Category Archives: education news

Public education needs an advocate at Department of Education

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg got a big round of applause and cheers tonight when he said this during the Democratic joint appearance with nine other presidential candidates.

He said if elected he would “appoint a secretary of education who actually believes in public education.”

The man Buttigieg wants to replace, Donald Trump, decided to select someone with no interest in public education, no direct experience with public education and no affinity for the needs of those involved with public education.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos needed Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote to get confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

I happen to agree with Buttigieg, that the next president must find someone who believes in public education to run the Department of Education.

I haven’t seen or heard a thing from DeVos that suggests she has any authentic commitment to the nation’s public schools, its public school students or its public school teachers. So far she appears to be some sort of place holder at the Education Department.

Her answers to congressional questioners sound vacuous and lacking any detailed understanding of the struggles that educators wage each year just to get ready to teach our nation’s children. Although I am aware that local communities bear the financial brunt of funding our school systems, how can the education secretary stand aside while teachers have to spend so much of their own money just to purchase supplies for their students to use in their classrooms?

The strength of our public education system must assume a greater role among the discussion points of the Democratic field of presidential contenders … and with the president of the United States.

Good teachers? Priceless

I feel compelled to state something in public that I told some family members this week, which is that you cannot pay good educators enough money.

There. I said it. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Texas recently enacted a $5,000 annual pay raise for all public school teachers. Other states have done the same thing over many years, seeking to incentivize individuals looking for careers as educators in our public school systems.

I have noted already in this blog that the good teachers are among society’s most valuable — and least appreciated — human resources. I also have noted that I am not wired genetically for that kind of work; I substitute-taught for part of a school year in the Amarillo Independent School District and learned right away that I am not cut out for it.

I believe good public educators deserve to be treated as what they are: heroes, comforters, guidance counselors, life coaches, big “sisters” and “brothers,” protectors.

I stand in awe of the self-discipline they exhibit. I am amazed at the patience they demonstrate daily. I admire their dedication to working with children, many of whom come to school daily with monstrous chips on their shoulders. I am astonished at how much they have to do with their own money because public school systems do not have the money to buy things such as, oh, pencils and paper. 

I want to salute all those teachers who are dedicated to ensuring our young people get the top-quality education they deserve, enabling them to cope better in what we all call “The Real World.”

Indeed, public educators have their own “real world” challenges to face down every day they stand before their students and renew their pledge to educate them.

You all are heroes.

Hey, Amarillo ISD trustees … you’ve got another issue to ponder

I just read a story about the full complement of Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees getting ready for the upcoming school year.

They’re talking about cohesion, educational excellence and boosting teacher morale. That’s all great. Good luck. I wish you well, even from afar, as I no longer live in Amarillo.

However, the newspaper story I read didn’t mention this little matter that continues to hang over the board of trustees. Let’s call it “administrative transparency.”

The former school board accepted the resignation of a high school volleyball coach from the district’s vaunted Amarillo High School Sandies volleyball program after just a single season. Kori Clements resigned — or, more to the point, was not granted a contract renewal. In her letter of resignation, she said the school board and administration didn’t give her support as sought to fend off the harassment of a meddlesome parent who objected to the way Clements was granting playing to her daughters.

Oh, and then there’s this: The parent in question was herself a school trustee. Oops! Not good! School trustees always should keep their mitts off of educators’ performance of their duties. This one didn’t. The trustee then quit the school board. The episode raised a lot of hackles throughout the AISD athletic community.

However, the board and the administration has remained stone-cold silent on the issues surrounding Clements’ forced resignation.

I mention this because transparency is vital to the running of a public school system. The board and the administration’s silence on this matter has continued to hang over the system. A coalition of parents has formed to demand greater transparency. I happen to believe they have a point.

So … with that, trustees, my suggestion to you as you commence this new academic year is to ensure that all of you allow your district’s educators to do their jobs without meddling, especially from within your ranks.

I am glad you have been made whole with the appointments of two new trustees. Get to work, folks, but do it the right way.

