Friday, April 20, 2007

I Attended a Fort Bend ISD Candidates' Forum

I wasn't going to post anything more on the Fort Bend ISD School Board elections because there is so much more to write about. But circumstances changed.
On my way home from work after a very TAKS-ing day I espied a banner at the entrance to the New Territory community advertising a Fort Bend ISD candidates’ forum. It was unfortunately blocked by a lawn sign advertising the services at a local church so I could not see the time or place. I resolved to take a peek as I was driving through the intersection. It was to be held that night (last night) at their HOA clubhouse.

I resolved to attend.

I arrived a couple of minutes late as the moderator was explaining the forum rules.

I took one look around. The audience was lily white and for the most part gray-haired. I just knew that I was the only Democrat in the room.

The moderator was explaining that each candidate would be given 5 minutes for a short spiel, then they had boiled down some questions from suggestions in the community, and each candidate got the same questions to answer.

Candidates for Position 3 spoke first, the speaking order was by alpha. So we got to hear Bob Broxson speak, then Lisa Rickert. Broxson, who by virtue of the fact that he wasn’t named Lisa, got the Half Empty endorsement in the previous post. I have to admit, for a Republican he didn’t come off half bad. We probably wouldn’t agree on stem cell research, but Broxson does think that it was a mistake for Fort Bend ISD to reduce the ability levels of instruction from 3 to 2.

For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, most schools, typically high schools, group students according to their abilities so that they are taught at the same level of difficulty. Several years ago, in a cost-cutting move, the district removed the lowest ability grouping level of instruction from the district. By this I mean that a former three level system Honors, Advanced and Academic, became a two-level system, Honors and Advanced. Academic levels are for students with learning disabilities, or need alternative methods of instruction. And also for the ones with behavior problems. Lower Student-Teacher ratios are mandated for this level, and the district needed to save some money. The result, as Broxson elucidated, is the Advanced class is taught to the lowest common denominator. And this is partly the truth. The other truth is that more students than ever are failing courses because it is too difficult for them.

Broxson was also in favor of using methods of teacher hiring allowed in competing districts – signing bounties. No mention was made of the other popular method – cash bonuses in high needs areas.

Lisa Rickert came up next. I found out that I have been mispronouncing her name. The “i” is soft: Rihckert. Probably because I have been known to misspell her name. Just as in the FBEF forum, Rickert and Broxson were in agreement on the issues. The main difference that I could detect between them was that Rickert was an “In” – she kept mentioning things that “we on the board” did or were doing.

Another point that she emphasized was outsourcing. Rickert decried the fact that Fort Bend ISD is self-contained. It has its own garbage trucks and its own grounds maintenance staff and equipment. She wants to contract all of that out. You know, like George Bush wanted to privatize Social Security?

So while Broxson and Rickert are so close on the issues, I’m still going with Broxson, because unfortunately for Rickert, her first name IS Lisa.

Only two of the 4 candidates for Position 7 showed up. Noel Pinnock and David Reitz were at other fora and would try and make it, but ended up not.

Ken Bryant spoke first. Bryant emphasized keeping costs down and taxes low, but at the same time demanding excellent teachers and high performing schools.

Typical Republican tripe.

I’ll never understand how African-Americans can be Republicans. Never. Bryant also supported the idea of going back to three levels of instruction, although how he intends to accomplish that while keeping costs down escapes me. But here is the curious thing. While Broxson and Rickert emphasized going back to 3 levels to allow students with alternative learning styles or disabilities a chance to succeed in school, Bryant emphasized that the 2 level system was “dumbing down” the Honors program. He wanted to go back to a 3-tier system to save the Honors program.

What’s with that? Does this present-day trustee not care about the fact that we are leaving behind a significant population of students who cannot possibly perform at the Advanced level?

Bryant’s only opponent speaking that evening was Ann Hopkins. Ann Hopkins is also African-American, but unlike Bryant, she’s a Democrat. Unfortunately I wasn’t really impressed by her. She had no audience eye contact. She spoke at the back wall of the room. Hopkins was concerned that not enough resources were being sent to schools on the east side of the district. She demanded a more equitable distribution. This is not something you want to tell a bunch of gray-haired Republicans living on the west side of the district.

Hopkins was also in favor of retaining the 2-tier system, but didn’t elaborate on the point. She also favored hiring more mid-level administrators – counselors really.

Another question asked of all candidates, whether they favored building small schools over large ones, was answered differently by Hopkins. All candidates admitted that higher performance was positively correlated to instruction in smaller-sized facilities, but none but Hopkins endorsed the idea, mainly because the district is growing at such a phenomenal rate that building more, but smaller schools was prohibitively expensive. Hopkins endorsed the idea, but did not elaborate on how to pay for it.

So that was it. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see the other two candidates. Especially in view of the fact that a former “In” conveyed to me the fact that David Reitz is OK for a Republican. I wanted to see that. Frankly I don’t believe it possible to be both a Republican and OK.


Van said...

It is so sadly significant to me that those (other than me) who want to go back to the three-tiered system, want to do so to save the "really smart kids". Like I've said a million times: no one in this district cares about the students who fall in the cracks because they have different learning styles, need extra help, need mentoring/counseling/more encouragement by the teachers, a different learning environment, etc. These students have been treated like crap and they know they are outcasts in the teachers' eyes because only the GT/Honors/AP students and teachers have any clout or respect by the administration and other teachers. When IN FACT, it is the students in the academic level who need the teachers trained in GT techniques and know how to use them. Whereas we have so many who have been GT trained and don't use the techniques in their GT classes (they mostly just give harder assignments and more homework). Those kids who fall in the cracks we lose and eventually pay our tax money to feed and house many of them later because their lives were not given the proper foundation in school. Those students didn't fail, we failed those students. But boy howdy, our famous GT/Honors/AP students did all right! And everyone knows that in FBISD, all of our children are GT, right? They are ALL going to college, right? Every last one of them.

Academic level is not for special education students. Many of my SE students should have been in GT or Advanced classes. But their parents wanted them in my classes because they knew I would work with their children and honor their Individual Education Plans (which by federal law is what EVERY teacher is to do). A great number of my academic students would have qualified for GT/Honors but they had a mild learning disorder or alternative learning style that kept them out of the program. Or they couldn't keep up the pace because the teachers just made it more work to do not more in depth conceptually.

Hal said...

Absolutely, Van. You have it exactly right. The academic level, to me was a true heartbreak. But completely necessary. Where else can teachers help the LEP students who flood our schools? The true GT kids who don't fit into the rigid formats that chafe them so? The incredibly brainy students who have such horrendous social issues at home that they can barely function. Van, you are too right.

Only when the district finally goes back to a 3 tiered system will we teachers be able to serve the needs of ALL students. FBISD did these students such a disservice that I am still wondering why a lawsuit has not been filed.

Anonymous said...

Hal - -

I would love the opportunity to talk. If you will email me at we can work out a way to meet. Looking forward to hearing from you.


Hal said...

Hey Bob.

Thanks for leaving the comment and you know that you have my support vis-a-vis the fact that your first name isn't Lisa. My friend relayed to me that you had heard about my oblique recommendation. You've got my vote, Bob. Literally. It's already recorded. I early vote.

On a further communication I think it unwise. I don't want to know too much about someone who I endorsed who is from the Dark Side.

That and the fact that I am too close to the situation to have a personal conversation. Let's just let the voters decide. I uncharacteristically think they will make the correct decision.

Either that or I need to start looking for another line of work. I can't take too much more of this.