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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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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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.


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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.


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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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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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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.