Category Archives: education news

AISD board deserves a healthy roster of challengers

Political incumbents have gritted their teeth when I have said over the years that all of them deserves to be challenged at election time.

They usually ask, “Why should anyone challenge me if I’m doing a good job?” My answer usually goes something like this: “Because no one deserves a free ride when citizens are given the chance to offer themselves as a candidate for public office.”

The Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees is facing a potential plethora of challengers if enough residents want to challenge three incumbents who are up for re-election this year.

Heaven knows the board has earned the challenge, based on its performance in that controversial resignation of Amarillo High girls volleyball coach Kori Clements, who quit earlier this year citing parental interference in the way she was doing her job.

The board didn’t back the coach. Neither did the AISD administration, which answers to the board.

Friday is the final day for candidates to step up to challenge the incumbents whose terms are up this year: Jim Austin, Scott Flow and John Betancourt. Flow hasn’t yet declared his candidacy for re-election.

These incumbents need to be challenged. They need to answer for their non-action in the Clements matter. They need to explain why they dummied up. They must be held to account for the shabby treatment that befell the coach of a vaunted high school athletic program.

They should be challenged even if they were doing a good job. I am sorry to conclude that this bunch has fallen short.

Vet school gets a huge financial boost

I remain concerned about the fate of Texas Tech University’s planned school of veterinary medicine that is supposed to be built in Amarillo.

My concern has been lessened , though, by a donation that came from former Amarillo Mayor Jerry and Margaret Hodge, who have pledged $10 million to build the school at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in west Amarillo.

Yep, the Hodges have stepped up, as is their tendency when community need arises.

And it did with the recent removal of state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, from the chairmanship of the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee.

I am not predicting that the veterinary medicine school is doomed simply because Seliger is no longer chairman of the key Senate committee charged with legislating the school into existence. However, the generosity of a prominent Amarillo couple helps protect the school and helps guide it closer toward completion.

As for Seliger and his ongoing feud with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, my hope for the sprawling Senate District 31 is that it won’t get stiffed by Patrick’s petulance against a veteran — and accomplished — state legislator.

Let us hope the school of veterinary medicine makes it across the finish line. Texas Tech will reap the reward. Better still, so will the West Texas agricultural community that will benefit from the veterinarians who will graduate from the vet school.

Many thanks, Jerry and Margaret Hodge, for stepping up.

Voters retain ultimate power

Two political incidents in the Texas Panhandle have provided significant evidence of just who holds the power in these disputes.

I refer to two dustups: one involving Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick; the other one involves the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

In both instances, the voters are getting the shaft by those in power.

First, the Seliger-Patrick battle.

Patrick is angry with Seliger because the Amarillo Republican lawmaker doesn’t always vote the way Patrick prefers. What the lieutenant governor needs to understand — and I am sure he does at some level — is that Seliger works for West Texans, not for Dan Patrick.

Patrick yanked the chairman’s gavel from Seliger, who chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee. Seliger said something supposedly unkind about a Patrick aide. Patrick then responded by pulling Seliger out of the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Seliger owes his allegiance to the voters of the sprawling Texas Senate District 31. As for Lt. Gov. Patrick, he is acting like a legend in his own mind.

Now, the AISD board.

An Amarillo High School volleyball coach, Kori Clements, resigned after one season. She cited parental interference as the reason she quit; she also said the school district administration didn’t back her.

The chatter around the school district is that the offending parent is a member of the AISD board of trustees.

The board has been silent. It has refused to speak to the issue directly. It needs to do exactly that. Why? Because the board works for the public, which pays the salaries of the administrators and educators and which pays to keep the lights on at all of AISD’s campuses.

The voters are the bosses. The AISD board answers to them, not to each other, or to the superintendent.

There needs to be a public accounting for what happened to make Coach Clements pack it in after just a single season as head coach of a vaunted high school volleyball program.

The public needs to know. It has every right to demand answers.

Lessons to be learned from coach/parent confrontation

The coaching crisis that erupted in Amarillo, Texas, a few weeks ago has stuck in my craw ever since it came to my attention.

Absent any explicit denials of what caused the head coach of a vaunted girls high school volleyball program to quit after a single season, I am left to conclude that what she alleged about parental interference is essentially true.

Kori Clements resigned as Amarillo High’s volleyball coach. She blamed parental interference into playing time decisions the coach was making as her reason for quitting. Clements cited a lack of support from the Amarillo school district administration and the board as the catalyst for her resignation.

I won’t get into the details of what allegedly occurred, or discuss the parent involved.

However, there is a stern lesson that must not be lost on parents of children who are enrolled in public schools. The lesson also applies — perhaps even more stringently — to parents of those students who participate in extracurricular activities.

The bottom line? Let the educators in whose trust we put our children do the jobs they are paid to do!

