It’s Time To Do What It Takes

Let me tell you a story.

I have a patient.  Let’s call her Alex.  Alex is 7 years old and she’s in Kindergarten at an SISD elementary school.  She has attention deficit disorder and anxiety.  This has led to a lot of behavior problems at school.  Her home situation is chaotic to say the least.  Alex’s dad is not consistently “in the picture”.  Her mom is busy with her job at a local healthcare facility and also with raising Alex’s siblings.  As a result, she is not home as much as she would like, leaving Alex in the care of her grandmother and various other relatives.

Prior to when she began coming to see me, Alex had a violent outburst that resulted in a psychiatric hospital stay.  At that time, she was placed on an anti-psychotic medication.  As a result, on many days, she falls asleep at her desk.  On days when she is awake, she acts out in class, hitting other students and verbally abusing the teacher.  A few months ago, Alex’s behavior at school began to significantly worsen.  Because of the family’s low income, her insurance is through the Texas Medicaid Program.  This means doctors are hard to find, especially psychiatric doctors.  My attempts to adjust her medications did not help her behavior-instead she continued to worsen.

As an attempt to try and come up with some novel solutions, I made a housecall and met with the family and had them take me through a typical day for Alex.  It turns out that after school, both Alex’s mom and grandmother are working.  So instead of going home, she goes to the home of her grandfather, who lives with another male relative.  Unfortunately, that male relative had sexually abused Alex a couple of years earlier.

So Alex has to spend some time each day in the home where she was abused in the past and in the presence of the abuser.  Suddenly the spiraling anxiety and out-of-control behavior start to make a lot more sense.

What’s the point of this story?  The point is that this is not an isolated incident.  As a pediatrician, I see kids like Alex every day.  Perhaps a parent is in jail, or just absent.  Perhaps a parent has a mental health or substance abuse problem.  Or both.  Perhaps the parent is working two or three jobs to provide a meal and housing.  Perhaps they are homeless.  In Seguin ISD, about two-thirds of the students are poor.  And this population has much higher rates of housing instability, food insecurity, mental health problems, substance abuse problems, single parent households, incarceration, truancy, you name it.  And we are not, as a district nor as a community, dealing with this reality.  As I said, I see kids like Alex every day.  That’s my job.  But Alex’s teachers see kids like her every day too.   And they feel helpless because they feel they have no tools to help.

THAT is why our schools continue to struggle.  We have no universal preschool.  No free before-school or after-school programs for kids whose parents work.  We provide no consistent social work services on our campuses.  There are no mental health services.  We don’t provide any extra transportation services for kids who live within 2 miles of their school.  There is no partnership between SISD and employers to allow parents to interact with school personnel while at work.

This has been the case for decades and this, at bottom, is why we continue to be low-performing, failing to educate large numbers of our children.  Historically, the answer has been “that’s not our job.”  And perhaps that’s right.  But unless we MAKE it our job, we are never going to be successful.  We have a long history of blaming the parents.  In some cases, perhaps they deserve blame.  In other cases, they most certainly do not.  But regardless, blaming them isn’t going to fix our problems.

It is time for us to adopt a far more expansive definition of what it means to educate our children.  We need, certainly, to teach them to read, and write, and do math, and all those other things that are the schools’ “job”.  But most importantly, we also need to teach them that we care.  That means we need to go above and beyond.  That’s what districts that are successful with populations like ours do.  That’s what communities, civic leaders, faith leaders, and employers that really care about their kids do.  It’s time for us to get with that program.  Until then, we are going to continue to fail kids like Alex.  And that’s not right.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens

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SISD Leadership-The Way Forward

The Seguin ISD faces significant challenges as it strives to improve educational quality and student achievement in our community. Student test scores are well below state averages and our young people continue to move on to post-secondary education in numbers well below those of the state as a whole. There are significant headwinds as we try to improve our outcomes. State funding remains below what is necessary, we have difficulty recruiting teachers to our rural location, and the high poverty rate in our community negatively impacts the education of our children. Overcoming these challenges will require innovative, inspired leadership and we call on the Board of Trustees to find such a leader.

In 2015, the Board of Trustees chose a superintendent after a very brief seach process almost entirely devoid of input from the many stakeholders in our community. The result was troubling, as we have all witnessed. We therefore call upon the board to avoid the mistakes of the past and engage our community in a collaborative process to choose the next leader for our schools.

Specifically, we call upon the Board to begin a comprehensive search for our next superintendent. The future of our community is dependent upon the quality of our schools. Finding the right candidate is absolutely critical. The search should be conducted by a professional recruiting firm with experience in the hiring of public school executives. We believe the Board of Trustees should choose a search consultant only after a thorough process of vetting multiple recruiting firms and interviewing multiple candidates. After a search consultant is retained, we call upon the Board to form a search committee composed of a cross section of our community: educators, parents, teachers, students, and community members.

We realize that a search process as described above may be lengthy. Fortunately, we know that there remains at Seguin ISD a core of dedicated, competent, caring administrators who are willing and able to manage the district’s affairs in the interim period, however long that may be. While we hope for a brief transition, we feel that the hiring of a superintendent who can bring about the transformative change needed is the most important consideration, regardless of the duration of the search.

This community stands at a crossroads. Surrounding school districts are seeing swelling enrollment and are struggling to build new schools to accommodate the influx of students. Cities around us are experiencing booms in housing and retail development. Seguin meanwhile has experienced a decade of flat school enrollment. If we wish to truly share in the “Texas Miracle” we must have an excellent school system. The hiring of a new superintendent with the skills to bring that about is the first step. We therefore call on the Seguin ISD Board of Trustees to begin a process that will bring such a person to Seguin. Educate Seguin is fully committed to assisting the Board of Trustees in whatever ways are necessary to ensure the success of our schools, our young people, and our community.

The Board of Directors

Educate Seguin

Citizens Dedicated to Outstanding Public Schools for Seguin