Tag Archives: Amarillo ISD

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.

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.

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.

A defeated AISD trustee wants back on?

Another applicant has jumped into the soup.

It’s official! I just submitted my application to be considered for one of the two vacant seats of the Amarillo ISD Board of Trustees! If you would like to support me in this process please contact the Board via the Contact Board Form link. Voice your support and ask that I get appointed to the board. Thank you everyone who has supported me along this process!

Well, I will offer a brief rejoinder to this applicant’s request for an appointment to a governing board … from which he was just ousted in a districtwide election in early May.

John Betancourt, a former Amarillo Independent School District trustee, wants the current board to select him to fill one of two vacancies on the seven-member board. He announced his application on his Facebook page today.

I normally would endorse such an appointment, given that Betancourt would represent an underserved constituency on the board: the AISD’s growing Hispanic population.

Except that he stood for re-election in May and was defeated in that effort. AISD voters — those who bothered to cast their ballots — decided he wasn’t worthy of being re-elected.

I shall stipulate that I don’t have a tangible role to play here. I don’t even live within the AISD boundaries. I am just a former Amarillo resident who retains an interest in the community where I lived for 23 years.

Betancourt well might deserve to return to the AISD board — one day. Were he to run for a spot on the board in the next election, that would be OK. However, for the board to appoint Betancourt so soon after the voters spoke against him would in my view be the epitome of insult to the constituents whose voice will have been ignored.

The AISD board, which comprises mostly new faces at the moment, is still trying to get its bearings in what I believe is an uncertain political climate. The district is still reeling a bit from the controversial resignation of a high school volleyball coach, the resignation of two trustees — including one trustee who was implicated in the coach’s resignation.

Betancourt was part of that dust-up, which well might have played a role in his being defeated for re-election. Return him now, so soon after he was kicked out of office?

Don’t do it.

How must governments define ‘personnel’ matters?

I won’t take credit for this idea. It comes from a reader of this blog and a frequent critic of local government in Amarillo, Texas.

My friend wonders whether the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees should examine carefully its policy of declining to comment on “personnel matters” when the matter involves an elected member of the governing board.

The Parents for Transparency Coalition is seeking answers from the school board on an array of issues. The coalition believes the board and senior administration are too opaque in their conduct of public business.

I need to revisit the resignation of the Amarillo High volleyball coach. Kori Clements resigned her post after asserting that a parent had interfered with her coaching decisions. The parent allegedly was a member of the school board. Renee McCown, the now former trustee, resigned. Still, the board has declined to comment on the matter, citing the “personnel” policy as prohibiting them from making any public comment.

I’ll ask the question: Is a school trustee “employed” by the district? Does the trustee’s reticence and the board’s reluctance to comment fall under that personnel-related policy? I tend to view the elected trustee as someone who is distinctly different from the paid administrators, faculty and staff.

I agree with my friend, who said: Someone needs to mount a legal challenge to determine whether a board member is “personnel” and the state press association needs to lobby for changes in the way public personnel are protected under the sunshine laws.

Therein might lie the Parents for Transparency Coalition’s opening to seek — and hopefully get — more transparency from its local public school district.

That’s a pretty good starting point.

Amarillo public school system needs to turn the corner

Where does the Amarillo Independent School District stand now that another elected school board member has packed it in?

Renee McCown, an embattled school trustee who got caught up in a controversy stemming from the resignation of a popular high school volleyball coach, has resigned. Her seat on the seven-member board is empty.

McCown became the focal point in an issue involving alleged meddling by an AISD parent over the way former coach Kori Clements was doing her job. Clements quit after a single season as Amarillo High volleyball coach.

The parent involved in the meddling allegedly was McCown, who — if the allegations are true — committed an egregious act of ethical misbehavior. School board trustees should not interfere with staffers seeking to do their job.

Do I know with absolute certainty that the trustee did what was alleged? No. However, her silence on the matter — let alone the silence from the entire board and the school administration — suggest a certain credibility to the allegations that have arisen. Thus, her continued service on the AISD board and the continuing questions that lingered over the community made her service untenable.

I don’t expect McCown, who is freed from any adherence to AISD policy requiring silence on “personnel matters,” to come forth and offer her side to a story that has roiled the AISD athletic community. She is as free to remain silent as she is free to speak out.

I do want to reiterate a critical point. School trustees who have children enrolled in the public school system they are elected or appointed to govern must keep their distance from educators who are hired to do certain jobs.

The AISD board will have to fill two seats soon with brand new members, joining the others who have just joined the board in the wake of the most recent election.

It is my sincere hope that they understand fully every single one of the boundaries they should not cross.

Time for a serious meeting of the minds on AISD board?

I am posting this item anticipating a resignation from the Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees.

The board is conducting a special meeting today to consider acceptance of a resignation letter from trustee Renee McCown. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill resignation, although McCown’s letter to the board makes no reference to the turmoil that has erupted in the district in recent months.

Indeed, McCown has been implicated deeply in the unrest that has roiled the AISD.

An Amarillo High girls volleyball coach quit; she blamed her resignation from a vaunted athletic program on parental interference; she said the board and administrators didn’t back her; she resigned; the board held a meeting and got an earful from angry constituents; the board accepted the coach’s resignation and has moved on.

Meanwhile, McCown was named in a complaint filed with the Texas Education Agency as the offending parent who allegedly harassed the coach over playing time allotted for the parent’s daughters on the Sandies’ volleyball team. The complaint and the allegations leveled against the trustee constitute a serious no-no, an egregious violation of governing ethics . . . in my humble view.

