Saturday, March 8, 2014

Goblins of the Ghetto

I took a walk through the “hood” last night, and, to be honest, it wasn’t that exciting. I figured I would put that out there right away just in case any of you reading this thought you were going to read a story about me getting chased by hoodlums and all the other ‘goblins of the ghetto’.

After working on the house last night I decided to take Pepper (my yorkie) for a quick walk around the neighborhood. I began to take the usual route that I take in the direction of the Hays Street Bridge so I could take in the downtown skyline as I’ve done so many other times. But then I wondered to myself, “Why do I never walk the other direction?”

Everyone that knows me knows that I am not shy about my upbringing on the Eastside of San Antonio. I’m the third generation of Dillard homeowners on San Antonio’s Eastside. I grew up living across the street from my grandparents on Lamar and Hudson. I now own a home in Dignowity Hill. I say all this to make you aware that I am not a newcomer to this side of town. This is why I had to question my reluctance to walk toward the area I grew up in, and instead walk in the opposite direction. Am I afraid of crossing that invisible buffer zone between St. Charles and New Braunfels? Am I afraid to traverse the zone that switches you from being in a “good and upcoming neighborhood” to “the bad part of town”? Nope.

One of the perks to walking around your neighborhood is that you notice a lot of things that you never would have when in a car. You notice historic features on homes, weird yard ornaments, and dogs…lots of dogs. No stray dogs though, only fenced in dogs, but, nonetheless, a lot of them. Of course, along with everything else, you notice a decline in housing quality overall. Leaning foundations, peeling paint, dirt yards, shoddy fencing, are all signs that you’ve crossed that line. Another sign is residents hanging out in their front yards.

Before I even made it to New Braunfels I was greeted by folks hanging out on their porches or standing around their car in a driveway. Nothing more than a “What’s up” or “What kind of dog is that?”, but it was nice that people actually spoke to strangers. I’ve stood outside of my house in Dignowity Hill speaking with neighbors and when strangers walk by it seems like we’re reluctant to greet them. It’s not a dynamic I’m proud of, and I’ve consciously made an effort to speak to or at least wave to folks who walk by, so it was pleasant having it occur to me when on someone else’s block.

I crossed New Braunfels and when walking past Hayes (sic) Food Mart I saw a group of guys hanging out in the parking lot. I wondered to myself what I would think/assume if I weren’t familiar with the area. If I was in Alamo Heights or Stone Oak and saw some guys hanging out in the parking lot I wouldn’t think anything of it. Actually, I would think it was cool that folks still communed outdoors, instead of via FB (ironic considering that I’m sharing this via FB). However, if I were a Stone Oak or Alamo Heights resident taking a walk down Hays Street across New Braunfels, what would I think? Would I have the same thoughts of it being a good thing? Would I initiate a hello? Or would I tense up and look at the ground in fear that the ‘goblins of the ghetto’ were going to attack me?

Guy: “That a yorkie? Those dogs are expensive man.”
Me: ”Yeah, luckily we adopted her for free.”
Guy: ”Oh ok, cool. They’re good dogs though.”
Me: “Yeah, she’s pretty cool.”
Guy: “That’s good. Have a good one man.”
Me: ”You too bruh.”

It was a very frightening interaction to say the least.

After crossing New Braunfels I noticed how the neighborhood looked the same as it did when I would ride my bike as a kid. I even remembered where the biggest cracks in the sidewalks were to prevent myself from tripping, as I did so many times in the past.

After passing by a few other folks hanging out on their porches, I made it to Gevers. At Gevers and Hays were two kids, maybe nine or ten years old, and an older guy (assuming their father/father figure) playing basketball. The kids would shoot the ball, and the guy would catch it and toss it back to them. Had it not been a Friday, I would have questioned why the kids were up and outside so late, but, to be honest, it was nice seeing the interaction at all. I don’t remember many male adults in my neighborhood, outside of my own father, spending time with their kids back in the day. I hope this was a sign of that trend being broken.

Finally made it to the Wheatley Courts and that’s when I realized that all the residents had been moved out for the upcoming rebuild effort. I’ll admit that it saddened me to see it empty. While it wasn’t the best place in the world when I was younger, it felt cold seeing all the lights out and none of the usual chatter or music coming from the doorways and windows.

I decided to cut down Hudson and visit the street I grew up on. It was completely different from what I remember growing up. The houses were in horrible disrepair. My grandparent’s house looked like it was going to collapse at any second and the house I grew up in wasn’t what I remembered. It reminded me what can happen when absent owners rent out to tenants and refuse to properly maintain the property. I didn’t hang around for long. I made my way up Walters and visited Walter’s Food Mart to grab a drink for the walk back. When checking out I remembered that I didn’t have my debit card on me, only a dollar, and was short about fifty cents on my total. The clerk told me not to worry about it and let me slide. When I was checking out one of the guys in the store asked me about Pepper. I told him that he looked familiar, and sure enough, he reminded me that we went to Sam Houston High together. I thanked the clerk for his generosity and told my former classmate it was good seeing him and was on my way.

