Student Discipline

By Marty Keil

The Code of Conduct for Seguin ISD is comprehensive, detailed and covers many aspects of what is needed to maintain a positive learning environment. Educate Seguin strongly suggests a review of this Code to determine what is most necessary for behavior expectations. A positive learning environment is a productive learning environment

While rules are absolutely necessary to provide a safe and orderly place for learning to occur, the enforcement of those rules must be equitable and fair to all students. If not, many unintended consequences can also occur. Teachers and students alike want to feel safe, cared for, and respected. The safety features recently added to the elementary campuses are helpful in this regard.

In this blog, I’d like to discuss those parts of the Code that most directly impact learning.

First, school uniforms could eliminate much disrespect between students and teachers. This would help eliminate dress code violations where many inequitable punishments are handed out. Relationships between students and teachers would improve, promoting better camaraderie for all.

A later start time for high school may help with tardiness as well as help students be more attentive in class. The later start time to begin this fall for high school students is a great move.

Speaking as an experienced first grade teacher of 29 years, all in Seguin ISD, I can tell you that children of all ages respond to order, organization and clear parameters. From the youngest in pre-K to the graduating senior, students learn responsibility by observing the consequences for both good and bad behavior.

While some things change over time, the attributes for a quality place of learning are still the same. As I said above, students must feel safe, respected and truly cared about.

Our teachers work hard to create this environment on a daily basis.

As written in a previous blog, waivers granted by TEA on the maximum number of students per classroom also directly impact classroom discipline. Overcrowded classrooms hamper a teacher’s ability to keep the optimum learning space where an individual student’s needs can be met. Every year class sizes grow, even as objectives for each grade level increase, and become more challenging.

While the State sets the suggested classroom size, the local school district has the flexibility to set classroom sizes based on information at hand for its particular student population. Our school district should acknowledge this, and form smaller, more manageable class sizes.

Academics are not the only challenge in an overcrowded classroom. Students often compete for the teacher’s attention by acting out with unacceptable behavior, even though the reward may be negative. The physiological and emotional needs of the child must be met before any academic success can happen. Fewer children in K-3 classrooms allow the teacher to set the foundation for that child to have the necessary skills in place for the rest of their school career.

Finally, it comes down to giving teachers an opportunity to grow in experience at a particular grade level to become that highly “effective” teacher. Moving a teacher around every two years to various grade levels to see where they are most effective is a mistake and waste of energy. Effective, inspiring teachers are usually those with experience, knowledge and dedication that has been honed and refined through years of teaching at their preferred grade level.

Seguin ISD Needs Universal Pre-K by 2020

By Darren Dunn

If you want to build something that lasts – something that will stand the test of time, you need to start with a solid foundation. This axiom is also true when it comes to providing a quality education for our children. That educational foundation should begin with a quality pre-kindergarten program. It doesn’t matter whether your kids get it at a private school or through a state run program, the benefits of pre-K will last a lifetime.

More and more policy-makers in Texas are recognizing the need to provide quality pre-K instruction to every four-year old in the state. Governor Greg Abbott made improving the state’s pre-K programs his top priority during the last legislative session. The new law doesn’t provide universal Pre-K, but it does set aside millions of dollars to enhance existing pre-K programs in the state.

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, before leaving for the Obama administration, engineered an innovative Pre-K 4 SA program that takes the best teachers and pairs them up with students who apply to participate in the program. It’s not universal pre-K, but it’s a clear example of how important an issue this has become. This is traditionally not the role of the cities in Texas, but stakeholders in San Antonio recognized that a greater investment needed to be made in its children.

Universal pre-K would go a long way in making sure that every child in Seguin had the right foundation, and the right start to their formal education. Those opposed to universal pre-K often say the benefits are gone by the time the student reaches the third grade. That’s based on some old research that has largely been disproven by groups, like the National Institute for Early Education Research. Through its research, NIEER has demonstrated time and time again the lasting benefits of pre-K instruction. We know it matters. We know it’s needed. So now it’s just a matter of making it accessible to all children.

