, with six out of the district’s 15,500 students dropping out without a diploma or GED.
Under Bailey’s direction, the school district has seen 29 students recognized as National Merit Scholars as the top five percent of students throughout the country – the largest group to receive such an honor in RISD history. RISD Academic Decathlon teams have claimed six consecutive championships and twice won third place in the nation, while two RISD teachers were named State Teacher of the Year finalists.
Bailey also brought many innovative programs to the district to enhance students’ experiences and the district’s connection with the community. The International Baccalaureate Program provides students with academically-rigorous courses taught by RISD teachers, and students completing the program receive a diploma recognizing them internationally as a top scholar in the world.
The ROCK (Reaching Out, Connecting Kids) program started in 2010 and provides after-school care to RISD students. The program has grown under Bailey’s leadership to now serve all 13 elementary campuses and employs over 40 people. ROCK has also generated over $500,000 for the district’s general budget.
The Silver Hawk and Silver Jacket program started in 2014 as a way to reach out to senior citizens in the community by providing free admission to athletic and fine art events along with regular meetings with students and district administrators.
Lastly, the RISD Leadership Academy was also established under Bailey’s guidance in the fall of 2015 to give parents and community members who already act as volunteers on district campuses a behind the scenes look at how decisions are made at the district level, covering topics such as school finance, academic planning and technology.
“One of Mr. Bailey’s true strengths is his understanding of school financing and district operations,” Murphy said. “His attention to and desire to have transparency with taxpayer dollars has placed the district on strong financial footing for the future, despite cuts from the state legislature and many unfunded mandates handed down from Austin.”
Murphy said the district’s tax rate is the lowest it’s been in over 20 years. Thanks to the refinancing of bonds along with the district’s growing tax base, the district has cut taxes by three cents over the course of Bailey’s tenure. The RISD fund balance has also grown with a 40 percent increase from $41 million to $43 million through careful management of the budget, reductions in utility costs and generating additional revenue sources.
Perhaps one of the most significant accomplishments in Bailey’s career involved his driving vision in bringing a voter-approved $257 million bond to the district, preparing it for future growth and the changing needs of the community. The bond projects will bring new schools, renovated facilities, additional classrooms and a College & Career Academy to the community, along with new technology upgrades for teachers and students.
“Mr. Bailey has been a strong leader in our district for the past seven years, during a time that brought many challenges and potential pitfalls to our doorstep,” Murphy said. “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work beside him, and we all share him a debt of gratitude for the service he has provided for our community, our staff and most of all our students.”
RISD Education Foundation President Cindy Tayem, Treasurer Becky Burkett and Executive Director Ashlei Neill presented a rendition of a paper containing a message of gratitude to Bailey for his leadership, to be installed at the Foundation’s brickyard.
“We appreciate so much the support you have given us, the knowledge you have brought to our board, the insight you have shared with us and your great ideas,” Tayem said.
“It’s been a great 37-year career, and I couldn’t be more excited with where we’re leading the district, and where its headed,” Bailey said. “Obviously the challenges for Rockwall are going to continue to be the growth. That’s a good problem, because it means people want to move here… But the emphasis will always be to try to keep the district in a small-town feel. No matter how big you get, that everybody is part of the community and part of the schools.
“I can’t thank you enough for the support that you’ve provided for the school district and making me feel welcome in this community. I’m very pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish over these seven years, and I just look forward to the future and the great things that are going to happen in Rockwall.”
Story and photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News editor.
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