Canyon ISD does the (seemingly) impossible

My jaw dropped when I saw this story on Amarillo.com — the online version of the Amarillo Globe-News: The Canyon Independent School District Board of Trustees has approved a budget that will decrease the tax rate for CISD constituents for the upcoming fiscal year.

What? Huh? How in the world?

I lived in the Canyon ISD for more than two decades. Most of that time I owned a home in southwest Amarillo. The Canyon district reaches into the southernmost portions of Amarillo. I don’t recall ever benefitting from a tax decrease from the governmental entity that comprises the largest portion of property owners’ tax bill.

This is a good deal.

I want to cheer the Canyon public school system that I used to support with my property tax money. It’s not every day when government can make such an announcement.

It’s not that dislike paying taxes. I know they are an essential part of financing the myriad duties we demand of our government. I don’t mind paying federal taxes, or college taxes, or city and county taxes … or public school district taxes.

The good news for my wife and me is that we’re old enough to quality for a Texas homestead exemption that freezes our tax burden.

Still, the news out of Canyon ISD puts a smile on my mug. CISD managed to give its teachers a raise, build a new school, maintain and hopefully improve existing campuses … and decrease the tax burden on the residents who foot the bill.

CISD board president Bruce Cobb called the decrease a “momentous” occasion. That might be a bit of an overstatement … but not by much.

Here’s to you, the best of our public educators

School has begun in many districts around Texas. The brand new elementary school just down the street from my wife and me in Princeton opens its doors tomorrow morning.

They’re still gussying up the grounds, getting ready to lay down the last of the sod. But … this blog post is aimed at saluting the teachers who will stand in classrooms at Dorothy Lowe Elementary School here in Princeton and in classrooms everywhere.

They are special in every meaningful definition of the word.

I want to salute them. I want to tell them out loud and in public through this forum how much I appreciate the work they do to care for our children, to teach them the lessons they must learn and to be there for them when they need emotional support.

My sons are middle-aged men now. But I do have a granddaughter attending elementary school in a nearby district. She loves school, and for that I am so grateful.

I have experienced just a bit of what these teachers have to do. You see, not long after my journalism career ended in 2012, I decided to become a substitute teacher. I applied for a position with the Amarillo Independent School District. I got accepted, passed the background check, attended an orientation session … and then went to work.

I learned something important about myself. It was that I am not wired for this line of work. Thus, my admiration for good teachers grew mightily as I dealt with the challenges the students threw at me on a daily basis.

I was told during the orientation that if students gave me too much grief, I could call the office and the staff would scurry to the classroom and remove the troublesome student or students. I was highly reluctant to make that call.

So, I suffered some of the indignities the students would throw at me. This occurred mostly at the high school level. The students seemed to know intuitively that the “sub” was in over his head.

Thus, my “career” as a substitute teacher didn’t last a school year. I couldn’t cope.

This is my way of saluting those teachers who do far more than “cope” with the kids. They teach them. They counsel them. They guide them on their path to productive adulthood.

They are the often-unsung heroes of contemporary society.

Therefore, I want to wish them all the very best as they meet the challenges that the students will present to them.

Godspeed to you all.

AISD board is now full … time to get to work

Kayla Mendez and David Nance now are members of the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees.

Good for them. I wish them well from afar.

I will stipulate that I don’t know either of them. I am left to presume the school board that chose them did so after doing its due diligence. I actually spoke in this blog in favor of former Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt. So, she didn’t get the nod. Time to move on, Mme. Mayor.

The board also wisely avoided selecting an applicant who got defeated in the AISD election in May, but who wanted to return to the fray.

So, what’s the challenge awaiting the board? Transparency seems to stand out.

AISD is still trying to slog its way out of the mess created by the removal of an Amarillo High School volleyball coach and the mess that swirled around a former trustee who hassled, harassed and harangued the coach over playing time delivered to the trustee’s daughters.

Here’s a thought: How about revealing to the community the circumstance that led to the departure of the coach, who left a post she held for a single season?

