Welcome to Billings: Dr. Erwin Garcia Takes the Helm of School District 2
by Kelly McCandless
Erwin Garcia made a huge move this summer along with his family; his wife of 16 years and their two elementary-aged boys shifted from Houston to put down roots in Billings. Dr. Garcia took over officially as the new Superintendent for Billings Public Schools on July 1, and the new leader has big goals as he hits the ground running.
Dr. Garcia's answer was quick when asked what he wanted the Billings community to know about him. “I am a family-oriented individual with a passion for public education.” He is, first and foremost, dedicated to his family, and moving to Billings is a choice they made together. His wife finished her degree in 2022, which freed the family up to make a change. Together, they prayed and determined what step they would take next as a family. “I can’t shy away from who I am as a person,” he said. “In my personal belief, God has given me a call to serve. When the search firm contacted me and asked where I wanted to go, we wanted a healthy, family-oriented environment for our kids. I’m a dad and husband first, so those qualities were important.”
Dr. Garcia and his wife were both born and raised in Colombia, and though they’ve lived in the United States for years, Billings was not a community of which they had heard. “As I researched, I found that Billings is facing issues similar to ones I tackled in Houston. Issues related to poverty, mental health, and trust. I felt like what I had to offer matched the needs of the district. And the city is just beautiful and a great fit for my family.”
Dr. Garcia comes to Billings with a successful track record. He’s served in many different capacities, leadership-wise, and his campuses received recognition for being high performers in overcoming challenges related to at-risk students and high-poverty populations. “Both my schools were recognized by the National Center of Urban School Transformation with the University of San Diego, which selects the best schools in America. Further, the school I was principal of received the 2020 America’s Best Urban Schools Award.”
In addition to serving as a principal, Dr. Garcia was a principal supervisor for five years, overseeing 12 principals before becoming the area superintendent, where he supported 55 schools in the highest poverty area in the city of Houston. “Houston areas see different levels of poverty,” he explained. “The west and north had 78% poverty. South and east, where I was, saw 92% poverty. This is important since research tells us that poverty has a direct correlation to student achievement. When I took over, only ten of my schools were rated “A” schools. After two years under my leadership, 30 were “A” rated schools.”
Billings Public Schools have many great things going for them, and Dr. Garcia is bringing in some lofty goals to push for even greater success. In his first year at the helm, he has three distinct goals:
- Build Community Trust. “I want to see we’ve built better relations and a sense of trust with the community. Not only in the areas of special education, but also in the overall perception of the quality of schools we have in the city.” Dr. Garcia launched a community survey in May 2023, and one of the questions asked was, “How likely are you to recommend SD2 to others?” Early survey results indicate that 50% or fewer would recommend SD2 to others. Dr. Garcia aims to increase that percentage to 70 – 80% in his first year.
- Teacher recruitment and retention. Quality teachers are critical to the success of Billings Public Schools, and Billings is not immune to the issues we’re seeing nationally with finding and keeping exceptional educators. “Part of my plan is to have a program for teachers to get their bachelor’s degree while working for us,” Dr. Garcia explained. He intends to enhance the relationship with MSU Billings and find a way for dual credit students to graduate high school with an associate degree (two years of college completed). “The goal is for those kids to be connected directly to Rocky Mountain College and MSUB and have some of those students become teachers with the district.”
- Graduation Task Force. “In order to get more students to graduation, we need to be tracking at-risk students closely,” Dr. Garcia said. This task force would help track all students in high school, determine if kids are being lost to absenteeism, and put measures in place to improve the odds of graduating.
Dr. Garcia is determined to make a positive, lasting impact on Billings Public Schools. “I don’t want to have good schools or even great schools. I want to have excellent schools,” he stated. “The work is about strengthening the capacity of leaders and teachers so they can provide strong and aligned instruction and the interventions needed for students to be on grade level. We already have good schools. We have some great schools. We even have some excellent schools. Every child deserves effective daily instruction not by chance but by design. And every child deserves an effective teacher and principal, not by chance or default, but by design. We are going to be intentional about building leaders and teachers, so they are empowered to do just that.”
Kelly McCandless is a Billings native who loves a well-planned adventure, being outdoors when the weather is nice, historic fiction and hot coffee. She’s passionate about writing, cooking, education, travel and doing all of these things with her husband Ryan and their two incredible daughters
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