We’re going to give you a bird’s eye view this month about what makes one of our neighborhood leaders tick.

Each year, the Advocate selects a prominent newsmaker for an informal, hour-long, taped interview, and we publish their complete, unedited comments in an effort to give our readers a chance to do some thinking on their own.

This year, Richardson School District Superintendent Carolyn Bukhair is our newsmaker. Bukhair sat down with us and covered some spacious ground. She talks about everything from urbanization in RISD to telephones installed in classrooms for teachers to give parents a call and update them when their child succeeds beyond the norm.

Bukhair also shares her views on how violent our schools really are, how far technology should go in the classroom, and a variety of other issues.

Bukhair served as an RISD Associate Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent and Area Superintendent before succeeding Vernon Johnson as Superintendent two months ago.

She came to RISD in 1959 as a fourth-grade teacher at Lake Highlands Elementary School and has worked in seven other school districts. She is associated with numerous professional organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, International Reading Association serving as vice president and treasurer, Texas State Parent Teacher Association as an honorary life member, and the list goes on.

Her views are important – she has a lot to say about our children’s future. So prop your feet up, and read what she has to say.

Who Are “Apartment Kids”?

ADVOCATE: In Lake Highlands, there are a number of people who, when they look at the schools and when they look at the problems they perceive the schools to have, they’re pretty quick to tag it to “apartment kids.” I’ve never really heard a good definition of it. What does that really mean to you as the Superintendent here?

BUKHAIR: That’s a difficult question to start with, I’ll have to say that. It’s an interesting one. The way I feel about it and respond to it is we as educators, and we as a community, have a responsibility to all of the children, and it really doesn’t matter where they come from.

Most people have at the heart and the center of their lives their children. It doesn’t matter where they live. They may not have some of the resources that some people have that can provide that kind of background. It’s obvious that it’s not whether the children live in the apartments, it’s what kind of educational experiences the children bring with them, and it becomes our responsibility to try to address.

I lived in an apartment when we started out; my children have lived in an apartment. That’s not necessarily a negative connotation, but some people have attached that to it.

I think what we try to do is look at where the children are from an educational standpoint, and then try to make decisions on the best way to enrich and enhance and provide support, if we need to provide support. And in some cases, that’s true, and in some cases, it doesn’t matter where the child comes from.

So it’s really more of matter of economics and the ability of the parents to be able to provide children with experiences. Really, the difference we see in the educational setting is that parents haven’t had the resources and haven’t had the ability. It’s not because they don’t desire to, it’s just that they haven’t had the financial resources or the knowledge about how to help the children.

And we have to look at it from that standpoint of what kind of support do we have to put in to help both the child, the parents and the school. And I can give you as an example probably one of our most successful, the Pre-K Kindergarten Program.

Teachers tell us that it makes the greatest difference because we catch students who may not have had the wealth of experiences at a young age, when they learn the fastest, when they absorb language the fastest, and we start working with them a year ahead of when we normally would have in kindergarten. So we look at programs like that, that we can do that are direct instructional educational programs so that we can provide them support.

So I guess I look at it as a challenge. It’s not where a child comes from, but where they start and where we need to take them. So you may want to ask me some more questions to probe.

I’ve not tried to be evasive, I’ve tried to answer from the standpoint of an educator.

ADVOCATE: When people say “apartment kids,” aren’t they really delving more into racism than economics or think that they are? Is that a valid thought, or is that something that you haven’t seen?

BUKHAIR: That’s not what I’ve seen. I’ve seen people that may be thinking of economics. But I’ve really not seen the ethnicity as much as just the economic factors. That’s the thing, it’s really not the ethnic background that makes the difference. It’s what kind of experiences the child brings to the educational setting – that really is what makes a difference.

And I think that most people are very genuine. They are concerned about a spread that gets in a classroom. How can a teacher deal with all of those different levels. That’s a very legitimate, honest question that we have to address.

Because having been a classroom teacher, having taught first grade – I taught first grade through high school – I can tell you the span with children in the classroom is something that we have to deal with and you do it several ways.

And I think that’s why technology is so important to us, as that span grows, technology frees us up to do some things – it’s never going to take the place of the teacher, and no one wants it to take the place of the teacher – it shouldn’t. But it can reinforce and support the teacher.

So we have to look at ways to help people deal with that spread in the classroom and be able to do programs that help and support kids at one end, that also enrich kids at another end.

