Agent of change: Looking back on 30 years as school trustee

HARLINGEN — Every student can and will succeed.

George McShan has lived those words throughout his long career as an educator, continuously seeking new ways to open doors to generations of students.

“I was one who thought outside the box,” said McShan, 70, who announced this past week he will not seek re-election to the Harlingen school board in May.

McShan has been on the school board since 1988. During his 30 years on the board — he’s currently board president — he’s seen many changes.

George McShan

“I’ve become a citizen in the community who will still be connected in a way to advance the strategic vision, the Strategic Plan of the district. I will still be a part of that in some way because I have a deep, deep interest in it.

“My experience and my knowledge still have value because I have been one to reinvent, repurpose myself. I think in order for society to be progressive and successful you have to embrace change. You have to be able to move forward and not stay back where you were.

“And when you look at where we are in a knowledge and information age to the time when we were agricultural and industrial, all those things are evolving. So I realize that and I want to be part of that.”

“I’m proud of the fact that we were able to embrace change,” McShan said. “When I first got on the board we were a good solid school district, but I’m proud of the fact that we hired excellent superintendents.”

He made special mention of James Smith of Colorado, whom the district hired as superintendent in 1989.

“My frame of reference was very broad,” McShan said. “I grew up in an era when schools were still segregated. So I knew in order to change you have to bring in change agents. So Dr. Smith not being from here, but he had been the superintendent in Colorado and a superintendent in Texas, he had ideas.”

Smith produced as expected on a number of fronts, McShan said.

“Under his leadership starting out we were able to fast forward and pass a bond issue for $20 million in 1989,” he said. “With that we built 15 multi-purpose buildings, little gyms, at every elementary school.”

Those “little gyms” became places where children could have a safe place to have fun.

“It got them out of the cold and the hot weather and the rainy weather,” McShan said. “The community embraced that.”

The next order of business under the Smith administration was to eliminate the school’s tracking system. Students were divided into three “Plans” according to whether they were gifted and talented, average, or underachievers. For McShan, an African-American who’d attended segregated schools, this was unacceptable.

“We removed the tracking system and made it universal,” he said. “Students enrolled in classes based their interests. We did not enroll students based on an aptitude test necessarily.”

That’s not to say students didn’t have to meet standards to take some classes.

“Students certainly had to meet certain prerequisites, for example to get into advanced classes,” he said. “But we had been sorting kids. We took out the assortment piece and allowed choice.”

More change was on the horizon for Harlingen during McShan’s tenure.

“In 1995 we hired our first Hispanic superintendent, Jesus Chavez,” he said. “I was president of the board, I was kind of spearheading that. I said it was time to hire the person who we think can represent our district in a leadership way and actually represent the demographics.”

More recently, he’s proud of being part of the drive to pass the Tax Ratification Election two years ago.

“That was huge,” he said. “It gave us $10 million a year.”

Those funds are being used to fund some much needed repairs and upgrades. That and passage of more than $200 million in bonds will provide the resources necessary to help each student to succeed.

He’s also proud of his role in getting the district designated a District of Innovation which gives administrators more flexibility in certain matters. This designation was part of the district’s five-year Strategic Plan which included the creation of academies, certifications, and specialty schools like the Harlingen School for Health Professions.

Leaving the school board now after 30 years is “hard to describe.”

“Sometimes you reflect and then you look to the future,” he said. “When I looked at everything, I said, ‘You know at this point, at Harlingen CISD, we’ve transformed the district in so many different ways, in every way really, for the greater good, and this is a point at which I think that I can continue to serve my community, serve the state, and serve my family and serve humanity.”

McShan said he will continue to be a voice for education in the community in a variety of ways for years to come.

The George McShan File

George McShan began his career as an educator in 1968 when he taught high school science in Brownsville.

He soon transferred to Texas State Technical College (then Texas State Technical Institute). The school at that time was not accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

He started out teaching chemistry, and in 1972 he was appointed director of the institutional self study. In that capacity he conducted a comprehensive study based on 12 standards (criteria) to grant two-year associate of applied science degrees.

Based on that work the school was accredited in 1974. McShan became assistant dean of instruction in 1976 and dean of the college in 1982. He remained there until his retirement in 2001.