Category Archives: education news

Can this school board revisit a tough issue?

I haven’t seen every scrap of social media chatter bouncing around Amarillo, Texas during the past couple of days.

What I have seen regarding an Amarillo Independent School District board non-decision has been — shall we say — less than flattering toward most of the board members.

The AISD board voted 4-3 the other night to “change” the name of Robert E.  Lee Elementary School to Lee Elementary School.

I believe Amarillo has just witnessed the unveiling of a profile in timidity, if not outright cowardice.

The school in question sits smack in the middle of a community that serves a significant population of African-Americans. Children attend a school that is named after a man — Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — who led a military effort to defeat the United States in a war that began over whether states could allow the ownership of slaves.

Gen. Lee’s name has been in the news of late. Communities have sought to remove statues commemorating this man who I and others consider to be a traitor to the United States of America. They rioted in Virginia because white supremacists, KKK’men and neo-Nazis protested attempts to remove a Robert E. Lee statue from a public park; the riot killed a young woman and injured scores of others. Moreover, it prompted an intense national discussion about how we commemorate the Confederate States of America.

AISD board members agreed to discuss and consider changing the name of the school. Then they choked. They fumbled. They missed their chance to send a powerful statement that this community would take a proactive step that removes the name of a national enemy from one of its public buildings.

“Lee Elementary” does not do a single thing to promote that notion.

So … here’s a thought. The AISD board represents a constituency that appears to oppose the non-decision the board made on the naming of a public school.

Perhaps the AISD board members can reflect just a bit on the nutty notion they thought would eliminate a community controversy.

This so-called “name change” didn’t do anything of the kind.

There’s not a single thing wrong with acknowledging a mistake, AISD trustees. Nor is there anything wrong with taking measures to repairing it.

AISD chokes when given a chance to make a big statement

I had high hope that Amarillo’s elected school board of trustees would do the right thing when it decided to consider changing the name of one of their elementary schools.

Then a slim majority of the board dashed my hope. Sigh!

The Amarillo Independent School District board voted 4-3 to alter the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to, um, Lee Elementary School.

There had been considerable community chatter about a school that serves a large African-American student base carrying the name of a Confederate army general who led forces seeking to allow states to retain the enslavement of human beings.

Many of those voices came to the school board meeting Monday night to be heard. They spoke out. A large majority of the voices gathered in a packed AISD administration building meeting room spoke against “Robert E. Lee Elementary School.”

The non-decision by the AISD board is disappointing. It borders on shameful.

Trustee James Allen — the lone African-American on the board — had pitched a perfectly reasonable option: Change the name to Park Hills Elementary School, which would be consistent with AISD’s current building-naming policy of identifying schools with the community they serve.

Did the board follow Allen’s lead? Nope. They wanted to “compromise” by dropping the Confederate traitor, er, general’s first name and middle initial from the building’s name.

As if that would wipe away the connection between a local school and the darkest, bloodiest period in our nation’s history? Please.

The national discussion about these name changes had found its way to Amarillo. I hoped our community’s elected school board would take up the cudgel and declare that it, too, would stand on the right side of history.

Sadly, AISD did nothing of the sort. Its board choked.

I’m out!

This is proactive leadership? Hardly

Amarillo’s public school system governing board had a chance to do something courageous. Instead, in a 4-3 vote, it decided Monday night to take a significantly more timid path.

I’m still shaking my head in amazement.

The Amarillo Independent School District decided to remove “Robert E.” from the name of a school that carries the name of a Confederate States of America army general. Beginning with the 2018-19, the school formerly known as Robert E. Lee Elementary School will be known as Lee Elementary.

There. How does that go down?

AISD had decided to consider changing the name of the school in the wake of serious national discussion about whether Confederate figures should be memorialized at all. It all came to a nasty head this past summer in Charlottesville, Va., when white supremacists, Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis instigated a tragic riot when officials there wanted to remove a statue of Gen. Lee from a public park.

The debate found its way to Amarillo, where the school district is home to a school named after the same general. That school sits in the middle of a neighborhood comprising a significant African-American population.

Why the question? Well, Gen. Lee led an army against the United States of America during the Civil War. He fought to protect states’ right to allow the enslavement of human beings, who — I need to stipulate — were black Americans.

I favor removing Lee’s name from that public school building altogether. An AISD board majority feels differently.

Here is what Panhandle PBS posted on its Facebook page about AISD’s bizarre “compromise”:

Learn Here: Amarillo ISD’s board has voted 4-3 to drop “Robert E.” from the name to just Lee Elementary. Board members Jim Austin, Scott Flow, Cristy Wilkinson, and Renee McCown voted in favor of the partial name change, which was viewed as a “compromise” idea during the months of discussion. The motion was made by Cristy Wilkinson, and the change will go into effect in the 2018-2019 school year. Scott Flow seconded the motion.

James Allen, John Betancourt, and John Ben Blanchard voted against, wanting a complete name change after the surrounding neighborhood, Park Hills.

The vote came after an hour of public comment during which 25 people spoke on the issue, with only six in favor of keeping the name.