So there are different things. There are things we can do in training, staff training. Helping people to work with different learning styles. We’re learning so much from the brain research about how different people learn, and how we learn differently, and how you and I may learn differently.

Things like that are what we can do to address some of those concerns that parents – that you and I and everybody – has when you’re dealing with the spread. And I think that’s the concern – they just want what’s best for their child. They don’t want anything to interfere with their child’s learning.

ADVOCATE: We did a story a few months ago about the overcrowding issue, and the district gave us some numbers on student enrollment in regard to race. The numbers showed a drop-off in enrollment of white students, which seemed to indicate “white flight,” for lack of a better term. It was sort of similar to what DISD has seen. It seems it’s more of an urbanization problem you face than an overcrowding problem when you get a variety of ethnicities and a variety of students with different needs and skill levels in the schools. How much of an impact do you see this sort of thing having on the school district in the future?

BUKHAIR: I’m not for sure your numbers are correct – I’d have to check those. I think my numbers, the last data I looked at – and I was looking through some stuff that I’d done several months ago – the enrollment in the total district was like 69 percent Anglo, so I’m not for sure what the absolute number is right now.

But the question still stands, and that is that you have a greater challenge as you change and you’re dealing with different students with different needs – that’s what we’re talking about with diversity and with those kinds of issues. That’s what our world is like. That is what we have got to find ways to address.

I’ve been in this district a long time, and J.J. Pearce hired me when I came to the district many, many years ago. I am totally committed to us having excellence for every child who comes to this district and maintaining what we’ve had and improving on what we’ve had.

I truly believe that with the staff that is in Richardson and the type of parents that we have and the community support, if there’s a district that can do that with some of the change and challenges our whole society has – this is a district that can do it.

And that is the vision I have for this district.

ADVOCATE: Is it necessarily bad for the school district that the white enrollment has decreased? That seems to concern a lot of white parents. Does that make the school district potentially better, worse or does it make a difference?

BUKHAIR: I was trying to answer that in some of my previous response. I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it is what our society is, and I think it’s helping prepare students for where they’re going to be working and what they’re going to be doing.

I think it brings a richness to the school district, but I also think it brings challenges with it. I think we’d be foolish not to say we have to learn to deal with those challenges. It’s because you have a wider spread of needs and abilities, and I think the reason parents feel that way – just as I would feel that way and I feel that way for my grandchildren – is what you’re concerned about is your own child. And nothing impeding the learning of your own child, and that’s what we have to be sure happens – that nothing impedes the learning of each child.

That’s not easy. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m just saying that I feel that we have the resources here to do it. I think we have the parents who believe it, and I think Lake Highlands is one of the prime examples of people that have taken the bull by the horn and said, “Look, we’re going to address this issue, we’re going to get together and do some things,” and they’ve done that, they’ve really shown a great deal of initiative in doing that.

I’ve heard parents talk about that; I heard that at the (overcrowding) hearings. I was greatly impressed by some of the things I have heard that they have done as a group. I know what principals have done, they have gotten together, and they have said: “How are we going to address these issues? How can we support one another?”

They have bonded together to do staff development, to bring in speakers to address needs – they’ve been very proactive.

That’s what I’m talking about; it’s not bad. We’ve got the people that bring a richness, and we’ve got the people then to work on the challenges that that brings with it.

ADVOCATE: Can you think of some programs in Lake Highlands that are particularly good or particularly addressing the problem?

BUKHAIR: Bunches. I don’t know if I can recall any off the top of my head. I can tell you one of the things the principals did is they got together and talked about several things. One was giving parents more choice and how schools could pair together.

If a parent liked this type of instruction, they could pair and go to this school, or if they prefer more structure, they could to this school. So they looked at pairing even just two schools together, or two or three schools together.

Another thing they’re doing is they got together as a team, and they started vertical teaming for this district by saying we can do more together; from K-12, as well as across our elementary schools, by doing it together and pooling resources and bringing in people that really can work with us and do some things in depth.

So I’ve seen that. That really started in the Lake Highlands area. In addition, we had Lake Highlands Elementary that has done phenomenal things with their test results. That shows what really thinking through and thinking about each child’s needs and trying to develop programs and trying to work together, teaming within their building to do things.

They have really shown that the challenge can be met. There is just example after example.

