Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Summit

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend SAISD's Parent Summit. Considering I'm not a parent, I decided to attend to grasp a better understanding of what was being offered at the summit to SAISD parents. The summit was held on a Tuesday from 8.00am to 3.15pm, working hours for most parents.

The day began with a session entitled "Desire, Drive, Determination: A Journey to Student Success". The speakers included an educational trainer, Aric Bostick, and three GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Class of 2012 students. Aric introduced himself with a story of triumph over adversity involving a family life that included divorce, alcoholism and neglect, the usual story of many troubled youth who end up succeeding in the end. The three students, who all had worked with Aric throughout the past four years, spoke about their path to success and how they're planning and envisioning their future through college and beyond. The session was more of a motivational time for parents, rather than an instructional session.

The session that followed peaked my interest because it elaborated on how to get to the success that Aric and the students spoke about. Dr. Rosales, the Senior Director of Academic Support for SAISD, spoke to parents about the actual steps along the path to graduation from high school into college. She instructed the parents on how to support their children, not only on their path to graduating high school, but also to successfully preparing for college.

Other sessions throughout the day included topics on Behavior Intervention, Time Management, Understanding Your Child's Disability and there was even a session providing information about Adult Education. One of the sessions stood out to me for the title alone, "School Attendance: It's Important!" I didn't think that anyone needed to be informed that it is important for their child to be in school, so I decided to attend the session to see what it was about.

The entire session consisted mainly of what are acceptable and unacceptable reasons for children not being in school. Considering the presenters laid it out pretty well in their presentation, I didn't expect many questions from the audience. I was wrong. After the speaker was done, several hands went up immediately for the Q&A portion. Questions like, "What is the latest I can turn in a doctor's note to the school before it is an unexcused absence?" to "Which class does my kid need to attend to be marked present?" to "What if my kid doesn't listen to me?" It stunned me. Not for the fact that parents were curious about their children's attendance, but that it seemed like every question referred to how far they could cross the line, without getting in trouble.

The motto for the summit was "Students, Parents and Teachers Together Achieving Academic Results", or STAAR. Coincidental or not, STAAR is also the acronym for the new standardized tests being implemented in Texas this year, STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness). STAAR is replacing TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), which replaced TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) in 2003, which replaced TEAMS (Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills) in 1990, which replaced TABS (Texas Assessment of Basic Skills) in 1986, which was the first in the line of state-mandated tests in Texas.

I got the impression that STAAR would be engrained into these parents heads just as much as TAKS was in the past. In fact, the summit agenda was closed out with a whole group session entitled "State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR): A Parent's Guide to the New Student Testing Program". Not to mention, there was a separate session earlier in the day focused on the "New STAAR Assessment Program for Students with Disabilities".

Overall, the summit was definitely a success in my opinion. SAISD did a wonderful job of providing information that covered all bases from behavior intervention to attendance to college preparation. My only wish is that the summit could have been held on a weekend, or repeated more than once a year in different locations.

As I walked out of the conference center I stopped to ask the ladies at the front desk how many parents they had attend the summit. They told me "about 400", with a proud smile and nod to follow. I confirmed with them that we have over 50,000 students in SAISD. Which means we have at least 50,000 parents in SAISD. They got the point.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Coach

In my previous post I referenced that a Jefferson High staff member kept his class after an assembly to give them a pat on the back for demonstrating how true leaders should act. What I didn’t mention is that he also invited me to sit in on one of his classes and observe. The next week I followed him up on his offer.

As I walked onto the football field at 8.25 AM, most of the Jefferson football players were already there. Defensive Coach Mark Polit was walking down the sideline greeting the players as they gathered together to prepare for practice/first period. He laughs and jokes with a few and yells at the few stragglers to “Hurry Up!” When 8.30 rolls around, the players begin their group warm up and stretch. Afterward, they huddle around Coach Polit. He begins practice by reflecting on a recent loss and tells the players that he and the coaching staff are “exceptionally proud of you. EXCEPTIONALLY proud, BUT, we are not satisfied.”

