Category Archives: education news

Vet school set to become a reality for the Panhandle

I want to offer some hand claps to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle for a signature they have obtained from Gov. Greg Abbott.

The governor has signed legislation that grants state money to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. It will be the second such institution in Texas. It will be operated by Texas Tech University and it will be located wholly in Amarillo, which lobbied furiously for the funds to build this much-needed project.

I had the pleasure of visiting with former Texas Tech Chancellor Bob Duncan not long before he got the bum’s rush by the Tech board of regents. Duncan came to Amarillo to make the case for the vet school and to tell the community that the state needed the second such program. Texas A&M University operates the long-standing school of veterinary medicine and had resisted Tech’s efforts to gain legislative approval for the new school.

This is a big deal, man! I am delighted that the region’s legislative delegation — state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Reps. John Smithee and Four Price, all Amarillo Republicans — flexed its collective muscle to ensure this legislative victory.

It also is heartening that Texas Tech, despite Duncan’s ouster as chancellor, managed to maintain its own momentum with a new chancellor, Tedd Mitchell, at the helm.

The Amarillo campus will enable Panhandle veterinary students to stay closer to home to get their education. One can hope, too, that they will remain at home to pursue their careers as doctors of veterinary medicine.

I had my share of anxious moments while living in the Panhandle and even after moving away. But then Amarillo’s economic development gurus lined up behind the project; so did the City Council; civic and business leaders ponied up serious money to help lighten the public burden.

I understand the vet school will open for class in a couple of years. Students will receive a first-class education that will pave the way for first-class careers.

It is nice to see the Texas Panhandle, which occasionally gets the short shrift from those in power way down yonder in Austin, score a major victory.

How must governments define ‘personnel’ matters?

I won’t take credit for this idea. It comes from a reader of this blog and a frequent critic of local government in Amarillo, Texas.

My friend wonders whether the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees should examine carefully its policy of declining to comment on “personnel matters” when the matter involves an elected member of the governing board.

The Parents for Transparency Coalition is seeking answers from the school board on an array of issues. The coalition believes the board and senior administration are too opaque in their conduct of public business.

I need to revisit the resignation of the Amarillo High volleyball coach. Kori Clements resigned her post after asserting that a parent had interfered with her coaching decisions. The parent allegedly was a member of the school board. Renee McCown, the now former trustee, resigned. Still, the board has declined to comment on the matter, citing the “personnel” policy as prohibiting them from making any public comment.

I’ll ask the question: Is a school trustee “employed” by the district? Does the trustee’s reticence and the board’s reluctance to comment fall under that personnel-related policy? I tend to view the elected trustee as someone who is distinctly different from the paid administrators, faculty and staff.

I agree with my friend, who said: Someone needs to mount a legal challenge to determine whether a board member is “personnel” and the state press association needs to lobby for changes in the way public personnel are protected under the sunshine laws.

Therein might lie the Parents for Transparency Coalition’s opening to seek — and hopefully get — more transparency from its local public school district.

That’s a pretty good starting point.

AISD might soon learn about power of social media

Amarillo’s public school system is still facing pressure from a parental group whose aim is to demand — and receive — more “transparency” from those who educate the community’s children.

I wish the parents well in their quest, although it might be a futile one.

The Parents for Transparency Coalition is using social media as a weapon in their quest to reveal more about what is happening behind the scenes at the Amarillo Independent School District. AISD, thus, might get a stern lesson on the impact social media has on political causes.

The coalition wants an “independent” investigation. It is demanding it through its Facebook account. The group is unhappy with some of the decisions made at the highest levels of the AISD administration.

Why the possible futility?

Well, the board recently accepted the resignation of a trustee, Renee McCown, who got caught up in a controversy over the resignation of Kori Clements, the Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach, who quit after complaining about a meddlesome parent who sought to influence the coach’s decisions regarding playing time for her athletes. Two of those student-athletes happened to be daughters of the parent … who allegedly was McCown, the now-former AISD school trustee.

McCown quit board before her seat was to be decided at the next election set for 2022.

That should be the end of it, right? Not according to the Parents for Transparency Coalition. They are angry with newly installed trustee Dick Ford, who took up for McCown, saying she did nothing wrong.

The coalition is continuing to raise a ruckus about the state of affairs within the AISD, suggesting on Facebook that the group will continue to insist on an independent probe. They have singled Ford out, too, apparently because of the trustee’s defense of McCown.

I am in no position to comment specifically on the merits of what the transparency coalition wants or whether there should be an independent investigation. However, I do sense a growing tension between the parents group and senior administrators that somehow needs a resolution.

Why? Because I do not sense that the Parents for Transparency Coalition is going to let up until someone on the receiving end of its demands — at the AISD headquarters — starts paying attention.

Therefore, we will witness the power of social media.

There will be more to come. Of that I am certain.

Trying to imagine a school system that can now move on

I am trying to put myself into the skulls of the remaining members of the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees.

The board welcomed three new members after the May 4 election. Then a longtime board trustee resigned. Then, just like that, another trustee quit.