McCown has remained quiet, along with the rest of the board.

Her silence on the issue has spoken more loudly and vividly than perhaps she expected. I have commented several times on this matter, wanting the board to break its silence, wanting some accountability, seeking some transparency.

I expect the silence to continue even after McCown walks away from her public office. That would be a shame.

I am going to hope, though, that the school board along with the administration will have candid discussions among all the principals about the complaint that was filed, the reasons cited by the former volleyball coach, the TEA complaint filed by the constituent and the concerns of a parents group that is demanding more transparency.

Let them speak frankly to each other and let there be a clear understanding of the boundaries none of those trustees ever should cross.

A change coming to Amarillo ISD board? One can hope

I am going to rely on my friend and former colleague Jon Mark Beilue’s assessment on this one, as he is much closer physically to the matter than I am.

He posted a note on Facebook today that wonders whether there’s a sea change coming up on the Amarillo Independent School District board with the upcoming resignation of yet another trustee.

Renee McCown is expected to leave the board soon. She becomes the second trustee to resign in recent weeks. Two other board members were elected in early May. Yet another trustee did not seek re-election.

McCown, as I’ve noted already, is at the center of the current tumult that is roiling the district. Here is Beilue’s post, which lays out the situation nicely:

https://www.facebook.com/jon.beilue/posts/10214030339253125

In short, Beilue fears that the AISD board will remain shrouded in secrecy. It needed to clear the air over the accusation leveled against the board and senior school system administrators in the resignation letter submitted by former Amarillo High girls volleyball coach Kori Clements. It did not. The board, in my view, disserved the district and the people it serves.

A significant new majority is about to comprise the AISD board of trustees. Five of the seven members on the board have been replaced by a districtwide election and by two resignations tendered since that election.

As for Renee McCown, her apparent departure from the board will give her the opportunity to speak for herself about whether she was the parent who hassled the former Amarillo High coach to the point of forcing her out of what should have been the job of her dreams.

There needs to be a reckoning.

I am hoping for the best, but fearing that my friend who’s closer to the epicenter than I am has a better feel for how this drama is going to play out.

A pending AISD resignation is bound to roil the community

News does travel quickly.

I got word way down yonder in Collin County that an Amarillo Independent School District trustee who’s been implicated in an ongoing controversy in the district is resigning.

The school board is meeting on Thursday and one of the agenda items to be considered is whether to accept the resignation of trustee Renee McCown. This is a very big deal, folks. I now will explain why. Bear with me as I repeat a little of what is known already.

An Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach, Kori Clements, resigned earlier in the school year after a single season. She said in her resignation letter that a parent was hassling her over playing time she was giving the parent’s daughters. Clements said in her resignation that the board and the administration failed to back her.

The board accepted the coach’s resignation without comment after hearing from a number of AISD constituents who were displeased with the way the coach was treated. I heard the complaints first hand, as I attended that meeting.

Then came a complaint filed by an AISD constituent with the Texas Education Agency that named the offending parent: McCown, a trustee on the school board.

McCown has been silent on the allegation. So has the rest of the board. Superintendent Doug Loomis did issue a statement denying the allegation against McCown, although the statement offered virtually no specifics.

So now it appears that McCown is out. She leaves on the heels of the resignation of another trustee, John Ben Blanchard, and after two other trustees — John Betancourt and Jim Austin — lost their re-election bids in early May. A fifth incumbent, Scott Flow, did not seek a new term.

That means the board soon will have five new faces out of seven members on its body.

What does that mean in terms of the school system’s controversy? I haven’t a clue. If the board accepts McCown’s resignation, it will cleanse itself — not to mention the district — of an odorous chapter in its recent history.

The implication that a school trustee would interfere in the performance of a staffer’s duties is the kind of thing that needs to be dealt with openly. The AISD board has been stone-cold silent, citing “personnel policy” for its reticence. That silence has failed to serve the district, its constituents, its students, its faculty, administrators and, yes, even its trustees well.

I’ve noted already that I do not know Renee McCown, although I do wish her well as she prepares to leave local politics.

But there’s a stern and unmistakable lesson to be learned here. It is that elected officials are “hired” by their constituents to set educational policy. These officials are not elected to butt in where they don’t belong.

School is out, but let’s not lose sight of a noble goal

A group of parents has formed in Amarillo that is demanding “transparency” from the Amarillo Independent School District.

It is called the Parents for Transparency Coalition. The group sprung to life after a high school girls volleyball coach resigned, igniting a controversy surrounding the school board, the administration and alleged interference by a parent in the way the coach was doing her job. The coalition has some specific grievances that is seeks to remedy within the AISD. I am not qualified to discuss the specifics of all that the group is seeking to address.

I do, though, want to take a brief note of the group’s noble goal.

Transparency always, without exception, is better than darkness, or opaqueness in government at any level. That goes for school systems as well as city councils, county commissioners courts, the judiciary at any level and certainly at the federal level.

The Parents for Transparency Coalition believes the AISD is particularly dark and secretive. That is the coalition’s fight to wage. Given that I live far away these days I have little access to the particulars of what irks the coalition’s membership.

However, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of the overarching message that the coalition is seeking for the public school system. Perhaps there can be a message that needs to be delivered.

It is that the property tax revenue that foots the bill for educating a community’s children comes from the property owners who live within that school district. The vast bulk of that financial burden is borne by the residents, many of whom have children being educated within that system.

Therefore, they have every right to demand full transparency, even while school is out for the summer.

To that end, I stand with the Parents for Transparency Coalition.