When practice begins the atmosphere gets serious; you can tell it’s time for business on the field. There’s no more laughing, no more chit-chatter between players. They are focused on what is going on and the direction being given by Polit and his staff. Such discipline and respect is sometimes rare in our inner city schools, but here, that is the rule, rather than the exception. To reinforce and test that discipline, Polit yells out “Lock In!” The players simultaneously lock into a military stance with arms to their sides and feet together. He then reminds them two factors that are key to success, “Discipline and Focus”.

While discipline and focus are key in Polit's world, there's room for plenty of humor as well. At the end of practice he follows the players back to the locker room. As we’re walking he hears one of them rapping Tupac. He quickly throws a verbal jab at the student by saying, “You’re rapping Tupac? You’re at the 90210 of inner-city schools and you’re rapping Tupac? You may listen to Tupac, but you can’t HEAR Tupac.” The kid laughs as Coach Polit chuckles.

As we enter the coaches’ office, Coach Polit introduces me to one of the other coaches. While Coach Polit hits the showers I begin to pick the other coach’s brain about his profession and experiences within. He tells me about the overwhelming number of students with socio-economic issues and issues relating to lack of parental support. I ask him why he chooses to accept the responsibility of dealing with it all. “Why not just go to the Northside where parents are more involved in their kids’ lives?” He informs me that he came from the same surroundings as these kids and that someone helped him out along the way. This was his way of “paying it forward”. Just as he says that one of his players walks in. The coach requested the student come see him because he noticed that he was extremely late to practice. The coach asked the student if everything was okay. He asks the student about a personal issue that was occurring in his life and reassures him that he is here to help. Before the student walks out, he gives the coach a hug and the coach tells him “I love you. You know that right?” The student smiles and nods, “I know coach.”

After Coach Polit hits the showers and changes into his ‘teacher attire’ we head with his players over to the cafeteria to hang out with the students as they grab a quick breakfast. Coach Polit introduces me to the students at the table as we sit down. He has them introduce themselves and gives me a background of each. Their backgrounds range from parents in the military, to single parent households on welfare. I asked the students why they respect Coach Polit so much. All of their answers pretty much came to the same conclusion, ‘Because he doesn’t give us any other option’.

The bell rings and we head to Coach Polit’s classroom. As we exit the cafeteria, his players break into a synchronized clap session of “Let’s Go” (Google: ‘The Cars’) as they make their way to class. Coach Polit joins along. We enter his classroom and I am hit by a ceiling completely covered in paintings. Each ceiling tile has a different symbol on it representing an association with government. From the EPA logo to the NASA logo to the Statue of Liberty to a painting of the White House which covers four ceiling tiles on it’s own; each tile is completely encapsulated from end to end with a different painting. The paintings aren’t juvenile either. Although I forgot to ask, I questioned whether he commissioned a professional to do the work or if student’s had done it all. My idealistic side imagines that it was the latter.

Coach Polit tells me to make myself at home as he goes back outside to greet the students in the hallway, most of whom aren’t even students who are headed for his class. His tone is different. It isn’t one of strict authority; it’s a tone of excitement. It’s a tone that makes you happy to be in his presence, rather than want to avoid him.

The bell rings again and the day begins with announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance followed by a moment of silence. Coach Polit reminds the class that the moment of silence is going to be a little longer today. I assume he is referring to the moment of silence initiated by Principal Cockrell over the PA system, but he is referring to an extension of his individual class’ moment of silence. He comes over to me after the moment of silence and explains to me with a whisper that one of the students lost their father two years ago to that day. “He was deployed and she got the news while we were in class”. For the next few minutes my mind is wrapped around the complexity of being a teenager and someone coming into your classroom informing you that your father was gone. You would never see him again. When he left for deployment months before was the last time you would ever hug him or hear his voice. Considering I’m in the military, it really hit me hard. As Polit tells me about it, his entire demeanor changes. His energetic and focused persona goes into a somber stare for a second as he puts himself in her shoes. In this moment, Polit unknowingly demonstrates an ability most desirable in leaders. The ability to transition from a stance of brazen fortitude to empathetic compassion.

