Category Archives: education news

Amarillo ISD coach controversy faces stern ballot test

Amarillo Independent School District has been roiled in recent weeks by a controversy involving the resignation of a popular coach of a highly acclaimed high school athletic program.

As it turns out, the school district is now getting ready for a school board election on May 4 that shows two incumbents — Jim Austin and John Betancourt — seeking re-election. Voters, therefore, have some choices to make. Do they endorse the conduct of the school board by returning the two trustees for another term in office, or do they wipe the slate clean and elect those who aren’t stained by what many observers — such as yours truly — consider to be a dubious act of stonewalling.

Here’s the issue, yet again. Amarillo High girls volleyball coach Kori Clements quit after one season. Her resignation letter takes aim at trustees because they didn’t back her when she complained about a parent who was interfering with her duties as coach of a vaunted athletic program; nor did the administration, Clements asserted.

The parent? She reportedly is a member of the board of trustees. She is someone who allegedly violated a standard operating rule of governance: Do not interfere, meddle or insert yourself into the job being done by staff members. School trustees set policy, then they let the staff implement that policy.

The school board has been silent on this issue all along, citing a policy that supposedly prohibits trustees from commenting on “personnel matters.” That, of course, is a smokescreen.

One resident, Dr. Marc Henson, complained to the Texas Education Agency about this matter, naming the trustee in question: Renee McCown. TEA kicked the issue back to the AISD, citing lack of jurisdiction.

Then a group called the Parents for Transparency Coalition formed. They want the school system to be as up front and revealing as it can be about the situation. The coalition wants answers to the reasons Clements cited in her resignation. The group is demanding an “independent investigation” into her resignation.

So here’s the challenge facing the school district’s voters. Do they want to retain the incumbents who accepted Clements’s resignation without comment or without ever speaking publicly about the reasons she cited, or do they want a fresh start?

If I had a vote — and I do not — I would seek to wipe the slate clean. Start over. I would demand that trustee candidates pledge to get to the bottom of what happened, who is culpable and vow publicly to support the educators who work for the school district’s voters — not exclusively for the school board.

If voters proceed down the same path, well, then Amarillo ISD constituents have to live with what they get.

In search of ‘transparency’ at the Amarillo school district

A coalition of Amarillo Independent School District constituents is getting fired up.

They want answers. The Parents for Transparency Coalition isn’t getting them. So, what is the course the coalition must travel? Beats me, although I certainly to respect the group’s demand for answers to a couple of questions that are continuing to roil the AISD community.

The school board is meeting Monday night at the Rod Schroder Education Support Center. The transparency coalition wants the school board to open an “independent investigation” into the resignation of Kori Clements, the former Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach. This resignation has roiled the AISD community. Clements quit a vaunted high school athletic program after a single season. She cited interference into her coaching duties from a parent and the lack of board and administrative support as her reasons for quitting.

The coalition has been advised that the school board will not take up the matter at its Monday meeting.

The Parents for Transparency want answers. They deserve them. They want to know if the allegation that the offending parent is a school trustee is true. They want to know why the board failed to back Clements’s complaint about the parental interference. They want the school board to explain itself. They are demanding that the school administration — now led by newly named Superintendent Doug Loomis — do the same thing.

Is that an unreasonable request? It is not.

However, asking the school board to hand this matter to an independent investigative team is like asking members of Congress to enact a constitutional amendment to limit the number of terms they can serve on Capitol Hill. It’s not going to happen.

Still, I stand with the Parents for Transparency as they seek answers to questions that continue to gnaw at the guts of the public school system.

If I were able to vote for Amarillo school trustee . . .

I would vote against the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees incumbents who are running for re-election. However, I cannot, given that I have moved away from Amarillo.

Although I do have a voice, using this blog.

Which brings me to an interesting point.

Amarillo ISD residents cast their school trustee votes under a plan called “cumulative voting.” The voting plan was the result of a settlement the school district reached years ago with Latino groups that had sued the school system over what they thought was inadequate Latino representation on the board.

Here’s how it works: Three trustee positions are being decided in May. Voters have a chance to parcel votes in varying combinations. They can cast all three votes for one; they can cast two votes for one candidate and one for another; they can cast a single vote for each candidate.

Two of the three candidates are incumbents seeking re-election. From my faraway vantage point, I believe the incumbents do not deserve to be sent back to office. They have mishandled — and are continuing to mishandle — the matter involving the resignation of Kori Clements, the former Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach who quit while citing interference by a parent who sought to pressure the coach to give her daughter more playing time. Clements’ resignation letter cited a lack of board and administration support.

