With a unique background as an educator and administrator, a new superintendent will soon usher in a new chapter in Wharton Independent School District history.
Michael J. O’Guin Sr., Ed.D., 49, of Pearland, was named the lone finalist for the vacant superintendent position by way of the unanimous vote of the Wharton ISD Board of Trustees on May 19.
Born Aug. 30, 1970, in Lufkin and reared in Livingston, O’Guin began his professional career in 1989 as a correctional officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in Huntsville.
While moving up in rank at TDCJ, he attended Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in pursuit of his bachelor of arts in history, with a minor in English.
Prior to graduating SHSU, he met the love of his life and future wife, Janice O’Guin.
“I just got tired of her (Janice) following me around campus. So, I asked her out,” O’Guin joked. “She won’t confirm that, but that’s how I remember it.”
The couple married two years after dating and recently celebrated their 29-year anniversary. Together, they have 2 children — Michael J. O’Guin Jr., 28, and Jhanae Michelle O’Guin, 25.
Though he would eventually pursue his passion in education, his professional experience began in corrections, with a position on death row, among other roles in his tenure.
“I worked on death row for four years and in that time, I witnessed a growth in the number of 16- and 17-year-old ‘offenders’ come through … It broke my heart to see this. I knew that they were here because they hadn’t had that special educator to mold and inspire them like I did.”
MICHAEL J. O’GUIN SR., ED.D.
O’Guin’s positions at TDCJ included: correctional officer; sergeant of correctional officers; lieutenant of correctional officers on death row and administrative segregation; and captain of correctional officers in administrative segregation.
It was while serving as lieutenant on death row that O’Guin said he was led to pursue a career in education.
“I worked on death row for four years and in that time, I witnessed a growth in the number of 16- and 17-year-old ‘offenders’ come through. They were just babies,” he told The County Gin. “It broke my heart to see this. I knew that they were here because they hadn’t had that special educator to mold and inspire them like I did.”
O’Guin said that he, too, could have had a life full of making poor decisions.
Fate, however, led him in a different direction, when in the fourth grade, he met an educator that inspired him to be better.
“His name was Mr. Massey and was the first male teacher I had. He encouraged me to be so much more than I thought myself capable,” O’Guin told The Gin. “He kept me out of trouble by increasing my involvement in school, teaching me things like chess. I even joined the chess club because of him. Because he helped my confidence grow, I wanted to do well in school and in life.”
He made a promise to himself to try to be that role model to young men like those housed in TDCJ.
“I kept saying that I’ll start with one. Just one,” O’Guin said. “One student that I could encourage and motivate to do well would be one less inmate or offender in this place.”
He took action on his promise in 2000 at Austin High School with Fort Bend ISD. He taught social studies, assisted with coaching and became team leader for his group of educators.
“There are two paths that one can take to become superintendent … I knew that I would be a superintendent one day. I wanted to understand each position that I would be leading one day. I didn’t want to skip any seats. During his tenure, he obtained his Master of Educational Administration degree from Texas Southern University (TSU).”
Michael J. O’Guin Sr., Ed.D.
“When I made the transition to the education profession, I had to develop my way of educating and coaching. Each educator has a unique technique or approach to teaching and leading students,” said O’Guin. “I found that if I accepted each and every student as they were with no pre-existing expectations; we could build a meaningful relationship, which would bring that student to see his or her potential.
“Once a kid knows you care, they are more willing to do the tasks set before them. No heavy-handed technique, just caring, motivating and acceptance. I still tell my students, you don’t have to be perfect, but you can improve every day.”
In 2008, O’Guin was offered a position as director of athletics and head football coach for Van Vleck ISD.
Under his leadership, the district’s athletic program experienced an increase of participation.
Football increased from 23 students and one team to 78 students and three teams, girls’ athletic numbers increased from 31 to 108 and no female or male varsity athlete lost academic eligibility with any sport.
O’Guin knew that he could help encourage and motivate many students that passed through his classroom or joined his athletic programs; however, he aimed to become an administrator in education in order to increase the number of students that he could help.
“There are two paths that one can take to become superintendent. One is to just gain the education and certifications, apply to open positions, start with smaller districts and move from district to district. The second is to work your way through each position, leading to super,” he said. “I knew that I would be a superintendent one day. I wanted to understand each position that I would be leading one day. I didn’t want to skip any seats.”
After obtaining his doctorate degree in educational administration from TSU, O’Guin became the Allen F. Labay middle school assistant principal for Cypress-Fairbanks ISD.
In the span of three years, those campuses saw an improvement in discipline, implementations of successful programs and systems and an increase in student attendance rate.
“When you are in an administrative position, you are able to encourage and instruct all teachers and faculty: who in return, can use those processes and systems gained to encourage and inspire every student,” O’Guin said. “I am able to pay it forward.”
It was his time and accomplishments as the high school principal for Nacogdoches ISD that O’Guin became sought after by a former co-worker at Hays Consolidated ISD.
He was recruited as the chief academic officer (deputy superintendent) by the district in 2018.
“I became aware that I was passionate to improve larger districts that were in a state of repair,” O’Guin said. “I supervised and oversaw seven campus principals, which all saw an increase of their A-F accountability grade.”
