The Year In Review

WordPress.com prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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A Bright Spot for the Holidays

There’s a lot in need of improvement in our schools, the most important being the quality of instruction and student performance. However, there are some things we do very well.  What can we learn from our centers of excellence and how can we build upon them? These are questions with which we struggle.

One such bright spot is our music program. The quality of our instrumental music program at both the middle and high school levels far exceeds that of other schools in our district and rivals that of schools much larger. Why is this? I suggest our success hinges on three foundational elements: quality teachers, small class size, and continuity. At both the middle school and high school levels, most teachers in instrumental music have been teaching in Seguin for several years. Yes, there has been some turnover but the core of the team is committed to our district and its students. More important than longevity, however, is their commitment to their students. The teachers take the time to get to know each of the students in the program and have the opportunity to develop and maintain that relationship over several years. This continuity provides a comfort level for the students and allows them to know that the teachers care about them beyond their performance in class-they care about the whole student.

I would like to highlight one program in particular-the percussion program. Craig Turner has been the Director of Percussion for Seguin ISD for almost a decade. The percussion program takes continuity to a level not seen in any other academic discipline in Seguin ISD. Craig begins teaching percussion students in the 6th grade and remains their percussion instructor through their high school career. He sees his students every day for 7 years. He knows them and they know him. Moreover, the students know something else: Craig cares about them as people. The students often tell of Craig’s “life lessons” on responsibility, financial management, and life in general.

What does this kind of continuity and caring produce? Excellence. There is no other word for it. Our high school drumline routinely wins outstanding drumline awards at its contests. Individually, the students excel as well. A few weeks ago, Craig’s students auditioned for Region Band, the first step to a place in the All-State Band. Several students decided to audition in 6-A rather than 5-A, which is Seguin’s UIL level. 6-A is more challenging because it includes students from larger schools with more resources. Against these top percussionists in our region, Seguin took the TOP FOUR SPOTS. There was more success to follow as many of Craig’s students auditioned at the 5-A level and performed very well.

The take-home lesson here is that our students are as smart, as driven, and as talented as any students in Texas. Regardless of race, socioeconomic status, and family situation, our students, given the proper support and teaching, can kick butt and take names.

Our challenge is to make this happen in every classroom and every school.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens

Maybe He Was Right…

“So what, what does that say? That we are accepting losing. We do not know how to win. That’s the bottom line.”

-Hector Salinas, Former SISD Interim Athletic Director

This is the one quote out of many that, more than any other, got people in our community upset.  To suggest that we accept losing, that we throw in the towel, is a charge that many were quick to rebut.  People commented on social media that we do want to win but that we also need to support the student-athletes, win or lose, and let them know we appreciate their effort and dedication.  And that is important.

But just maybe Mr. Salinas was right, in a way.  Maybe we do accept losing.  Not on the athletic field, but rather in the classroom.

I talk to a lot of people about our schools and how we can improve.  Many of these conversations are unsolicited-in the grocery store, in my office, or at school events.  Everyone has an opinion, but I find there are some themes.  One of these themes can be summarized by the quotes below.

“Look at what we have to work with.”

“Their parents don’t care, so what do you expect?”

I ask the reader to close your eyes and picture the students referred to in these quotes.  I am guessing you aren’t picturing white, middle class students.  The people who said these things and the many variations on this theme were referring to students with brown skin or black skin.  And to students whose families are poor-perhaps the parents are still children themselves or perhaps there is only one parent at home.

And so I ask:  Do we accept losing?  We are not educating these children.  That’s a fact.  Look at our test scores.  Our poor, Hispanic, and black students are not proficient in reading and math.  They will graduate without the skills to be successful in our world.  And we accept this because we say it’s not possible to educate them.  But that’s not true.  It IS possible and it’s being done in districts all across the state.  HOW is it possible?

The Brookings Institution recently released a study on the impact of a superintendent on student outcomes.  It’s conclusion?  Superintendents don’t really have much of an impact.  Then what does?  The community in which a student lives.  Communities that are engaged and involved, that demand good outcomes, these communities produce successful students, regardless of the students’ race or economic status.

Are we engaged and involved?  Oh yes, there is a lot of engagement currently.  But that is focused on athletics and holiday parties and paid travel.  What about engagement around academics?  I don’t see much of that.  I don’t see concerned parents and community leaders packing board meetings demanding better academic outcomes or higher college enrollment rates.

Prior to the 2014 election cycle, we had a long history of disinterest in our schools.  Our Board of Trustee elections are largely unopposed affairs and even last year, when all of the races were contested, there was no debate about our poor academic performance.  Neither incumbents nor challengers were asked to explain their plans for changing the status quo.  Could that be because we don’t really believe we can do any better?  That we accept losing?

I suggest that we accept losing academically because we don’t believe we can win.  It doesn’t have to be true, but it will be unless we change our expectations.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens