Category Archives: education news

Texas teachers don’t lack political clout

Teachers are protesting in several states, some of which are among the most reliably Republican-red in the nation, such as Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Texas teachers won’t join them, as they are barred from doing so according to a 1993 law that forbids such demonstrations.

I am essentially neutral on the issue of whether teachers should be allowed to strike. However, I would prefer, as state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, told the Texas Tribune, that they remain in the classroom. “The goal is to ensure we don’t have the sort of stoppages that would constitute a detriment to the school day and the school year. So the focus is on the students,” Seliger said. “Teachers need to be in the classroom. The public expressions of opinion are very important. … If teachers want to demonstrate, they should absolutely demonstrate but it shouldn’t interfere with the school day.”

Still, the lack of the ability to strike doesn’t leave Texas teachers powerless. They can exercise their power at the ballot box. They can organize in favor of candidates who are favorable to their needs, such as better pay and retirement benefits, better insurance coverage to enable them to protect their families.

According to the Texas Tribune: “What we’re focused on are the elections. We’re urging our members, and all other educators, to get out and vote and to vote for education candidates,” said (Clay) Robison, the Texas State Teachers Association spokesman. “Vote for candidates who will vote to increase funding, decrease testing and vote against vouchers.”

“What the Legislature will listen to this year is votes,” he added.

This is not a simplistic solution. It is meant to reveal that ballot-box power can be an effective means to achieve political ends.

We’ve got an election coming up this fall. If teachers are concerned about the future of their profession and the children they serve, then they have the power to make it more right.

Tillerson for UT chancellor? Hey, why not?

This will sound like I’m damning someone with faint praise, but that’s not my intent. The Texas Tribune is reporting that Rex Tillerson, the soon-to-depart secretary of state might be under consideration to  become chancellor of the University of Texas System.

To which I would add: Why not pick Tillerson? He’s worked already inside arguably the most dysfunctional government system on Earth; that would be the executive branch of the U.S. government. He’s cut his teeth on chaos, confusion and controversy. So, whatever troubles afflicting the UT System Board of Regents would be easy for him to handle.

The UT Board of Regents has had its fill of its own brand of chaos of late. One of the regents had been targeted for possible ouster because of alleged meddling in the affairs of the UT-Austin campus. The board at times has seemed as though its members don’t get along, don’t work cohesively.

The current chancellor, William McRaven, is set to retire for health reasons. I wish McRaven could stay on. I like the man’s background: U.S. Navy admiral, SEAL, former commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command. He’s a no-nonsense flag officer, who happened to oppose legislation approved last year to allow guns on college and university campuses.

Tillerson bleeds burnt orange. He graduated from UT before heading off to pursue a highly successful business career that culminated in his becoming CEO of ExxonMobil. Then he got the call from Donald Trump to become secretary of state. That gig didn’t work out too well.

I don’t blame Tillerson so much as I blame the president for the dysfunction that highlighted (or lowlighted) Tillerson’s tenure at State.

A Texas university system chancellor’s main job is to raise money for the system. Tillerson is well-positioned to fatten the UT System’s already bulging cache of endowments. Plus, he’s been baptized already in a system that exudes dysfunction.

Hey, the UT job would be a piece of cake!

The ‘next generation’ is stepping up

I am not inclined to bemoan the future of our country based on the behavior of those who comprise “the next generation.” I have sought over many years to give my younger fellow Americans the benefit of the doubt that they’ll step up when it counts the most.

We are witnessing the next generation doing precisely that as it relates to its fear and concern over gun violence.

A lot of Panhandle students are going to march this weekend from Ellwood Park to the Potter County Courthouse. They are part of a national movement called “March For Our Lives.” I read today that national organizers are expecting as many as 1 million marchers from coast to coast.

The Amarillo march is being organized out of Caprock High School, with students seeking to generate interest in communities far beyond Amarillo.

The catalyst is that slaughter in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day. A gunman killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This massacre was merely the latest in a horrifying string of such mass murders.

It has energized a generation of Americans. Some of them have become media stars. They have spoken with remarkable eloquence about their fear and their desire to see political leaders take action against gun violence.

These young people have taken the point in organizing these marches. They are giving older folks — such as yours truly — greater faith that our country is being taken over by responsible citizens. They are energized by what they deem to be a crisis. They are taking action. They are engaging in activities that signal good citizenship.

These concerns about “younger generation” go back many thousands of years. Quotations attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato lament how badly children behave, how disrespectful they are of their elders and how “they riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”

Today’s youngsters make me proud and affirm my faith that our country will find its way well into the future.

Explanation, please, for this resignation

James Allen isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill anonymous municipal bureaucrat.

He also happens to be a politician of some renown in Amarillo, having served for years on the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees.

Until recently, Allen served the city as its Community Development administrator. Then he quit. His resignation also comes in the midst of the city’s debate and discussion over how it handles its homeless population, an issue that involves Allen’s former office directly.

