Last February, T.J. Parks, superintendent of Hobbs Municipal Schools, was honored as the New Mexico Superintendent of the Year. That makes for a very good reason to select Parks as the subject of the first “Teacher Feature” for Focus on Lea County.
A 31-year resident of Lea County, Parks began his teaching career at Tatum Municipal Schools in 1982. He had a five-year stint in Texas but spent a grand total of 21 years in Tatum.
Parks taught seventh and eighth grade science and coached in Tatum for five years before moving to Friona, Texas, where he taught biology and coached varsity basketball for two years. He accepted a middle school assistant principal position in Dimmitt, Texas, in 1988. He then returned to Tatum as a principal, later becoming the superintendent.
In 2007, Hobbs had an opening for director of operations, so he applied for the spot. “(Then-superintendent) Cliff Burch and I have been friends for 25-plus years,” he reflected. “Once my children graduated, I felt I was ready for another challenge.”
He became superintendent of Hobbs Municipal Schools in 2010. Naturally, he praised the district’s staff and students. “The staff makes Hobbs Municipal Schools special!” he shared. “They are a very caring, hard working group of professionals that truly care about every child. Our students are amazing. They are creative, smart, and fun to be around. The pride of being an Eagle is visible in all we do.”
He added that the school district emphasizes culture, data, instruction, and leadership.
This “Hobbs Way” drives 90-day plans. A 21st Century Grant, meanwhile, has enabled the school district to provide quality after school programs for elementary and middle school students.
Teaching is the most difficult job he has ever held. “It is not only taxing because of the strain of being on your feet all day, but mentally you are exhausted trying to motivate and teach students,” he observed. “Today’s accountability and testing add another component I did not have to deal with during my classroom days. I have all the respect in the world for teachers.”
Working as an administrator has taught Parks to look at problems more systematically, because one decision can have a ripple effect for many people. “I enjoy collaborating with colleagues and trying to solve problems through open and honest conversations,” he noted. “If we stop and listen to the teachers (and students), we can make tremendous academic gains as well as avoid some pitfalls.”
He also provides many of the Twitter feeds for Hobbs schools. He enjoys writing monthly articles for the newspaper and is always pleasantly surprised by the comments he receives on his articles.
Parks declared that he wants Hobbs Municipal Schools to be the gold standard for education. He would like to partner with the community of Hobbs to make reading a priority for children and adults. He would also like to see a school-based Hobbs Municipal Schools health clinic where students and staff members can receive care.
“Immediate health care would reduce absenteeism and improve quality of life,” he maintained. “A vital component of any school-based health clinic is the behavioral component. We have numerous students who need social emotional assistance.”
Finally, education should be an on-demand resource, meaning that the availability of technology should provide students access to their education 24/7 rather than just when school is in session.
Technology has certainly changed education quite a bit over the past 20 years. Parks recalled his first computer, an Apple IIe with no hard drive. “We used 5½-inch floppy discs,” he remembered. “We were constantly inserting and removing the discs to perform simple functions. During the early days of the internet, we connected using a modem, which sounded like an alarm going off.”
“Thomas Friedman says technology doubles every year, and he sees no end in sight,” Parks pronounced, noting that today’s cell phones have 1,000 times the capacity of those old computers.
“I don’t think technology will ever replace a teacher, but we must embrace and allow students and teachers flexibility to use resources to enhance the experience,” he insisted. “I believe the sharing of resources on the internet will continue to expand. The internet has not only created a ‘flat world’ but also a ‘connected world.’”
Parks revealed he has been married to his best friend, Teresa Turner Parks, for 35 years. She is a vocational teacher in Tatum.
“We have two wonderful children,” he continued. “Wade and his wife, Gwen, live in Houston, where Wade is a civil engineer for KIT specializing in wastewater management. Gwen is a child life specialist. Amanda Bellows and her husband, Trevor, live here in Hobbs. Amanda is a speech language pathologist for Hobbs schools and Trevor is a firefighter for the City of Lovington.”
Parks enjoys team sports and running, and he most recently began cycling with the Southeast New Mexico Cycling Club. The group rides 40-60 miles on Saturdays and 20-25 miles on Sundays. He also works out at a local gym several times each week. “I am a firm believer that exercise can relieve negative stress,” he concluded.
Being a superintendent may be a stressful job at times, but T.J. Parks has the right crew and the right students to make it very worthwhile.