Coaches, or band directors, or theatrical instructors all play a part in extending children’s educational experience. We should trust that they are doing their jobs ethically, with compassion, patience and even love for our children.

Absent demonstrable abuse or incompetence on an educator’s part, parents are asked simply to do the right thing by their children, which is to give them support and to encourage them to do their best. It’s in the unwritten rule book under Parenthood 101.

There appears to be no sign — none whatsoever! — of anything approaching malfeasance on the part of Coach Clements. She wasn’t abusing her athletes or mistreating them in any way. She reportedly was seeking to put the best players on the floor and seeking to manage their playing time to produce the most victories for her school volleyball team as possible.

There is a lesson here for all parents and, yes, for all school administrators.

Just as parents must support their children, school administrators must demonstrate support for the faculty members they hire to educate the children parents put in their trust.

This Amarillo Independent School District story likely hasn’t played itself out all the way. I’ll continue to watch it unfold as time goes by.

But, dang it, man! Let’s not allow the horrendous mistakes — and alleged misconduct — of a fanatical parent cause us to lose sight of the need to protect our children properly or of the need to support the educators who are doing the right thing.

Hey, AISD board . . . will you speak to your ‘bosses’?

I want to stand with my friend and former Amarillo Globe-News colleague Jon Mark Beilue, who is demanding answers from the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees.

The AISD board accepted the resignation of a highly valued girls volleyball coach who quit because of pressure she was getting from the mother of one of her athletes.

The coach, Kori Cooper Clements, lasted one season. The Amarillo High girls volleyball program is among the best in Texas history. What Clements has alleged is shameful interference by a parent.

The school board has remained silent. The school district’s constituents — the board’s “bosses” — deserve an explanation on what has been alleged.

What’s more, the chatter all over Amarillo implicates Renee McCown, an AISD board member, as the offending parent.

So, as Beilue has suggested, it is past time for the board to speak to the constituents. Explain its action or it inaction on this matter.

Here is what Beilue posted the other day on Facebook. Take a moment or two to read it. It’s worth your time.

***

So it’s been one week since the Amarillo ISD school board heard from an angry public at its regularly scheduled meeting, including two Amarillo High volleyball players among 10 there to support head coach Kori Clements, voted to accept Clements resignation, and then has publicly done what anyone who has been paying attention to this board expected.

Nothing.

No word of support for fellow board member Rene McCown who’s been twisting in the wind, no admonishment of allegations of her misuse of her school board position, no announcing they are looking into this troubling situation and will issue their findings as soon as possible.

Nothing.

It’s as if Amarillo voters elected a bunch of Marcel Marceaus, the famous French mime.

To recap quickly, promising young coach Kori Cooper-Clements resigned earlier this month in her first year with the storied program, and also her alma mater. She publicly accused a board member – read, McCown, who has two daughters on the team – of what appears to be greatly overstepping her bounds as a board member with regard to playing time for her daughters, and an administration who did not back the coach and played the political game of siding with the board member.

It has ignited a community firestorm that far exceeds the interest level of a high school volleyball program for the bigger picture of what appears to be a violation of the public trust of a board member, an administration that caved and a board that sits in stubborn silence.

There’s an old axiom in coaching when bad behavior, or lack of discipline on a team, occurs: “You’re either coaching it or allowing it to happen.”

Since I doubt the board is coaching it, let’s just vote for allowing it to happen. Board members can stiffen their backs all they want, but what conclusion should reasonable people reach when a board’s response seems to be just wishing it would go away?

At this moment, the entire public trust of the board from those who vote is about as low as it gets. If they disagree, they need to get out more.

This is not some run-of-the-mill parental interference of an athletic program that occurs frequently. This is not a parent who works at – oh, I don’t know – Owens-Corning who’s raising a stink. No, a board does not need nor should it get involved in those instances.

This is much different. This is one of your own who has allegedly inserted herself into the process almost from the moment Cooper-Clements was hired last March and attempted to use her position for personal gain that is not in the best interest of AISD.

That demands an internal investigation and public accountability to a public that put this board in that position in the first place. It demands transparency and getting on top of this instead of sticking their heads in the nearest Sod Poodle hole. To not do that is an insult to Amarillo and reeking of arrogance.

This goes beyond the tepid statement last week of a policy that “AISD does not comment on personnel matters out of confidentiality and respect for our employees.” This is a bigger matter than that, and the board knows it. Or should know it.

So as the board continues to play the public for a fool by remaining silent and invite even more questions, and the same public is left to wonder if board members can just play by their own rules, maybe the question is exactly that: Is the board coaching it or allowing it to happen?

Upcoming school district election might portend big change

I am not normally a betting guy. I mean, I don’t even play any form of the Texas Lottery.

However, I am beginning to sense from distance away that the upcoming Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees election is going to be a barn-burner.

Three trustees are up for re-election later this year, but they are entering a campaign season fraught with questions — and a good bit of anger — among AISD constituents. Many voters appear to be steamed at the way the board handled the resignation of a popular high school girls volleyball coach and the circumstances reportedly surrounding it.

Kori Clements quit her Amarillo High School coaching job. She cited parental influence as the reason for her resignation. The school board has remained silent on the issue. Trustees got an earful from constituents the other evening. Then they accepted Clements’ resignation without comment.

Oh, and one of the trustees — Renee McCown — reportedly is the offending parent who hassled, harangued and harassed Clements over playing time policies involving one of McCown’s children.

McCown is not one of the candidates who will stand for re-election this year; her term expires in 2021. I hope to be able to hear how she might campaign for re-election in two years if she decides to run for another term.

Meanwhile, seats occupied by trustees Jim Austin, Scott Flow and John Betancourt are up for election this year. They, too, will have some explaining to do. They’ll need to justify — again, assuming they all run for new terms on the board — their decision to clam up publicly about a resignation that captured the community’s attention. I get that it’s a long-standing AISD policy to not comment on personnel matters. My sense, based on my attendance at the recent AISD board meeting, is that voters likely won’t care about policy; they likely might demand direct answers to direct questions.

Here’s a question that might get posed to candidates as they run for election to the board: Do you believe the school system has provided sufficient support for its educators, the individuals that the community entrusts to care for our children while they are attending public schools?

Kori Clements said she didn’t get it from the administration, or from the school board while she sought to fend off a hectoring parent.

Amarillo voters have been known to clean house on their governing bodies when circumstances merit it. They did it in 1989 when they replaced virtually the entire City Commission; the city’s economic condition drove voters to rebel against the status quo at City Hall. They did so again in 2017 when they replaced the entire City Council, some of whose members engaged in open sniping and quarreling with senior city administrators.

Amarillo’s public school system well might face a similar uprising — this year and in 2021.

Keep our eyes on Texas Tech vet school progress

I have spoken already on this blog about some of the damage that can be done to West Texans who depend on their state senator to look after projects that provide direct benefit to their part of the state.

I want to discuss briefly one specific project: the Texas Tech University System’s plan to build a school of veterinary medicine at its medical school campus in Amarillo.

Why mention it? Because a veteran legislator, Sen. Kel Seliger, an Amarillo Republican, has been yanked out of the chairman’s seat on the Higher Education Committee. Seliger lost the chairmanship he has occupied for several legislative sessions.

The loss of that seat could cost the Panhandle dearly. My sincere and adamant hope is that it does not endanger the veterinary medicine school that Tech wants to build in Amarillo.

The Tech Board of Regents has signed on. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation has committed tens of millions of dollars to it. The Panhandle community supports the vet school, which would be the second such college in Texas; the only other vet school is run by Texas A&M University, which quite naturally has been pushing back against Tech’s plans to build the school.

The school of veterinary medicine will provide a direct boost to Amarillo and the Panhandle. Tech has established a need for such a school, which could cater to large-animal veterinary care in a region known for its livestock.

Does the Seliger removal from the Higher Ed chairmanship put the vet school in dire peril? It must not! However, there is the possibility that the Panhandle’s lack of a voice on the Higher Ed panel could work against the forward momentum that is building for the completion of the project.

Lt. Gov. Patrick has done some damage to the Panhandle with his apparent vendetta against the region’s senior state senator. Let us all keep our eyes and ears open to the legislative maneuvering as it involves the Texas Tech school of veterinary medicine.

Amarillo ISD faces a most critical election

Dang, I hate to admit this, but the tumult caused by the resignation of a high school volleyball coach still sticks in my craw.

Kori Clements quit her job as head coach at Amarillo (Texas) High School. That she would resign after just one season caught the athletic community by surprise . . . or “shock” is more like it. Then came the letter that went public. She blamed her resignation on intense pressure from the parent of one of her athletes, who hassled her over the lack of playing time her daughter was (not) getting.

Clements’s resignation ignited a firestorm in the community.

The school board heard lots of testimony this past Tuesday night from constituents who are angry over the coach’s resignation. Some of them demanded the school board deal directly and openly with the circumstance.

The school board listened quietly. Most of them didn’t look their constituents in the eye while they were scolding board members.

Then they accepted Clements’s resignation without comment.

What now? The Amarillo Independent School District is going to conduct an election in May. Three seats are up. The school trustee who is widely believed to be the offending parent — the one who hassled Clements into quitting — isn’t up this year. Renee McCown’s term ends in 2021.

Given that Texas election law doesn’t allow for the recall of school trustees, then voters have a decision to make when they troop to the polls in May. I won’t have a say in this election, given that I have moved away; indeed, even when we did live in Amarillo, we resided in the Canyon Independent School District. However, my keen interest in Amarillo public school policy runs deep.

