Tag Archives: Amarillo ISD

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.

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.

Is this how a school trustee should behave?

I’ll get right to the point on this blog post.

John Betancourt should resign his seat on the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

I say this without knowing this fellow personally. But when I read that he’s had two alcohol-related infractions, including a drunken driving citation issued just recently, I believe it is time for someone who is elected to an important public office to call it quits.

Betancourt helps set education policy for a public school district comprising 30,000-plus students. As an AISD “trustee,” moreover, he is entrusted with setting a good example for the students — and their parents — who are affected by the policies he sets.

Call me a prude if you wish. I don’t mind. I find it unacceptable that someone who holds an elected public office can serve in such a capacity when he or she breaks the law. Driving a motor vehicle while impaired by consuming too much alcohol is a serious matter, to my way of thinking.

Betancourt told the Amarillo Globe-News that the DWI arrest in 2015 is “old news.” Uh, no. It isn’t. It reflects badly on the individual who commits the infraction. More importantly, it also reflects badly on the publicly funded institution he was elected to serve.

Glad to see Confederate debate arrive

I am delighted to see that Amarillo, Texas — my current city of residence — has entered a serious debate that many other communities have already joined.

How do we remember those who fought for the Confederate States of America? Should we remember them? Should we forsake them?

This is an important discussion that erupted in August as a riot ensued in Charlottesville, Va. White supremacists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis marched to protest a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park. Counter protesters emerged to challenge the first group. A young woman was killed when she was run over by a car allegedly driven by a young man with white supremacists sympathies.

The debate hasn’t really let up since.

Now it’s arrived in Amarillo. On Monday, the Amarillo public school system is going to discuss whether to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School. The Robert E. Lee school situation presents an amazing irony, given that the school is located in a historically black neighborhood. Think of that for a moment: That school is named to honor a man who fought to destroy the United States. And for what purpose? To preserve the enslavement of black Americans!

There’s more discussion about the status of a Confederate soldier statue at Ellwood Park.

A pro-Confederate advocate is urging the City Council to “leave history alone.”

I come at this from a different angle. I am a transplant who chose to move to Amarillo in early 1995. My wife and I came here from Beaumont, Texas, where we lived for nearly 11 years prior to moving to the Panhandle. Indeed, we have witnessed our fair share of racial strife since we moved to Texas in 1984 from Oregon, where I was born and where my wife lived for many years.

Do we honor traitors?

I see the Confederacy as an aftertaste of the nation’s bloodiest armed conflict. The Civil War killed more than 600,000 Americans. Why did they fight? The Confederacy came into being as a protest against federal policy that the Confederate States believed interfered with their own right of self-determination.

Let’s not be coy about what those states wanted to preserve: One of their goals was to maintain slavery.

They separated from the United States of America and then went to war. Where I come from, I consider that an act of treason.

Is that the history we want to preserve? Is that what we honor?

I don’t have any particular concern about those who plaster Confederate flags on their bumpers or fly the Stars and Bars from their car radio antennae. That’s their call. Do I question why they do these things? Sure, but I don’t obsess over it.

Putting these symbols, though, on public property — be they parks or public schools — is another matter.

Preserving and honoring history is fine. I’m all for it. The Civil War, though, represents a dark and grim chapter in our nation’s history that should be remembered, studied and discussed. But do we honor that time? That’s why we have historical museums. We’ve got a damn fine historical museum in Canyon, at the West Texas A&M University campus.

So, let’s have this discussion in Amarillo about the Confederacy. Keep it civil and high-minded.

AISD might join important national debate

Amarillo isn’t known as a community to get involved deeply in intense national debates.

So it is with some surprise that I have learned that the Amarillo Independent School District is considering whether to change the name of an elementary school named after a Confederate army general.

Robert E. Lee Elementary School is now in the AISD crosshairs, joining other such public structures that have been targeted in the wake of recent controversy surrounding the a sad and tragic chapter in our nation’s history.

Lee School sits in the middle of a largely African-American neighborhood. We all know, of course, who Robert E. Lee was. For those who don’t, I’ll just explain briefly: He was the commander of Confederate army forces that fought on the losing side of the American Civil War. Oh, and why did the Confederates fight against the United States of America? They wanted to break up the Union.

Those who fought for the Confederacy fought against the United States. By my way of looking at it, the Confederates were traitors. Do we honor them, therefore, by putting their names on public buildings?

So, AISD trustees next week are going to visit with legal counsel to discuss a possible name change. The decision to consider such a thing has met with approval from local NAACP leaders.

AISD building-naming policy follows that new schools are named after the neighborhood they serve. AISD does make some exceptions, such as naming a school in a largely black neighborhood after a man who fought to preserve slavery.

This issue came to a full boil in the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., riot involving white supremacists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis who fought against counter protesters. It’s simmered down somewhat, but a serious national conversation has continued.