After the announcements are over, Coach Polit goes right into a story regarding his childhood. Mark Polit is from the rough side of Boston, MA. His father was one who worked three jobs while going to school and eventually built his own business (a pharmacy) from the ground up. He tells about a lesson he learned from his father about appreciating what you have in life. The story began with his father giving him and his little brother a Nintendo. Coach Polit reminds the students that, at this time, his father was working three jobs just to put food on the table; so to get a Nintendo for Christmas was a miracle. He continues by telling about how he would always fight with his brother over who would play it. The story ended with his father taking a hammer to the game and young Mark Polit learning a lesson about being grateful for what you have. He mentions that this lesson stayed with him his entire life. He then begins the day’s Sociology lesson about Personality Self-Assessments.

He gives the class 15 minutes to write about how their past has led them to be the person they are today. They were required to base their writings on four factors: 1. Heredity, 2. Birth Order, 3. Parental Character, and 4. Cultural Environment. This task was intriguing to me because it not only taught a sociological process, but also forced the students to reflect on themselves and what makes them who they are. Most sociology courses I have taken have taught and encouraged me to study others, but seldom have forced me to assess my own personality and its development. This is key for developing minds, in my opinion, because it promotes a better realization of who you are, why you are who you are, and why you are different from everyone around you. It instills a sense of pride and a realization that you are a unique individual with a unique background, and therefore have unique potential.

After the students were done with their self-assessment, Coach Polit had them trade with someone else in the classroom. “Don’t trade with a friend or someone that you always sit next to. Trade with someone who you seldom talk with. Get to know a different classmate today. Don’t be shy.” After a bit of reluctance and hesitation, the students find their partners and Coach Polit laughs and tells them “Good job! Welcome to college, where you might not know everyone.” After the class settles, Coach Polit directs them to read over the other person’s assessment and develop their own questions. After everyone had read over each other’s paper, they are then given an amount of time to ask the questions they wrote down. The entire time Coach Polit walks around the classroom and monitors each group’s Q&A session. He guides certain conversations that have gone off track and gives a verbal ‘pat on the back’ to others.

As he wraps up the class, he encourages the students to consider the factors that they have learned from the lesson. He reminds them that there is a background to each and every one of them that has made them who they are today. Those backgrounds can be negative or positive, regardless, Coach Polit reminds them that they should use them in a productive manner to build the person that they want to be in life.

After seeing Coach Polit hold his student’s behind after the assembly the week before, I knew seeing him in action as a teacher and a coach would inspire me. After spending several hours with him, on the field and in the classroom, I certainly was not disappointed. Jefferson High is definitely lucky to have such a passionate and caring teacher, coach and mentor like Mark Polit. At the end of my vist I drove away wondering why this guy who I just met gained my respect so quickly. I then realized he didn’t give me any other option.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Corps Purpose

I was lucky enough on Tuesday to be notified about a visit to Jefferson High by the Commandant of the Corp of Cadets at Texas A&M. When I saw the initial notification I automatically assumed it was going to be some wealthy white guy who was raised in the suburbs and had his parents pay his way through college. Nothing wrong with that, I just expected someone who wasn’t going to be 100% capable of connecting with a school that has a population of over 95% minority and nearly 83% economically disadvantaged students. Especially considering this person was coming from a college which consists of a near 75% population of white undergrads (37% of Texans are Hispanic) and a Corps of Cadets that has kept a steady >80% population. Not to mention that Texas A&M has never had a non-white Commandant in its 135-year history. ( I’m not trying to make the topic of this blog about race, I’m just trying to convey to you the delight that came to me when I found out that I was wrong.

I stood in Ms. Cockrell’s office as she made the announcement for all JROTC students to report to the school auditorium. I also stood in front of the auditorium doors with her when less than 10 minutes later all students reported to the auditorium and took their seats. 300 students filed into the auditorium in an orderly and polite manner and took their seats with little to no direction needed from the staff standing by. Impressive.

As the students took their seats I couldn’t help but compare their actions to those of my counterparts in the AF. Whenever we have massive gatherings on base, it usually takes two or three directions of “Move to the front seats please” in order to get some kind of order in the room. Other wise you have ten empty rows in the front of the room and an enormous amount of people in the back rows. I didn’t see this occur at Jefferson. Not one direction was made of “move to the front…”, the students automatically did it. Again, impressive.