The trustee implicated in the coach’s departure, Renee McCown, has quit; so did former trustee John Ben Blanchard.

Mendez and Nance now get to step into what all observers should hope is a public school system that is prepared to fix what went wrong and then explain fully how it repaired it.

A&M chancellor says Aggies are generous, too

Blogger’s Note: This post appeared originally on KETR-FM’s website. I am reposting on High Plains Blogger because I want readers of this blog to see it, too. 

The media and the University of Texas-Austin might have gotten a bit ahead of themselves in praising the flagship UT System campus officials’ decision to waive college tuition for students who come from families that fall under a certain income level.

That’s the word, at least from Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.

Hmm. Is he right?

Sharp has penned a letter to the editor that I presume ran in several newspapers around the state to declare that the A&M System has been offering free college tuition for years. So, the UT-Austin initiative isn’t new, says Sharp.

Sharp noted in his letter that “Several of you have asked if Texas A&M University has plans for a tuition-free program for students from low-income families similar to what the University of Texas recently announced. In fact, Texas A&M University implemented virtually the … same program 10 years ago. The Texas A&M program is called Aggie Assurance. And since 2008, the program has allowed 33,447 undergraduate students from families earning less than $60,000 a year to attend college tuition free.”

The UT System recently announced plans to waive tuition for students whose families earn less than $65,000 annually. It drew high praise around the state. I used my own blog, High Plains Blogger, to speak well of the UT System’s efforts to make college more affordable. To be honest, I was unaware of the Aggie Assurance program to which Sharp has alluded in his letter.

Sharp added, “In addition, Texas A&M University System regents set aside $30 million additional dollars in 2018 to provide help for students of families who earn $100,000 or less or who are stricken with financial hardships such as losses during natural disasters, death of a breadwinner or some other calamity.

“This program, dubbed Regents’ Grants, was created after Hurricane Harvey and has helped hundreds of students who lost books, clothes and transportation, among other things.”

The program is available not just to Texas A&M flagship-campus students, but to all students within the A&M System, according to Sharp.

Are you paying attention, Texas A&M-Commerce students?

These programs are worth mentioning in the context of the 2020 presidential campaign that is becoming to obtain momentum. Several of the horde of Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination have talked openly about offering free college tuition for all public university students. The UT System as well as the A&M System are dipping into their substantial endowments to fund the assistance programs they are offering their students.

So, I suppose you could suggest that two of Texas’s major public university systems are ahead of the proverbial curve on that one.

I know what many critics have said about Texas’s commitment to public education, that it isn’t nearly as robust, progressive and proactive as it should be. I won’t debate all of that here.

However, I do want to commend the Texas A&M and the University of Texas systems for their efforts to provide quality public university education opportunities for students and their families who otherwise might be unable to shoulder the financial burden that such an education often brings with it.

Amarillo ISD finds a bit of wisdom with name change

I have been beating up on the Amarillo Independent School District in recent months, but today I want to offer a good word or maybe three to the AISD Board of Trustees.

Trustees have voted unanimously to change the name of a school that carried the name of a Confederate general while serving a community comprising a significant population of African-American students.

Robert E. Lee Elementary School had been changed to Lee Elementary School. However, today the school’s name was changed to Park Hills Elementary School.

The irony of African-American students attending school carrying the name of a soldier who fought for the right of states to legalize slavery became too much, even for normally staid and reticent Amarillo, Texas. Lee led the Confederate forces against the Union during the Civil War.

So the board decided to change the name.

To which I want to offer a rhetorical high-five, a bouquet, a word of recognition for making the right decision, given the contentiousness that the issue of racial sensitivity — and a particularly grim chapter of our nation’s history — continues to engender.

Well done, Amarillo ISD trustees.

Transparency is MIA at Amarillo ISD

I believe I can state with confidence that a coalition of parents demanding transparency at the Amarillo Independent School District has identified a seriously legitimate area of concern.

It involves the “resignation” of a high school girls volleyball coach and the circumstances that led to her departure after a single season at the helm of a vaunted athletic program.