The trip back was just as uneventful as the initial trip. No muggings, no intimidating looks, no threats from the ‘goblins of the ghetto’. Instead, two more greetings of “What’s up” and “Hey” and a quick bathroom break for Pepper (I had a mutt mit).

When I got back to Dignowity Hill some kids that were having a backyard party yelled, “Hey, you wanna party?” I think they thought that I would just put my head down, ignore them, and quicken my pace. Instead,

Me: “Nah, I gotta work in the morning. But let me introduce myself. I’m Brian.”
Two guys walk up to the fence and shake my hand.
Them: “I’m Nando and this is Hypher.”
Me: “Nice meeting you guys.”
Them: “You live in the gray house right there?”
Me: “Yeah, I grew up in the neighborhood and now I own that house. I’d appreciate it if you guys keep an eye out for me.”
Them: “No problem man. We don’t allow a lot of that nonsense around here.” (I kinda chuckled on the inside)
Me: “I appreciate that.”

There’s more to that discussion that I won’t get into in this article. I just want to make it clear that instead of ignoring or laughing them off, I stopped and engaged a conversation with them. That engagement is what made my walk pleasant. That short exchange is what makes us a neighborhood into a COMMUNITY and not just the “good area” that’s a couple blocks away from the “bad side of town”.

So, it turned out that “the bad part of town” is actually just as nice as the “good part of town”…maybe nicer. I realized that it’s not so bad crossing that invisible line. I realized that I was once (and still am at times) one of those ‘goblins of the ghetto’ simply because I existed in an area that others weren’t comfortable being in as a result of presumptuous reasoning. I also noticed that Pepper attracts a lot positive attention from my Eastside neighbors.

Footnote: The term ‘goblins of the ghetto’ was used before by someone when they referenced driving through my current neighborhood a few years back. I didn’t make it known that I was a native of the neighborhood they were referencing until after they essentially called everyone spooks. We had an intense conversation to say the least… I just wanted to clarify that I can’t take full credit for such cultured terminology.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Teach For America

I was invited to speak at San Antonio – Teach For America’s year-end gathering this morning. About 65 TFA corps members were in attendance. I was asked to share my “story” with everyone. My story was to include: 1. A challenge I have faced; 2. A choice I made; and 3. The outcome I experienced.

I wrote my story, but it ended up being a speech…which seemed to be okay with the TFA folks. I figured I would post it here and share “my story” with others. I didn’t really edit it. I just copied and pasted, so excuse any spelling or grammatical errors. Enjoy!

Intro:
I was born and raised on the Eastside of San Antonio. Right in the middle of the Wheatley Courts community. I grew up with the typical urban environment in the 80’s and 90’s; drugs, violence, teenage mothers, crappy education system, and just the overall dismal surroundings. I went to Wheatley middle school, and graduated from Sam Houston High in 2001. Upon graduation, I went to UTSA for one semester. I didn’t get any scholarships out of high school, and I barely got accepted into UTSA, in fact, my first year was a probationary period. I failed one of my classes and as a result I decided to go into the military. After being away from home for 7 years, I was able to get stationed back in San Antonio. My reason for coming back was to ensure that the youth behind me had better opportunities than I did.

Challenge:
I came back to San Antonio in 2009 with a vision. I wanted to change the Eastside. I wanted to come back and save the Eastside. That turned out to be a bit tougher than expected. Turns out that the community I grew up in. The one that was full of failing students, a failing appearance, and overall a failing culture, didn’t think they had a problem. Well, after being back only a few months, I decided to point out their problem...them.

A few years ago, Sam Houston High School was on the chopping block. The district held a huge meeting on the Eastside and about 300-400 community members came out. The district considered closing Sam Houston due to lack of performance and low attendance. Now, you must understand that this is the central high school on the Eastside of San Antonio. You must also understand that at that time Sam Houston had been deemed Academically Unacceptable for two consecutive years. On top of that, this was the school’s fourth Unacceptable rating within five years. Regardless of those meaningless agency ratings, the crowd claimed racism. They threw out charges that no one cared about Sam Houston outside of its community. Not one person mentioned Sam Houston’s low performance or the community’s lack of support. I waited through about 30-40 people that night. All of them angry at everything except for themselves. I decided to voice my opinion on the topic and I ended up getting booed by nearly all 300 folks in attendance. I asked all of them where had they been? Where were they for the past five years that Sam Houston was failing?

That was in 2009. 2010, Sam Houston High was again rated Unacceptable. 2011, Sam Houston High rated Unacceptable. Last year we were ranked 64 out of 65 high schools in the Greater San Antonio area.

Throughout these past few years I have taken advice from a lot of people in my community. Most of them encouraged me to handle everything with a diplomatic approach, as opposed to a revolutionary approach. I can’t begin to count how many times I heard the saying “You can catch more flies with honey, than vinegar.”