It’s the second trustee’s resignation that well might cause some relief among the trustees who are remaining. Renee McCown quit the board after being caught up in the swirl of a controversy involving the resignation of a popular high school girls volleyball coach.

The coach quit the Amarillo High program after a single season, then blamed the board and administrator for failing to support her against a meddlesome parent who griped about the coach’s playing-time decisions; the parent wanted her daughters to get more time.

Oh, the offending parent allegedly was Renee McCown, the aforementioned now former AISD board trustee.

What now? What should the district seek as it moves forward?

I want there to be a return to an undivided effort to providing the best possible quality education for the district’s 33,000 students.

I am now living some distance away. I have watched this coaching controversy from afar. I have been dismayed at how this matter played out. I wanted the school district board to clear the air about what the former coach alleged. It remained silent. Now that the implicated trustee has walked away I don’t believe the board will answer the questions that have swirled.

But I cannot do anything about any of it.

My hope is that with the final resignation occurring in the wake of the tempest that bubbled forth that the board can put this particular issue aside and concentrate solely on matters related to why they sought the public offices they now occupy.

Amarillo public school system needs to turn the corner

Where does the Amarillo Independent School District stand now that another elected school board member has packed it in?

Renee McCown, an embattled school trustee who got caught up in a controversy stemming from the resignation of a popular high school volleyball coach, has resigned. Her seat on the seven-member board is empty.

McCown became the focal point in an issue involving alleged meddling by an AISD parent over the way former coach Kori Clements was doing her job. Clements quit after a single season as Amarillo High volleyball coach.

The parent involved in the meddling allegedly was McCown, who — if the allegations are true — committed an egregious act of ethical misbehavior. School board trustees should not interfere with staffers seeking to do their job.

Do I know with absolute certainty that the trustee did what was alleged? No. However, her silence on the matter — let alone the silence from the entire board and the school administration — suggest a certain credibility to the allegations that have arisen. Thus, her continued service on the AISD board and the continuing questions that lingered over the community made her service untenable.

I don’t expect McCown, who is freed from any adherence to AISD policy requiring silence on “personnel matters,” to come forth and offer her side to a story that has roiled the AISD athletic community. She is as free to remain silent as she is free to speak out.

I do want to reiterate a critical point. School trustees who have children enrolled in the public school system they are elected or appointed to govern must keep their distance from educators who are hired to do certain jobs.

The AISD board will have to fill two seats soon with brand new members, joining the others who have just joined the board in the wake of the most recent election.

It is my sincere hope that they understand fully every single one of the boundaries they should not cross.

Time for a serious meeting of the minds on AISD board?

I am posting this item anticipating a resignation from the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees.

The board is conducting a special meeting today to consider acceptance of a resignation letter from trustee Renee McCown. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill resignation, although McCown’s letter to the board makes no reference to the turmoil that has erupted in the district in recent months.

Indeed, McCown has been implicated deeply in the unrest that has roiled the AISD.

An Amarillo High girls volleyball coach quit; she blamed her resignation from a vaunted athletic program on parental interference; she said the board and administrators didn’t back her; she resigned; the board held a meeting and got an earful from angry constituents; the board accepted the coach’s resignation and has moved on.

Meanwhile, McCown was named in a complaint filed with the Texas Education Agency as the offending parent who allegedly harassed the coach over playing time allotted for the parent’s daughters on the Sandies’ volleyball team. The complaint and the allegations leveled against the trustee constitute a serious no-no, an egregious violation of governing ethics . . . in my humble view.

McCown has remained quiet, along with the rest of the board.

Her silence on the issue has spoken more loudly and vividly than perhaps she expected. I have commented several times on this matter, wanting the board to break its silence, wanting some accountability, seeking some transparency.

I expect the silence to continue even after McCown walks away from her public office. That would be a shame.

I am going to hope, though, that the school board along with the administration will have candid discussions among all the principals about the complaint that was filed, the reasons cited by the former volleyball coach, the TEA complaint filed by the constituent and the concerns of a parents group that is demanding more transparency.

Let them speak frankly to each other and let there be a clear understanding of the boundaries none of those trustees ever should cross.

A pending AISD resignation is bound to roil the community

News does travel quickly.

I got word way down yonder in Collin County that an Amarillo Independent School District trustee who’s been implicated in an ongoing controversy in the district is resigning.

The school board is meeting on Thursday and one of the agenda items to be considered is whether to accept the resignation of trustee Renee McCown. This is a very big deal, folks. I now will explain why. Bear with me as I repeat a little of what is known already.

An Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach, Kori Clements, resigned earlier in the school year after a single season. She said in her resignation letter that a parent was hassling her over playing time she was giving the parent’s daughters. Clements said in her resignation that the board and the administration failed to back her.

The board accepted the coach’s resignation without comment after hearing from a number of AISD constituents who were displeased with the way the coach was treated. I heard the complaints first hand, as I attended that meeting.

Then came a complaint filed by an AISD constituent with the Texas Education Agency that named the offending parent: McCown, a trustee on the school board.

McCown has been silent on the allegation. So has the rest of the board. Superintendent Doug Loomis did issue a statement denying the allegation against McCown, although the statement offered virtually no specifics.

