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TASA’s “Inspiring Leaders” tagline is not just a reminder of TASA’s commitment to leadership development; it describes our members themselves — school leaders who inspire others as they work to prepare future-ready students. Meet Brent Jaco, one of those Inspiring Leaders. 

The latest superintendent of Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, Brent Jaco has managed to stay on the bull long enough to write a remarkable turnaround story for this far West Texas school district.

“There were a lot of needs in the district when I arrived in summer 2020, from academics to financial concerns to facility issues. However, the number-one concern was rebuilding trust with all stakeholders,” Jaco says.

Current board member and former PBTISD chief financial officer Cookie Canon doesn’t mince words when describing Jaco’s influence on the district.

“I worked for numerous superintendents and interim superintendents, and I have never seen a superintendent who works so hard to make students successful. Jaco brought in a tremendous team of experienced administrators who are very familiar with the curriculum and what it takes to support teachers,” Canon says.

“Morale was low, and people were struggling prior to Mr. Jaco coming,” Bessie Haynes Elementary principal and long-time PBTISD staff member Chris Henson says. “He has given us a clear direction for what our district’s focus should be, and provided the structure we needed to help students succeed. There is no question our focus is on our students and their families.”

With an MBA in organizational leadership and strong experience in leading through change, Jaco went to work auditing the district’s curriculum, which revealed significant deficiencies. He focused his first months on building a support team of curriculum and instruction professionals who, together, developed and deployed campus-based assessment tools to measure student progress.

To support these efforts, Jaco recruited a former colleague, Dr. Karen Matt, to serve as the district’s chief academic officer. “When I arrived at PBTISD in January of 2021, we had an academic department of three attempting to manage through multiple improvement plans mandated by the state, and two schools identified for federal school improvement. There simply were not enough people to support teachers and ensure compliance with these governmental interventions,” Matt says.

In response, Jaco and Matt designed and hired an Academic Support Team to serve all academic areas. “For the past two years, this team has worked diligently to correct areas of non-compliance, improve curriculum, support teachers, and implement programs and processes to measure student growth,” Matt says.

“It’s working,” she adds. “We’ve made incredible progress in a very short period of time. We are down to just one federal improvement plan, and I anticipate this last school will be off federal school improvement status at the end of this year. It has been rewarding work, and I am proud of everyone’s efforts.”

“Pecos and PBTISD is a great place, and the success we have had has been a team sport. While there is still a great deal of work to be done, we are headed in the right direction,” Jaco says.