#tellthestory: Superintendent fosters listening, learning, loving

Dr. Christie Whitbeck walks down the hallway at Bryan High School, just one of more than twenty schools under her supervision. She excels at troubleshooting and has an air of confidence about her – it comes with the job. But she also carries a story. A story unique to her which pushes her. One that involves the passing of both her husband and her son. One that pushes her to listen – to listen to the stories of the employees who answer to her and the students she serves because she knows they matter.

Whitbeck served as deputy superintendent for Fort Bend ISD before coming to Bryan. She became the superintendent for Bryan ISD in April of 2017 and looks to foster a community on campus district wide through this year’s initiative #tellthestory.

With over 30 years of experience in education, Whitbeck knows her way around a classroom. Her focus is not only on the minds of the students, but their hearts too. Whitbeck has encouraged students and faculty alike to tell their stories and get to know each other on a personal level.

Whitbeck’s story starts with the birth of her son in 1991. He was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency, one of the most severe types of primary immunodeficiency disease. Not long after birth, he had a bone marrow transplant and dealt with many challenges throughout his life.

When her son was 15 and her daughter was 9, Whitbeck lost her husband in a car accident and faced the question of what came next as she was in the middle of earning her doctorate and was currently working as a high school principal.

“I had to pull together and keep my family strong after my husband passed,” Whitbeck said. “But then two years ago, I lost my son. He passed away of an artery rupture.”

Though she has experienced harrowing tragedy in her life, Whitbeck is determined to use the difficult times in her life to become stronger and better appreciate the happy moments.

“Losing my husband and my child was the worst experience I have lived through,” Whitbeck said. “It’s been difficult, but at the same time, it’s helped me realize that you can turn the bad things that happen in your life into the good things that come from them.”

There are moments in life that help solidify the path we choose, and Whitbeck’s experience and loss have helped her realize her love for working in the schools.

“I use my experience to drive me to do good for kids and to do well in the work that I have chosen,” Whitbeck said. “This isn’t a job to me; it’s a calling.”

By taking such intense personal loss to heart, Whitbeck notices how those events have changed her for the better.

“After all the loss I’ve felt, I lead with more passion,” Whitbeck said. “My personal loss drives me to do good for others, and I think that’s at my core.”

With such an interesting and heart-wrenching story of her own, Whitbeck understands the importance of telling her story and listening to the stories of others. By bringing the #tellthestory initiative into the district, Whitbeck hopes to bring students and faculty closer together while also getting to know one another, thus creating a stronger sense of community and understanding within the schools across the district.

“I think that in Bryan, and in other places as well, we need to build relationships and get to know people,” Whitbeck said. “We need to get to know what the issues really are and get to know the kids before we can help them.”

Coming into a new work environment can prove difficult for anyone, but with ideas like the #tellthestory initiative, Whitbeck hopes that the students and faculty of Bryan ISD can see that creating a culture of understanding in the district will be beneficial for both her transition into the district and the students and faculty.

“When a new person comes in, people look to see what they are like and how they will lead,” Whitbeck said. “I want them to see that my heart is in the right place and that the actions that I take as a leader show what kind of person I am.”

Others in the district have noticed the potential of the #tellthestory initiative, Principal Lane Buban being one of the many members of Bryan ISD faculty that see how listening to the stories of others can help bring the district closer together.

“I think it is important that we hear the stories of our students and our faculty because it allows us to have a better understanding of who we are,” Buban said. “If we have a better understanding of each other, it makes it easier to have a good working relationship and helps create a culture of understanding and caring.”

Though the #tellthestory initiative is still in its early days, Buban already sees the impact that Whitbeck’s ideas can have on the district. Buban feels that the culture of understanding that the initiative creates can help not just the district, but the students and faculty of Bryan High as well.

“I have seen the #tellthestory idea impact our district in many ways, and I think in the days to come people will see and hear more stories about the people who make up BISD,” Buban said. “We all have a story to tell.”

While the #tellthestory initiative is important for the success of the district, it is also important in creating a sense of belonging and significance among the students of Bryan ISD. By listening to the stories of the students, faculty members can better help students with their struggles and bring the district together as a community.

“Students need to know we care,” Whitbeck said. “And we need to know what’s going on with our students. Students don’t want to just be a number, they want to be someone who matters.”