From the desk of Dr. Kirk Lewis

Updates from the Superintendent


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A Lesson Indelibly Learned

The two boys had a history of feuds, fusses and fights between them. In the calm of the moment before class started and while the teacher was in the hallway, an insult was hurled, followed a nanosecond later by one desk and then another. The two young men were at it again. Punches were being thrown as the rest of us scattered to get away from the flailing fists and flying books, pens and desks tossed aside in the heat of battle.  While startling in its intensity, it was no surprise that another fight had broken out between them. 

Before any of us could scramble through the mess to separate them, Doyle Watts, our U. S. Government teacher ran into the room, quickly assessed the situation and charged through the spectators and the mess to pull the two boys apart. Mr. Watts was an incredibly laid back teacher. In four years of high school, I had never seen him lose it. At that moment, his face flushed in anger. He pulled the boys out of the room and toward the office, a far more impressive display of outrage than the fight itself.

As he got to the door with each boy deflecting blame toward the other, Mr. Watts stopped and glared at them, pushing them rather roughly, I thought, into two nearby desks that somehow remained upright in the fight.

Suddenly, he began asking us the rest of us who had started the fight and why we had done nothing to stop it. He threatened the class to tell no one about the fight, especially not the principal. Mr. Watts confessed that he had been written up for his classroom management and would hold us responsible if he lost his job over this. Before the next 30 minutes were finished, he had us scared to death and in complete legal mode. Those who saw nothing were sent out of the classroom of potential jurors. Actual witnesses were sequestered. “Attorneys” were appointed to represent the students involved in the fight. For the next week, we engaged in a civics lesson to end all civics lessons.

At the end of the week, the jurors, some of them in tears, had determined guilt. They rendered a verdict and made a decision on who would be punished and how severely.

As you might guess, the fight was staged, the entire week an unforgettable lesson in government for a group of kids who had never seen the inside of a courtroom. The actors in his play, the two boys who were in the fight, deserved an Oscar for their performance and Mr. Watts deserved Teacher of the Year. I learned more about the legal process and trial by jury through this staged activity (approved by the principal) than I would have ever learned from reading the chapter and listening to a lecture.

I doubt that we could get away with such shenanigans today with cell phone cameras, texting, Facebook and media hype. While creativity like this might get some unwarranted attention these days, I know that our classrooms today are full of amazing teachers that find creative ways to teach and inspire our students, as did Mr. Watts.

This is National Teacher Appreciation Week. I wanted to take a quick moment to thank Mr. Watts, who taught me U.S. Government 41 years ago in that small Texas Panhandle community. A special thanks also to the 3,638 teachers who work their magic each day in Pasadena ISD on behalf of our students. You are simply the best at what you do.

(Just in case you’re interested. I served as an attorney four decades ago. My client lost. It was an inglorious and short-lived legal career.)


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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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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.

I have to admit, I needed a break. After a few days of wrestling with the district budget and responding to a host of legislative issues, I carved out some time to spend with students and teachers at Genoa Elementary School and Rick Schneider Middle School. Getting a little face time in our schools is like that first taste of coconut pie after six months on a diet. Sweet!

Dr. Lewis and Schneider Intermediate Students

Dr. Lewis and Schneider Middle School Students

As parents and members of our community, I wish you could have witnessed what I saw. The teachers were delivering meaningful instruction and the vast majority of students were completely engaged in learning. One class that had been actively involved in an assignment groaned out loud when the bell rang. They didn’t want the class to end.

I visited one class in the hall as they returned from the library. We talked about the joy of reading. They shared the great books they had read and those they were about to read. They readily asked questions and listened with polite attentiveness and eager excitement.

Lately, we have heard some negative opinions about public education as people push hidden agendas. Certainly,  we have areas in need of improvement within the system. One can always find a few students lacking daily, necessary motivation. However, the majority of students we serve from pre-kindergarten through high school dream big dreams and desire to be successful. Our task is to clear the obstacles from their paths.

My encounters with the teachers and students were quick today, but the exposure put a long-lasting smile on my face and an extra zip in my step. Armed with that shot of educational adrenaline, bring on the budget.