Ferguson is`honored and humbled’ to be Prosper ISD’s new superintendent

Lisa Ferguson
Prosper Press
Dr. Holly Ferguson officially began as superintendent of schools for Prosper ISD less than two weeks ago.

Prosper ISD’s first day of classes for the 2020-21 academic year on Aug. 12 will be historic for several reasons.

For starters, the district is set to open a trio of new campuses - Johnson Elementary School, Rushing Middle School and Rock Hill High School – as it also reopens its 15 other campuses following a months-long closure due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, with the opening of Rock Hill, Prosper ISD – and the town of Prosper – becomes home to two high schools.

It will also be the first day of instruction with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Holly Ferguson at the helm.

In early July, she was named the lone finalist in the district’s search for a new superintendent, shortly after Dr. Drew Watkins, who led the district for 18 years, announced his retirement.

Ferguson officially stepped into the role less than two weeks ago.

She is confident that the district has “the best plan that we can possibly have in place” to successfully offer in-person and virtual learning options to its nearly 19,000 students, as well as to keep them safe.

“It’s the unknown, and every school district in the nation is up against that. None of us has ever tried to lead through a pandemic and have school, so it will be a lot of lessons learned,” Ferguson said.

Once the school day wraps up on Wednesday, she said there likely will be “a lot of reflection and getting feedback from staff about what worked, what didn’t work. And certainly, our parents will give us feedback and our kids will, too.”

Ferguson started with the district in 1998 as a teacher at Prosper Elementary School. She left for a time to work for Frisco ISD before returning to Prosper ISD.

In the years since, she has held several positions, including principal at Rucker Elementary and Rogers Middle schools. She moved to central administration where she served as both the executive director and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

For the last three years, Ferguson has been the district’s associate superintendent.

Although she is “honored and humbled” to lead the district, she said she did not have her sights set on the position during her early days as an educator.

“I got into teaching because I wanted to change the lives of kids and have an impact on them. And then, when you get in the job, you start realizing, `Hey, if I became an assistant principal, I could have an impact on the entire campus,’ and then you go, `If I were the principal, I’d really even more so get to impact the campus,’ because you’re driving the decisions on the campus, so then you become a principal. Then you move over to (the) central office because now I can impact the school district. … It’s the evolution of it.”

Aside from the current pandemic, she said the biggest challenge facing the district is keeping up with the area’s rapid growth while maintaining the “high standard that we created for our facilities and where we educate our kids.”

She said employees who are new to Prosper ISD often “think that the high expectations of the district and the community have come because people moved in, and I say, `No.' … I was here back in the late ‘90s and those high expectations from parents and from the community … it was here. I felt that demand even as a young teacher in a very small place.

“Our parents have always expected and demanded more from us, and they wanted more for their kids, so it’s not because of the growth. It’s part of our legacy, it’s a part of who we are and it’s been here forever and people have moved here because they want that for their kids.”

On the other hand, she said, “It really doesn’t matter how big your district gets. If you’re willing to communicate, connect with people and develop relationships, it’s doable. The minute that you decide that you’re gonna give in to the machine of a school district because it’s getting larger … that’s when districts typically go south because they’re just not what they used to be.

“My commitment is to continue to connect with people, communicate with people and have relationships with people. That’s the thing I’ve always loved about being an educator is the human-connection piece of it.”

Ferguson knows the change in district leadership may be accompanied by some hurdles.

“I can grab onto the things (Watkins has) done,” she said, “but there are also going to be things that are very specific to my leadership style.”

She spent time last week writing messages of encouragement to teachers on their classroom whiteboards, which Watkins was known to do, and insists the tradition of sending birthday greetings to staff members and students will also continue.

“What I absolutely adore about his leadership style is he never misses the small details. ... They lead into the big moments of Prosper ISD that have created our culture and really have given us all that feeling of appreciation, respect and how important our work is. Those things are not going to change.”

Nor does she intend to implement sweeping changes in how the district operates. “You don’t try to fix something that’s not broken.”

Since being named superintendent, Ferguson said she has heard more than once about the “big shoes” she must fill.

While speaking at the recent Prosper ISD Teacher Convocation event, she shared a graphic of a little girl wearing a pair of oversize high-heeled shoes to help illustrate her thoughts on the matter.

“I said, `It took (Watkins) 18 years to fill a pair of shoes, and I would never wear that pair of shoes because they would not look good with my outfit, number one, because those are men’s shoes. But I’ve got to make my own pair of shoes, and those shoes are gonna be a really nice pair of heels.’”