It has arrived in Amarillo, Texas.

AISD board president James Austin said he hasn’t yet made up his mind on whether to support a name change. That’s fine. Take your time, Mr. President.

I happen to think a name change is in order. But that’s just me.

Vote early for city election? No thanks … I’ll wait

Social media are buzzing with pleas from the bevy of Amarillo City Council, Amarillo College, and Amarillo school board candidates for residents to vote early.

I am not taking the bait. Per my custom, I am going to wait until May 6, Election Day.

I’m a sucker for tradition. I’d even call it a bit of pageantry. I like going to the polling place on Election Day to chat with other voters. There won’t be a huge crowds at my polling place, which usually is at Arden Road Baptist Church. There won’t be much chance to hobnob with other folks about having to wait in long lines … blah, blah, blah.

I’ll wait, though, to make my statement.

I’ve made up my mind for the City Council. I’m getting closer to deciding how I intend to vote for Amarillo College’s Board of Regents. I live in the Canyon Independent School District, but there’s no election, given that no one filed to challenge the incumbents who serve on the CISD board.

My reason for waiting, though, is a bit more, um, sinister.

I don’t want to be surprised in the final 10 days of a campaign by something seriously negative coming out about the candidate for whom I have cast my vote. Thus, I wait until the last day.

The City Council campaign is beginning to produce a smattering of negativity, to which I’ve alluded already in this forum. I’m a bit annoyed at the naysayers who keep yapping about how much money is being spent for an office that pays a lousy 10 bucks per public meeting.

Big bleeping deal?

My slate of City Council candidates looks solid to me. I’m sticking with them.

I trust they’ll understand that I intend to wait a few more days before making my ballot-box statement.

It’s dangerous to take anything — or anyone — for granted.

Amarillo? We have a homeless student problem

Here’s a number for you to roll around for a moment.

2,131.

What does it represent? It’s the number of homeless students enrolled in the Amarillo Independent School District.

It came to the fore today during a lunch meeting of the Rotary Club of Amarillo. Kimber Thompson, who works with homeless students for AISD, delivered the figure today during the lunch program. I didn’t poll everyone in the room, but my sense is that it caught most of Rotary Club members by surprise.

Here’s a little more perspective and context for you to ponder.

AISD enrolls about 30,000 students at all grades, which means that a little less than 10 percent of its students are considered “homeless.”

I’ve got one more to thing to think about, and this comes from Thompson.

Amarillo’s student homeless population is the fifth-largest of any school district in the state. That’s not a per capita figure, according to Thompson in response to a question from one of the Rotary Club members. The number represents a raw number of total students.

Fifth-largest number! Of any district in the state. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that AISD is far from the fifth-largest public school district in Texas.

Why am I writing about this? It seems to me that we have been handed a fascinating campaign issue for the city’s council candidates and those who are running for the AISD Board of Trustees to discuss as they campaign for votes.

Is there a joint solution to be found here to deal with this problem? Must there be such a large number of students who are considered homeless?

Thompson took time today to explain how AISD determines a student’s homeless status. Children might actually live in their family vehicle; or they might be camping out somewhere in tents; or they might be sharing a house with other extended family members or with friends; they might belong to families in transition.

They all qualify as “homeless.”

Thompson said AISD doesn’t want to transfer students from school to school, as so many homeless students have been shuttled between and among schools too often already. Such rapid and frequent change disrupts them emotionally, not to mention impairs the lessons they are supposed to be learning in the classroom.

I’ll acknowledge that before today I had no idea of the number of homeless students in the Panhandle’s largest public school district.

It was a stunning revelation, one that in my view is tailor-made for some candidates running for municipal and school district public offices to offer some recommendations — if not outright solutions.

Amarillo, I believe we have a crisis on our hands. And we need to talk about it openly — and with extreme candor.

Cumulative voting is here to stay

I had thought initially about using this particular blog post to argue for a drastic change in the Amarillo City Council voting plan … but I won’t argue for it today, although I intend to mention it.

Instead, I’ll discuss briefly a voting plan that will elect members of the Amarillo College Board of Regents and the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

It’s called “cumulative voting,” and it has worked well for both governing bodies.

Cumulative voting was enacted some years ago by AISD to settle a lawsuit brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens, which argued that the AISD at-large voting plan made it too difficult for Latinos to get elected to the board. AISD settled with LULAC and came up with this cumulative plan.

It’s an interesting concept.

If a governing board has, say, three seats up for election, voters can opt to bunch up their votes in any combination they choose. They can cast all  three votes for one candidate; they can parcel them out, casting two ballots for one candidate and one for another; or they can cast one vote apiece for each candidate. The number of votes they cast match the number of seats up for election.

