Category Archives: education news

Keep our schools closed!

There’s a marquee in front of the brand new elementary school in our Princeton, Texas, neighborhood that reads “We miss you. See you May 4.”

That’s when Texas’s public schools are supposed to reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s my suggestion: Do not reopen the schools; keep them closed for the remainder of this academic year.

The first week of May is far too early to send our children back to school, where they would mingle with other children. Do we expect kindergartners or first-graders — or even older children — to observe the six-foot rule, to practice “social distancing”?

My hope is that we can keep the schools dark. Let the kids continue to study at home until the end of our school year. School systems can issue pass/fail grades for the students. Those who pass can move to the next grade; those who fail can do it all over again in the fall.

Our primary concern needs to be the health of our children and the men and women who educate them … and the staff members who run our schools.

I hereby request that Gov. Greg Abbott forget about reopening our schools on May 4. Close ’em for the rest of the year. Then let’s concentrate on stemming this infection rate.

School’s out … for the summer? Let’s hope so

There’s a shiny new elementary school in our Princeton, Texas, neighborhood. It opened this year, welcoming more than 400 students.

It’s been quiet at Dorothy Lowe School since spring break. The marquee in front of the school tells the kids that their teachers miss them and that they will see them on May 4.

I don’t think that’s a good idea.

You see, the school’s been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a recent order that keeps all Texas public schools closed until May 4. The closure affects about 5.4 million students, about 357,000 teachers and an untold number of administrative and support staff, vendors and contractors.

If I were King of the World, I’d say school should be out for the summer. The outbreak isn’t going to diminish in time for the doors to open in one month. Indeed, the greater Dallas/Fort Worth metro area is being identified as a possible new “hot spot” for the killer disease.

With that prospect possibly awaiting us, it is my considered opinion that Gov. Abbott ought to just order the schools closed for the duration of the 2019-20 academic year.

Independent school districts could just issue pass/fail grades to students and let the students who pass move on to the next grade.

The threat to students’ and teachers’ health and well-being is too great. They must not be exposed to the threat that continues to loom out there.

‘No’ on tuition-free college

That ol’ trick knee of mine is telling me something I hope is true, but something I cannot predict will happen.

It’s telling me that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are negotiating an exit from the 2020 Democratic Party primary campaign for Sen. Sanders.

The way this deal might play out is that Sanders might seek to demand certain elements of his campaign end up as part of the Biden campaign going forward. I want to express my extreme displeasure with one element of the Sanders Mantra: the one that seeks to make public college and university education free for every American student.

No can do! Nor should it happen. It’s a budget-buster for the national treasury not to mention for colleges and universities that depend on students’ tuition and assorted lab and book fees to stay afloat.

Former Vice President Biden has broken the Democratic primary for the presidency wide open. The nomination is now his to lose, to borrow the cliché. Sanders, though, isn’t likely to bow out quietly without making some demands on the nominee-to-be.

Sanders isn’t even an actual Democrat; he represents Vermont in the Senate as an independent. He is a “democratic socialist.” To be honest, I don’t quite grasp the “democratic” element in that label as it applies to granting free college education.

The free college plank has been critical to the support Sanders has enjoyed among young voters. How does Biden mine that support for himself? He could call for dramatic restructuring of student loans, making them easier to pay off. I didn’t accrue a lot of student debt while I attended college in the 1970s; I had the GI Bill to help me out. As a parent of college students, though, we were saddled with “parent loans” that took a long time to retire. There must be a better way to structure those loans.

Making public colleges and universities free, though, is a non-starter. Is it a deal-breaker if Joe Biden adopts it as part of his platform? Would that compel me to vote — gulp, snort, gasp! — for Donald Trump? Not a bleeping chance.

The former VP must not be bullied into embracing the free college idea as his own.

They’re shutting down … maybe for the rest of the academic year

The Princeton Independent School District, where my wife and I live, has made a critical command decision in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The school system is shutting down at least until May 4.

How does that affect us? We have no children or grandchildren in the Princeton ISD schools. However, nearby in the Allen ISD, our young granddaughter is home for an extra week, along with her brother. I haven’t heard whether Allen ISD is going to follow Princeton’s lead.

This is what we need to expect in school systems around the country as we all worry — without panicking, we should hope — about the impact of this health crisis on our lives.

Donald Trump today took a decidedly more sober and serious tone when discussing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. He recommended that Americans avoid gatherings of 10 or more individuals, to pay careful attention to “social distancing.” The president announced the implementation of testing of Americans free of charge.

The tone today was a remarkable change from what we heard just a day or two earlier, when he was blasting Democrats and the media for their respective roles in handling this crisis. Today was much different and I daresay much more “presidential.” I am left only to say: It’s about damn time!

But closer to home in North Texas, we are feeling the impact and are preparing for the “worst case” that medical pros tell us is on its way.

Spring break while WHO declares a pandemic among us? Well …

When someone speaks to me and asks that his or her comments are off the record, I will honor that request … even when the individual tells me something of extreme significance.

That said, I spoke today with a Texas state legislator whose name will remain my secret. He told me was meeting in Austin with state education agency officials on the topic of the Covid-19 outbreak and its potential impact on the Texas public education system.

