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).

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