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Meet the 2020 Alabama Superintendent of the Year

School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) and Schneider Electric, an SSA Diamond Level Business Member, are proud to honor Mobile County Public School System Superintendent, Chresal Threadgill, as the 2020 Alabama Superintendent of the Year.

Each year, SSA acknowledges outstanding performance and achievement by superintendents in various regions across Alabama. Threadgill will also be recognized during the AASA National Conference where the national winner for 2021 will be announced.

Superintendent Threadgill on his experience and what’s next for Alabama schools:

Tell us about your background. How did you get into education?

Currently, I am in my 22nd year in education. However, I always tell people that before an educator, I am a husband, father, and son first, then a servant in the field of education. Over the course of my journey, I have served in the capacity of teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and now, superintendent. Coming from a family of educators, I have always been interested in “serving children.” When I was young, I would always volunteer at a special needs school of which my aunt attended. It was then I realized my true passion for helping others.

Why are you passionate about education and your role?

In the initial stages of my career, I was passionate about education because I had the opportunity to make a direct impact on children’s lives, which has always been important to me. Being in the schools with students enabled me to witness first-hand the impact I made on the lives of others. However, over the years as I progressed in my career, my role has evolved into an indirect opportunity to make decisions for the betterment of students, not only in Alabama but also the system of which I received my foundation, Mobile County Public Schools.

What about your district makes you most proud?

There are actually a couple of things that make me most proud of MCPSS. One, it is the district of which laid the foundation for me to grow upon in order to be able to return and serve as superintendent. Not many can say that they are at the helm of the district they once attended. For that, I am very proud. Secondly, MCPSS has always, by accountability measures, been deemed a “C” school district. Upon becoming superintendent, I was determined not to settle for average. With everyone working collaboratively, focused on the same goals, after one year, for the first time in the history of district report cards, MCPSS is now a “B” district. In addition, the support I have received from faculty, staff, parents, community, and various municipalities has overwhelmingly made me proud. The ways they have supported me and my vision has been indescribable and an asset to my success.

With a district as large as MCPSS, how do you measure success?

With the size of MCPSS, having 89 schools, collective success has to be measured by several different measures. Some of these measures include the state report card, graduation rate, and district level finances. With the state report card, my goal is to receive an “A”. We are currently a “B” district. However, we will not settle until we receive an “A” designation.

Graduation rate is also a measure that determines success. Very few districts have 12 high schools. Therefore, with the large number of high schools, when all schools show improvement in the graduation rate and the district rate exceeds the state average, it equates to success.

Additionally, MCPSS has an annual budget of over $750 million dollars. With such a large budget, for the first time in history, the district has a positive fund balance.

What legacy do you hope to leave at MCPSS and in Alabama K-12?

The legacy I would hope to leave would be the notion that I made all decisions with students in mind and that I was an inspiration to others. In the role of superintendent, tough decisions have to be made daily. Regardless of the decision, you cannot please everyone. Therefore, you must make all decisions with students in mind, not adults.

I know that I have made the best decision for students each night when I am able to lay my head on my pillow without worrying if I made the best decision. Also, I feel that I play the role of growing others as I am reaching the pinnacle of my career. I strive to leave the system in a place where others who follow me can and will be successful.

2020 has been an incredibly challenging year. What was your biggest leadership moment and lesson learned navigating this year?

There were many lessons learned throughout 2020. I think my biggest leadership moment was continuing to motivate those I lead, regardless of the times we faced. With there being so many negative factors taking place, I deemed it my responsibility to encourage and motivate those who are the boots on the ground daily within our schools. Therefore, during the spring shut down, I sent out a daily motivational message to our principals in attempts to instill in them, better days were on the horizon. If nothing else, I feel that this assisted with intrinsically motivating them to put their best foot forward and do whatever necessary to lead their school during unknown times.

What is the vision for your district?

My vision for MCPSS is to become an “A” school district as defined by the Alabama school system report card. Also, under my leadership, we will continue being progressive in academics while striving to become nationally recognized in other areas, such as performing arts, to show that we strive to develop the whole child.

What is the future like for Alabama students/school districts?

Sustaining and continuing to persevere during a global pandemic has completely changed the trajectory and future of education in not only Alabama but throughout the nation. Over the course of the past year, we have been forced to change our mindset from the traditional form of education to one of thinking outside of the box to continue educating children.

The new mindset is our future. In my opinion, we will not revert back to the traditional forms of schooling. As we have always said, all children do not learn the same way or on the same day. This reigns truer today than ever. The future will consist of each child learning in the manner of which they learn best, which will require us as educators to shift both our mindsets and practices to meet the needs of students while embracing the world of technology.

Many Alabama K-12 systems have shared similar challenges over the last few years, but what do you feel has been unique for MCPSS and how you have helped overcome them?

One very unique challenge of MCPSS is its size. Often with an organization the size of MCPSS, by nature, individuals and groups may begin operating in silos. Many times, this isn’t intended but it happens by default due to everyone being so spread out, some even miles apart. Therefore, to assist with eliminating silos, I have begun planning activities to include representation from all divisions within the district.

I also started a quarterly newsletter to include pertinent information from throughout the district in an attempt to foster communication and collaboration amongst individuals and divisions. With the newsletter, everyone is able to stay abreast regarding district activities, events, and goals.

Superintendent Threadgill illustrates the challenges and evolution of education during this period of disruption. His determination and thoughtfulness are examples to other districts in how to meet the unprecedented challenges and keep a mindset of moving forward.

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