The Amarillo Globe-News has called correctly for a more fulsome explanation from the city as to why Allen quit, citing the public’s need to know why one of the city’s more high-profile administrators has walked off the job.

For that matter, you could make the same request of Allen himself. He hasn’t been forthcoming as to his reason for quitting, or whether he was asked to resign.

Allen has been involved in some high-profile matters involving the Amarillo ISD, namely the “changing” (if you want to call it that) the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School to, um, Lee Elementary School. More recently, Allen has led the board toward a discussion of how it can change its district-wide voting plan to a single-member district plan to ensure more minority representation on the AISD board of trustees.

He is not exactly disappearing from public view.

However, James Allen has departed a municipal administrative post with no explanation yet to the people who foot City Hall’s bill as to why he has resigned.

Let’s have it.

Imagine your teacher with a gun

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said a lot with which I disagree during that ghastly “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night.

However, she did offer a bit of wisdom that connected with me.

“60 Minutes” correspondent Leslie Stahl asked her about “arming teachers” to prevent school violence. DeVos said it’s an option that should be “looked at.” DeVos then said she couldn’t imagine her first-grade teacher being armed. It might be OK to put guns in the hands of other educators, but she has trouble wrapping her head around her own teacher packing heat.

Holy cow! I thought immediately of my own first-grade teacher at Harvey W. Scott Elementary School in Portland, Ore.

Her name was Bonnie Orth. As I picture her today in my mind’s eye, I recall thinking then, in 1955, that she reminded me of my paternal grandmother, Katina Kanelis. Grandma was 59 years of age during my first-grade year of school. I also get that as a 6-year-old, everyone older than, say, 18 seemed to be ancient, which means that Mrs. Orth likely wasn’t nearly as old as she seemed at the time.

I attended that elementary school until midway through the seventh grade, when my parents moved us to the suburbs in 1962. I’m trying to imagine any of my teachers — Mrs. Orth, Mrs. Grubb, Miss Howard, Miss Elfring, Miss Heisler, Mr. Hendrickson or Mr. McGraw — pulling a pistol out of his or her desk in the event of a shootout at school; now that I think a bit about it, maybe Mr. McGraw — bless him — could do it … maybe.

This debate, though, isn’t about whether our own teachers could draw down on a shooter. It’s about the wisdom of adding more guns to our educational environment with the aim of making it a safer place to send our children.

That is what frightens me.

DeVos offers proof of why she is unfit for her job

It’s no wonder at all that Betsy DeVos needed a historic vice-presidential vote in the U.S. Senate to get her confirmed as the secretary of education.

You want evidence of it? Check out the “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night.

DeVos’s confirmation in 2017 ended with a 50-50 tie in the Senate; Vice President Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm her nomination by Donald John Trump.

Oh, brother, she stumbled and bumbled her way through the interview with CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl.

She actually acknowledged that she hasn’t visited “underperforming schools” to see for herself why they are in such bad shape. “Maybe I should,” DeVos told Stahl.

Uhh, yeah, do ya think?

I should note that DeVos is a champion for school choice. She also has no personal exposure to public education. She was educated in private schools; her children attend private schools; she can afford — as a billionaire — to send her children and grandchildren to any school they want.

This is the person the president chose to administer our public education system? Give me a break.

As the Washington Post reported: The secretary also said she is “not so sure exactly” how she became, as Stahl described her, “the most hated” member of President Trump’s Cabinet but believes that she is “misunderstood.”

I am not among those who hates DeVos. I am deeply concerned that this individual who has zero knowledge or experience relating to public education has been put in charge of the agency that is supposed to advocate on behalf of public schools, students and teachers.

DeVos has called “traditional public education” a “dead end.” How does that engender confidence in the secretary of public education? It doesn’t. Not in the least.

I encourage you to take a look at the exchange between Stahl and DeVos contained in the link that follows. Check it out here.

Yep, this is one of the “best people” Donald Trump pledged to populate his presidential administration.

Sheesh!

Texas Tech, Texas A&M battle over veterinary medicine

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp came to the Panhandle the other day to announce plans to enhance West Texas A&M’s veterinary medicine education program.

Sharp wants to maintain A&M’s monopoly on veterinary medicine throughout the state. I cannot blame him for looking out for the university system he administers.

Oh, but wait. His plan for WT have the appearance of a sort of pre-emptive strike to prevent Texas Tech University from building a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo, which is a live option on the table for the community … and for Tech Chancellor Bob Duncan.

Duncan and Sharp have distinct differences of opinion on whether Texas Tech should proceed with construction of a veterinary college in Amarillo. Duncan came to town not long ago to pitch the case to community leaders, suggesting that Tech’s board of regents are committed to establishing a vet school next to Tech’s existing Health Sciences Center in Amarillo.

Sharp, meanwhile, is pulling out many stops to prevent Tech from proceeding. The top Aggie is a savvy enough politician to understand what the announcement that boosts WT’s role in veterinary medicine means to any potential competition. Then again, Duncan has been around the Texas political pea patch a time or two himself, so he must be acutely aware of what Sharp might be trying to accomplish.