I’ll offer this suggestion to my former Amarillo neighbors: Give serious thought to voting against the incumbents who stiffed Coach Clements in the manner that they did. Scott Flow, Jim Austin and John Betancourt are standing for re-election this year. Amarillo ISD votes under a cumulative voting plan, enabling residents to group their three votes for anyone they wish.

I witnessed a breach in decorum Tuesday night when school board members didn’t look their “accusers” in the eye. I also am dismayed that the AISD board hasn’t yet addressed this matter in any sort of public way; they should, given that they set policy for a publicly funded school system.

The trustee who has drawn the community’s ire — Renee McCown — won’t be held to account by the voters this year. If she chooses to stay on the board, then seek re-election in 2021, voters will have their say into whether she deserves to stay in office.

Until then, voters likely will have other candidates to consider when they elect their school board.

It looks for all the world to me, based on what I have witnessed, that they can do better than what they are getting from their elected representatives.

Good luck, AISD voters. Think long and hard about these choices you will make.

Prediction: AISD’s coaching pain will linger

We’ve returned home after a wonderful but brief return to the Texas Panhandle.

I am left with this lingering feeling about what I have witnessed regarding the stunning resignation of a high school volleyball coach: The Amarillo Independent School District’s athletic community is going to be in pain for perhaps beyond the foreseeable future.

Kori Clements quit after a single season as head coach of the Amarillo High girls volleyball team. It is a vaunted sports program. Clements is one of its star products, graduating from AHS in 2006. She played under a coaching legend, Jan Barker, and returned to succeed her mentor when Barker retired.

It didn’t go well, according to the letter that Clements submitted announcing her resignation. She said she is leaving because of pressure exerted by a parent of one of her athletes. The parent allegedly said her daughter deserved more playing time and Clements implied in her resignation letter that the parent made it impossible for her continue as coach. I heard some testimony this week about the parent allegedly calling on the coach unannounced at her home to, um, discuss this playing time matter.

What’s worse is the chatter about the parent, who apparently is a member of the AISD board of trustees. Her name is Renee McCown. Where I come from, the school system is witnessing a serious abuse of power by an elected official over a school district faculty member.

It is an unconscionable circumstance. The athletic community is hurting. Several AISD constituents displayed their pain earlier this week at a school board meeting. I listened to them express their angst — even anger and disgust — at the lack of support given to the coach who, if you heard the testimony from some of the athletes who played for her, is a beloved figure.

The pain won’t dissipate soon. It might have been exacerbated when the school board accepted Clements’ resignation with no comment. There was no public expression of support for her, or public expression of regret over the circumstance she said precipitated her resignation.

I feel sad at this moment for my former Texas Panhandle neighbors. I’ll keep watching this matter continue to evolve from some distance. I just know that the wounds are deep and painful.

Coaching controversy reaffirms valuable lesson for community

AMARILLO, Texas — The Kori Clements Coaching Era at Amarillo High School was far too short-lived than the former coach and most of the community she served had ever intended.

Clements quit as Amarillo High School’s girls volleyball coach and tossed out some bitter medicine for the school district and the community at-large to swallow. It was that she left because of pressure she alleged she got from the parent of one of the girls she coached; the parent, allegedly a member of the school board, harassed Clements because she wasn’t giving her daughter enough playing time.

The Amarillo public school trustees accepted her resignation Tuesday night. Then they adjourned what had been a sometimes-testy public meeting and they all went home.

We are talking about a public school system, financed by public money and governed by public laws. It is unacceptable for the governing board to hide behind some policy that prohibits it from commenting on personnel matters. There needs to be a public airing of what went wrong and a public discussion about how to fix it.

To that end, I hope the Amarillo Independent School District trustees and administrators begin with some candid conversation with the offending parent and make changes to avoid a repeat of this kind of hectoring of the next Amarillo HS volleyball coach.

This sad episode simply drives home a fundamental point about public education. We entrust our educators — be they classroom teachers or coaches, band directors or theater directors — to do right by our children. We expect our educators to be fair, to be stern if necessary, to be caring. We also should expect our public school administrators to have our educators’ back if the educator is doing all the right things.

Kori Clements apparently did her job well for the single season she was allowed to do it. But she didn’t have that support from the administration or the board. The school system failed the coach and by extension failed the student-athletes she was hired to lead in athletic competition.

That dereliction of public responsibility cannot be allowed to stand.

I’m going home Thursday to Collin County. I’ll be looking back at Amarillo from time to time to see how this drama plays out. I hope the Amarillo public school community will discern some palpable change in policy.

Kori Clements deserved better than she got from the school system that hired her. Let’s hope this sad chapter ends with a reaffirmation of the need to nurture the efforts of top-quality educators.