While in search of open superintendent positions in the area, O’Guin said Wharton ISD (WISD) immediately stuck out to him.
“When I was the director of athletics for Van Vleck, we had many district games and tournaments hosted at the Wharton High School,” he said. “I remember how nice and accommodating the staff and students were. It wasn’t just the school, but I had many great experiences in the city that still impress me to this day.
“I asked my wife what she thought about WISD. She said she would think and pray about it. So, we took a drive down to Wharton. We looked at the school campuses, ate at Dairy Queen and I could see a need, not only with the district’s structures, but I could feel there is an unmet need to provide Wharton’s students the opportunity to succeed. The demographics of Wharton mirror that of what I was fortunate to improve in Nacogdoches.
“This isn’t a dig at any past administrator or educator, or anything like that. I can’t fully explain the feeling that came over me while visiting Wharton, but it was like I was called there. I care for all students and educators. I saw a potential for there to be greatness and I want to be a part of building that greatness. Wharton is a sleeping giant, ready to be awakened.”
O’Guin knew that there would be many that applied for the position and that another applicant could be chosen with more experience, but he let his faith take the lead.
“My wife told me that, you know, if you don’t get it, it wasn’t in God’s plan for you to be there,” he said. “So, I prayed and left it in His hands.”
After the resignation of former superintendent Tina Herrington, the board immediately took proactive measures to find the next leader for its district.
“Someone once said, ‘The biggest indicator of what you can do is what you’ve accomplished in the past.’ And we felt like this particular superintendent had a body of work to where he was strong in those areas we were looking for … It’s no secret that the relationship between the board, the superintendent and the community is essential.“
WISD BOARD PRESIDENT
“Once we realized that we were going to need a new superintendent, we went out and decided as a board that we were going to have a firm that had extensive experience in the superintendent search and we followed their lead,” newly-elected board president Curtis Evans said, “but they also allowed us to have our input, because every community is different.
“Here, some of our main emphasis was the fact that we wanted a superintendent that had experience in going into a school district that maybe had a campus that was poor performing and was part of that process of lifting them up to a high-performing district for academic achievement, as well as improvement in student behavior and being an individual who was experienced in the demographics that we have here.”
O’Guin said that the hiring process of WISD was outstanding and organized and that was no accident on part of the district.
“After my first interview with the board of trustees, I had to commend them during the second interview,” he said. “They were cordial, passionate and professional. They show concern for the students and educators of the community. It was first-class all the way.”
He received the call from the WISD Board of Trustees offering him the position shortly after the second interview concluded on the evening of Tuesday, May 19.
Evans said despite their brief interaction with O’Guin, he was impressed by the caliber of his character and experience alike.
“In the short time that I’ve been able to listen to him and interact with him, he seems to be a man of high integrity. He expressed to us that he is a man of Christian values, first and foremost. He is a strong family man,” Evans said. “Someone once said, ‘The biggest indicator of what you can do is what you’ve accomplished in the past.’ And we felt like this particular superintendent had a body of work to where he was strong in those areas we were looking for.”
“Of course, I was excited and offered my intent to accept immediately,” O’Guin said. “The following day I was making phone calls to existing administration and faculty to introduce myself; which, so far all have been first-class individuals.”
O’Guin said in order to lead WISD to its untapped success, he will have to restore value in the district’s teachers, faculty and students.
“A great leader has to have a servant attitude, to ensure everyone else’s needs are met before his own,” he said. “I plan to do just that. I want everyone to feel happy, respected and valued.”
Of course, with any new position or transition, O’Guin said there should be nerves going into a new position.
“If there aren’t nervous feelings experienced when taking a new role, you don’t care about it,” he said.
Once officially hired by WISD, O’Guin plans to implement procedures to ensure both students and teachers have the resources to succeed.
“I want to put systems and processes in place that gives everyone the tools and resources to be successful,” he said. “But we’re not just trying to obtain success and stop. We’re going to build the sustainability of that success.”
The state-mandated 21-day hiring waiting period will end the second week of June, but that hasn’t postponed O’Guin from meeting the staff of WISD and community members.
“I’m excited to meet and introduce myself to everyone” he said. “I want the input and questions from the community. I’m excited to have one-on-one conversations with members of the community. I want to represent the district in a positive and receptive manner.
“We’re going to make special things happen in Wharton. We’re moving forward to reach success and sustain that level of success for many years to come.”
With a new superintendent, Evans, too, feels it is a step in the right direction for the district and community as a whole.
“It’s no secret that the relationship between the board, the superintendent and the community is essential and I’m looking forward to being a part of that process,” Evans said. “I’m excited. The opportunity is there. It’s a team effort and we’re all excited about the fact we will have a new superintendent as we move into some of the challenges that we’re facing as well.
“On one side, we’re excited, but on the other side, especially with COVID-19, there are a lot of variables and a lot of unknowns and a lot of challenges we’ll be faced with. I think that we have will be able to accept that challenge.
“We’re looking forward to getting together and trying to accomplish the goals that we set out and the vision that we have for the district — to prepare our kids for the future. We are going to sit down with our superintendent and come up with a strategy.”
For information about WISD plans, announcements and events, please visit www.whartonisd.net.