True Sentiments On RISD

ADVOCATE: Do you feel that message is getting through to parents? When you talk to parents, do they have the same optimism about RISD that you do?

BUKHAIR: In most cases, I think that. There are ones that are saying, “You’ve got to be realistic. You’ve got to help us with our problems, we’ve got unique problems.” But I think the reason that they’re still there is they believe we can do it, or they wouldn’t be there.

Because they only have one concern, or five concerns, or four corners, and it’s in their family – however many children they have in their family. So I really do believe they believe it, too.

ADVOCATE: Parents who have kids in RISD. What about the ones who don’t?

BUKHAIR: We probably could do a lot better job with that. I think that communication is always one of our biggest challenges. No matter how hard we try, people think you don’t communicate. Part of it is the way we communicate. Communication has got to be a process. It’s got to be more than telling people. It’s really got to be involving people, so I’m going to be searching for ways to do that.

So, yes we could do a lot better job with that – people outside. I think there are ways to do that; we’re doing it a lot with partnerships and corporations, bringing people in, and I think once they get in our schools and see what we’re doing with kids; and I can give you an example: I was in Mark Twain, which one of our corporations in the Northern Telecom area has adopted them.

It was so exciting, what they’ve done with quality. It was just amazing how much their test scores, how much the students’ self-concept improved, and they had this big celebration meeting with the corporation there, and I think once we get people in, and they’re participating and they see what we’re doing. We could do a lot more with retired people, and we need to make them aware and involved.

Making The Private Choice

ADVOCATE: What are the two or three main reasons you hear why people don’t send their kids to RISD?

BUKHAIR: I don’t know the figures on that. I don’t think any of us do.

ADVOCATE: I’m not looking for the figures, I’m looking for a perception.

BUKHAIR: One of the things is that you’re always going to have that – people like choice, and I think they should have choice. And I think that’s going to be one of our goals, is to try to find ways to give parents more choice.

I think that you’re always going to have that; it’s important that people feel like they have the right education for their child. What I want to do is to give more choice within the school district. I think that most of it is that.

In a few cases, you’ll get someone who is real disgruntled, but we have that also coming from private school. I mean, people have to find the niche for their child. And you know, I’m not saying they’re not legitimate. I think in some cases, their child needs a certain type of program. So I think it’s more for choice and trying to find the best thing for their child.

ADVOCATE: Are there any circumstances where you think a private school is better than an RISD school? Let’s say I’m a parent, and you’re counseling me on whether I should enroll my kid in a Lake Highlands elementary school or in a private school. What type of things would you be telling me that I should be thinking about, not necessarily as a sales pitch for RISD? This is what parents go through, what would you say?

BUKHAIR: In all honesty, I would try very hard to sell you on RISD because I think we can meet your need. But one of the things I have done is taught in a private school. Private schools are like public schools, they have their strengths, and they have their areas they need to address.

I would try to tell you about the things we can offer that a private school can’t. One is the richness of diversity, one is the resources we have to get the job done and that we can give more choice than parents sometimes think we can give.

I’ve taught in both places, and every school has its place. But I just feel we have a lot to offer. A lot of times, people will attend private schools in the younger years, but a lot of times, they’ll come back in the middle and senior high, but you’d almost think it would be the reverse.

So we’ve had that experience, too. I’ve sort of forgotten your question; I think I got off of it.

ADVOCATE: If I was trying to decide if I should put my kid in a private school or public school, what would your advice be?

BUKHAIR: I really want you to evaluate our schools, be in them, the same with the private, and make a comparison. I can guarantee you, you may want choice, and it may be different, but we can compete and exceed in many, many cases.

ADVOCATE: I know sometimes the test scores may be a little higher because it’s a little more selective group, perhaps. How important are test scores when evaluating the quality of an education, in your mind?

BUKHAIR: I don’t thing we can diminish the importance of test scores because we have to be accountable, and we have to show that we’re not afraid of being accountable. I do think that people, in comparing test scores, need to compare apples to apples.

I don’t think we can diminish the importance of test scores, I think they are important for us to do for self-analysis and for people to evaluate the effectiveness of schools. One of the things I am extremely proud of has been the way we have been able to maintain our test scores – even though our challenges have been greater.

We’ve had the highest SAT scores in 20 years, we had more national semi-finalists and finalists, and more semi-finalists than any school district in this area, north of us. It tells you that we really are meeting the challenges, no matter where your child is.