As a result of being the nice guy and trying to request a better future for our kids, I noticed there was no movement. My nice guy tactics allowed the same deficient system to remain in place and the same results to be produced. This past school year, I decided that I would no longer allow our students to continue to lose this battle. Throughout this past school year I helped someone run against the school board trustee. Several times I publically questioned and criticized our board trustee’s constant failure throughout his past 12 years in office. The community still voted him back in last year and I was told that I need to “pay my dues” before I could make a change in our community. Since 2009, I’ve attempted to hold an entire school administration accountable for the continuous failures that have occurred. Let me clarify that I never have spoken ill of the administration publically or privately with any students. My attempts to figure out why we constantly fail, not only led to a continual denial of failure by the administration, but also led to me being restricted from campus and banned from speaking to students. The same students who I sponsored for graduation and prom. The same students who I mentored and spoke to in classrooms throughout the year. You would think that with all the odds against me, I would just throw my hands in the air and give up.

Choice:
I left the military this April. I had a choice between staying in for 10 more years and getting a great retirement check, or getting out and following my passion. So here I am, 28 years old, unemployed, broke, and at times unsure if this decision was the right one. But the one thing that keeps me going is the idea that if I don’t take this leap, no one else will. If I choose to go the route of a bigger paycheck, as opposed to creating a better future for these thousands of kids, what’s it all worth?

I look at the potential that is wasted day-in and day-out and I can’t turn my back on that. I know they always say, “If you save one kid, it’s worth it”. But let’s be honest, none of you are here because you want to save one child. When you signed up for TFA, you didn’t do it to save a child a year. If you wanted to do that, you could have sent a few dollars a month to a charity. You are here because you want make a difference in the world we live in.

Outcome:
My challenge is to change the mindset of our community from one of DEPENDENCE and ENTITLEMENT, to SELF-REFLECTION and ACTION. I’m here to break down those walls of denial and apathy, so that my community can begin to build bridges to success and long-term sustainability.

Those kids you see everyday. That’s me. You not only ARE that difference in the world, but you are educating and inspiring and developing thousands of difference-makers. I know you’re all putting in an enormous amount of time and effort taking on the challenge of being teachers, especially in an urban community. I understand that the task can be extremely stressful and quite discouraging at times, but I am here to let you know that you are not alone in your struggle. There are people like me that are inspired by what you do day-in and day-out and whether you know it or not, we’re fighting battles from the outside to help make what you do, not only better valued, but also more effective.

I don’t have a powerful closing, so instead I’ll offer a challenge question. This is a quote and it comes from a lady that some of you may know. I think her name is Wendy something-or-other. At the end of the quote, there’s a question that I would like for you all to think about from here on out:

“To realize a vision of educational excellence and equity, we will need to develop an educational leadership pipeline to propagate transformational schools, the political leadership and advocacy infrastructure to create an environment conducive to their success, and new innovations to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their efforts. At each turn, success will rely on people who have internalized the lessons of transformational education. And so we come to a central question: How do we find and develop more of these people?” How do we FIND and DEVELOP more of these people that will create and sustain the differences in our world?

Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Self-Determination

I was invited to speak to a class of 22 high school seniors today at my alma mater. I knew my topic of choice was going to revolve around self-determination. I chose the topic of self-determination because I know the one thing that we lacked when I was in high school was an appropriate level of recognition. A recognition by the decision-makers, that we, as economically disadvantaged youth, faced more obstacles than those elsewhere. I wasn't aware of the deficiencies of my local education system and how it had failed me and my peers for so many years. I wasn't aware of my lack of college preparedness. For someone to be accepted into college was a significant accomplishment for us. No one was concerned about college retention rates, they were concerned with how many students simply applied. No one was concerned with horrid SAT or ACT scores, they were concerned with how many of us passed or failed the TAKS.

When I began speaking to the students today, I realized that not much has changed in this regard. My first question was the typical, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The replies I received ranged from nurse, to lawyer, to coach (no rappers or athletes, thank God). My next question, how many of you have applied for college? All of the students raised their hands. I expected this due to the fact that one of the main objectives for SAISD this year, in regards to college preparedness, is to have 100% of students apply for college. I then asked who has applied for five or more colleges? Half of the hands dropped. "Ten or more?" One person had their hand up.

I continued by asking how they planned on paying for college? Many of them said they were going to use scholarships. I then asked, "How many of you have scholarships?" One or two hands went up. I followed with, "How many of you have applied for scholarships?" The same one or two hands stayed up. Allow me to remind you that it is February of these student's senior year. I refrained from lashing out and pulling the usual, "What are you waiting for? It's getting too late." statement, and instead told them that I was once in their position. I didn't have anyone to push me to fill out scholarship forms. My counselors didn't care enough to advise me on applying for college or for how many to apply. So, I applied for UTSA and luckily got in with a bare minimum SAT score. Unfortunately, I had no way to pay my tuition past the first semester. So I jumped in the military. This is the story that is left out when these students are told over and over again to "Go to college! Get your education!" The 'how' of it all is missing and many of our kids aren't provided the push they need to develop some self-determination and willpower to get the job done on their own.