Principal Cockrell introduced SAISD Board Trustee Ed Garza, and in turn, Mr. Garza introduced Brigadier General Joe Ramirez. Yes, Ramirez. General Ramirez is the first Hispanic Commandant of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. Gen. Ramirez quickly took the microphone off of the stand and began with a hearty “Howdy”, which is the traditional Aggie greeting. He made his way to the center of the stage and the first thing he did was take a jab at the rival state college the University of Texas. Typical Aggie.

After a couple of jokes regarding the “communist” UT Longhorns, Gen. Ramirez got to business and began dishing out statistics. He informed the students that in today’s society, out of 100 minority students that begin high school, only an average of 60 make it to graduation. Out of that 60, 24 go on to college. Out of the 24 that go to college, only 12 will graduate. 12% of our minority students that enter high school are destined to earn a college degree; 88% will not. He continued by stating that 32,000 students applied to Texas A&M last year and only 8,300 were accepted. He mentioned all of this to bring an awareness to the students that if they were not already preparing for their future, then their future was already passing them by. He mentioned to them that there isn’t a certain point when their lives begin to be determined; they were in control of determining the direction of their lives right now. He expressed to them that the only limit in this life is the one that you set for yourself.

He then moved on to his own background. He showed a photo of his family and informed the kids that his family was from ‘the Valley’ and that they moved up to Houston when he was a kid. He continued to tell a story of himself as a kid who grew up rough, and whose father ended up serving in the Korean War. He mentioned how he was first inspired to attend A&M when he was a kid and saw the Corps of Cadets marching in a Houston parade. Being the first of his family to graduate from college, he went on to serve 31 years in the U.S. Army before being selected for the position of Commandant at Texas A&M.

It was surprising that General Ramirez didn’t push the agenda of joining the military at all. Students asked questions about the military and he would tell them about all the benefits, but he wasn’t there to recruit kids for the military. He showed the students the Corps of Cadets Mission Statement, “The purpose of the Corps of Cadets is to develop well-educated leaders of character prepared to answer the call for values-based leadership and service in the public and private sectors.” He keyed in on the “well-educated leaders” portion of the statement. Nowhere in the mission statement does it mention military. One of the students asked if they were required to go into the military if they graduated in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, General Ramirez clearly answered, “Cadets are NOT required to go into the military.”

This battle between the benefits of a terrific education and military service has been one that Jefferson High has had to deal with throughout the past year. Jefferson has transitioned from a magnet program that focused solely on the Arts, to two separate magnet schools that focus on ‘Military Science and Public Service’ as well as ‘Architecture and Environmental Studies’. The Military Science program has been one that has caused much confusion among the local community. Many parents have the misconception that the Military Science portion is nothing but a military recruiting program. This is far from the truth when it comes to Jefferson High’s agenda. As the SAISD Superintendent Dr. Duron states himself when describing the magnet school, “The Military Science and Public Service magnet at Thomas Jefferson High School is committed to creating heroes and leaders of tomorrow.” Just as the Texas A&M Corps of Cadet’s foremost purpose if creating “well-educated leaders”, so is the mission of Jefferson’s new magnet program.

As I walked out of the auditorium I stopped one of the students and asked them what they thought about the program. They energetically stated that they had previously considered it, but now seriously wanted to join the Corps of Cadets. I then asked if they wanted to go into a military career. His reply? “No way.”

*** Sidenote: After the program was over and all the students filed out of the building, I noticed a group of about 15 – 20 students still sitting in the front. I walked over and noticed that a staff member, Coach Polit, was sitting with them talking to them, so I decided to sit down and listen to what he was saying. He commended the students on their behavior and informed that they represented not only their class well, but also themselves as individuals. He compared them to a few students who caused a ruckus and were promptly taken out of the auditorium right before the end of the program. “You all demonstrated what leaders should act like.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Junior Class Principal

