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.)


A Question of School Safety

School safety rose to the top of the Texas legislative agenda in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut. That tragedy represents any community’s worst nightmare. Several bills have been filed in Austin to address additional safety and security measures. Pasadena ISD has voluntarily implemented many safety measures over the years. Most everyone knows we have a 32-member certified police force with officers stationed at every high school every day. Other members of the team patrol our elementary, middle and intermediate campuses regularly. These officers are highly trained, well-equipped and coordinate their emergency plans very well with the outstanding local law enforcement agencies in Pasadena, South Houston, Houston and Harris County.

To keep our kids and staff safe, the District has policies in place for hosting visitors on campus. The district has been creating security vestibules on our campuses; these require visitors to first enter the office. Our campuses use a visitor check-in system, security cameras, and metal detectors when necessary to monitor access to the school. Schools also conduct regular emergency drills, including lock-down drills.

There are bills pending that would allow districts to arm teachers either on a voluntary basis or by assigning specific individuals on campus to carry a weapon. In all honesty, I struggle with that idea and don’t believe it is the best solution for added security. I believe I would rather have additional trained officers to provide a more rapid response to any emergency. That being said, I’d love to hear from parents and community members. Please feel free to share your opinions on the subject.

While the solutions to this very serious issue may vary, the concern for student safety is one we all share. Let me hear from you.

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The Heart of the Community

I believe one can tell the strength of a community’s heartbeat by the way it supports its schools. If that’s true, the Pasadena ISD community is as healthy as a marathon runner. I find multiple evidence for my diagnosis. Consider the number of business partnerships, the financial donations to school programs, HOSTS volunteers, career and technical internships offered by area businesses. The community’s involvement in our schools touches almost every area.

There may be no more compelling evidence of our community’s support of its schools than the continued growth of the McDonald’s Texas Invitational Basketball Tournament.  For the past decade, the City of Pasadena, the Chamber of Commerce, the Pasadena school district, Deer Park ISD and a growing number of businesses in the area have joined with more than 400 volunteers to host the tournament. Teams and visitors from across the state get a chance to feel first-hand the hospitality of the Pasadena community and experience all that is good about living in our community. Now, the boys and girls championship games are broadcast on the Internet and on national television Saturday. The entire nation sees what we see every day. Pasadena is a vibrant community with great businesses, great schools and great people.

While it is a wonderful way to promote our community, the tournament will raise close to $200,000 this year. Those funds will flow through Pasadena and Deer Park education foundations toward mini-grants for teachers in both districts. Each mini-grant improves the academic opportunities of students throughout our community. Stronger schools and stronger students build stronger communities. If that doesn’t get your heart racing, nothing will.

Thank you to all the tournament sponsors and volunteers who make this great event happen. Hope to see you at the games this weekend.

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Excessive Testing

I completed my doctorate in 2008. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to Lamar University that its doctoral program focused on written research papers rather than tests to assess my knowledge. More than a quarter century has passed since I last took a test. The prospect of facing a high stakes test for graduation would have been daunting.

That’s why I understand why students and their parents across Texas are saying “enough is enough” to the number of high stakes tests our students endure during their years in public schools. The Pasadena ISD Board of Trustees joined a host of other school districts around the state in a joint resolution to echo the displeasure expressed by parents about the oppressive nature of high stakes testing. When the Texas Legislature convenes in January, we expect a great deal of discussion about reducing the number of tests given and easing the pressure facing our students and our teachers.

The tests were born out of a need for rigorous accountability. I believe in school and district accountability. Standardized tests and teacher developed assessments are necessary to assess how much our students have learned during a year and to diagnose the effectiveness of what we teach and how we teach it. However, I also know you don’t need to test every student every year to determine if the schools are educating our students.

It’s my hope the Texas Legislature will amend the state assessment program to keep a rigorous accountability system while restoring some time into the school year for the sheer joy of learning.

I know our legislators would appreciate hearing from you.

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The SAT Story

Much has been said in the media recently about the national decline in SAT scores and the increased number of students taking the exam, speaking as if the decline in scores is proof that the educational system is failing America’s young people. It is a complex issue.

A research project completed by SAS, a North Carolina statistics company, showed numerically what we feel intuitively.  As more “B” and “C” students take the test, one would expect overall scores to drop. The SAS study showed when participation rates increase by 20% the average score drops 58 points.  If true, Pasadena ISD beats the trend. Since 2009, the district’s participation rate increased 51%, with 1,393 students taking the SAT last year. Based on the study, our SAT scores should drop 142 points over that time period. Instead, the district SAT average dropped just 27 points.

It’s a positive statistical development. We find the best news in the increasing number of Pasadena ISD students taking the test and giving college a try, many of whom are the first in their families to enroll in college.

We are not content with the score. We have work to do, but we are greatly encouraged by our students.

Comparison SAT Scores Number of Test Takers PISD

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Parents as Partners

Our society experienced a rise in single parent households, an increase in the number of homes in which both parents must work, and a growing population of parents with English language barriers over the past 25 years. Life is different from what most of us knew as children, but parents still love their kids. Even though the culture changed, parents still want to play a meaningful role in their child’s education and desire significant interactions with the schools their children attend.

A Strategic Plan update this week outlined the many parent activities hosted throughout the district. Pasadena ISD’s 62 schools hosted 2,856 distinct parent programs in 2011-12 involving an aggregate of 185,997 parents. Schools offered student-led programs, parent orientation meetings, Family Literacy Nights, parenting classes, ESL classes, Books & Breakfast, computer training, citizenship classes, Helping Your Child with Homework workshops, Anti-Bullying programs, booster clubs and a variety of other types of programs designed to connect our parents with our schools.

Schools can be an intimidating place for many of our parents. We hope that these programs emphasize our commitment to strengthening these critical relationships.

Thanks, Parents, for being so involved in your child’s education.