This story is far from over.

A resident filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency, which kicked the issue back to the school district. A coalition of parents has formed to seek an independent inquiry into the conduct that forced Clements to resign from the vaunted high school athletic program.

In the meantime, the school district is conducting an election in May. Two incumbents, Jim Austin and John Betancourt, are running along with five other candidates; incumbent Robin Malone also is running unopposed in a “special election.”

Amarillo voters can change the makeup of their public school board next month. Given what I believe has been a serious mishandling of the coaching controversy, they have it within their power to make a fundamental change in the makeup of their school system’s governing body.

As for where this coaching controversy is heading . . . my trick knee and couple of little Amarillo birdies are telling me there will be more tales to tell. I believe we should stay tuned.

Casting my gaze over my shoulder

I love my life in my new home. There’s much to explore about Collin County, the rest of North Texas, the Metroplex. The growth all around our home is astonishing.

However, I remain committed to casting my gaze backward, perhaps for beyond the foreseeable future. I know that might seem counterintuitive, looking backward as we move forward.

However, the community my wife and I departed in 2018 has some issues that are boiling. Two of them stand out:

  • Downtown Amarillo is moving into a new existence, with a new energy and a new purpose. I want to keep my eye on how that progresses. I have high hope that the city’s future is looking brighter week by week.
  • The Amarillo Independent School District is facing some potentially critical policy debates over the short and perhaps the medium terms. The board of trustees is suffering a lack of community confidence. It has fumbled — in my view — in its handling of the resignation of a high school girls volleyball coach and the alleged misconduct by one of the elected trustees.

I am in touch with Amarillo ISD residents who are intent on getting to the bottom of matters. I intend to stay in touch with them and I intend to keep talking about those issues on this blog. I want the Amarillo ISD to resolve these problems constructively and permanently.

But I have to tell you that based on what I am hearing, there well might be some more AISD issues to tackle than what I’ve laid out with this brief blog post.

I also intend to get more involved with the community where my wife and I — along with our precious puppy, Toby — have settled. Princeton is a community on the move. My still-developing relationship with KETR-FM public radio will allow me a chance to get more deeply acquainted with the individuals and groups who are calling the shots in Collin County and throughout KETR’s listening area.

So . . . retirement has brought some new challenges my way. They involve getting involved with our new surroundings.

And keeping tabs on the community we recently departed, but did not leave behind.

AISD faces potential landmine

Amarillo Independent School District board members and senior administrators face a possible landmine or two unless they deal forthrightly with what I believe is a potentially serious ethics issue.

This will be the last comment I’ll make on this matter until — or unless — something significant occurs within the school district.

The Texas Education Agency has been made aware of a complaint filed by an Amarillo ISD constituent concerning the alleged conduct of a school board trustee and the role she might have played in the resignation of a popular high school girls volleyball coach.

The issue isn’t going away. TEA kicked the issue back to the district. It might consider possible action later, but the school district has to go through its normal personnel-related procedures.

At issue is the resignation of Kori Clements from her job as Amarillo High School Sandies girls volleyball coach. Clements said she didn’t get the support she deserved from the school board or the administration after a parent supposedly hassled her over playing time for the parent’s daughter. To worsen matters — as if it could get worse, given the anger that has roiled the community — AISD resident Marc Henson identified the parent as a school trustee, Renee McCown, who has remained quiet through all of this turmoil.

The board has some decisions to make. Does it remain quiet? Does it tell the offending parent — regardless of who it is — to no longer hassle an educator who is trying to do the best at his or her job? If the offending parent is a member of the board, how does the rest of the governing body deal with that?

I do not intend to sound any alarms here, but I do feel the need to remind AISD officials that they might be facing some serious blowback from TEA if they don’t solve what might be a serious dilemma. TEA has shown it is capable of inflicting serious punishment on public school systems.

I once worked in Beaumont. I left that community in early 1995, but not long after I departed the Golden Triangle, TEA took over a floundering school district; it dismissed the school board and the superintendent and installed caretakers who managed the school system until it righted itself. The issues there dealt with serious fiscal malfeasance.

I don’t detect such misbehavior with the Amarillo situation. I do sense there might be an issue regarding ethical conduct that needs the district’s attention.

A citizens group has formed to seek an outside investigation into what might have occurred to force a high school coach to resign, causing considerable community anxiety and downright anger.

TEA officials must be concerned, given that they already are aware of one complaint.

Amarillo school officials must respond in some meaningful manner to the concerns that have arisen. They surely won’t like the possible “or else” that could come later.

With that . . . I am out.