Get a load of this:

Millions of Texas students are on spring break this week; thousands of Texas teachers are on break, too. Many thousands of students, their families and teachers are going to travel abroad during this time. They will return home late this week and are slated to return to school next week.

This legislator is concerned about the impact that the Covid-19 will have on the system, namely whether it would be wise to allow students and teachers back into classrooms when they might potentially have been exposed abroad to those who are carrying the coronavirus germs.

Hmm. I asked the legislator: Do you think the Texas Education Agency is going to close our schools? This legislator doesn’t think so.

Here, though, is the question I would ask someone in authority: Wouldn’t it be prudent to close Texas’ public school system for two weeks to examine all those who traveled abroad to see if they had been exposed to coronavirus carriers and then extend the school year two weeks at the end of the academic year?

The World Health Organization today declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic, which means it’s beyond epidemic status, that it’s now a worldwide threat to potentially every human being on Earth. The virus is reported in 142 countries, killing more than 4,000 victims worldwide.

Italy has shut down. There might be more nations that follow the Italians’ lead. I don’t expect the United States of America to join them. Still, there well might be some drastic measures on tap to deal with those who ventured perhaps too close to where the coronavirus is doing its worst.

Strengthen, do not denigrate, public education

An interesting blog entry showed up on my Facebook news feed that I want to share with you. It comes from a young man who is an avid supporter of public education. His entry is written as an open letter to Donald J. Trump.

It starts this way: In your State of the Union speech last week you said, “for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools.”

He goes on with this: I suppose that sentiment isn’t surprising for a man who appointed the least qualified Secretary of Education in history.  Neither you or Ms. DeVos have ever spent any meaningful time in America’s outstanding PUBLIC schools.  You call them “government schools,” because that somehow ties our education system to the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. that you preside over.

Read the rest of the blog post here.

I want to endorse the principle that Patrick J. Kearney posits in his blog, which is to endorse public education and to declare that I share his view that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is as unqualified in her job as the man who nominated her is in the job he occupies.

DeVos became education secretary in 2017 after the Senate voted in a 50-50 tie to confirm her; it fell, then, to Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm her, the first time that has occurred in a Cabinet confirmation vote.

I heard the president use the term “government schools” and I found it off-putting. He tossed that term out there to somehow separate the “government” from the “public” that pays for it. I am one American who sees the government and the public as being the same thing. Thus, when we speak of public education, we speak of an educational system that serves the public.

Our public schools are not to be feared. They shouldn’t be considered candidates for a political whipping. Are there problems with public education? Of course there are. The cure for those problems is not to take money from the public treasury and send it to private institutions.

Furthermore, I agree with the blogger whose entry came to my attention, who believes that Donald Trump would do well to visit a public school classroom and see for himself the great job that our public educators are doing for our children.

‘Pro-choice’ does not equal ‘pro-slavery,’ Mme. Education Secretary

Get an ever-lovin’ grip, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos!

The education boss who was confirmed by a tie-breaking vote in the U.S. Senate in 2017, has equated being “pro-choice” on abortion to being in favor of owning slaves.

To which I say … What the f***?

She spoke at a Washington, D.C. event for Colorado Christian University and made the absurd comparison, that a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is akin to decide to put human beings in bondage.

This is one of the more apples-and-oranges comparisons I’ve seen in a good while.

You see, slave owners’ health was not an issue when they decided to purchase human beings and enslave them. A woman who decides she can no longer carry an unborn baby to full term quite often faces potentially mortal health issues. Yes, I get that some women make that decision for many more cavalier reasons than that. However, to equate these two matters — slave ownership and abortion — is irresponsible in the extreme.

The Hill reported: “(Lincoln) too contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day. They suggested that a state’s choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it,” DeVos said, the outlet reported. “Well, President Lincoln reminded those pro-choices (there) is a vast portion of the American people that do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing. They look upon it as a vast moral evil.”

I’m trying to wrap my head around her alleged logic. I can’t quite get there.

I’ll just have to conclude that she is equating one issue with another utterly unrelated one. I think Secretary DeVos is reaching way beyond her grasp.

Farmersville ISD going it alone in superintendent search

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This blog post was published originally on the KETR-FM website, KETR.org.

Farmersville Independent School District trustees have decided to take a leap of faith.

They are placing their faith in their own ability to find, screen and select a superintendent of schools for the district.

I wish them all the luck in the world as they march down this trail.

Superintendent Jeff Adams announced in October his intention to retire from a job that pays him more than $200,000 annually. He runs a district with 1,500 students attending classes on four campuses. He will leave office as soon as the district finds a new superintendent, which he hopes will be before the end of the academic year.

As he told trustees the other evening during a board meeting, “You don’t to be stuck with me for another year.” He plans to stick around long enough to help his replacement settle into his or her new job

The norm for school boards is to hire a “head-hunter” firm to do the search. Farmersville ISD chose to go it alone, to solicit applications, get rid of the also rans initially, winnow the field down to a more manageable number. They intend to conduct two rounds of interviews, perform home visits with the semi-finalists and then announce a lone finalist for the top administrative job no later than March 5.

