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Retiring Grapevine-Colleyville ISD superintendent reflects on district accomplishments, political battles in education

Dr. Robin Ryan served as superintendent in GCISD for 13 years and will step down at the end of 2022.

GRAPEVINE, Texas — Recently, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD has gained attention for fierce school board debates over book policies and the treatments of LGBTQ students. The tension often overshadows district successes like STEM programs and personalized learning.

The district’s latest development, though, is that its leader is leaving.

Superintendent Dr. Robin Ryan announced at the end of September he’d be retiring at the end of the year but staying on to assist district leadership until the beginning of the following school year.

Ryan sat down for an interview with WFAA to discuss his successes with the district, his thoughts on politics in education and his message for future leaders.

“That’s a tough job any time but especially in the last couple years it’s been tough,” Ryan said. “Educators all across the country are kind of questioning, ‘hey is this something – it’s really hard – is this something that I can continue to do’.”

Ryan started the job as an educator 38 years ago and has served as superintendent for the past 13 years.

“I come from a family of educators. My great grandfather was a one-room schoolhouse teacher,” Ryan said. “Pretty much every generation since 1908 has had educators in our family. My parents were educators.”

Ryan joins a long list of district leaders that have decided to resign or retire, though he says the turnover is more common than it may appear at the moment.

“The guidance I have: Involve our community,” Ryan said. “Involve our leaders Involve our cities. Involve our parents and our students. We have so much at stake in public education.”

Ryan said the decision comes because he wants to spend more time with family and grandkids, but he also didn’t rule out a return to education.

“I’m sure there’ll be opportunity and it’ll be interesting to see the things that happen in the future. I don’t know what that will be,” he said.

As a leader who worked in Carroll, HEB, Dallas and now Grapevine, he’s seen politics become prevalent in education.

“I think it’s a little misguided to make it a partisan issue,” Ryan said of education. “At the same time, I think all of us can find things that we can agree on and that’s what the challenge is to find things that we can agree on.”

One pre-filed bill in the Texas legislature would require board members to run as Republicans or Democrats. Currently, the positions are nonpartisan. Ryan hopes, instead, lawmakers focus on properly funding education.

“Whether you have a D or an R behind your name is really in my opinion less important than how your heart and your mind governs for the kids and the families that are in every single community,” Ryan said.

Students walked out last year in support of a Black principal who resigned after allegations of supporting critical race theory and three months ago to protest new policies around sexual orientation and race.  

“I think it’s important for students to have their voices heard. I think it’s important for people to listen,” Ryan said. “I appreciate the fact that they were allowing us to hear their voice. Most of the time it was in an appropriate way and I’m proud of them for doing that. At the same time, that can’t happen all the time.”

Kindergartners when Ryan started will be graduating seniors this year. He says he’ll miss walking into classrooms and he’s proudest of personalized learning programs like STEM and the staff he’s assembled.

He believes amongst the noise of arguments on curriculums and books and student policies, future district leaders is to support those supporting students.

“I’d think we’d been naïve to think that that didn’t impact, and so I think it’s really important for parents and community members and school administrators to reach out to our teachers, to reach out to our principals, to make sure that they know that they’re appreciated, to know that they’re loved, and they’re needed,” he said. “We need to encourage our folks. We need to encourage our teachers and that really goes a long way.”

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