The one thing you’ve got to be careful of is that a school can be very, very selective and can only be dealing with the top performers. So you can’t just look at the aggregate, but you can’t diminish the importance of that. We have to maintain quality, and we have to be evaluated, and that is one way to evaluate.

How Times Have Changed

ADVOCATE: I guess in the 20 years you’ve been with the district, things have changed. And you were with DISD for a couple of years, too, back in what many people thought of as DISD’s hey-dey. What changes have you noticed in RISD since you’ve started?

BUKHAIR: Correction. I wasn’t in DISD for two years. I started in the middle of the year and finished out the year after I graduated from college. I then came to Richardson, and then back when I was working on my doctorate I worked in a part-time situation for a year and a half. Your question was, “What changes have I seen?”

ADVOCATE: Yes, in the classroom or out of the classroom. Maybe there haven’t been any.

BUKHAIR: Well, there have been a lot of positives. One, from a teacher’s perspective, is a reduced class size. When I started out, you could have 35 in a class and never think anything about it. We tend to forget what we have been able to do with reducing class size and being able to work one-on-one with students.

The technology and the resources that we have that I think are essential in our society and to have children prepared. I think the quality of education, compared to when I started, and when I was in high school, is just unbelievable. It is unbelievable what kids have available to them now.

Our new graduation plan is going to enrich and enhance education for so many kids. We already had a program where over 67 percent of our kids were in advanced studies. Somewhere along the way, they were taking honors and AP courses.

What we’ve done with our new graduation plan is to enhance those expectations for every student within our district. We’ve exceeded the state requirements; we’re asking for 24 credits for every student. We’re increasing mathematics requirements, science requirements, foreign language, and computers.

Our kids have such a tremendous opportunity compared to the 18 credits back in the ’60s that you were taking. There’s no comparison in what we have both in facilities and opportunities for kids – to be able to go into college with two years of college, really. They can place out, and a lot of our kids do that.

So we’ve already talked about a lot of the challenges. The changing of our society has brought on problems of discipline and things that we would have never considered. The zero tolerance for guns on the campus, or drugs, or something like that.

Those are challenges that we certainly didn’t have before. Some of the issues we have to deal with are students who get involved (in trouble) because their parents were on drugs before they were born. Those are challenges that we certainly didn’t have when I first started teaching.

ADVOCATE: So you’re saying that we certainly have our challenges, but the educational opportunities outweigh the challenges. So is this a better time?

BUKHAIR: I think as far as the type of education our kids have and the opportunities. They are available. A large percentage of them avail themselves of it – kids do.

What we’re trying to do is be sure all kids have that, and I think this new graduation plan does do that. Obviously, all of us are concerned about some of the societal issues – there’s no doubt about it.

I’m very concerned about that for my grandchildren. I’m not diminishing the importance of those or the impact of those.

Bullying The Violence With Zero Tolerance

ADVOCATE: How big of an impact do you think the drugs and violence in the schools have on education in the schools today? There have always been troublemakers in school, or kids who get into trouble; they may be a little better-armed now. Is it a bigger problem today, or is the media making it a bigger problem? Do people see it as a bigger problem?

BUKHAIR: They certainly see it as a bigger problem. The way students are acting is probably more severe, when you stop and think about when they didn’t have guns, they just did it in a different way.

So certainly I think it’s more dangerous. But I think our society is. I don’t know if I answered your question or not.

ADVOCATE: I’ll try it a different way. There’s not really an answer to some of these questions, it’s more of what do you think and what’s your impression. You’ve been in education a lot longer than I have. I’m just on the periphery. Parents are looking for answers and there’s not an answer, unfortunately, when raising a kid. Let’s go back to the violence in the schools. I don’t notice that many problems that appear big-time in RISD. You certainly would see everything come across your desk.

BUKHAIR: I do not see that.

ADVOCATE: Yet people perceive that there is a problem. Not as much in RISD as in others, such as DISD. It does seem like, from the people we talk with in Lake Highlands, that it is a rising concern.

BUKHAIR: I just think it’s a reflection of our society. I do not see that it is a huge difference in what I’ve seen in the past in RISD. But there are instances that are more severe. And there are instances that are more frightening to you.

But they’re very, very limited. But still, in our society as a whole, we’re afraid because you see these things on the news. Whether it’s because they’re played up in the news or whether it’s a greater problem, I can’t tell you.

