Jennifer Blaine always had the vision. Now she has the job.
Nearly 10 years ago, on her way to the Broad Academy, a national program that trains education leaders, Blaine had this to say: “I’ve always wanted to be a school superintendent — as crazy as it sounds. I love the role of school administrator and I'd love nothing more than to be a superintendent of a school district like Spring Branch.”
Blaine was named sole finalist to replace Dr. Scott Muri as SBISD superintendent in an unanimous vote by Trustees on Friday, May 31. State law requires a 21-day period between naming a finalist and making the appointment official but Trustees are expected to confirm Blaine’s appointment at the Monday, June 24, regular meeting.
Ascending the educational ranks of teacher, assistant principal, principal, area administrator, division chief and now Superintendent of Spring Branch ISD schools, Blaine established herself at each level as a hard worker who gets things done and as someone who embraces a challenge.
For example, as an educator following an academic career trajectory, she knew her knowledge base should be broader if she were to become a superintendent. So in 2013, when the district operations chief retired, Blaine, who oversaw SBISD’s academics and curriculum, asked to be considered for the role. She got it.
By her own admission her learning curve was steep, but it’s a position she’s held until now. Along the way the district’s human resources – talent, it’s called here – were placed under Blaine’s direction, adding another layer of system knowledge.
Where does that drive and passion come from?
“My parents said over and over that you can’t wait for opportunity to come find you – you have to create your own,” she said. “You can’t sit back and wait for someone to do it for you.”
Born and raised in Bartlesville, Okla., Blaine went off first to Oklahoma State University then the University of Iowa for her undergraduate degree. Although neither of her parents have a college degree, she said that going to college was never up for debate in her house. (She has one sibling, a brother who’s an attorney in California.)
Blaine herself briefly considered law as a career, and would have pursued education law except that she really didn’t like a pre-law course she took. She also considered becoming a pediatrician but didn’t feel she could deliver hard news about sick kids to their parents.
Still, children were the constant while sorting through career options. “I like to be with kids,” she said. “I’ve always liked kids.”
And so it was in 1990, education degree in hand, that Jennifer Blaine was recruited by Aldine ISD to come not only to Texas but to Houston, to “be with kids” in the North Houston school district.
She loved her 10 years in Aldine, rising to assistant principal with aspirations of becoming a principal when Spring Branch came calling. But Blaine said she didn’t want to transfer into a new system while learning a new role, so she stayed put in Aldine and became a principal there.
But Spring Branch didn’t let up and on the advice of a mentor who told her she’d have a better chance of becoming a superintendent if she experienced a different system, she made the move to SBISD as principal of Spring Branch Elementary.
Predictably, she rose through the ranks in Spring Branch, first assuming co-direction of the district’s preKs then serving as executive administrator over 17 schools, sort of a precursor to today’s community superintendents. When in 2006 the curriculum chief position became open, she served on a search committee that looked nationally for someone to fill the role. No one really fit the position, so then-superintendent Duncan Klussmann asked Blaine if she’d be interested. She was.
She attended the prestigious Broad Academy in 2010, accelerating her ascension of the learning curve. She also realized just how much she still needed to learn. Her lateral move to operations in 2013 has lasted through two superintendents and Blaine today finds herself the seventh superintendent in SBISD’s 73 years as an independent school district.
Blaine said that she intends to identify several top priorities and focus on those things.
“I firmly believe that a system can do 2-3 things really well,” she said. “Anything more than that and people get confused. That’s how I ran my campus (as a principal) and that’s how I ran my division (as top administrator).”
What are those things? At the elementary level, she’ll focus on literacy, numeracy and social/emotional learning. At the secondary level, she’ll concentrate on post-secondary success, the district’s one-to-one technology rollout and Career and Technical Education (CTE).
She’ll also focus on SBISD’s overarching goal of T-2-4, where every SBISD graduate achieves a two- or four-year degree, technical certification or military training within six years.
Through it all runs a common thread of strong student relationships with adults who can mentor and help students find their way.
“We are Spring Branch,” Blaine said. “We can’t be another district. We’re family – it’s how we do business. We are courteous. We are nice. We share. We collaborate. We care about each other and each other’s kids. It’s why people come here. Our culture is important and has to be nurtured and protected.”
Blaine and her husband, Will, and their son, Christopher, live on the district’s west side.
Blaine, 51, holds a Master’s degree and Ed.D. from Sam Houston State University.
Muri resigned to take the superintendent’s job at Ector County ISD in Odessa. He officially takes the reins there on July 1. Muri served SBISD for four years, taking over on July 1, 2015, for Dr. Duncan Klussmann, who retired.