Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A Trustee - Community relationship like no other

In 2008, I was a newly elected Trustee excited after winning my first election and ready to make a difference. One of the main reasons I ran was to open access to the administration office for our parents. Back then, parents at my elementary school did not feel the district administration was listening to their concerns.  This was 12 years ago, with a very different district administration from what we have today. 

I remember the first time the Board received our district-wide TASK report (the 2008 version of the STAAR test). The results were interesting and it appeared on the surface that the district performance was as good as could be expected. I realized the report did not include the performance of each individual school, so I requested the report with a breakdown for each school and was surprised when my Trustee colleagues from back then defeated my request with a 3-4 vote during a board meeting. The reason given was the report would take too long to put together, and the district personnel had other duties on which to work on. I knew we had such diverse schools in GCISD that a district-wide performance report could mask the performance of some of the individual schools. At the end of that meeting, a reporter from one of the local papers asked me about that board vote. I mentioned that I was surprised by the decision because we would not be able to accurately assess the district’s performance without knowing the performance of each individual school. The next day an article about the Board meeting appeared in the newspaper.

A week later a package was delivered to my front door, and it was the TASK performance report for both the district and the individual schools. I asked why the change and was told that many parents and tax payers called the district very upset about “their elected Trustee not getting the school performance information he requested”.  I realized very quickly that to be effective as a Trustee, developing trusted relationships with other Trustees and also with the community was critical. 

From that point forward, I have spent countless hours talking to parents and tax payers about their concerns. Those conversations have had a huge effect on the reach and quality of services we currently provide for our students. For example, conversations with parents were key in bringing the Take Flight program to our district, in partnership with the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, to serve students with Dyslexia. Also, major improvements to the gifted and talented services were developed in our LEAD 2021 strategic plan based on parents’ feedback.  

Even after many years on the Board, I do not feel as though I have all the answers or know all the concerns of our community. Ongoing parent feedback is essential in bringing light to things that we can do better and also to let us know whether a program we implement is working or not. I continue to talk to parents every day and follow their school-related postings on social media. Our parents are the measuring stick of our success, as they continue to raise the bar of high expectations for GCISD

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Working with parents supporting students with dyslexia

When I was elected to the GCISD School Board in 2008, the district had 44 students being monitored under their dyslexia program. In a district with almost 14,000 students, a minimum number expected of students with the condition is around 700. Several dyslexia experts state that the incidence could reach 10% in some communities. Parents contacted me and informed me the situation was critical in our district, as many parents have left GCISD looking for private alternatives for their children.


To look for information on the condition and services in our area, I made an appointment with Dr. Jeff Black, Medical Director of the Scottish Rite HospitalLuke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. The Scottish Rite Hospital is one of the nation leading experts in dyslexia, and the creators of “Take Flight”, a very successful intervention program for students. Dr. Black and his staff informed me they received many students from GCISD looking for an effective alternative for their children. One of the key findings during my visit was that one Scottish Rite Hospital’s main goals was to work with public school districts in a train the trainer model to expand the reach of Take Flight and help as many students as possible.


After my meeting with Dr. Black and his staff, I discussed my findings with our then assistant superintendent, Dr. Jim Chadwell (current superintendent at Eagle Mountain Saginaw ISD) and encouraged him to plan a visit to Scottish Rite. Dr. Chadwell did so and that started a great partnership that has resulted in over 800 students currently being serviced and monitored in GCISD’s dyslexia program.


Bringing a new program into a district has its challenges. This is where having a great parent support group is key. GCISD is lucky to have READ (Reaching, Educating and Advocating for Dyslexics), an organization dedicated to support our students with dyslexia. This group of parents described in detail the struggles of their students being served in GCISD’s program. They knew the old district’s program had its limitations, and it was not effective for the majority of the students with the condition. Using this feedback, GCISD has done a great job implementing the Scottish Rite’s Take Flight program, and also improving the accommodation services offered to our students. I worked with READ to write a district-wide goal to improve dyslexia services, and it was approved by the School Board as part of our superintendent goals. READ has also been a critical partner in helping us monitor progress at the school level. Our first dyslexia goal was to “Create and implement a comprehensive development plan to significantly increase the quality of Dyslexia Services, with emphasis in identification of students to include building awareness of Dyslexia at the campus level and monitoring of individual progress”. The establishment of a dyslexia goal set the district on the path to rapidly expand the quality and reach of our services, improving the educational experience for hundreds of students and their parents for the last 12 years.