But we’re all more aware of that. We can’t go to the mall, and walk back to our car without the fear of someone being shot. So, it’s sort of a societal issue.

I do not see big changes in RISD, but I’m not saying there are not some isolated instances, because there are. We think we’re trying to put in place a lot of things that address what we need to do in our society, just being more cautious, more careful.

One is doing some things in our curriculum that address conflict and how you deal with conflict. We’re looking at that; we found that out from our drug education survey that we did this year. One of the things we needed to do was target kids earlier, and it needed to be the junior high years. It was really about 7th or 8th grade, and we’re looking at our curriculum of how to bring in conflict management.

Another thing we’re doing is having more “student-assistant” officers that really are working on truancy and working with the schools on if kids don’t belong there – anyone on campus tyring to come in. Trying to prevent things and being pro-active. Having officers on campus, not from the standpoint of protecting the school, but for working with curriculum and teaching kids about some of the issues that they deal with.

They’re actually in classrooms working with students. Drug prevention, trying to do some of those things that we see that impact discipline and safety. So it’s more that we’re trying to take a much more pro-active stance by thinking ahead and planning.

When I first started, I didn’t even think along those lines.

ADVOCATE: Let’s say I’m a student, and I show up at school with a knife and a gun. What is your policy on that?

BUKHAIR: Well, we have zero tolerance so they are removed. We’re looking at all of that in light of some of the new legislation. (Assistant Superintendent) Ted Moulton is working on that and addressing that. There are some things with some student rights like, can you automatically suspend them, do they go to the alternative school – that’s another thing that we’ve done. We have developed in the last two to three years an alternative school, which we didn’t have before.

It is a good place – it has a wonderful curriculum,wonderful, caring teachers and counselors who are really trying to get these kids on the right track. I think that’s a real positive thing that has come out of the legislation. Some of our policies may need to be revised in light of the Senate bill, keeping them consistent.

But the intent is to make schools a safe place. But rather than just suspend a kid and get them out on the street, where they’re not getting the help, is to have something with all of the agencies that’s saying if you don’t use them in your alternative school, then we’ll go and work together on an alternative school for more severe students that is in our area.

They’re doing that through the juvenile justice court, and that sort of thing. So they’re addressing that now and developing policies and procedures to address that.

ADVOCATE: Do you see a pattern with the kids that are in those schools? Is it economics, is it that their parents haven’t paid enough attention to them, or they don’t have parents, or broken homes? Have you noticed any sort of trigger-point or why a kid could end up there?

BUKHAIR: No, I really can’t. Again, it depends on the student. I’ve seen some students who have just made a poor choice. They’ve gone for six weeks and returned to their school, and there’s been absolutely no problem. There are kids that haven’t had as much support, or may not have been in a discipline situation. No, I don’t see a pattern.

Parents’ Role In Education

ADVOCATE: As far as the parental involvement goes in schools today, do you notice any differences than when you first started in schools?

BUKHAIR: I personally think it’s a lot more. I think one reason is because parents are more knowledgeable. Young couples are more knowledgeable when raising their kids. They know the importance of being very involved.

We have tremendous parent involvement in our district – thousands and thousands and thousands of hours are given to the schools that frees up hands and makes our schools the kind places they are. But I think the involvement is more, and we’re much more conscious in our society now, and we need to do that.

We also realize the role of the parent. I think when I first started, it was kind of like with the school – “educating the student was your problem,” and we take care of them at home.

I mean, even I, with my children, wasn’t nearly as involved as I see parents now. One reason is we’ve put in place some processes that allow parents to be involved with site-based teams with parents – half of them are parents and half teachers. They sit down and try to make recommendations to the superintendent on who they feel would be the best leader of their school.

I just see involvement over and over that we never thought of when I started in 1960.

ADVOCATE: Any advice to parents as an educator?

BUKHAIR: I think it is being involved. Knowing what is going on with your child’s teachers. Be up at the school and know what’s happening. I’ve always said that I’m a reading specialist. I’ve always said that you should read to your child constantly and model for your child constantly how important learning is, and how important reading is.

I just don’t think you can diminish the role of a parent, and modeling and providing. If you really want your child to be a strong academic student and to really value learning, they may have problems. But if they see you doing that, they can find ways to be educated. I just think that is extremely important. And taking a very active role in their school, I think that’s very important.

