Matt deGrood

Our goal at the Fort Bend Star is to bring you all of the information necessary to understand any given issue – to always advocate for the public’s right to know more about the inner workings of government and everything else.

Perusing the pages of our paper, you’ll notice this can take a mix of good and bad news. But with the bevy of news and major decisions across Fort Bend County each year, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the negative.

We’ve dedicated many column inches of late discussing the shortcomings of elected leaders’ transparency.

So, with this week’s opinion piece, I thought it might be worth taking time to recognize something positive – a local district official who impressed us last week.

Several weeks ago, communications staff at Fort Bend ISD reached out to the Star and asked if we’d be interested in a chat with new Superintendent Christie Whitbeck on Dec. 16, her two-month anniversary of starting the job.

Of course, we said yes.

Fast-forward to last week, and a host of news organizations had a chance to sit and talk with her on a host of issues as the holiday break approached. The district allotted each news organization about 30 minutes to ask her whatever questions we liked, and the crowd was quite sizeable (meaning she must have dedicated a good part of her day).

The result was one of the most forthcoming, honest and perceptive conversations we’ve had of late. Whitbeck clearly knew her stuff and was armed with specific numbers on how many students had been enrolled in virtual programming and more.

Perhaps more impressively, Whitbeck was willing to discuss not just the positives, but also the challenges facing the district, both from the pandemic and elsewhere.

Having covered a wide range of elected officials and municipal and educational employees, the story is always much the same – they all want to tell the story, from their perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to ask probing questions, without getting a standard pat answer that doesn’t really answer what’s being asked.

That was not so in our experience with Whitbeck. She was quick to acknowledge the district had much work ahead of it at helping students recover academically from missing so much school because of the pandemic. She even took the opportunity to mention that the district is trying to hire bus drivers.

As atypical as Whitbeck’s approach to last week’s interview may have been, we would argue that it makes smart political sense, in addition to being the right thing to do.

Dealing with education issues, especially in 2021, is no simple task. Whether it’s a district mulling a mask mandate against strong opposition or deciding when it’s safe to return to in-person classes, it’s hard to find a topic that isn’t rife with some controversy these days.

When asked how she handles dealing with controversy every day, Whitbeck said no one could completely eliminate controversy, but that she’d do her best to be a “straight shooter” and always frankly discuss her reasoning.

That’s critical. In our experience, voters, parents and other interested parties are willing to give their leaders the benefit of the doubt when they understand the thinking that goes into each decision.

No one is perfect, much as some might try to paint a picture otherwise. The best of leaders recognize this and are willing to explain why they’re doing something, and also willing to admit when they were wrong.

Whitbeck is still early in her tenure, and much could happen in coming months. But if this interview is any indication, she’s off to a solid start. And her candor is something leaders across Fort Bend County can learn from.

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