Courtesy of CFISD Communications

Superintendent Dr. Mark Henry


CFISD Superintendent Dr. Mark Henry is entering his 37th year as an educator, and began as a teacher and coach in the Dallas area. Later on he became an assistant principal and principal in Dallas. He had his first superintendency in 1991, in the small town of Milford, south of Dallas. There were 230 students in Milford at the time, in grade levels K-12. After a few years in Milford, he went to Collinsville, followed by Sulphur Springs and Galena Park, and finally to Cypress-Fairbanks where he is in his eighth year as the superintendent. 

CFISD Department of Communications
Dr. Henry greets a new member of the K-9 unit.

Clear Backpacks

As leader of the school district, Dr. Henry had a big role in enhancing school safety for the district over the summer. When he announced the new policy about clear backpacks early in the summer, some members of the community did not agree with the policy.

“I think one of the reasons it created a lot of consternation is number one, people thought that was all we were going to do, and number two, it was change, and you know people don’t like any kind of change.”

One of the reasons Dr. Henry announced the policy early in the summer was because he wanted to give parents and students a head start when it came to shopping for school supplies. That way no one had to rush to get a backpack before school started.

“We needed to let the community know about the clear backpacks because people start buying school supplies earlier. Since it would involve students and parents having to actually purchase a backpack, we needed to get that out ahead of time.”

The Thought Process

There was definitely thought put into every decision Dr. Henry made this summer. Working together Chief of Staff Teresa Hull with help from other members around the district and in neighboring districts, they were able to create a plan for school safety in CFISD.

“The thought process was we wanted three things from our students, number one we wanted the clear backpack. We wanted our students to wear an ID tag so we know they belong at that school. Number three, we are asking our students if you see or hear something make sure you let an adult know to help make our schools as safe as possible.”

While school safety was a big part of the “layered plan” the district is sticking by, the most important layer was mental health and the well-being of students. Improvements have been made over the summer, including the formation of two mental health intervention teams.

“Our goal is to provide more time for our counselors to counsel our students, to meet with our students to help them. We’ve also created two mental health intervention teams in the district, which are going to involve two counselors, one psychologist, and one mental health police officer, and those two teams will be working year round. Those teams [are in place and will] help students when they’re having some type of mental health problem.”

The Unseen Side of a Superintendent

With great power comes great responsibility. As superintendent, Dr. Henry is responsible for thousands of lives around the district every day, and that is not an easy responsibility.

“When I go to bed at night, it’s hard for me to go to sleep because I know 132,000 people are depending on me the next day to make sure everyone is prepared.”

If that is not enough, he must also face criticism from parents and students about his decisions.

“Really why superintendents don’t last long is because, it’s not the work, it’s the pressure of making sure everyone is safe, and the criticism you get about every decision you make.”

Alternate Solutions and The Future

Clear backpacks, wearing IDs, and limited access to campuses can not be and are not the solution to school safety, which is why alternate solutions, such as metal detectors at doors, are being considered. Students have experience with random metal detector checks in the past, and this year, according to Dr. Henry, there will be an “expanded use” of them compared to last year.

A widely suggested idea was the use of metal detectors at doors on campuses. But with some campuses having more than 70 doors, spending a wise amount of money on them, and finding someone for every door on campus, it’s “not practical,” at least for now.

“There are some exciting new technologies that may be available and we’re going to spend this whole school year looking at those technologies which may include metal detectors, and how we can use them more efficiently and effectively to keep students safer.”

The district’s state-mandated school safety committee expanded its membership and reporting requirements in order to more effectively address growing concerns and find the best solutions. The district’s layered plan will continue to evolve and expand, according to Dr. Henry.

Final Thoughts and Message to Students

In order for the plan to go successfully this year, and in the coming years, students, parents, teachers, and administration need to stay vigilant. Not just on the first day of school, but every day until the last bell rings. Staying on top of things at every campus is crucial, and the district will be making sure all campuses are following the correct procedures.

Lastly, Dr. Henry called for students to work with them and not against them. Commitment from students, staff, and the community is integral to school safety. 

“The last thing I would tell the students of CFISD, this is not a, ‘us versus them’ deal. It’s not a ‘school employee versus student’ deal. This is all of us together, because in every school shooting, it hasn’t just been students who have been harmed or killed, it’s been teachers and adults. So we’re really all on the same team, so I hope we’ll work that way and keep our schools safe.”

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