I happen to believe that Texas — with 268,000 square miles and 27 million residents — is big enough to accommodate two schools of veterinary medicine. Duncan has high praise for the veterinary education that A&M provides. He also believes Texas Tech can provide a top-drawer education for veterinary medicine students who want to be educated here at home and who might want to remain in the Panhandle after they receive their DVM degrees from Texas Tech.

I happen to agree with Duncan.

I also believe the A&M initiative is good for West Texas A&M, it’s good for the community … but it shouldn’t forestall Texas Tech’s efforts to establish a veterinary medicine presence in Amarillo.

AISD makes potentially huge move

Well, ruffle my hair and call me Frankie!

I spoke rather skeptically in an earlier blog post about whether Amarillo’s public school board would take this step, but — as is often the case — they proved me wrong.

The Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees voted 7-0 Monday to begin researching ways to dramatically change its voting plan. It wants to look at how it can move from an at-large plan to one that elects trustees from single-member districts.

It’s a realization of the changing demographics within the district and whether the school board reflects the needs and wishes of all 33,000 students and their parents.

This decision doesn’t guarantee a change in the voting plan. It does move the district a big step forward toward that end.

Trustees, acting on a recommendation from the lone African-American on the board, James Allen, have directed the AISD legal team to begin researching ways to achieve the transition.

AISD comprises many disparate neighborhoods comprising residents of equally disparate socio-economic backgrounds. There are plenty of high-end neighborhoods, along with neighborhoods at the other end of the scale.

And, yes, we also have this issue of racial and ethnic diversity. Amarillo’s student body census is comprising an increasing number of Latin-American, African and Asian backgrounds. Their needs are quite different from their Anglo classmates.

AISD doesn’t elect trustees from a purely at-large system. It instituted a cumulative voting plan some years ago to settle a lawsuit brought by Latin-American residents.

AISD’s legal counsel has many issues to consider. I’m glad the board has given the OK to begin that journey.

So, let the studies commence. May they bear fruit.

Change in Amarillo school voting plan? Don’t count on it

Amarillo’s public school trustees are going to meet tonight to “discuss” possible changes in the way they get elected.

The item was proposed by Amarillo Independent School District Trustee James Allen, the board’s lone African-American.

There might be a move toward electing trustees from single-member districts. Or — if very recent history is a guide — there will be virtually no change.

Given the way the AISD board choked on a measure to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School, I won’t bet the farm that the board will change, at least not right away.

AISD trustees had a chance to rename the school named after a Confederate army general who fought to preserve slavery in the nation. The school sits in a neighborhood populated by African-American residents. What did the board do? It  took the name “Robert E.” off the school and named it only “Lee Elementary School.”

As if that is meaningful?

Well, now the board is considering — maybe, possibly — moving from a cumulative voting system to a plan that elects trustees from single-member districts. The aim, as I understand it, would be to spread representation to all neighborhoods. The current board currently resides mostly in southwest Amarillo and the tony Wolflin neighborhood; only two trustees live in north or east Amarillo.

Cumulative voting was created as a compromise to settle a lawsuit brought by the League of United Latin-American Citizens, which sought to force AISD to get more minority representation on its board. Cumulative voting allows voters to cast ballots proportionately. For example: If three seats are up for election, voters can cast all three votes for a single candidate; or they can cast two for one and one for another; or … they can cast single ballots for each of the candidates.

AISD trustees now are going to begin the discussion about possible changes in the district’s voting plan.

It’s a fascinating idea that, given the changing demographics of Amarillo, could be implemented with great success. AISD could have representation from all neighborhoods on the board that sets public education policy. Every neighborhood deserves have a voice. Let’s face it: The desires of Sleepy Hollow residents are significantly different from those who live in The North Heights.

To paraphrase the song: The times may be a changin’.

Or, given AISD’s recent history, maybe not.

Still favor in-state tuition for all Texas residents

You are welcome to call me a bleeding-heart liberal if you wish, but I am going to make this point once again.

Texas is blessed with a large body of young people who want to improve themselves and who want to attend our public colleges and universities. Even those who are living here illegally because Mom and Dad sneaked them into Texas from somewhere else.

Accordingly, those de facto Texans, people who have grown up here as full-blown Texas residents, deserve to pay in-state tuition to attend those higher education institutions.

I wrote about this most recently three years ago:

Texans split on in-state college tuition issue

I still believe to this day in that policy. The state’s two previous Republican governors — George W. Bush and Rick Perry — both supported the idea of offering in-state tuition privileges to these students.

I’m unclear where Gov. Greg Abbott stands on this. My guess is that the GOP base is pressuring him to kick those students out of Texas. Were he to do that, he would perform a profound disservice to the state.

I wrote in 2015, “Allowing the in-state tuition rates for these students does not harm the public university system in Texas, as some have contended. It enriches the system by granting young students a chance to attain the goals they have set for themselves — while living as Texans.”

They are making their dreams come true.