It’s a tall order. All the trustees have day jobs or are retired from their careers.

Board President Tony Gray told me that one of the trustees’ concerns about hiring a consultant was that many times the consulting firm “already has someone in mind” when they start the search. Perhaps I should have reminded him that communities often have the very same perception when local boards conduct such searches themselves. I didn’t go there.

Gray said the board hired an outside firm when it hired Adams in 2000.

I want to offer a veiled endorsement of the process that the Farmersville ISD board is taking in its search for a superintendent.

Gray insists that Jeff Adams will play no active role in selecting the next superintendent. He will be available to offer advice and counsel to the board. Indeed, Adams even offered the other evening to “dig up dirt” on potential candidates just to ensure the school district isn’t hit with any unpleasant surprises.

I don’t know enough about the district to make a judgment on the wisdom on the trustees’ decision to conduct this search themselves. They’ll save some money. They need to move quickly. They know the district, its students, its faculty and staff and the political lay of the land.

Furthermore, as Tony Gray said to me, voters elected them to be “leaders.”

They now are going to seek to lead the school district into a new era that will be defined in part by the individual they choose as the next superintendent of schools.

May they choose wisely.

Farmersville ISD enlists its own police force

Blogger’s Note: This blog item was published initially on KETR-FM’s website.

As a new resident of Northeast Texas, I am still climbing a fairly steep learning curve concerning local government agencies.

Such as the Farmersville Independent School District, which sits about 8 miles east of where we live in Princeton. I learned something about Farmersville ISD that I want to share here.

The tiny school district has a full-time police department on duty. Yes, the Farmersville Police Department suits up each day to protect the students, faculty and support staff on all four of the FISD campuses, as well as at its other offices.

Farmersville ISD enrolls slightly more than 1,500 students. They attend all 13 grades, including kindergarten. I was struck by the presence of a police officer in full regalia at a recent school board meeting; then I noticed the patch on his left arm – Farmersville ISD Police Department.

During a brief break while school trustees met in executive session, I introduced myself to the young man in uniform. He is Brian Alford, the chief of police for Farmersville ISD’s police department.

We chatted about school lockdown policy. I asked him about his police background. Alford told me he served previously with the Farmersville Police Department, with the Collin County Sheriff’s Office and was a military police officer for five years in the U.S. Army. The man brings a solid law enforcement record to his post as FISD police chief.

I still am struck by the existence of a full-time police department, paid for with FISD money. Chief Alford said he has four officers working full time for the department. He also wonders why other school districts, such as Princeton ISD, doesn’t employ a full-time police department. Princeton ISD, Alford told me, uses municipal police officers to provide campus security.

Is there a rash of crime on Farmersville ISD’s campuses? I don’t believe that’s the case. Heck, perhaps it’s the existence of a full-time police department that deters troublesome students from acting out in a potentially violent manner.

I mentioned to the chief that I came to North Texas from Amarillo, which also does not have a full-time police force on its school district payroll. Amarillo educates about 33,000 students each year. It, too, uses municipal police officers and Potter County sheriff’s deputies to maintain safety and order on its campuses.

So … I am learning new aspects of our new community all the time. I believe the Farmersville ISD police chief is a conscientious fellow. He is dedicated to protecting and serving his constituents. I will accept the notion that perhaps the presence of the police force deters possible problems on campus. Is it the right formula for every independent school district? That’s up to each of them to decide for themselves.

I thought I had heard it all … then came this

I lost count long ago the number of public government hearings I have covered as a reporter. Over the span of many years in the trenches, I thought I had heard everything there was to say in a public meeting of elected officials and senior public administrators.

Then came what I heard Monday night in little ol’ Farmersville, Texas.

I was attending a school board meeting of the Farmersville Independent School District on behalf of the Farmersville Times, one of the weekly newspapers I work for on a freelance basis. The board convened the meeting, then went into private session to discuss matters exempted from public view by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The audience left the meeting room. We waited outside. Then the door opened and the board reconvened the open meeting. I returned to my seat, with notebook and pen in hand.

The board and the superintendent began discussing the search for a new superintendent who will succeed the gentleman, Jeff Adams, who will retire at the end of the current year.

Adams went through much of what was discussed in private session. He talked about timetables and assorted aspects of the search for candidates. Then he said, the following: He offered to “dig up dirt” on the applicants if there was any dirt to be found.

I don’t recall flinching or reacting in any visible manner. I didn’t see any such reaction from the school trustees.

However, I have slept on it overnight. I am now a bit startled by what the superintendent offered to do on behalf of the board.

I don’t recall ever hearing a senior government administrator, let alone an elected official, ever make such an offer.

I haven’t discussed this directly with Adams. Nor with any of the trustees. I am left to wonder about the motivation for agreeing to do such a thing, or to saying it in public. The trustees and the superintendent surely knew why I was there and that my note-taking didn’t cease when I heard the superintendent make the “dirt digging” offer.

I won’t pass judgment on the wisdom of the offer. I merely want to assert that I thought I had heard everything … until Monday night.

Kinda strange.