So now it appears that McCown is out. She leaves on the heels of the resignation of another trustee, John Ben Blanchard, and after two other trustees — John Betancourt and Jim Austin — lost their re-election bids in early May. A fifth incumbent, Scott Flow, did not seek a new term.

That means the board soon will have five new faces out of seven members on its body.

What does that mean in terms of the school system’s controversy? I haven’t a clue. If the board accepts McCown’s resignation, it will cleanse itself — not to mention the district — of an odorous chapter in its recent history.

The implication that a school trustee would interfere in the performance of a staffer’s duties is the kind of thing that needs to be dealt with openly. The AISD board has been stone-cold silent, citing “personnel policy” for its reticence. That silence has failed to serve the district, its constituents, its students, its faculty, administrators and, yes, even its trustees well.

I’ve noted already that I do not know Renee McCown, although I do wish her well as she prepares to leave local politics.

But there’s a stern and unmistakable lesson to be learned here. It is that elected officials are “hired” by their constituents to set educational policy. These officials are not elected to butt in where they don’t belong.

School is out, but let’s not lose sight of a noble goal

A group of parents has formed in Amarillo that is demanding “transparency” from the Amarillo Independent School District.

It is called the Parents for Transparency Coalition. The group sprung to life after a high school girls volleyball coach resigned, igniting a controversy surrounding the school board, the administration and alleged interference by a parent in the way the coach was doing her job. The coalition has some specific grievances that is seeks to remedy within the AISD. I am not qualified to discuss the specifics of all that the group is seeking to address.

I do, though, want to take a brief note of the group’s noble goal.

Transparency always, without exception, is better than darkness, or opaqueness in government at any level. That goes for school systems as well as city councils, county commissioners courts, the judiciary at any level and certainly at the federal level.

The Parents for Transparency Coalition believes the AISD is particularly dark and secretive. That is the coalition’s fight to wage. Given that I live far away these days I have little access to the particulars of what irks the coalition’s membership.

However, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of the overarching message that the coalition is seeking for the public school system. Perhaps there can be a message that needs to be delivered.

It is that the property tax revenue that foots the bill for educating a community’s children comes from the property owners who live within that school district. The vast bulk of that financial burden is borne by the residents, many of whom have children being educated within that system.

Therefore, they have every right to demand full transparency, even while school is out for the summer.

To that end, I stand with the Parents for Transparency Coalition.

AISD faces a curious statement of support

Let me see if I am hearing this correctly.

John Ben Blanchard’s resignation from the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees puts the school board in a position of appointing someone to fill that seat.

John Betancourt is getting some social media love from AISD residents who want him to get the appointment.

But . . . wait! 

Betancourt was just voted off the board of trustees in early May. He was one of two incumbents who lost their bid for re-election.

So, now the community is hearing from supporters of Betancourt who want him reinstated as an AISD board member just after he got booted out of office by the school district’s voters?

Betancourt’s fans want a Hispanic voice on the board. Betancourt provided that voice before he lost his re-election bid.

Here’s a thought from a former Amarillo resident — that would be me — who has spent a good bit of time and energy over the years commenting on school district policy: Look elsewhere for someone to take John Ben Blanchard’s place on the AISD board. If the school system needs a Hispanic board member to address issues relevant to the district’s burgeoning Hispanic population, it can choose from among plenty of qualified individuals to fill that need.

I don’t know Betancourt, other than through social media. I argued on this blog for a housecleaning on the AISD board in the wake of the Kori Clements coaching resignation fiasco and the board’s stone-cold silence regarding the issues that have arisen.

If Betancourt wants back on the board, he ought to run for the office at the next opportunity and persuade voters they made a mistake in kicking him out of office.

By all means, change the name of that school

Amarillo’s public school trustees have made the correct call in initiating the process of changing the name of a school identified with someone who sought to overthrow the government of the United States of America.

I refer to Lee Elementary School, once named Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Amarillo Independent School District trustees, feeling the heat over other communities’ struggles with monuments and buildings named after the Confederate Army general, decided to drop the “Robert E.” from the name, believing that would soften the impact of the general’s presence.

Now the name “Lee” is coming off the campus altogether. The AISD board is going to consider some suitable replacement.

This is a good call.

For starters, the school serves a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Why did Gen. Lee join with his native Virginia in seeking to overthrow the government during the Civil War? Well, because the Confederate States of America wanted the right to continue holding human beings — African-Americans — in bondage. They were slaves! Properties of their white masters!

Amarillo’s history is full of pioneers who were champions of public education, or they helped settle the region, or helped build the community. AISD’s elementary, middle, junior high and high schools already carry names of significance to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. They haven’t used ’em all up!

As for Gen. Lee, his name belongs in museums dedicated to explaining why he decided to go to war against the Union. It doesn’t belong on the side of a building serving a neighborhood full of descendants of those he and his Confederate comrades sought to enslave.

As AISD trustee John Ben Blanchard, who resigned from the board this week, said: “My hope is that the name of Lee Elementary will be changed to something that is not divisive or offensive to our community.”

It’s my hope, too.