AISD should have expanded search . . . here’s why

I feel the need to comment on the selection of a new Amarillo school superintendent. Then I’ll move on.

I’ve stated already that I do not know the new Amarillo public school superintendent, Doug Loomis. I wish him well and hope he succeeds. Given that I live some distance away from Amarillo, I have no particular axe to grind. I do have some thoughts on the process that brought Loomis to the top education administrator job in Amarillo.

The Amarillo Independent School District board conducted an in-house search. It did not look beyond the staff already on hand. I believe it should have done that very thing. My reason why has nothing to do with Loomis. He well might be the greatest superintendent AISD will ever employ.

However, a narrow search, one that doesn’t cast a wide net, does not give board members a chance to have assess the local applicants against those who might have a different view on how to implement educational policy. Loomis emerged as the sole finalist for the job vacated when Dana West resigned suddenly this past year.

Does the board know with absolute certainty that Loomis is the best it could have found to compete for this post?

When I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, we tackled similar issues involving the hiring of chief administrators: at City Hall and at Amarillo College.

  • John Ward resigned as city manager after being on the job for 20 years. The City Council chose to look inward only. It elevated Alan Taylor to the manager’s job. We insisted the council look beyond the city. Taylor took our position as a criticism of him personally, even though we said expressly that it bore no reflection on him. We merely wanted the city to expand its search to include as broad a field of applicants as possible.

Taylor eventually retired and moved away. He did a fine job, although he continued to harbor ill feelings toward me personally and the Globe-News. I am sorry he felt that way.

  • Steve Jones became ill and eventually succumbed to cancer, leaving the Amarillo College Board of Regents with the task of looking for a new president. The man who served as acting president, Paul Matney, was elevated to the permanent post. The Globe-News argued yet again that the AC board should look nationally. Regents decided to stick with Matney. Our rationale for the AC search was the same as it was for City Hall.

It pained me greatly to make that argument, given my immense professional respect and personal affection for Paul Matney. He turned out to be an outstanding AC president and retired with his head held high and the gratitude for a job well done. To his great credit, Matney did not take our editorial position as a criticism of the job he would do.

AISD has some issues to tackle. My hope is that the new superintendent is up to the job. If only the AISD board had decided to expand its search far and wide.

Welcome to the fire pit, AISD’s new superintendent

Amarillo’s public school board has done it, hiring Doug Loomis as the school district’s newest superintendent.

I’ll concede up front that I do not know Loomis. I hope he does a good job. I also believe the Amarillo Independent School District should have looked beyond its administrative staff to find a new head educator. It didn’t. School trustees relied on the quality of the in-house hands to provide them with a quality applicant.

So, it’s Doug Loomis — the lone finalist for the superintendent post — who gets to step into the fire pit.

He inherits a job fraught with potential trouble. You see, the school board is under considerable community scrutiny over the resignation of an Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach who quit while complaining about parental interference into the way she did her job. Kori Clements said the board and the administration did not give her adequate support as she sought to fend off what she said was harassment from the interfering parent.

Indeed, Loomis was serving as acting superintendent when Clements quit one of Texas’s most vaunted athletic programs after just a single season as head coach. It was on his watch, therefore, that this matter blew apart.

To make matters worse, an Amarillo ISD resident — Marc Henson — has filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency. What’s more, Henson has identified the person who allegedly interfered with Coach Clements’ duties: school trustee Renee McCown.

The new superintendent answers to the board. This person is the only individual the board hires directly. Loomis will work for a board that has drawn considerable community anger over its handling of the Clements matter. He will walk the finest line possible.

I hope Loomis finds it within himself to counsel his bosses that they must remain acutely mindful that they are elected to set educational policy and not to monkey around with the way educators are doing their job. Trustees presumably hired him because they trust his judgment as he gives them his best advice and counsel. The community well could get a good look at how far that trust extends.

Not only must they be mindful, they must do only what they are empowered to do.

So . . . good luck, Doug Loomis.

Amarillo ISD complaint offers opportunity for ethics lesson

A constituent of Amarillo’s public school system, has peeled away the shroud from a story that has been brewing in the community for several weeks.

Marc Henson has filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency against a member of the Amarillo school district board who, according to Henson, interfered with a high school coach’s ability to do her job. The board trustee, Renee McCown, badgered former Amarillo High School volleyball coach Kori Clements, griping about the playing time being given to the trustee’s daughters.

Clements quit after a single season coaching in one of Texas’s most storied high school athletic programs.

There’s a lesson to be learned, no matter how this story plays out.