Bukhair’s Family Life

ADVOCATE: What kind of role did your parents have when you were growing up? What did they do for you or with you or for the schools?

BUKHAIR: My dad was a Methodist minister, and so I remember him studying, and I remember him sitting with a dictionary studying words. Very early on, I saw that.

My dad was in college during the Depression years. So we didn’t have a lot, the challenges were greater, and I don’t think my parents were as involved in the actual school. Parents didn’t go to school, parents didn’t become involved.

But I saw the importance of reading and studying in my home, and it was valued. They certainly modeled for me in that way.

ADVOCATE: You have a couple of kids…

BUKHAIR: I have two children and six grandchildren.

ADVOCATE: Any of them live around here?

BUKHAIR: My son lives in Arlington, and he has three boys. And my daughter lives in Waco, and she has three children – two girls and a boy. So, they live close.

ADVOCATE: Do you live in Richardson? Have you lived there since you started working in the district?

BUKHAIR: No, not since I started with the district. In fact, I started teaching in the Lake Highlands area. I taught at Lake Highlands Elementary and lived in the Lake Highlands area, and then we moved out to Richardson.

My husband was with IBM, so we moved around. And at the time – Dr. Pearce hired me – once you started your family, the minute you told them you were expecting a baby, you had to quit. That was back in those days.

I resigned, and we moved around and traveled with IBM. I taught high school in Ramsey, N.J. Then, when our children were starting junior high, we made the decision that we weren’t going to move anymore with IBM. So Raymon (her husband) made the decision not to go up the corporate ladder because we felt that our kids were at that point where we needed to be in one place.

They graduated from the Arlington schools, and at that time I had not been back to the district. I came back in 1978 to the district as a principal, and I just worked up from a principal. I served about nearly every role.

ADVOCATE: You were a working mom, then not working for a little while, then working again. This certainly is an issue today. I don’t know if there’s an answer to it, but it does concern a lot of people – people who are working, and people who aren’t. Any thoughts on that, since you’ve seen both sides of that table?

BUKHAIR: Well, that is a hard question to answer. My son’s wife does not work, she stays home with the children. I think that’s wonderful, if that’s what she wants. I think it’s great for the kids.

My daughter has her bachelor’s from Baylor and her RN. So she nurses, but she nurses when she doesn’t have to be gone from the children. I think that’s wonderful, ifyou can do that.

But I also know there are some people who would not be happy just being at home, and they have to meet both goals. Some people do it because it’s a goal of theirs, and they’re not happy not doing it, and some do it because of financial reasons. Everybody has to make that choice themselves.

Obviously, I’m glad my daughter and my daughter-in-law can be home with the children. I think that’s important.

The Road To Becoming Superintendent

ADVOCATE: When you started with the district, did you anticipate being the superintendent some day?

BUKHAIR: Furthest thing from my mind. If anyone had told me that 10 years ago, I would have said, “There is absolutely no way I would do that.”

ADVOCATE: How come?

BUKHAIR: It’s really been strange. I’m extremely committed to my family. I’ve always said that our children were the best thing that ever happened to us, and I’m so committed to our family.

Second thing is, when I take a job, I do it 100 percent. So I never went into a job thinking that I wanted to move up or do something else. And in most cases I’ve been asked, “Would you consider doing this?” That’s not always true. I’ve always applied for a teaching position. But when I’ve been promoted basically, it’s been within the district when someone said, “You’ve done a good job at this, would you try this?”

So I’ve always just put my heart in what I was doing and never was really thinking about what I wanted to do long-term.

ADVOCATE: You never had a big master plan to become superintendent?

BUKHAIR: I don’t fit the mold there, I don’t think.

ADVOCATE: I’ve always kind of wondered if that really is a legitimate mold. There are young people now, and they’re concerned because their life doesn’t have a specific direction that is going to get them where they want to go.

And yet I’ve sort of found that most people, if they had a direction at one point, they didn’t really follow it anyway – and they don’t seem to be any worse off for it.

BUKHAIR: I don’t know. It certainly has happened that way for me. But I really have always tried to give 100 percent, or 110 percent, if humans can do that. For me, it has worked out that someone has said, “Would you do this for us.” So when I applied for the superintendent seat, it was one of the first ones I really, really sought.

ADVOCATE: What are the mechanics of your typical day?

