From the desk of Dr. Kirk Lewis

Updates from the Superintendent


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


3 Comments

The Tipping Point in Testing

Teachers and administrators have grown increasingly frustrated at the high stakes testing pushed by the State of Texas in recent years. I think the introduction of the STAAR exam and the explosion of end-of-course exams linked so closely to graduation finally brought the issue to its tipping point with parents. It’s great to see common sense returning to the system.

 Representative Jimmy Don Aycock from Kileen and the Honorable Dan Patrick from Houston, both of whom chair the education committees in the Texas House and Senate, respectively, have championed a major change in graduation requirements and the amount of testing required for our high schools students. The House passed a bill this week that reduced the number of required end-of-course exams to five: Algebra I, Biology, U.S. History and English II (with a separate Writing exam). That is welcomed news. The Senate version of the bill adds two additional tests including English I with its separate writing exam. Debate continues on the merits of adding Algebra II into the mix. What seems clear now is that the number of tests required in high school will be reduced from 15 to somewhere between 5 to 8 exams. The provision for testing in late May instead of April will give teachers additional time to cover the material. That’s welcomed news for students, teachers, and campus administrators.

The House bill’s shift in graduation requirements also gives students greater choice and flexibility in pursuing a diploma plan that more closely matches their college or career interests. The current requirement that every student take four years of math, science, English and social studies limited student options, particularly for those interested in a career or technical field. Under the House plan and versions proposed in the Senate, students are required to take four years of English, but only three years in the other core subjects, enabling them to take more electives in areas of personal interest. To maintain the push for rigor in all areas, diploma endorsements will be encouraged in the areas of arts and humanities, business and industry, public services, science and math and multidisciplinary studies.

This has been a good week for public education in Texas. Now, the legislature just needs to finish the good work by reducing the number of tests required in grades 3-8. Another bill. Another day. Keep contacting your legislators.

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.

 


Leave a comment

Creating Academic Choices

The student’s sense of frustration was evident in the letter he wrote to me asking for clarification on the state’s graduation requirements. The current system requires four years of math, science, English and social studies (4 years in 4 subjects…4 x 4) if a student in Texas wants to enter a four-year state university. The intent of the state’s 4 x 4 provision fell under a tag of “college readiness.” The law suggests that one cannot be “college ready” without successfully completing the 4 x 4 requirements and earning a Texas Recommended diploma. If a student does not complete the 4 x 4 requirement, the student falls to a Texas Minimum Diploma, with negative connotations attached to it that demean the student’s work while in high school.

Before I suggest that now is the time for change, let me first share that I believe in high expectations and academic rigor for every student. There was a time when far too few of our students were considering a college education. I believe we have changed that culture. Given the high level of poverty in our school community, far more of our students that one might expect now know they are capable of college work. I also want to ensure that every possible pathway to a four-year university education is available to all our students through expanded Advanced Placement and Dual Credit offerings. With more than 3,100 AP tests taken last year (up from just 400 only a few years ago) and new Dual Credit opportunities expanding at each high school, I believe we’ve started down a successful path.

However, not every high school graduate desires or needs a university degree. In addition, our local businesses and industries need a wide-ranging work force to fill employment needs including high school graduates, holders of job certificates and associate’s degrees, as well as those with university diplomas.

That’s why I believe the proposed legislative changes offered by Sen. Dan Patrick and Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock offer flexibility in graduation plans that address the varied needs of our students and our communities. Their proposals, though slightly different, call for four years of English, three years each of math and social studies and two years of science. Most of the remaining 26 credits are essentially elective courses that allow students to dig more deeply into their personal career interests to earn “endorsements” in business/industry, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), public services and arts/humanities.

There are those who will suggest that the change from the 4 x 4 requirement is a retreat in rigor. It’s hard to argue that point; however, when the number and type of proposed credits in Patrick’s and Aycock’s bills match what the University of Texas and other Texas state universities require of their out-of-state students.  In other words, we allow out-of-state students a more diverse path to university study than we do our own Texas children. Something about that feels wrong.

Students and parents are growing frustrated with the restrictive nature of the Recommended and Distinguished graduation plans. Whether or not you feel the course requirements need to change, now would be a good time to contact your legislators. The bills are being discussed now in Austin.

The young man who wrote me was going to have to sacrifice earning a Recommended Diploma because he wanted to substitute some rigorous high school courses for the fourth year of math and science he was being forced to take…courses that would mean little toward his chosen profession. It just seems to me that he ought to have that option without affecting his future.


3 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

Sounds of Christmas

The sounds of the holiday season echo as our students perform vocal, band and orchestral concerts throughout the Pasadena ISD community. I must admit that it warms my heart to see and hear our students sing or play Christmas carols and other holiday songs. They are incredibly talented and enthusiastic. I hope you’ve had a chance to hear them at some point this month.

Christmas holds special meaning and memories for my family and me. It is a time of faith, family, friends and fellowship. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or simply enjoy a holiday from work, may it be as special for you as it is for us.

I invite you to listen in to conversations I recently had with students from Laura Bush Elementary School as they shared some of their thoughts about the holidays. 

From the Pasadena ISD family, we wish you and your family hope, peace and joy.

Superintendent’s Note: This message was intended to go out as last week’s blog. Given the tragedy unfolding in Connecticut, we delayed sending our Christmas message. We cannot help but feel the sadness endured in Connecticut. It is a sadness that affects us all. However, evil must not rule the day. At this time of year, we celebrate a season grounded in hope, peace and inner joy. May those gifts of goodness reign in our world today and every day. K.L.