From the desk of Dr. Kirk Lewis

Updates from the Superintendent


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Running the Reds

The flashing red lights of the bus had been blinking for 15 seconds. The side-arm stop sign had been deployed. Students exited the school bus excited about the beginning of the school day and eager to get to campus to see their friends. Not all of them were paying close attention. As the children were preparing to cross the street under the “safety” of the red lights of the bus, three cars whizzed around the stationary bus. Two seconds later and the students would have been walking in the path of danger.

Several weeks ago, the Pasadena ISD Transportation Department embarked on a three-day study to count the number of vehicles that “ran the reds” on the more than 250 buses crisscrossing the district on any given day. Approximately 150 buses filed a report each day of that three-day period.  An average of 641 vehicles failed to stop as required by law when the red lights were flashing.  The red lights flash when the bus is loading or unloading children at a bus stop. Think of the number of children and young people placed at risk when we disregard the reds.

We may be late for work or trying to make an urgent appointment, but please consider the risk to the lives of the children. Being somewhere a minute earlier will never be worth the death or injury of a child or the impact that accident might have on your own life.

Please watch for the flashing red lights of your neighborhood school bus. We will monitor the violations again in a few weeks. It’s my hope that this awareness and a reminder will convince all of us to think twice before passing a school bus under protection of the reds. Approximately 17,000 students ride Pasadena ISD buses every day. I’m asking for your help in keeping our children safe.


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Lessons Learned

For many adults, our fondest memories of high school tend to revolve around the activities in which we were involved and the scores of relationships developed with friends and teachers along the way.  I know students today feel the same way. Students who choose to disconnect miss out on so much, not only while in school, but afterwards when the truths we learned through those activities and relationships became life lessons.

That is one reason why I enjoy attending events like the Pasadena ISD Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet or the various high school Hall of Honor receptions. When I get a chance to visit with alumni of any of our schools, I usually hear stories about how a coach, teacher or custodian said and did things that taught them how to live.

At the recent Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet we heard Gawain Guy, one of Dobie’s track stars in the 1980s, talk about the life lessons learned from his coach and fellow Hall of Fame inductee, John Blake, lessons that still influence him today.  As important as it is to teach the academics, we know we also teach by example…in the way we live and act. It is a glorious and grave responsibility.

                                                                                                                                                 

Special thanks to the community for supporting the Pasadena ISD Athletic Hall of Fame and attending this special event. Thanks to the inductees who stand as examples of success, commitment and dedication and who share such profound words of wisdom with the students who attend the ceremony.

When our students connect with their schools through their participation in school activities, they learn lessons that last a lifetime. How grateful we are when these same individuals take the time to share those positive messages with today’s students! Thanks also to all the great teachers and staff in Pasadena ISD who are teaching the same life lessons to today’s students.


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Exiting the Ivory Tower

When you spend most of your career in school administration as I have, there is an ever-present danger of settling into an ivory tower existence. If you’re not careful, you look out your window and tend to see the world with a skewed perspective. Though I make an effort to avoid this trap, I’m sure there are times I fail.

It seems to me that the best way to keep from losing perspective is to listen. I enjoy my conversations with community members, parents and staff. The conversations are not always easy, but most are relevant, thought-provoking and instructive.

I also take great joy in visiting with our students. The Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (SSAC), meets three times a year and is composed of eight students from each of the district’s five high schools. That organization has operated for more than 25 years. I’ve attended almost every meeting for the past quarter century. The format is a simple one: We engage in conversation.

The students are polite, respectful, engaged, funny and brutally honest. Some topics never change with the passage of time. We always talk about dress codes, school start times and cafeteria food.

Sometimes, we ask for their input on ideas we have for new programs or policies. They have a way of cutting through the rhetoric and seeing the flaws in what we thought was a perfect plan. Their suggestions typically improve the educational experience in our district. They push us. Some of our most recent strategic initiatives in technology, counseling and college readiness evolved as a result of this group of young people.

These students make a difference in our district as representatives of the entire student population. I have grown to value their input and deeply enjoy the relationships we build. They represent all that is good about our young people.

I’m grateful that the conversations I share with these students draw me out of the ivory tower and into their world.


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Incomprehensible Sadness

Little can be said today to bring any sense of understanding to the senseless act of mayhem that occurred today in Newtown, CT. My heart grieves for the parents and families of those little ones who lost their lives and for the spouses and families of the educators who were killed. Each time tragedy like this strikes, something despicable eats away at all that is good and right and wonderful in our world. With incomprehensible sadness we are left to pick up the pieces of lives shattered.