Today I spent my entire morning at Jefferson High School. I was lucky enough to shadow Ms. Donnie Whited, one of Jefferson’s esteemed assistant principals. Ms. Whited is actually one of my former teachers from Sam Houston High School and I was very excited last year when I heard that she would be one of the new principals under Ms. Cockrell at Jefferson. Ms. Whited was one of the most formidable elements of my time at Sam Houston High. She was the only teacher, in my personal opinion, who was not stopping at graduating students from high school, but also developing well-prepared GLOBAL leaders to step into the corporate world and take over. I contribute a large amount of my speaking skills and professionalism to Ms. Whited’s mentoring at Sam Houston. Anyways, enough gloating about the wonderful Ms. Donnie Windham Whited…

I arrived at Jefferson High at 8:45am, just in time to catch the school administrators in the halls rounding up all the students who were tardy to class. The admin were equipped with handheld devices that scanned student’s ID cards, loaded the appropriate offense into the database (tardiness) and then printed out a ticket (tardy pass) which listed the student’s name and also their history of prior offenses. So, all in one stop the student was stopped, notified, documented and then sent to class. If the student was in violation over a certain amount they would be held to the side and escorted to the detention hall. Ms. Whited notified me that these devices saved staff a tremendous amount of time and relieved so much paperwork. Efficiency at its finest.

As the tardy students were standing in line to receive their tardy passes, Ms. Whited walked along the line and inspected uniforms and shaving regulations. Yes, shaving regulations. Jefferson High has a rule that student’s must be clean-shaven, with an exception for mustaches. If a student was in violation they would be escorted to the detention hall, where they were provided a shaving razor and shaving cream and were required to shave. As we escorted the two students who were in violation of the shaving regulations to the detention hall I heard one of them mention, “Man, you know how many girls I got with this?” referring to his thin amount of facial hair, “Now I’m not going to get any of em…” I wanted to tell him that he was definitely better without it and should wait until he can grow a big boy beard before he chooses to stop shaving, but, I decided to just stay quiet and keep notes.

After dropping the peach fuzz crew off we then went to visit one of Ms. Whited’s students for a little positive reinforcement. She informed me that the student had been in a bit of trouble in the past and that they seemed to be on a better path now, so she wanted to go by their 1st period class to encourage them to keep it up. When Ms. Whited pulled the student out of class I realized that they were actually a special education student. At the end of their brief conversation the student gave Ms. Whited a hug and invited her to their ‘graduation party’ this year. Ms. Whited politely declined, but told them that she would gladly purchase a graduation gift instead. He left her off with another hug.

After our short visit Ms. Whited then walked me to the JROTC building. I won’t go too far into detail on this visit because I will be writing an exclusive blog on Jefferson’s JROTC program in the near future, but, to say the least, I am VERY impressed. I was lucky to be at Jefferson today because the U.S. Army was actually on campus with their Black Hawk simulators as well as an entire challenge course. As the students completed the course they were given a set of personalized dog tags. Not much else to say about that, it was just a nice coincidence that I came on the same day as this event.

After the JROTC visit and a few stops in between, we came back to Ms. Whited’s office so she could take care of some paperwork and also get her information together for her ‘Data Walks’. A Data Walk consists of admin visiting individual classes and going through a checklist of observation items. Each admin is equipped with an iPod Touch which has program that allows admin to simply check a box under each objective. Some of the objectives listed on the list are:

Is the teacher sitting or standing? Yes or No

Teacher’s location:
- At desk
- Front of room
- In teaching zone
- Not present

Learning Environment:
- Teacher Nest (messy, disorganized, clutter)
- Instructionally Purposeful (posters relating to content)
- Effective Classroom Management
- Door/Window Uncovered
- Visual Models

Administration is required by the district to complete 25 data walks per week for each grade level. This is a terrific policy considering it requires eyes-on accountability by administration. Even though it’s a matter of integrity whether or not personnel actually complete the data walks or just ‘pencil-whip’ the checks, I think with the proper oversight this would prove to create a more proactive administration as opposed to a reactive one. It’s easier to catch deficiencies in teachers when you have to do daily checks, as opposed to waiting for a student or parent to report a discrepancy.

All in all, today’s visit was a complete information overload, at least from the viewpoint of a blogger. But from the viewpoint of someone who is looking to enter the education field in the near future, it was a chance to experience the nonstop tempo of being an administrator at an inner-city high school. So, not much of a lesson/moral to the blog today, just a day in the life…well, half a day at least.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The First Impression

Considering this was the first week of school, I planned on my visit this week being an all-day ordeal. I thought that, considering it was Friday, no one would have the time to sit down with me and discuss how the first week went. I was wrong.