BUKHAIR: I’ve only been in this for one month, and this is probably one of the worst times of the year. It’s the worst and the best time because it’s exciting to see the kids finishing up, it’s exciting to see kids moving on. And so you do a lot of celebration, but you also do a lot of things for people who are concerned, they’re angry because something hasn’t worked out.

Today, I got up at five because I was thinking about this interview, and was thinking that I really needed to think of some questions, because I hadn’t had time. I didn’t get home until 10 o’clock last night.

I do that a lot – I think and plan. After I do this interview, I have a meeting, and after I do this, I’ve got to do a TV presentation on a salary study. When I get through with that, I’ve got a community person coming in to visit with me. Then after that, I’m going to do eight interviews, and I’m going to go from two to about 7:30.

Then I speak to a graduation at 7:45-8:00, and then however long that lasts. And I don’t know when I’m going to do the paperwork, so that’s my day-to-day.

ADVOCATE: Is that relatively typical?

BUKHAIR: Relatively typical.

ADVOCATE: It seems like a lengthy, long-hours kind of job.

BUKHAIR: I think it may be pretty typical. It’s been pretty typical. That’s kind of the way I work. I could not have scheduled eight conferences in a day, but I made a commitment to try and have some announcements made by tomorrow, and I’m going to try to have some announcements made by tomorrow. And I’m going to try in every way to honor that.

ADVOCATE: If your kids were still in school, do you think you could do this job?

BUKHAIR: No. I wouldn’t do it.

ADVOCATE: Care to elaborate?

BUKHAIR: I wouldn’t spend that kind of time. There are things that I look back on, when I worked on my doctorate, when I worked on my master’s – not as much my master’s as when I worked on my doctorate.

But my doctorate was when my children were in junior high and early high school, and my husband went to some things that I didn’t get to go to. I don’t know that I’d do that again. Because I can’t go back.

ADVOCATE: Any advice for parents who may be in that spot? There are some people who have no choice, I mean you have to make a certain amount of money to survive, or maybe they have to work a certain number of hours to do so. Then there are other people who have more flexibility, and they chose to work rather than to do something else.

BUKHAIR: There are more choices now. Like when my children were younger, I made some choices, that I taught. At that time, I had no choice, my husband was starting out in sales, just like a lot of parents. If we were going to eat, I was going to teach.

So I taught, but I picked my kids up the minute school was over, and I took all of my work home so I could be with my kids. And I think they’re choices that you make, and I made those choices. And the only one that I really would re-do might have been my graduate study because I missed some things for their junior high and early high school that I can’t recapture.

Everybody has got to make those decisions, but I think there are more ways to do things now. People are doing a lot of their work at home, having offices out of their home. I think there are more options where people can still address their children’s needs and be with their kids, and do things in a different way.

That’s one of the good things about our society now, that there’s more flexibility to do that than there was in my day. And I think there’s more teaming, where people are teaming up for jobs. I just think there are a lot of opportunities where you can still do both.

ADVOCATE: Any differences in plans from what Dr. Johnson did? Anything you want to comment on about that for people who are interested?

BUKHAIR: I hope people are interested. I think we were set on the right path. I firmly believe that we really are targeting academics and some standards and things that we want to continue. But that’s not new, that is a tradition that we’ve had in our district a long time.

I think what we’ve had to do is re-focus that, because we were changing somewhat, we weren’t going to lose sight of that. I’m going to put a lot of emphasis on instruction. My love is instruction – I think that’s something I can bring to it.

I’m reorganizing to put in place some new people to work just with the schools – like what Lake Highlands did, to be able to organize it and to be able to work directly with the schools. To say, what can we do to really enhance and improve instruction? How can we use technology better? I think we have to tap the resources.

I think the bond issue is essential from the standpoint of getting our older buildings infrastructure they need and technology. I think we haven’t tapped the resource at the TV center that we have – that, I’m really proud of and think we ought to explore. We’re doing Japanese via TV, we’re able to offer it to all four high schools.

We have the interactive TV. It’s not two-way video, it’s one-way video, but with push-to-talk microphones for every student. We’ve been able to hire some wonderful teachers. We’re offering Japanese 1, 2 and 3.

Last year we had a problem with German, we didn’t have enough enrolled in a couple of junior highs. So because we had that capability, we hooked up and taught German. And then we found there was a student at Richardson High, one student who needed German. So all we had to do was hook that child up with the system already set up.