Throughout my time in the classroom we jumped around from the election and how they would vote, to the current welfare system and how there needs to be some serious reform. We even dabbled a bit in the fact that the Eastside is still considered the 'black side of town', although it's majority Hispanic. Somehow, we ended up on the topic of Sam Houston's recent 'school closure' scare. These students were sophomores when the event occurred. A few of them were present at a meeting that I spoke at in September of 2009. A couple remembered me as the guy who wanted the school to close. I was offended, but I calmly asked, "How did you gather that opinion?" The student's response, "Cause everyone was booing you." I laughed and explained/reminded that everyone was booing me because I wasn't going along with the typical "This is racism. You don't care because it's a black school" jive. I then asked if anyone remembered what I said? No one responded. I reminded them that I rattled off a bunch of statistics in order to bring some light to the fact that no one has cared for this school for years. I reminded them that I addressed the audience of 500 people and asked, "Where have you been all these years?" I then asked the class, when was the last time they saw a mass gathering of community members for Sam Houston? They all stated that they hadn't seen anyone since that night in 2009. I asked, how many alumni have you had come back and speak to you? One student responded, "You're here. So I guess that's one."

I didn't want this to be a pity party and I made that clear to the students. I don't want them thinking that because they are at a disadvantage that it was an excuse to fail or to aim for mediocre levels of performance. "I am making you aware of all of this because I want you to know that you are going to have to do a lot for yourself. You aren't going to have all the perks of a kid on the Northside, or a kid at a private/charter school. You are going to have to develop a lot of self-determination to get where you want to be." I really wanted to drive this home because throughout our conversation, many of them stated that they felt that very few genuinely cared about them or their success. One of the students mentioned that "All the administration cares about is attendance. And only about 30% of teachers care about whether or not we succeed. The rest are just here for a paycheck." I replied by asking, "What have you done to change that? Have you spoken to your administration about how you feel?" She replied, "They don't care what we have to say. All they care about is if you're in class or not." I didn't really know what to say in response to that statement. How do you voice your opinion to someone who refuses to listen? I encouraged the student to consider voicing their opinion, respectfully and politely through other channels such as the PTSA or a local community leader. I wish I could say that my recommendation received a warm reception, but honestly, I received a lot of non-verbal responses that reflected a simple, "Whatever".

The response of "whatever" didn't bother me. I completely understood the students' attitudes. Who am I to tell these students that you not only have to succeed in school, but you must fight your administration to be given the same standards of education as one of the wealthier schools. You not only have to have the self-determination to want to go to college, but you also must figure out a way to get there with very little help. What kind of society do we live in where we have to tell our STUDENTS that they themselves have to stand up and fight for access to a fair and equal education system?

My conversation with the students went well over an hour, so I can't fit the entirety of our discussion in this blog post, but I wanted to give an idea of what the spirit was like today. I want you to understand the expectations of our students and their thoughts on our expectations of them. These students know that they aren't getting a fair deal. They know that the situation they are in isn't normal. They know that the fire they are having to fight through right now shouldn't be as hot as it is. As someone who has been in their shoes, I wish I could convey to them that the fire they are in now, is nothing compared to what they are about to face. When they graduate and find out that the heat in the real world is a lot more fierce and a lot less forgiving, I am afraid that it will be too late.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sam Houston Alumni

Okay, time for "real talk"... I need for my fellow Sam Houston alumni to start showing up at Sam Houston and its feeder schools this upcoming school year. Not just 2001 alumni, all alumni in the San Antonio area. I didn't do a good enough job encouraging everyone as much as I should have done last school year, but I won't do that again this year. I witnessed too many young minds being lost due to simple neglect last year at Sam Houston for me to allow this to continue to happen.

Your presence is DESPERATELY needed in the lives of many of our Eastside students. I've seen plenty of people "repping Sam" in the past years. I ask that as you continue to "rep Sam", that you also rep the students at Sam by visiting the school and mentoring and/or tutoring. It doesn't matter if you have retained calculus for the past 10+ years, or have forgotten how to count to five. I need your presence and positive influence around these students to encourage them to do more than what is expected of them currently. I need tutors, mentors, role models. You don't have to be all three...I just need you to be one of them for one student.

You may not consider yourself to be a "role model" or "mentor" per se, but I ask you to come out and I will prove to you that there is at least one student who will look at you as such. I need you to come out and be yourself. For those of you that stay smoked out, I'm gonna need you to come in sober and leave any discussion of that at home. lol But I still want you to come out, because you may be able to relate to some of our students better than any of the rest of us.

I visited Sam Houston on a weekly basis last year and I know if I had my alumni behind me keeping a constant connection with these students, we can assist greatly in improving the education system for these students. Let's make the situation at Sam Houston and its feeder schools better for those behind us. We all can admit that we could have been provided a much better education had we been provided adequate guidance and support. Let's be that guidance and support beginning this year.

If you have any questions about what I'm referring to when I say that the students need us in the halls, then please check out the rest of my blog entries. I think you'll gather a better understanding of how things have fallen by the wayside at Sam Houston and how it's going to take us and the current Eastside community to institute a brighter future for those students.

Please feel free to post comments and remarks. If you are willing and motivated enough to help, then your notice of participation may encourage our other classmates to participate as well. I'll send everyone that is willing to participate more information and guidance on how to get involved this upcoming school year.