It is that elected officials — be they school board members, city council members, county commissioners, college or university regents — have no business meddling in the day-to-day work of the staff members who serve the public.

I am going to presume that Renee McCown received that advice as she was preparing to become an Amarillo public school trustee. If she never received those words of wisdom from senior school administrators or fellow trustees, shame on them for neglecting to inform her.

If she got that advice and then ignored it, then shame on her.

I am acutely aware that all of this is an allegation. However, it rings more credible to me — and to others who are much closer to the matter than I am — every time I consider it.

McCown hasn’t denied anything publicly. Clements’ resignation letter set the table for a heated community discussion. Marc Henson’s complaint to the TEA has blown the lid off the alleged culprit in this bizarre story.

As for the lesson to be learned, it is a simple one. Read my lips: Elected officials set governing policy and then let the paid staff implement that policy. Period. End of story.

Any involvement in the implementation of policy beyond that simple mandate smacks of unethical conduct and must be dealt with sharply.

Resign from AISD board, Mme. Trustee

You are entitled to call me an interloper, an outsider, a peanut-gallery spectator if you wish, but I want to get this off my chest right now: Renee McCown, a member of the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees, needs to resign her seat and disappear from school politics.

I’ll now get this off my chest as well. I am not an entirely nosy outsider. I lived and worked in Amarillo for 23 years. I spent most of those years commenting on public school affairs from my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Yes, I’ve moved away, but I retain a deep interest in the affairs of the community.

McCown has been named in a complaint filed by an Amarillo ISD constituent, Marc Henson, who has submitted his gripes to the Texas Education Agency. He has accused McCown of acting unethically by pressuring a former Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach, Kori Clements, into giving her daughter more playing time. McCown reportedly was unhappy that her children weren’t getting enough time on the court and told Clements to do better by her daughters.

Clements quit the vaunted AHS Sandies program after a single season and accused the board and the AISD administration of failing to give her the backing she needed to do her job as an educator.

If this is true, and I believe the accusations are credible, then the trustee has committed a serious ethical breach of conduct by interfering in the duties of an educator who answers to administrative staff and to the board of trustees.

Is McCown actually guilty of what has been alleged? I don’t know. I do know that she hasn’t spoken out publicly on the matter. Her silence — along with the silence of her board colleagues and administrators — speaks volumes about what Henson has alleged in his complaint to the TEA.

There have no denials. No responses of any sort.

I happened to be in Amarillo recently and I had the pleasure of attending an AISD board meeting in which Clements’ resignation was the topic of the evening. Several school system constituents admonished the board for its conduct in the matter. They scolded trustees and administrators for failing to give Clements the support she deserved.

I was struck by the amazing body language of trustees. Several of them — including Renee McCown — refused to look their “accusers” in the eye. They all kept their heads down, looking at something on the dais in front of them.

It was an off-putting display of arrogance, not to mention cowardice. It also appeared to my eyes to be highly instructive of what was being said to them directly by the people whose taxes pay for operation of the public school system.

I do not know Renee McCown. However, I know enough about this story to make a couple of presumptions.

  • Her standing is likely damaged beyond repair, given what has been discussed openly and what has been alleged officially at the agency that governs public education in Texas.
  • It will be impossible for her to continue functioning effectively as a steward of Amarillo’s public school system, given all that has transpired to date.

She needs to resign. Moreover, a public apology to the coach and to her constituents would be in order as well.

Trying to grasp the college admission scandal

With all the other news stories that are crashing around us, I am having a bit of trouble wrapping my arms around what ought to be the biggest story of the year.

The college admission scandal! It involves wealthy Americans — including at least two prominent TV and film entertainers — shelling out big money to get their children admitted to prestigious universities.

I keep returning to this thought . . .

Suppose you’re a student who has applied to a university and you are denied admission. Your grades are good enough. Your SAT and ACT scores measure up. But the university has a cap on the number of incoming freshmen it can accept; that’s the case in several of Texas’s top public universities.

Then you hear that some son or daughter of a big-time donor gets admitted. You wonder immediately whether that new freshman got in totally on merit or was he or she able to slide in via deep-pocketed Mom and Dad’s connection with the school.

This scandal speaks to a whole array of matters that need careful examination. Privilege appears to be at the top of the heap. How many of our colleges and universities are involved in this horrible story? Are worthy high school graduates being denied admission because someone else has greased the palm of some university president, chancellor or regent?

The entertainers in question — Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman — have posted hefty bonds to be released from jail. Their troubles are just beginning.

So, too, should college and universities administrators squirm as this story continues to gather pace.

I hope we don’t lose interest in this matter.