I am puzzled by this non-decision. How in the world does keeping the “Lee” on the building address the concerns of those who believe it somehow honors the name of a man who fought to destroy the United States — for the purpose of keeping human beings in bondage?

Did the slim school board majority conclude that hiding the full name of an enemy of the Union would somehow make it disappear all by itself?

I believe the AISD board of trustees has made a mistake.

Amarillo school may get an ID change

Amarillo public school officials are about to jump with both feet into a national debate over the naming of public buildings after Confederate icons.

At issue is the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School, which sits in the midst of the city’s African-American community.

Amarillo Independent School District trustees are going to discuss on Monday whether to change the name of the school.

My own preference? Change the name.

This entire Confederate name-change discussion erupted in the wake of that riot in Charlottesville, Va., when counter protesters clashed with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen who gathered to protest the taking down of a statute of Gen. Lee.

The Amarillo NAACP chapter favors changing the name. No surprise there. NAACP chapter president Floyd Anthony says Gen. Lee’s name on a public building that serves a hugely African-American student body — and their parents — is a slap in the face to those residents.

He makes a good point.

Gen. Lee led the Confederate States of America army that fought against the United States of America. They committed an act of treason by seceding from the Union. Why did they secede? They fought to something called “states’ rights,” which was code for allowing states to continuing the enslavement of human beings.

They were black human beings.

The war killed 600,000 people. It was the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history.

More than 150 years later, the vestiges of that war remain with these public monuments to the men who stood foursquare against the Union.

And spare me the “heritage” argument. The Confederate battle flag has become the very symbol of hate groups such as the KKK. Do we want to honor the Klan? I think not.

To the Amarillo ISD board members, I wish them good luck as they ponder their potentially huge decision.

I hope it’s the correct one.

Boys Ranch faces possible building-name quandary

Lamont Waldrip’s name is now identified with a new dormitory at Boys Ranch.

The long-time superintendent of Boys Ranch, though, has been named by some men as one of culprits in a long-hidden matter involving abuse of boys who were living at the ranch.

According to an article in The Guardian, a British-based publication, a wealthy donor gave $1 million to Boys Ranch with the stipulation that it name the building after Waldrip.

I believe it would be wise of the Boys Ranch governing board to think long and hard about whether the late superintendent — who died in 2013 — should be memorialized.

The current president and CEO of Boys Ranch, Dan Adams, says that other boys had different experiences with Waldrip and that they “liked and admired him.” That might be true. I am in no position to dispute or affirm what Adams has said.

Here, though, is the problem. Adams has apologized publicly for what happened to the men when they were boys. He, in effect, has acknowledged the veracity of their contentions.

Do the folks at Boys Ranch really want to honor the memory of someone whose name has been tarred in this fashion?

Read the Guardian article here.

I’ve already stipulated that the reports of abuse shouldn’t detract from the good work that has been done at Boys Ranch since its founding in 1939. Indeed, Adams has provided seemingly ironclad assurances that none of what has been alleged is going on there.

However, the institution — and one of its long-standing pillars — have been stained, perhaps indelibly, by what has been reported.

Lamont Waldrip’s name shouldn’t be engraved on a permanent structure at Boys Ranch.


Slow ’em down along Russell Long Blvd.

West Texas A&M University officials believe traffic moves too rapidly along Russell Long Boulevard, which borders the northern edge of the WT campus in Canyon.

It’s now working with the Texas Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the thoroughfare. Canyon City Hall has joined the effort, too.

WT is building a football stadium on its campus. Russell Long Boulevard — named after the former WT president — is getting a lot greater volume of student pedestrian traffic.

According to KFDA NewsChannel 10: “We’re having more and more students cross Russell Long. Russell Long is a state highway. It is controlled by the state of Texas, so the speeds on it are not really friendly to pedestrians and so there’s some concern there,” said Vice President of Business and Finance Randy Kirkel. “So we’ve just been in initial discussion with the City of Canyon. What can we do to make this a possibility and a long-term plan to make Russell Long more of a campus/city street.”

I have a thought that WT and the city ought to consider if it wants TxDOT to surrender authority of the street traffic to local officials: Place a phone call to state Rep. John Smithee, the Amarillo Republican who is one of the Texas House’s senior members. Smithee, who’s served in the House since 1985, surely has some stroke with TxDOT.

WT happens to be Smithee’s major institutional constituent. My strong hunch, based on what I know of Smithee, is that he’d be willing to carry the torch on WT’s behalf to the halls of the Texas highway department.

I happen to agree with the assessment that Russell Long Boulevard speed limits need to be reduced to accommodate the greater pedestrian traffic at WT.

Smithee’s office is in downtown Amarillo. Call him.

Bushland ISD ought to start over with search

I almost couldn’t believe what I read: Bushland Independent School District is about to hire a superintendent whose previous district is facing potentially severe sanctions from the Texas Education Agency.

Bushland ISD, just west of Amarillo, has for years been a district on the move — in the right direction. It has experienced tremendous growth; just a few years ago it opened a high school.

Then when a vacancy occurred at BISD’s top administrative job with the announcement that Superintendent Dan Wood wanted to retire, school trustees started looking for a new superintendent. You’d think BISD would be able to have its pick of top administrators.