Thank You,
Brian C. Dillard
Cherokee 2001

Sunday, February 28, 2010

"That's Not My Job"

A few weeks ago I addressed a matter of tutors not being allowed to recruit students at Sam Houston high school. (ref blog from Feb 17 entitled "Is Anyone home?") I finally received a response from the principal of Sam Houston, Mr. White. He tried to blame it on the district policy, after which I notified him that Mr. Howard (District Board Pres) had never heard of such a policy. Mr. White then told me that it was HIS policy. I told him that I thought the policy was unnecessary and that I think it should be changed. I asked to sit down and discuss the matter, along with a few other items, with him at another time. He refused to meet with me. He said that I could come to the monthly Principal's Coffee, which is where he speaks in an open forum, and he would answer any questions that I may have.

(SIDENOTE: Since that conversation I decided to call the Dept of Education and track this policy down. I made it all the way to the TEA (Texas Ed Agency). They sent me a policy about SES (Supplemental Education Service) providers which stated, "SES providers shall not compensate school district employees personally in exchange for access to facilities, to obtain student lists, to assist with marketing or student recruitment, to promote enrollment in a provider’s program at the exclusion of other providers, to obtain other similar benefits for their SES program, or for any illegal purpose." Someone please tell me where in that statement it is said that SES providers can not encourage students to come to tutoring.)

Last Friday I arrived at the Sam Houston H.S. Principal's Coffee at 8.30AM. There were about 10 people in attendance. The first hour was dedicated to talking about the new scholarship/mentoring program being implemented, which offers freshman the opportunity to receive a mentor for the next 3 years. When the freshmen graduate they receive $3,000 towards college. After an hour of Q&A regarding that topic, Mr. White opened the floor to any other questions.

My first question to him was, "How many of your SENIOR are failing TAKS?" He replied, "Six are failing Social Studies and 16 are failing English." He continued, in what seemed to be a reluctant manner, by saying "45 are failing Science and 55 to 57 are failing Math." (This is out of approximately 105 standard education students) I made sure to reconfirm that he was referring to SENIORS to which he concurred. At this point I heard everyone in the room go "Oooh" and "Ahhh" in surprise. I then asked him why mandatory tutoring just began three weeks ago and he had no legitimate excuse. He prattled for about 10 minutes about how students learn differently and how he isn't responsible for last year, yada, yada... The whole time I was thinking to myself, "If you know all this stuff, then why haven't you been acting on it?!" Excuses, excuses...

My next question was regarding college preparation. I asked him "Why is performance on the ACT/SAT and the Accuplacer so atrocious here at Sam Houston? You had 91 Seniors take the Accuplacer this year. Out of those 91 students, 89 will be taking at least one remedial course in their Freshman year in college. What are you doing to address this issue?" His response was, "That's not my job." (Yes, that is a QUOTE) I paused and asked him what did he mean by that, to which he responded, "It's not my job to make sure these students are successful in college. My job is to make sure they graduate high school." At this point three or four of the people in attendance began to praise him and give a small applause. Needless to say, I was stunned. Not only did this guy just tell me that it "isn't his job" to prepare students for college, but people actually commended him for making that statement. What do I say after that?

My next question for Mr. White was, "What is the mission statement for the school district?" I already knew the answer to this question, but I wanted to see what Mr. White's explanation was. He responded, "To graduate all of our students and prepare them for success in higher education". After a pause he then said, "That's the DISTRICT'S mission statement, not mine." Wow.

Sitting next to me was the PTA President. She was obviously bothered by all of this. She told Mr. White that she does not settle for mediocrity and that we need to be holding our students to a higher standard. She continued by saying that "we are trying to prepare our students to be productive members of a global society". Mr. White responded by saying that he didn't care about a "global society" and reaffirmed his statement of "My job is to make sure they graduate high school".

I know that I should have thrown a fit at this point. I know that I should have called the NAACP, Jesse Jackson, or someone and alerted them of this matter...but I remained calm and continued on with my questions.

I asked him what the meaning of his motto "Recognize The Skills" was. This motto has been the only thing on the marquee outside of the school for the past 6 months. I asked someone else the meaning of it and they gave me a deeper explanation than the obvious. They said that it was to tell the students to recognize THEIR skills and to use them in reaching their goals. Mr. White's response was, "It's telling the community members, city officials, district, etc to recognize our skills here at Sam Houston". *sigh* So, the meaning of it was as obvious as I thought it was. I wonder how many people drive by Sam Houston and ask themselves the same question, "What skills?". Mr. White then told me that the motto would be the only thing on the marquee for this year until the district or board or TEA themselves forced him to put something else up. I then asked him why no one was notified about the Black History program that was scheduled for that evening. The PTA PRESDIENT wasn't even notified until the day before, which is the same time I was made aware of it. District coucil didn't know about it. The people in attendance even stated that they knew nothing about it until they were given a flyer prior to the meeting. His response was "Mr. Cade's (VP) in charge of that program".

At about this point it was obvious to me that the problems at Sam Houston were as fundamental as I had perceived. There was a slight thought in my mind that the problems at Sam Houston went further than complacency and neglect, but it turns out that those two factors are exactly why Sam Houston is the lowest of low performers in San Antonio.