There are too many Seguin ISD students showing up the first day of kindergarten, and they simply are not prepared for the classroom, or for the huge amount of academic growth that is expected of those students during that first year of elementary school. There’s hardly any retention of these students in the Seguin ISD, so that means many of them are passed on to the next grade, without having mastered kindergarten skills, and certainly not ready for anything that the first grade is ready to offer. Thus begins the cycle of trying to play catch up.

Universal pre-k need not be a threat to private or church sponsored day care centers. I think the pool of parents that would opt for those services would remain largely unchanged. However, a universal pre-k program run by the Seguin ISD would provide access for all of the other parents who don’t have the means to afford quality pre-K services, or who don’t qualify for the district’s existing program.

Investing more resources in its youngest students seems to be the right place for the Seguin ISD to start if it wants to truly provide an “education…as good as gold.”

Why Open Meetings are Important

By Steve Anderson

One of the fundamental principles of a representative democracy is transparency. In order for citizens to be fully informed about the issues affecting their lives and the elected officials who are making decisions on their behalf, it is important that governmental entities conduct their business as openly and transparently as possible. Doing otherwise denies citizens their right to public information and invites questions and, worse, suspicions about the actions and motives of officeholders.

In an effort to ensure that governmental bodies perform their work in the public eye, every state in the country – including Texas – has adopted “Open Meeting” laws that require school boards, city councils, state legislatures and other public entities to hold their deliberations in an “open” manner that is readily accessible to and by the public. Most, if not all, of these Open Meeting laws do allow limited and reasonable exceptions to public deliberation for highly sensitive and confidential matters. In Texas, those exceptions generally fall into the categories of personnel matters, real estate transactions, and pending or contemplated litigation.

At times the Seguin ISD Board of Trustees appears to interpret these Texas Open Meeting Law exemptions very broadly. They often have been quick to go into executive session with their attorney when it has not always been clear from the posted agenda item that such action is warranted or allowable under the law. These occasions have contributed to public mistrust of the Trustees and compromised their ability to work constructively with the community on the many critical matters that are facing our district and children.

In our 2016 platform, Educate Seguin calls for the Seguin ISD Board of Trustees to limit its use of closed, executive sessions to those subjects specifically outlined in the Texas Open Meetings Law. A narrow, conservative interpretation of the law’s exemptions to open deliberation is in the best interest of both the Board and the community, and will go far in restoring public trust in our Seguin ISD Trustees.

Eliminating Class-Size Waivers

By Lisa Burns

This is the next article in a series of articles about the 11 planks in the Educate Seguin Platform for 2016. The Education Seguin platform was designed by a group of parents, educators, professionals, and community members united together to improve the quality of education of the children of Seguin.

TEA (Texas Education Agency, the state organization responsible for governance of schools) policy limits the number of students enrolled in a kindergarten through fourth grade classroom to no more than 22. If a classroom’s enrollment exceeds this number, a waiver must be applied for according to TEC §25.112. Also, a school district that repeatedly fails to comply with class size requirements may be subject to actions under TEC §39.102.

For the 2015-16 school year, Seguin ISD applied for 12 classroom waivers. 12 of our local elementary classrooms were projected to have more students than the TEA allowable number.

Class size limits were put into place to boost student achievement. The Center for Public Education (an initiative of the National School Boards Association), compiled results from several different researchers and published these conclusions:

* Smaller classes in the early grades (K-3) can boost student academic achievement;

* A class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits;

* A program spanning grades K-3 will produce more benefits than a program that reaches students in only one or two of the primary grades;

* Minority and low-income students show even greater gains when placed in small classes in the primary grades;

* The experience and preparation of teachers is a critical factor in the success or failure of class size reduction programs;

* Reducing class size will have little effect without enough classrooms and well-qualified teachers; and

* Supports, such as professional development for teachers and a rigorous curriculum, enhance the effect of reduced class size on academic achievement.

Much has already been written about the need for overall academic improvement in Seguin ISD. We need to give our teachers the best environment possible so that they can achieve the results that this community so desperately needs. Reduced class sizes allow teachers to connect more with each student as well as provide more individual help when necessary.

Class sizes cannot be reduced overnight. It takes substantial planning in both financial and physical resources. We urge Seguin ISD to plan to eliminate class size waivers for the 2017-18 school year as well as create a long-range for continually reduction of classroom sizes in order to give our students the education that they deserve.