Tag Archives: Amarillo ISD

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.

Students are the real victims in this coaching controversy

I’ll admit it: I cannot let go of the story that has roiled the Amarillo Independent School District athletic community.

An Amarillo High girls volleyball coach quit after a single season at the helm of one of the state’s most vaunted athletic programs. She was critical of the school board and the administration for what she said was a lack of support for the coach who alleged she was hassled by a parent over the playing time the coach was giving to the parent’s daughters who played volleyball for the Sandies.

I won’t get into the individuals alleged to be involved here. I do want to echo a comment made to me on social media about the collateral damage that has been inflicted by this matter.

It likely has damaged the student-athletes who play for the high school. They have been whipsawed by the tension that has gripped the AISD athletic program. They are caught in the glare of a community that has been looking a lot more closely at the program and how a future girls volleyball coach is going to respond to the tension.

The daughters of the parent who allegedly hassled the coach, of course, are the primary victims of this collateral damage. None of this would seem to be fair to them. I don’t know the girls. For that matter, I don’t know the parent who reportedly hassled and harangued the former Sandies coach.

But I do know how these matters potentially play out. I also have beliefs on how the governing body ought to respond. The AISD school board hasn’t responded well to date, as near as I can tell.

Trustees’ silence is not doing anyone any good.

I managed to attend the school board meeting when the resignation of the former coach, Kori Clements, was accepted by the board. I heard the testimony of a couple of the Sandies players who spoke in support of their coach. I am absolutely certain they were hurt by what transpired.

Those student-athletes’ needs to be considered by the school board and the administration as they move forward.

Yes, the damage has been done. It need not fester.

By all means, change the name of that school

Amarillo’s public school trustees have made the correct call in initiating the process of changing the name of a school identified with someone who sought to overthrow the government of the United States of America.

I refer to Lee Elementary School, once named Robert E. Lee Elementary School. Amarillo Independent School District trustees, feeling the heat over other communities’ struggles with monuments and buildings named after the Confederate Army general, decided to drop the “Robert E.” from the name, believing that would soften the impact of the general’s presence.

Now the name “Lee” is coming off the campus altogether. The AISD board is going to consider some suitable replacement.

This is a good call.

For starters, the school serves a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Why did Gen. Lee join with his native Virginia in seeking to overthrow the government during the Civil War? Well, because the Confederate States of America wanted the right to continue holding human beings — African-Americans — in bondage. They were slaves! Properties of their white masters!

Amarillo’s history is full of pioneers who were champions of public education, or they helped settle the region, or helped build the community. AISD’s elementary, middle, junior high and high schools already carry names of significance to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. They haven’t used ’em all up!

As for Gen. Lee, his name belongs in museums dedicated to explaining why he decided to go to war against the Union. It doesn’t belong on the side of a building serving a neighborhood full of descendants of those he and his Confederate comrades sought to enslave.

As AISD trustee John Ben Blanchard, who resigned from the board this week, said: “My hope is that the name of Lee Elementary will be changed to something that is not divisive or offensive to our community.”

It’s my hope, too.