I had a list of 20 questions. I made it through three before I realized the problem was apparent. It wasn't hidden behind the numbers or in policy or in the environment. It wasn't a lack of money or a lack of books or a lack of technology. It was created and maintained by the carelessness of administration, exceedingly low standards and a flawed vision of education.

Extra Stats:
Out of the 91 Seniors that too the Accuplacer, only TWO (2%) will be able to go to college and NOT have to take a remedial class in their Freshman year. Out of those 91 students, 64 (70%) tested into remedial courses in ALL FOUR COMPONENTS of the Accuplacer test (Algebra, Reading Comprehension, Sentence Skills, and Writing).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time to train a new generation of parents...

Yesterday I blogged about my experience at a PTSA (Parent, Teacher, Student Association) meeting which had six attendees. While I was at the meeting I thought back to when I was at Sam Houston and could not remember a mention of any PTA/PTSA meetings.

Times haven't changed much in regards to parental involvement at the school. Thank God I had adequate parental involvement at home. Most children now a days don't even have that to benefit from. Let's face the facts, our children are deteriorating more and more due to lack of parental involvement in all aspects of life. Now, before I get a bunch of negative replies, I DO understand that there are the exceptions to the usual. There are single mothers and single fathers out there that are doing what they need to do for their children. They go the extra mile that they need to go in order to lead their children to success. HOWEVER, that is the EXCEPTION, not the STANDARD.

We have lowered our standards and have learned to accept the bare minimum from our youth. We have learned to make excuses for our students regarding any circumstance. We accept mediocre and label it outstanding. I remember when graduating high school back in the 50's and 60's was a HUGE accomplishment. Why are we in the 21st century still praying that we get higher than a 75% graduation rate? (In 2010 only 57% of Sam Houston H.S. seniors graduated) We must raise our expectations and our standard to a level of EXCELLENCE as opposed to "that'll do".

Although I can't speak on the generation of students who are in high school now, I must implore that we catch the next cycle of children before it is too late. Let's begin molding the next generation into the parents we need them to be. There is no better time for minorities to start over. First we had slavery, then we had Reconstruction, then Jim Crow, the we had the Civil Rights struggle, then we had Reagan ;) , then we had the to recover from the drug epidemic. Now that we are finally on stable ground and the field is finally level enough for us to play on, let's rebuild and recover.

We need mentors and tutors to start showing up and stop neglecting our youth. All the successful professionals, businessmen and "ballers" need to stop hiding behind your garage and come back to save those left behind. I don't knock you for being successful, moving out of the neighborhood and getting a nice house. I DO criticize you for not coming back to bring the youth of today up to where you are now.

We need the "church folk" to step outside of the church. Chill out on dismissing the youth because they aren't as righteous as you would like them to be. If they don't want to accept the Lord as their savior then fine. Move on and try to convince them that education and civility is a MUST. Jesus is MY savior, but if you don't want to accept him, I am still going to cram this general education down your throat.

We need the youth center's to step back and look at their own actions when the youth are in their presence. If a child is misbehaving, the last thing you should do is yell. I have been to way too many youth centers and seen the administrators yelling at the kids to "GO OVER THERE", "BE QUIET", "DO THIS", "DO THAT". After I leave I go to the high school and witness the same behavior from the students. We are trained that yelling is the appropriate measure to get our way. I don't expect the youth centers to educate our kids, but I DO expect them to instill a certain level of civility and respect for others.

Last but definitely not least, who is the most influential person in a child's life, outside of their parent? It should be the people that they spend eight hours a day, five days a week with. Teachers and school administrators need to become more involved and passionate about their jobs. There are too many teachers that don't care about their students' success. There are even more teachers that set the standard too low for our students. Teachers are the best mentors in students' lives. I understand that teachers aren't paid nearly as much as they should be paid for the job that they do, but that is something that needs to be addressed as well. Administration needs to make sure that teachers are properly compensated so that they have no reason to execute their duties to the fullest extent and further. Administration also needs to open a clear path of coordination with teachers.

My point of this post is that I am fed up with the line "I blame the parents". OKAY! FINE! I blame them too! Now, let's figure out what the hell we are going to do to fix the problem! If we have to circumvent the parental involvement altogether then so be it, but I don't want my children to have to grow up in a community in which we are still "blaming the parents".

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

PTSA Meeting @ Sam Houston High School

I attended a PTSA (Parent, Teacher, Student Association) meeting last night at Sam Houston H.S. and I was very disappointed in what I saw. Six people including myself were in attendance. The other five individuals included the PTSA president, a French teacher from the school, the "community liaison" of the high school, a community member, and a one parent who was mandated by the courts to attend due to excessive truancy by her daughter.

I asked the French teacher why she was the only teacher in attendance. She responded by telling me that a lot of the other teachers were busy leading extracurricular activities and there was also a girls athletic event that night. I asked her how many teachers worked at Sam Houston. She told me 60, and the "community liaison" mentioned 100. I then asked if they found it acceptable ad believable that out of 60 teachers there was only ONE at the meeting? She understood my point and agreed that there was no excuse for it.

