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...



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.

1 comment:

  1. Brian,

    I saw your name mentioned in the article in yesterday's Express News (Sept. 20, 2009). I decided to find your blog based on the quotes in the paper. You are doing the right thing, in my opinion. San Antonio, as a whole, does need to STAND UP. Our communities need to start the ball rolling to make the changes that need to happen.

    I am delighted that Sam Houston is staying open, but the community around the high school needs to step up and indeed, STAND UP to work against the negative forces that are drawing children away from school.

    Best of luck in your endeavors.

    Linda Solis