Then it selected Chris Wigington, superintendent of Big Spring ISD, as its lone finalist for the Bushland job.

Now we hear that Big Spring has struggled academically and that it has what is reported as “failing campuses.” TEA reportedly is about to slap some sanctions on Big Spring ISD.

This begs the question: Can Bushland do better than this in searching for a superintendent? I believe it can.

I also believe it should.

Full-blown med school for Amarillo?

I cannot remember precisely when it occurred, except that it happened when I was still working for a living at the Amarillo Globe-News.

Kent Hance was chancellor of the Texas Tech University System when he ventured to Amarillo and said something that got a lot of hearts fluttering across the Texas Panhandle. He said Amarillo well might be ready to welcome a full-blown medical school campus.

The Texas Tech Health Sciences University Amarillo campus already educates upper-classmen and women. Hance suggested that Tech could begin exploring the development of a complete medical school campus in Amarillo, giving the Tech System an opportunity to expand its medical educational opportunities for Texas Panhandle residents.

Hance retired from the chancellorship not long after that, assuming the role of “chancellor emeritus,” which is a symbolic role … at best.

His successor, Bob Duncan, has continued to oversee the growth of the Texas Tech System but to my knowledge hasn’t made much noise about the subject that Hance broached years ago.

Hance did qualify his wish for an expanded medical school role for Amarillo. He said the community has to demonstrate its support, meaning — I believed at the time — that the Panhandle had to pony up some money for it.

Amarillo and the Panhandle demonstrated similar commitment when Tech sought to build a pharmacy school in the region. The Tech Pharmacy School has been a hugely successful endeavor for the region and for the university; pharmacy school graduates have achieved a hugely successful rate of certification once they receive their diplomas.

I’m out of the game now. I don’t know what’s been discussed among Texas Tech regents, or at the chancellor’s office in Lubbock.

I’ll offer a statement of hope that the former chancellor’s view of an increased medical school presence in Amarillo wasn’t tossed aside when he walked into an “emeritus” role at Texas Tech University.

AISD voters were in generous mood

I didn’t have any skin in that election game, but I am glad to see Amarillo public schools receive the support they got from voters.

My wife and I live in the Canyon Independent School District, so we didn’t get to vote Tuesday for Amarillo ISD’s $100 million bond issue. However, I am delighted to see that AISD is able to improve and expand educational opportunities for many of its 33,000 students.

AISD board vice president F. Scott Flow (pictured) said he is “excited” about the results. Do you think?

I wouldn’t call it a sweeping mandate, given that only 9 percent of AISD’s registered voters actually cast ballots. The turnout, though, did exceed the state’s paltry 5 percent — which was less than half of the 2015 statewide constitutional amendment election.

We hear occasionally about voter stinginess. They express their dismay at local government at times by rejecting measures that ask them for more money to pay for public projects. AISD must not suffer from the reservoir of ill will that sometimes plagues local government entities.

Here, though, is the heartening aspect of what transpired with the AISD vote result. Voters have affirmed a fundamental truth about public education, which is that it doesn’t come free. There’s always a cost that taxpayers must bear.

If we’re going to demand the best for our children, then we must be prepared to dig a little deeper to pay for it. AISD officials estimate the bond issue will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $50 more each year in property taxes.

Let’s see, that’s the cost of about 10 deluxe coffee drinks, or a carton of smokes or a tank of gasoline to fill an SUV.

What will 50 bucks a year for that 100 grand home buy? Most of the dough will improve restrooms, locker rooms, auditoriums and infrastructure throughout the school district; AISD also is planning new classrooms at four schools.

I’m just a spectator here. However, I am glad to see that AISD voters — the puny turnout numbers notwithstanding — have chosen to forgo bitterness and decided to invest in public education.

University pulls plug on Greek life … you go, FSU!

I have to acknowledge at the top of this brief blog post that I didn’t belong to a fraternity in college.

I was a young married father by the time I enrolled at Portland (Ore.) State University. I commuted to class from my small rented house and went home at the end of the day.

But when I read about Florida State University suspending fraternity activities, I couldn’t help but cheer the news. FSU President John Thrasher suspended Greek life after the death of an FSU student who died as the result of a fraternity prank gone horribly bad.

This is the kind of tragedy we hear about from time to time. Students join these frats and sororities and subject themselves to all kinds of misbehavior from their “brothers” and “sisters.”

I know that deaths from these kinds of pranks aren’t all that common. I also accept that there’s a lot about Greek life I never have experienced and arguably don’t quite “understand.”

What I’ll never get is why students attending institutions of higher learning have to behave as though they’re still in junior high school. Yes, I’m an old man now. I do remember a time when I was much younger and I can recall some of the foolish things I did when I considered myself virtually bullet-proof.

Still, I want to applaud FSU President Thrasher for banning all Greek life and prohibiting alcohol consumption by students on the Tallahassee campus.

Perhaps this terrible story could send shockwaves across the nation’s vast networks of higher ed institutions.

Sadly, I doubt it will.