Why isn't it mandated that teachers attend PTSA meetings for their own schools? It's not like they have to stay EVERY night. The meetings are once a month. I'm sure the time of the meeting could be easily adjusted to make it easier for them to attend.

I can complain about the teachers not being there and expect a difference to be made. I unfortunately can NOT expect the parents to show up. We can beg and plead for them to come, but just as they neglect their child's education in all other aspects, I expect them to neglect something as extraneous as an after hours meeting. Yes, I have lowered my expectations of parents.

I will elaborate further tomorrow in a post on what I think the solution for the black/hispanic community must consist of. It will contain my thoughts on the lack of parental involvement among minorities and the most effective way to change it.

I am going to try my best to keep the blog updated. I have been ranting to my girlfriend, friends, co-workers and parents for the past few months. They haven't gotten sick of my ranting, but I need another outlet...so here I am, back in the blogosphere. ;)

Stay tuned to my blog, as I will be addressing the performance of not only Sam Houston, but also the middle schools and elementary schools that feed into Sam Houston. I will also be addressing my thoughts on what the Eastside community needs in order to improve its current situation. These and more thoughts will be presented in several blogs throughout the next few months.

Defunct

Defunct - no longer living, existing, or functioning.

San Antonio's Eastside is defunct. There is no longer LIFE in the community. The word community exists, but the spirit is NONEXISTENT. The system failed the Eastside a long time ago and we have never been able to become FUNCTIONAL again.

I grew up on 1815 Lamar. From birth to the age of eighteen I was a resident of the Eastside of San Antonio. My grandparents owned and lived in the house across the street at 422 Hudson. Their previous house was on S Mesquite St. My father and all of his siblings were born on S Mesquite St and grew up at 422 Hudson. I attended day care on Rice Road. I went to Pre-K at the Church of the Nazarene on Rigsby. I went to private school (K-7) in Dellcrest. I began public school at Wheatley Middle School. I graduated from Sam Houston High School. My grandparents were pioneers of Coliseum Church of Christ and I grew up attending Dellcrest Church of Christ. I AM THE EASTSIDE. Throughout my frustration and anger over the constant plummet of the Eastside, I am still PROUD to be an Eastsider.

This pride encouraged me to move back to San Antonio and make a difference in my community. I came into it thinking that I could take several routes at making that difference, but they all led back to one component...EDUCATION. Turns out that EDUCATION on the Eastside has been defunct for a long time. I'm the oxygen, caffeine, and the defibrillator. I am the inspiration and the spark for a new beginning. I am The Eastside.

Is anyone home?

It's been a while since I have posted a blog. That doesn't mean that I haven't been working...just means I haven't blogged about any of it.

Just an update on what has occurred in the past few months...NOTHING. I went to Germany on a two month stint, thank to the US Air Force. I returned last week and got right back to work.

I visited Sam Houston for a total of 10 hours during my first week back. I found out that tutors/mentors from UT@Austin were being allowed to sit in the cafeteria after school, but were NOT allowed to recruit students and encourage them to come to the tutoring sessions. According to the high school administration, this was due to a school board policy. I spoke with the school board president and he was unaware of any policy that would restrict them from recruiting students. I then went back to Sam Houston and spoke with the VP who was all for allowing the tutors to recruit students, as long as it was in compliance with district policy.

As I spoke with the VP a young man from the school staff stopped by and gave me his insight on the matter. He said that the tutors were federally funded and that for every kid they recruited, the program received more money. Therefore, he was opposed to the program because the tutors looked at all the students as dollar signs. I asked him if the money was coming out of our pockets. He said no. I asked him if the money was coming from the district. He said no. "So, if the money isn't coming out of our funds....then WHO CARES?". He replied with a head nod.

I have contacted the school board president five times in the past two weeks and have left messages with the Principal, yet I have received no answer. I bet if I told them that I had basketball or football players from UTAustin that wanted to run a clinic at Sam I would have gotten a call back.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

SAISD Restructuring Mtg

So, last Wednesday the San Antonio School District held one of it's District Restructuring Community Town Halls at Sam Houston H.S. Sam Houston is my alma mater and is also the only high school slated to be closed according to all the restructuring propositions put forth by the SAISD. Numerous other high schools are slated to be re-purposed. To read more about this process...

http://www.saisd.net/main/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=427&catid=32&Itemid=170

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/SAISD_unveils_3_plans_forclosures.html

I had to park across the street and down a block because all the parking lots were full at Sam Houston AND the middle school across the street. The Sam Houston auditorium was packed. I signed up to speak and I was disappointed when I received number 78...it was gonna be a long night. I walked in as the board was still presenting the new programs for SAISD schools. Everyone was pretty quiet and attentive. The board then moved onto the different closure propositions, and that's when the silence went away. Everyone boo'd all three propositions. Even the first one (which I am in favor of) which provides a brand new high school ON THE EASTSIDE. Everyone was standing and yelling at the board as they spoke and all I could do was slump down in my seat wondering why we couldn't conduct ourselves like adults.

