September 28, 2023

First African-American Superintendent for the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE)

HOUSTON – On November 12 after the Harris County Department of Education’s (HCDE) Board of Trustees voted, James Colbert, Jr. was officially announced as the newly elected county school superintendent. This election has marked history within Houston’s award-winning and nation recognized HCDE, as this was the first time in 125 years that an African-American has been chosen to fulfill this role.

Educators from around Texas, HCDE officials and board of trustees, politicians and chosen representatives, media facets and other congratulatory faces; all gathered on November 18 to attend the reception held in honor of Superintendent James Colbert, Jr.. Smiling countenances were seen all over the building as everyone offered their sincere welcomes to the superintendent, his lovely wife Angie and their admirable son, Isom to HCDE. The reception was held in the lobby of the HCDE building located at 6300 Irvington, 77022.

During the reception, Superintendent Colbert proudly stated that he told his wife after meeting the board of HCDE and having his first interview that he was inspired and that, “This is something that I really, really want to be apart of – and I will go all out, I’ll do whatever I can to get that job.” Apparently his efforts and hard work paid off as the HCDE Board of Trustees President Angie Chestnut gave her approval. She stated in a press release that, “This board sought a highly energized, strong leader who is dedicated to providing excellent services to our school districts, students, vendors and employees. We feel confident James Colbert personifies that goal. We’re looking forward to having Mr. Colbert on our team.

As he continued in his words of expression he explained that, “Today for me is actually a celebration – it is an opportunity to move forward in helping to support public education around Harris County.” He further expressed that, he hopes that HCDE becomes a model for how to support public education; because public education is having a tough time around the country.

“My desire is for it to be known throughout the entire state if not the country that HCDE is the number one supporter of public education and we will do everything in our power to help support our surrounding school districts and the betterment of our society”, he stated.

Colbert added, “At the core center of my very being I am an educator.” Colbert also referred to himself as a , “product and a success story of public education.” He spoke about his passion for public education and emphasized, “I can not wait to get my hands on all the people in this department in all 35 facilities so they can be as passionate as I am, as we support the business of educating children.” As he continued he acknowledged his wife who he said is his rock, along with his son who he affectionately calls his “wingman”. He also thanked his dear friends, Dr. Jim and Cynthia Scaleswho drove from Dallas to celebrate with him and his family on this most momentous occasion.  The Superintendent rendered his final words by stating, “I feel fortunate to be apart of this organization, honored and I appreciate all of you.” 

The Harris County Department of Education is an organization that was established in 1889, in the largest county of Texas. Since then, it has served the residents of Houston by, “providing educational services to the general public and 25 school districts throughout Harris County and forward.” 

HCDE extends a wide range of services such as: adult education, programs to promote safe schools, after-school programs, therapy services, professional development for educators, special schools, alternative certification for principals and teachers, Early Childhood Intervention and Head Start programs.

Additionally, the department offers: purchasing procurement, grant development, program research and evaluation, records management and school finance support. The agency also provides services to school districts in the greater Harris County where approximately a million students are enrolled.  HCDE’s year-round services are extended to children, adult learners, educators, local governments, charter schools and taxpayers, according to the department’s history.

A Man Well Equipped for the Tasks Ahead

James Colbert, Jr.’s entire career has been devoted to educating students to reach their full potential. He is accompanied with quite an impressive resume from former school districts that he has been employed by.  He hails from the Washington D.C. area, and attended urban schools in that region. He excelled in sports during his school years. It was from this experience that he was awarded a track-and-field scholarship for his athleticism. This opportunity would allow him to attend the University of Texas.

Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a Master’s degree in Administration; the newly elected superintendent is not new to the field of education. He has certifications in Texas and Tennessee that establish him in the following areas: Superintendent, Administration and Special Education.

He first came began working in the education arena at the Pfluggerville ISD. Initially he worked as a special education teacher and later as an assistant principal. After dedicating several years to the Pfluggerville ISD he moved on to the Dallas ISD, it was there that he became the principal of a 4-A high school campus.

However, he always remained loyal to his desire of wanting to become a superintendent and eventually he relocated to the state of Tennessee to jump start a career in that area. Accordingly, he served as assistant superintendent at the Hamilton County Department of Education. He supervised over 70 campuses which were responsible for at least 40,000 students.

After making great strides within the Hamilton County Department of Education he sought to return back to Texas. In doing so, he became the superintendent of the West Orange-Cove CISD in January of 2011, which is located in Orange, Texas. The district educates 2,500 students. During his leadership there the department maintains that, “Mr. Colbert transformed West Orange-Cove CISD from a financially challenged system to one that utilizes a positive business model. With an emphasis on academic rigor and Professional Learning Communities, Mr. Colbert has also introduced the concepts of Campus Instructional Leadership Teams, Quality Alignment Walks and Fresh Eye Walks as primary tools associated with curriculum and instruction.”

The former school district that Colbert served as Superintendent at, also described him as a “fearless advocate for students”; and one who “exercises a straight-forward, systemic approach to leadership and believes strongly in the empowerment of others.” 

Furthermore they illuminate certain talents that he has by revealing that, “his  exceptional abilities related to strategic planning, thinking ‘outside the box’, and communicating are strengths which allow him to effectively build solid community relationships and positive momentum.”

Throughout his tenure at the West Orange-Cove CISD he implemented several initiatives to assist with moving the school district forward inclusive with projects such as: “developing a district-wide Instructional Support plan, passing a qualified school construction bond, passing a tax ratification election, developed a model academic alternative campus that focused on earning placement credit, as well as incorporating a weekly newsletter for the board of trustees.”

Also, according to the school board, he is accredited to, “the District facilitating a district-wide raise for all staff while also implementing an equity adjustment to the pay scale” under his administration.

Throughout the years, Colbert has held a variety of positions that serve to promote the enhancement of public education services.

A few of those entitlements include: serving as Vice-Chairperson at the State Executive Committee for the University Interscholastic League, member of the Orange Rotary Club and Lamar University College of Education Advisory Board, board member of the West Orange Cove CISD Education Foundation and the Orange County United Way.

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