New Summit School District Superintendent Tony Byrd outlines priorities ahead of school year
On and off duty, new Summit County School District Superintendent Tony Byrd wears a blue Silverthorne Elementary School lanyard around his neck. White bears line the polyester cord and the “key to the district” dangles from its end, resting on his button-up shirt.
Former co-worker and friend Peter Scott, who worked with Byrd from 2013 to 2016 at Everett Public Schools in Everett, Washington, said Byrd is a teacher through and through.
“He has a teacher’s heart,” Scott said. “If he was invited to teach a lesson right then and there, he could do it.”
Byrd is from Oregon, but has traveled around the United States throughout his career. He’s lived in Aspen, Pennsylvania and Washington, and he has even traveled to Budapest to teach. He has three degrees centered around education.
Byrd obtained two master’s degrees from Stanford University in the late 1990s, the first in educational policy in 1996 and the second in educational administration in 1998. By 2007, Byrd attained a doctoral degree from the University of Washington in educational leadership and policy studies.
Throughout his career, he has taught, been taught and done nonprofit work. Before accepting the superintendent role at Summit School District, he was the executive director of Teach for America Washington. The program has applicants hired for two years to work and contribute their skills to a school in a low-income community.
That’s where current the vice chairman of the Teach for America Washington board, Dawn Lepore, met him.
“He has this ability to connect with this huge variety of diverse people and communicate his passion for education while at the same time — not in a lecturing way — really help people understand the challenges of education,” Lepore said.
Lepore added that she didn’t know very much about education before Teach for America, so she would pick Byrd’s brain about one education issue or another.
Lepore said they would talk for hours about the best way to teach a child to read or whether testing really measures a child’s intelligence.
Byrd believes the foundation of a good superintendent comes from being a passionate teacher and principal. He said the best superintendents he’s experienced have done a select few things.
“Be, one, clear with expectations. Two, spend time in the school to understand what we were trying to do, and, three, figure out support structures to help me get better so that we could get better results for students, particularly students that are more marginalized in the system,” he said, adding that one of his priorities in creating a successful school environment is to support such students.
Scott said Byrd is extremely talented when it comes to creating a platform for students. He said Byrd’s ability “to make visible what was previously invisible” and his ability to honor kids’ voices and diversity of perspectives make him an effective superintendent.
“I think I particularly need to be humble when working with communities of color, whose experiences in schools haven’t been as great,” Byrd said. “So I need to listen.”
Byrd, after living in Aspen years ago, said he expected costly prices in Summit County. However, he said he was surprised at just how large the income gap is for families in the school district.
In Summit County, the difference between families whose incomes qualify for free and reduced lunch and the four-person families who make an average median income of $99,800, according to Summit Combined Housing Authority, is anywhere between $70,000 and $50,000 dollars.
“The wealth gaps were not surprising,” Byrd said. “I think what was surprising was just how big they are.”
Byrd added there are consequences that come along with such a large income disparity. He plans to mitigate this by communicating with students about what school programs actually work for them.
Byrd is also bilingual. His wish to communicate with Summit County’s Spanish community was an important part of why he took this new role, he said.
Along with the outdoors, Byrd was also pulled to Summit County because of the school district’s commitment to equity, their graduate profile and the school board, which Byrd said “is aligned in values around serving students.”
Throughout his 29 years in the education system, one achievement Byrd is most proud of is the change he enacted to make Everett Public Schools’ Advanced Placement classes more accessible.
Byrd said that when was the associate superintendent at Everett Public Schools, nearly every AP class was made up of Asian and white students. He saw the inequity, and wanted to do better. Therefore, Everett partnered with Equal Opportunity Schools, which encouraged the school to communicate with freshman classes to find out what barriers surrounded their AP programs.
After input was collected, Byrd made it possible for every student to take at least one AP class.
“All (kids), no matter what they look like, have endless opportunity and possibility, and it’s our job to support them to that end,” Byrd said.
At the end of the day, he is proud of what his past experiences can offer Summit County in the up-and-coming school year.
“I’m very, very, very committed — and have been since 1993 — to make sure every single student actually has equal access and an excellent education,” Byrd said.
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