After the board was done presenting the propositions, they announced it was time for the open floor session where those who signed up could speak. The first speaker was an elderly woman in a kufi. She rolled to the front in a motorized wheelchair and the first thing she said was, "Turn up these lights! Cause I wanna eyeball ya when I talk to ya!" The audience went crazy. There was yelling, laughing and clapping and almost everyone was out of their seats. The rest of the night pretty much followed the same behavior. My counterpart Rich described as the Apollo theater on Amateur Night. I described it as a Southern Baptist church rally.
The first ten speakers consisted of several elected officials. One to note was current County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson who noted that one of the reasons NOT to close Sam Houston was for the name alone. He said that Sam Houston was the quintessential Texan, to which I promptly boo'd...all by myself. Did these folks really think an unapologetic slave-owner was the best person to name a majority black school after? (Bernard Harris Jr. graduated from Sam Houston...I wonder who we could name it after instead of a slave-owner?)
Many others stepped up and spoke and said the same thing to the board that they had heard a million times already. Save Sam Houston. It was honestly getting annoying to me and I wondered if any of the 800+ people actually looked at the propositions?! Did they know that Prop 1 would actually serve in OUR favor? Everyone was too busy bringing up memories of when they went to Sam Houston and how Sam Houston made them, specifically, into good people. I wanted to stand up and say, "What about the rest?!" There were at least three people that went up and stated that their teachers would give them bus money at times when they didn't have the money. Did they think the teacher's morals would change if they moved to a new building? Of course, you had your few people step up and say how they went to Sam and they were very successful. Was this a reason to keep an unsatisfactory school open? So if we have a few people out of each class who are extraordinary (compared to the rest of the campus) then that wipes out the past 20 years? Okay...yeah right.
Mario Salas was close to the only person who went up and said what I was sitting in the crowd thinking the whole time. He mentioned that regardless of what happens to Sam Houston, we will have to re-evaluate what went wrong to begin with. He also mentioned that Prop 1 wasn't a bad idea, but a new building still wouldn't fix the problem alone. You need to address the issue in the system, not just throw money at it.
My boy Rich provided a good point. Okay, so say they keep Sam open. Then what? Are we just going to continue as we have for the past several years? So you get to keep the building. Great. What then?!
No one was around when Sam Houston was performing worse than any other school in the district and horrifically lower than the state average. Sam Houston is currently the 106th worse school in the state. That's 105 schools from the worst...out of 1,437 high schools! Why wasn't anyone outraged about Sam being in the bottom seventh percentile, yet they're so infuriated when the school is threatened to shut down?
I finally got tired of waiting and went up to speak...



I had to walk off abruptly at the end because I had three women yelling at the top of their lungs at me, and I didn't want to be a part of that uncivil debate.

I walked out of the speech to a handshake from my boy Rich which was very comforting considering I thought I was going to get a shoe thrown at me at the end there. It was nice to have someone by my side as I walked out. The Express-News asked for my name for future reference. I got thanked by several people outside which was very reassuring and calming. One lady was on the committee who developed the first proposition and told me that what I said was great and that I said what needed to be said. One of the board members actually walked out to thank me. (Not trying to gas myself up here...just trying to show that I wasn't the only one with these thoughts.)
Regardless of the kudos, I did catch grief from Mr. Vicks, who has been at Sam Houston for 17 years. I am sincerely happy that he has spent so much time at Sam Houston, but I am sincerely disappointed by what he said to me. He told me that I shouldn't have said what I said. He said that was not the right thing to say in front of the community and the board. He continued by saying, "I've been here for 17 years, walking these halls. You think I don't want to say what you said? But everybody knows who I am, so how would it look if I said that?" To which I replied, "Honest." He continued to try to convince me that I was wrong for speaking up in front of 'massah', but I just told him, "Since you CAN'T do it. We are here to do it. We're here to speak the truth to the people. Don't you worry about it."
I stepped outside and spoke to a Sam Houston teacher who I happened to attend private school with in my early years. She said that what I said was completely true. The school's staff has NO SUPPORT. How is a school supposed to operate without the support of the community around it?
As I finished up speaking with the teacher I noticed two young ladies standing at the bottom of the steps. "Are yall waiting for me?" I asked. Turns out they were District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor's council aides. They just wanted some information on SAITSU. When one of the young ladies gave me her card I noticed that she worked in the Community Relations office. It's a funny way life works sometimes. Turns out, I e-mailed her three weeks prior inquiring on what they actually do that categorizes them as "Community Relations". I never received a reply and I had sent a follow-up the day before our run-in. Needless to say, I addressed the issue and she explained that there were some staff issues that had recently been adjusted and they were just catching up on black-logged e-mails. They were very polite and immediately replied to the e-mail I sent the next day. Unfortunately, I still haven't received a reply to my original e-mail from Aug 11...

So, all in all, I don't really know what to say about the meeting. I don't think it send a message to the board that they are willing or capable to act on. Sam Houston is already strapped into the chair. The power is running and all the district has to do is flip the switch. Unfortunately, the community and the district mutually put the school in the position it's in. Let's move on and start over. THIS TIME, we'll do it the right way.