Cumulative voting has worked well for AISD and for AC. It has produced a level of diversity among the respective governing boards. It enables voters in a particular neighborhood to rally around one of their own by allowing for one candidate to collect a greater portion of votes.

Amarillo City Council continues to have its at-large voting plan. The council elects candidates to fill individual places. Voters cast ballots for the candidate of their choice for each place. All council members represent the same citywide constituency, the same as the mayor. The city’s at-large plan has the effect of diminishing the power of the mayor, who is the presiding officer of the City Council in name only.

Should the city change its voting plan? I’ve argued already on this blog that my longtime opposition to any change has softened. I wouldn’t object to a change, such as expanding the council from five to seven seats and then electing two council members — along with the mayor — at-large, while electing four others from wards/precincts.

The city’s plan will likely remain intact for the foreseeable future — if not even longer than that.

Amarillo College and Amarillo ISD, though, are continuing on their own paths to electoral reform that I find quite appealing.

They would do well, though, to explain it clearly and completely to their constituents how it works.

Educator has it right: Come visit us, Mme. Education Secretary

I want to give a full-throated cheer to a former colleague of mine who has gone on to do some great work in public education classrooms.

Shanna Peeples, who was named 2015 National Teacher of the Year, these days works in the administration of the Amarillo Independent School District. Until this school year, she taught English at Palo Duro High School. She was named National Teacher of the Year and was feted in a White House ceremony hosted by President Barack Obama. We worked for a time together many years ago for the same newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-News.

What has Peeples done to earn praise from yours truly? She has invited the current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to visit Amarillo. Come see what’s going on here, Shanna has told DeVos.

Lord knows the education secretary could use some on-site experience visiting public schools, talking to educators who work for public school districts and to public school students.

Peeples made her invitation known on social media. She has said she’ll bring the “coffee and donuts” to a meeting with Secretary DeVos.

I want to join the one-time National Teacher of the Year in inviting DeVos to Amarillo.

Look at it this way, Mme. Secretary: Amarillo sits in the middle of the Texas Panhandle, which voted overwhelmingly for the guy who nominated you, Donald J. Trump. This is ostensibly friendly territory. Amarillo ain’t Berkeley, if you get my drift.

DeVos, though, has zero experience with public education. Not as a student, or the mother of students. She ought to come here and take a look at the work being done by those who work for the very public to which the secretary also answers.

Nice going, Shanna. I hope the secretary accepts your invitation.

Teachers are a cut above many of the rest of us

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

I made a confession today to someone I didn’t know before we met at Street Toyota, where I work part-time as a service department concierge.

This woman is a retired public school teacher and counselor. She served as a counselor in Spearman and Borger, Texas. We exchanged pleasantries and then I told her: “I am not wired to be a teacher.” I then saluted her for her years of service in public education and told her that I remain convinced now more than ever that teachers have a special wiring that enables them to do what they do.

I doffed my imaginary cap to her and we continued chatting about this and that while she waited for her car to be serviced.

Since I stopped working full-time for a living — in daily print journalism — more than four years ago, I have tried my hand at a number of gigs. Some of those gigs involved journalism: blogging for Panhandle PBS and for KFDA NewsChannel 10 and helping produce a weekly newspaper, the Quay County Sun in Tucumcari, N.M.

One gig involved working for about six months as a juvenile supervision officer for the Randall County Youth Center of the High Plains.

Still another was as a substitute teacher in the Amarillo Independent School District. I learned right away about one of my many shortcomings as I entered a classroom full of students who began sizing me up right away.

That shortcoming is this: My DNA does not allow me cope well with students who know how to play substitute teachers like fiddles; it becomes something of an art form with these individuals

The Amarillo school system would send me to one of its four public high schools fairly regularly; I will not disclose which one. I did not do well dealing with the youngsters with attitudes, man. It was particularly stark right after lunch. The students would come back from their lunch hour after having consumed — more than likely — copious amounts of sugar and caffeinated drinks (such as, oh, Red Bull). They had difficulty settling down.

Some of the little darlin’s thought they’d test me. They wouldn’t do as I asked. They would mouth off. They would disrespect the ol’ man — yours truly.

I was empowered, of course, to summon help from The Office if I needed it. I chose not to exercise that power. I just didn’t want to admit to the administration at this high school that I couldn’t handle the little pukes, I mean students.

So, I let ’em trample all over me.

After a while, I came to this realization: The Amarillo ISD didn’t pay me enough to put up with the snark infestation.

I quit accepting assignments at that high school, which apparently was where the need was greatest. The rest of the school district didn’t need my services regularly.

I walked away from that gig.

Which brings me back to my point. I salute teachers the way I salute first responders — such as firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics.

They all do things I am incapable of doing.

I’ll stick with what I know, which at the moment continues to be writing about politics, public policy and life experience on this blog and greeting customers at the auto dealership.

I will cede the hard work gladly to public school educators.