I went to the front office to sign in and while they called a member of the administration staff to ensure that I was clear to roam the halls, I decided to speak to a couple of students that were office assistants. Both young ladies were Seniors. Savannah was attending Jefferson High for her first year after transferring from Austin while Clarisa was in her fourth year as a Mustang. My interest was peaked by both because I wanted to get the perspective on someone who was coming from a totally different school as well as the perspective of someone who could compare past years at Jefferson to the current one. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to ask many questions at all. Both young ladies were very candid and open about their experiences at Jefferson High so far.

I began by asking how their first week went. They exhibited an amount of excitement that I had not expected. I expected a sigh and complaints about teachers or schoolwork or other students. Instead I got smiles, bright eyes and what I can only describe as a ‘sense of relief’ as they spoke about how helpful their teachers, counselors and principals have been with helping them throughout the first days of their Senior year. They informed me that everything was very organized, which made their first week nearly completely absent of any of the typical stress.

I then inquired about their thoughts about Principal Cockrell. When a student begins a description of their principal with “she’s very strict and doesn’t play games”, it is usually followed with complaints about how no one likes the principal and the amount of disdain for them around the school. Instead, these young ladies told me how “approachable” and “encouraging” that Principal Cockrell is. I asked Clarisa how she would compare the years before Cockrell to her time since Cockrell has taken over. She automatically lit up even further about how much more discipline there was at the school and how much better she felt about coming to school. It wasn’t a fearful type of description coming from this young lady; it was instead, a sincerely respectful description. One that you have for a family member who keeps you in line, yet makes you feel like you can come to them for anything.

Another thing the young ladies caused me to realize was that they didn’t feel like prisoners in school. They held respect for the admin and staff, but at the same time they were treated like equals. They weren’t looked down upon in a condescending manner. It seemed that the Jefferson staff truly practiced the motto “if you act like an adult, we’ll treat you like an adult”. But they also went a step further and seemed to groom students, who weren’t already adults, into the adults they were sure to be before Senior year.

Now you have to remember that I randomly met these two young ladies. I was waiting for my visitor’s pass when I introduced myself to them. These were not some ‘model students’ placed in front of me by the administration. So I was very surprised when I found out that one of the young ladies was in the process of establishing a Young Women’s Advocacy Camp…singlehandedly! If that wasn’t impressive enough, she informed me that she has already met with the SAISD Superintendent Dr. Duron and made her proposal for funding. I asked her who led her to Dr. Duron and she let me know that she contacted him herself.

I’ll see throughout the rest of the year whether these two young ladies enthusiasm stays at such a high level. I’ll also determine whether or not this interaction with two stellar students was just a circumstantial run-in, or whether this actually is a representation of what Jefferson High is developing as a whole. I pray for the latter, but if the former turns out true, I’ll write about that as well.

I sat in the front office for nearly an hour talking with these two young ladies. Turned out I didn’t even need a visitors pass because I never left that office. It’s funny how a simple hello can turn into such an impressionable interaction.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Presentation

I was delighted to be able to attend the Jefferson High School Ice Cream Social last week. It was similar to an open house, but it was presented in a fashion that I had never seen before. It was held outside on the Jefferson High football field and was presented in a manner which I have seen only at military reviews. All the separate organizations from the football teams to the band to the JROTC to the Lariats and Lassos to Jefferson's Architecture & Environmental studies magnet group marched around the field in front of the crowd of more 300+ parents, students, teachers, admin and Jefferson community members. It was truly impressive seeing not only the organization of the event, but also the participation.

After marching around the track, the students then formed into separate groups across the football field. The presentation was hosted by Greg Simmons (KSAT sportscaster and Jefferson alumni) and Mr. Ed Garza (Former SA Mayor and current SAISD Board Trustee for the Jefferson High community). Also in attendance were State Rep Joaquin Castro, City Councilman Cris Medina, SAISD Board Trustees Carlos Villarreal and Ruben Cuero and many other notable individuals.