The thoughts and prayers of the entire Pasadena ISD community go out to the Newtown community in the days, weeks and months to come. It is my hope that every parent and grandparent in our own community will hug their children or grandchildren a little tighter tonight and let them feel your presence.


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Unleash the Technology

During my time in high school…more than a few years ago…we thought we were technologically literate when we learned to use the slide rule and the electric typewriter. Those technologies have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Everything evolves.  Experts now tell us we can expect new technology to last five years. That’s the time it takes for an emerging technology to pass through maturity and finally into obsolescence. The speed of change creates a challenge for teachers. We know, however that student success depends on getting our teachers to use technology as a natural part of daily instruction and to release that technology to our students as tools that prepare them for the work force and for college.

This week, members of the Pasadena ISD Board of Trustees toured several campuses to see how new technologies were being used as instructional tools in the hands of our teachers and learning tools in the hands of our students. Teachers and students from elementary through high school used iPads, Kindle Readers, Netbooks, digital document cameras and projectors, Promethean Boards and complicated software in innovative ways to teach, research, assess, explore and create. I wish everyone in our community could see the high level of teaching and extraordinary level of active student engagement taking place in our classrooms every day.

We certainly aren’t perfect yet in the use of these new technologies, but we know that technology in the hands of an amazing teacher can bring ordinary curriculum to life. We know technology placed in the hands of our students can free their creative energy to find a deeper level of academic understanding. It is all about engagement.

We’ve come a long way from slide rules and electric typewriters and our students are blazing a trail to success as a result.


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Life’s Options

For the past decade major business leaders and authors suggested that America needed a college educated work force to maintain our competitive balance internationally. They pushed hard. That major initiative overlooked the diverse and necessary fields required for a booming economy that only require career certifications and associate degrees.  Thankfully, the national vision and conversation recently expanded to include all post-secondary learning. I believe that broader philosophy fits the needs of our community better than more restrictive approach.

Children certainly need a vision that some level of college attendance or career preparation (workforce certificates) is necessary to secure a better future for themselves and their families. In the past our district started too late in the education process talking to our students about their futures.

No longer is that the case.

This week is College Week in Pasadena ISD. College and career discussions were the norm this week, as they have been for several years, from pre-kindergarten classes through high school. At every grade level this week you saw college t-shirts being worn and logos hanging from every classroom door. Our College Night involved well over 1,000 students and more than 100 colleges, giving our high school kids a chance to explore their options.  Our renewed emphasis is working. In 2002, only 46 percent of our students attended college at any level. That number surpassed 60% last year.

My years at Texas Tech were among the best years of my life in terms of what I learned and the friends I made…including the woman I met and have been married to for almost 37 years. What I learned in my graduate studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and Lamar University served me well. I want that same experience for our students who want it.

It is our hope that Pasadena ISD students will graduate high school with a clearer dream of the direction life will take them through the job certifications they earn or the bachelors and doctorate degrees they will hang on their walls in the years to come.


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Educator’s Mt. Rushmore

It rankles deep in the core of me when I hear a politician say that America’s public schools are failing. It is a broadly-stroked, thinly-veiled statement made for political gain that marginalizes the amazing work of teachers in every school across this country. We spend too much time denigrating the work of our educators, making their jobs more difficult through all the federal and state mandates that take time away from teaching and learning.

I thought this week about the presidents immortalized in granite at Mt. Rushmore. If I had my own South Dakota mountain, I’d carve the faces of four educators who impacted my life in such a strong way.

First, you’d see Ms. Wallace, a 3rd grade teacher who gathered fragments of my self-esteem and drew confidence from the inner soul of an insecure and shy boy. Second, Mr. Satterwhite, a junior school administrator who, with a sad shake of his head, let me know my behavior as a leader on campus had failed to meet his expectations; that  he held me to a higher standard because of who he thought I could become. Thirdly, Ms. Falk, a senior English teacher who would not accept second-rate work…ever…and repeatedly handed back an assignment until I had satisfied her expectations. Finally, Mr. Watts, a government teacher who taught me to look deeper, think harder and accept nothing at face value.

America’s schools are not perfect. Because of teachers and principals like those on my Mt. Rushmore, they are better than most alternatives for most students. I’m grateful to a Pasadena ISD community that recognizes the contributions of its outstanding educators.

Who’s on your educator’s Mt. Rushmore? Respond to this blog and let us know.