I think we have untold capabilities to do some really enriching and wonderful things and offer opportunities to kids. So, I think I can add that, and it’s my passion and my love, and everyone knows that. They know that we’re going to really focus in trying to identify ways to meet the kids’ needs and do things like that – to deliver them different ways.

Technology In The Classroom

ADVOCATE: How far do you think technology should go in the classroom? How good is it, necessarily, that a child might interact better with a computer than with a real-life teacher?

BUKHAIR: I think it’s a tool, and I think it will never replace what a teacher can do, and that’s not the intent. The intent is one that students need the tools that they’re going to use in society.

They’re going to be using technology. But technology is a telephone. West has a project now where every teacher has access to a telephone. We really thought of it as security at first, but it’s not that. Parent communication – picking up the phone and calling and saying, “Your child just did the most wonderful thing.”

And they’re doing that constantly, and the kids have done research on it. I see, if you’re asking me specifically in the classroom, courses about technology. We’re going to have keyboarding, business courses, because that’s what they’re going to use out in the real world. So you’re going to have that type of thing.

But I think in elementary and in secondary, you’re going to see like three and four computers in a classroom that a student has access to go over and work on a paper. You’re going to see the library is real different, where they’re doing an awful lot with the idea that technology as opposed to buying hard copies of encyclopedias. Those are the kinds of things – you’re going to see linking UTD’s library with our high school libraries.

It’s more of a tool and a resource. It’s like what you use at your job. That’s the way you’re going to see technology. Also, there will be software that will enrich your curriculum, it will allow you to do simulations as opposed to doing lab setting or all lab setting, which is one of our hardest things.

It’s enough science labs and sophistication for us to keep up. So simulations will offer all kinds of avenues for us. We see it in calculus, they have to have the scientific calculators that they use for their calculus tests and AP tests and all of that.

You’re seeing that in the classrooms. We check them out just like textbooks. If they lose them, they’re going to have to pay for them, just like a textbook. That’s the way you see it – to enrich and enhance.

The Bond Issue

ADVOCATE: Is there anything you’d like to say about the upcoming bond issue or the overcrowding problem?

BUKHAIR: I feel that we really need to address the overcrowding, but we also have got to address other issues within our district, and that’s what the bond will allow us to do. We have older buildings; not only the maintenance of the older buildings is essential, but the infrastructure.

We’re asking people to be more accountable, to make plans for individual students and where they are and trying to track those students, and yet our counselors and our offices didn’t have the technology to be able to do that. So we said, “OK, we’re going to take our administrative money for technology, and we’re going to put it all in the schools – central is going to wait – we’re going to put the emphasis there.”

Well, we started taking out all of the computers and putting in the sophisticated computers that we needed, and building after building we ran into didn’t have the infrastructure to support them. So we’re going to have to fix that, and it’s not going to be glamorous in a bond issue.

It is essential that we get technology to the classrooms, and one of the first ways to do that is to get technology to the teacher if you really want to start impacting the students. I think the bond issue and the facilities issues are real critical issues for us to address and identify. I think there are things that we can do that will address some of the concerns that have come out of the long-range space and some of the recommendations. They are very legitimate concerns – the board had to look at the big overall district, and there are real severe needs down in the south and west part of the district, east part of the district. And we’re under-utilized in the north.

And so we are really going to be involving site-based teams and trying to say, “Tell us what your concerns are. Are there ways we can adjust and do some things?”

I’m very open to that, the board is very open to that. I met with a group yesterday from the northwest part of the district. We just sat and talked, and they said, “Would you consider this?” And I said, “Sure, we’ll consider it. As long as it doesn’t have a ripple affect that impacts another school.” So we will really try to explore those things. I’m very open to that – I think most people have their heart in the right place, they’re doing it for the right thing – they’re doing it for their child.

ADVOCATE: Do you anticipate any problems with the upcoming bond issue?

BUKHAIR: I hear stories – just like you do, or you wouldn’t ask that. I genuinely believe that most of our parents – all of our parents – want what’s best. And even though they may be angry and all, if we can build a strong-enough plan for how their child is going to benefit and how their school is going to benefit – I have not found this community ever not supporting what they thought was best for the schools.

I can get frightened, and I can worry, but I genuinely believe that if we build a strong-enough case and show people why we’re trying to do it, we will get support for it.

ADVOCATE: Did you come up with any questions this morning that we didn’t ask you that you want to answer?

BUKHAIR: I don’t think so.