The presentation consisted of each organization being introduced and several of the organizations performing for the crowd. (i.e. JROTC, Cheerlearders, Band, etc.) Principal Cockrell and Mr. Garza both boasted about each of the organizations and how a few of them had already began winning awards throughout the summer. I didn't expect such a showcase of talent before school had even started, but I am beginning to realize that Jefferson High School is all about exceeding expectations this year.

This week was the first week of school. I planned on visiting on the first day, but decided not to on the account that I was more so be a pest and overall would be unable to get a good perspective of what this first week is all about. So, instead of jumping in on the first day, I will be visiting the school tomorrow (Friday) in an attempt to inquire about how the first week has gone for the students and staff alike. Hopefully I will have my blog posted within the next few days.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Contrast

Today was the last official day of registration for 2011-2012 Jefferson High students. Since today was designated for Seniors and Juniors I thought it would be a great time to come out and ask parents and students if they have seen a difference since the new administration has been established halfway through the previous school year.

I began by meeting Ms. Whited (Jefferson VP) at the front door as I walked in. She was greeting the parents, assisting with handing out forms and directing them through the process. I asked her how everything was going and she said that it is going much better than other years she has been involved in the process. “Last year there it wasn’t nearly as organized. Parents and students didn’t know where to go and we had a line going out the door into the heat.” She then handed me a simple but explanatory checklist that each student/parent was handed as they came in the door. They were then directed to follow the checkpoints (separate tables for each step on the checklist) going down the main hallway. The checkpoints covered everything from Immunizations to Schedules/Transfers to Lunch Applications to ID cards. There seemed to be no confused faces as I walked past each table. I witnessed no frustration on the faces of students or parents, and best of all, the staff were all smiles, as usual.

As I walked into the cafeteria, which held various organizations tables (i.e. Yearbook committee, Textbook returns, school t-shirts) I saw the PTSA table. I decided to go over and ask them their opinion of the operations at Jefferson High School and how things have changed in the past year. I sat with Jefferson PTSA officers Jose and Sylvia Villanueva and began to ask them questions regarding membership numbers, participation, support from admin as well as their board trustee. They informed me that the previous year they had over 125 paying PTSA members at Jefferson High. I asked them what the key is to developing an active and effective PTSA and their response was something that I had known all along. The PTSA’s teacher’s participation lies with the school administration and the PTSA’s community participation lies with the board trustee. They then began to praise the efforts and support of Principal Cockrell as well as Board Trustee Ed Garza and informed me that without them, the PTSA wouldn’t be nearly as productive. The PTSA at Jefferson has been very active in the past few years due to the support of Ed Garza, but it has improved even more with the additional leadership and support of Ms. Cockrell. Mr. and Mrs. Villanueva also had many kind words for Dr. Duron, SAISD Superintendent. It is rare to hear kind words for Dr. Duron since he has been villainized by many in recent years for proposed school closures. Mr. and Mrs. Villanueva thoughts on the issue pretty much revolved around the fact that it was the Board Trustees' responsibility to oversee the Superintendent and make whatever changes were needed. Fortunately Jefferson High has a stellar Board Trustee that fights for the best in his schools and as a result, Dr. Duron is able to well execute his duties over the Jefferson area schools. But I digress; the effectiveness of the school according to Mr. and Mrs. Villanueva has plenty to do with the community and parental participation, both of which are largely affected by the effectiveness of the PTSA.

After signing up and becoming a paying member of the Jefferson PTSA I walked outside to finally speak to parents and students as they left the building. I stopped several individuals and asked them how the registration process went. Without hesitation they responded with comparisons to previous years and informed me that this year was a drastic improvement from the chaos of registration periods in the past. I also asked the students if they noticed any change within the past year and they all responded with positive feedback. Much of their feedback revolved around the increased behavior of the students at Jefferson. Less fights, less distractions and less stress.

I was at the school for nearly three hours and out of all the individuals I questioned, not once did I get a negative response. Toward the end of my visit I was walking with Ms. Cockrell and I asked her, “Why don’t more people hate you? With this kind of effective leadership, there’s an expectation that students, parents and staff must get chills when you come around.” She simply responded with a smile and a wink as she put her hand on the shoulder of a staff member and said, “How’s everything going honey?”