You know the story: Kori Clements left her post as Amarillo High School’s volleyball coach at the beginning of this year. It was called a resignation. She submitted a letter stating her desire to resign, citing harassment from a parent and a lack of support from the school board and the senior administration at AISD.

I have learned there is a whole lot more to the story than was declared publicly.

Clements’s contract was not renewed. She was, in effect, terminated by the school system. Why? Well, it gets sticky. AISD administrators told Clements she wasn’t “communicating” effectively with parents who said they were concerned about the coach’s parceling out of playing time to some of the girls on her team.

Clements asked her bosses at AISD to cite specifics. She asked them to give her an avenue to correct what they said was wrong with her communication skills. Clements said administrators refused to give her the chance to fix the problem.

She had a series of meetings with administrators, including Amarillo High principal David Vincent, AISD athletic director Brad Thiessen and others. Ultimately, she was told her contract would not be renewed. Clements was a first-year teacher and, thus, was a “probationary” faculty member, meaning the district could choose to not renew her contract if that was the decision.

One of they key principals in this “playing time” matter happened to be a school board trustee, Renee McCown, who had two daughters playing for the Sandies volleyball team. McCown has since resigned from the board, which currently is looking to fill her vacant seat along with a seat vacated by the resignation of  trustee John Ben Blanchard.

The Parents for Transparency Coalition is demanding a more thorough accounting of AISD policies, actions and decisions. I believe, based on what I have learned, that the coalition has a legitimate concern.

Clements’ departure from AHS was not as it was portrayed publicly when she made her announcement. She was forced to quit by administrators and, by association, by the board of trustees that chose to keep its hands off this discussion. The irony is that one of the trustees was implicated in the mess that that has smeared the school system.

Did the Sandies volleyball team underperform during Clements’ single year at the helm? No. Their record was nearly identical to what it was the previous year, the final season that Jan Barker coached before retiring.

So, what do we have here? We have a situation that needs to be aired out. Clements’ departure from the Amarillo HS job, to my understanding of it, bears virtually no resemblance to what has been portrayed by the school system.

Transparency? It is missing in action.

They call it ‘cursive writing’; I’ll call it ‘penmanship’ … it’s back!

They’re bringing penmanship back to public school curricula, to which I say: woo hoo!

The Texas State Board of Education voted in 2017 to bring back what they call “cursive writing.” Beginning with the new school year that begins on Aug. 15, all schools will be teaching it to students.

While working on a story for KETR-FM radio, I was touring a brand new school in Princeton with the principal, Jeff Coburn, who confirmed what I knew already, that cursive writing was staging a comeback in Texas public school classrooms.

I am delighted to see this trend. A Houston Chronicle story referred to cursive writing as a “lost art” that is being rediscovered. The advent of computers, tablets, I-pads, smart phones, gadgets, gizmos and various electronic doo-hickeys have helped bury the lost art. Many of us thought it would be lost forever.

It’s not.

I used to get good elementary grade marks for my penmanship. My parents both wrote with exquisite precision. My two sisters have managed to maintain their handwriting skills. Me? I lost ’em long ago when I took up the craft of journalism, a vocation that required me to take copious notes at a furious pace. These days I can barely sign my name without stopping and thinking — if only for an instant — about the next letter I need to form.

But … I digress.

Youngsters have been educated without learning that particular skill.

Fox News reported: Diane Schallert, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, compared learning cursive to learning a new language. Schallert, who studies how language and learning coincide, told WCNC that requiring students to learn cursive can help children grow their comprehension skills.

“With language comprehension, there’s this reciprocity between producing and comprehending,” Schallert said. “By seeing the letter being formed slowly at your control, you’re considering its sound-symbol correspondence.”

That’s a pretty clinical explanation. I am just thrilled that we are about to resurrect one of the “3 Rs” that had been all but abandoned in our public school classrooms.

I wonder if they’ll let this old man sit in so I can re-learn the lost skill for myself.