Dana West is the current superintendent of Amarillo Independent School District. She received her bachelor and master’s degree from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview.
Since graduating, she has held multiple roles as an educational leader and administrator in both Plainview and Amarillo. This is her second year as superintendent of AISD.
West has a passion for education. Her drive promotes a positive outlook for Amarillo’s educational future as she strives to help all her scholars succeed.
Celeste Paulson: Why did you want to be AISD’s superintendent?
Dana West: This is my profession and I care about our scholars. As a superintendent, I have a huge network of influence. I get the opportunity as a superintendent to speak to legislatures; I get the opportunity to partner with community people. I have the opportunity to influence and make a difference for what will happen for our kids expectation wise, curriculum wise, and everything for our scholars in the classroom.
I wasn’t trying to be a superintendent, but because of my passion for this work and what I want to do, this ended up being the natural place for me.
Paulson: Have Amarillo’s test scores increased since you became superintendent?
West: Yes. In fact, one of the things that we are most proud of right now is our SATs. The school board has, for several years, paid for the SAT classes and the SAT tests for our students.
We are proud because we put in a lot of collaboration between our high schools, our counselors and our learning leaders that we have at the high schools. A lot of things that we put into place really impacted our scholars’ opportunities to do better on SAT this year.
Paulson: What do you think is the most important thing the community needs to know about Amarillo’s education system? What message would you give them?
West: I think it’s really important that everybody understands that our mission is to graduate every student and prepare them for success beyond high school. And when we say every, we mean every. And when we say beyond high school, it’s not just about that through pre-K through 12 experience; it’s about preparing your child to be successful beyond high school.
Our vision is that we empower our scholars to be thinkers, communicators, collaborators and contributors. I think that resonates with people because of the fact that this isn’t only about test scores. This isn’t only about the academic pieces of what we do.
If you are going to be successful beyond high school, then you have to be a thinker, a communicator, a collaborator and a contributor.
Paulson: What do you think Amarillo’s educational future holds?
West: I’m really excited about our focus on our SATs, those increased scores, and the work that we are doing with our advanced placements and upper-level courses. I think that anything we do that impacts in a positive way allows people to say I want to stay in Amarillo, I care about Amarillo, and I’m going to have a living wage job in Amarillo.
Paulson: What is the key to a city’s educational success?
West: It’s about everybody feeling that they have a part. A lot of times when I speak to community groups, I say, “If you see somebody that you feel like might be high school or college age, ask them, ‘what’s your plan?’” What we’re doing in AISD is from pre-K all the way through high school. We are asking our scholars, “What’s your plan?”
It’s not about what your teacher sees for you and not just what your parents see for you; this is about your plan. We are working with our scholars to intentionally develop plans. A plan consists of a 4-year university, 2-year college. It consists of a job after high school, but I’m expecting that part of your plan means that you are getting some sort of an internship or some sort of something that’s gonna promote you beyond just the same job that you had in high school.
Also, military is a great option. It provides a lot of leadership, a lot of experience, a lot of travel, and also military provides the opportunity to get an education. All of those things are awesome choices for our scholars to have a plan.
Paulson: You have been doing segments of “Dessert with Dana.” What kind of feedback have you gotten back from these segments?
West: It’s been fun. The conversation has been about what we value about AISD. This is my second year as superintendent. I don’t want to change things that people value; I want to know what they value and what ideas people have for designing the future, what they feel is important for the future.
The feedback I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s a lot to value about AISD and lot of things people are really proud of about this school district. As far as for designing the future, it just means that the educators – the leaders in our system – that we will continue to stay abreast of the things that are going to make a difference for the children so that we are always providing a great opportunity for their children.
Paulson: Russell Lowery-Hart often talks about having breakfast with you, Darrel Flusche and Walt Wendler. Why do you all do that? What do you talk about?
West: We are an educational institution in this city and we all care about the economic development and impact on this city. We see ourselves, we are all large institution organizations, but we are educational, and we know that the way you impact the city’s economics is when you focus on education.
People want to move here because they know we have great schools. People will come to college here or stay here and stay in our city if they feel like that they’re getting a great education and there are living wage positions and jobs for them when they graduate. We feel it’s important that we build strong partnerships because strong partnerships are just better for our city.
Paulson: Do you feel that the partnership between CISD, AISD, AC and WT is unique?
West: Definitely. It feels really comfortable to us because we all are invested in the same kind of understanding of economic development, understanding of the educational system and how it impacts a city.
But as I travel or as I talk to other places, there are other school districts that don’t have any kind of partnership with their colleges or universities. It’s about all of us who believe in the Panhandle. We believe if we are going to make things stronger here, then we have to collaborate.
Paulson: What would you say Amarillo is to you?
West: Amarillo, to me, is about collaboration. This is a great place to get an education; it’s a great place that is a growing, building city. One of the unique things about Amarillo is the fact that there are all kinds of organizations and groups that come together to really make a difference in a systematic way.
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*Photos by Kaili Herr Photography