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Friday, April 6, 2005

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

I’m voting for David Flores
for school board because
you cannot teach pigs to sing

A wise man once told me that only a fool tries to teach pigs to sing. In the end, all you accomplish is frustrating yourself and making the pigs mad.

That pretty much sums up Tuesday night’s school board meeting to revisit the sudden death of the enhanced program in our school district.

From start to finish I did not know whether to be frustrated, appalled, mad, or just embarrassed for Pecos.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning. The issue before the board was whether or not to revive the enhanced program after killing it at their last meeting.

By my understanding the enhanced program was implemented throughout the grammar schools. Supposedly the top 20 or so kids were selected on the criteria of testing, teacher recommendations, parent recommendations and the like.

These enhanced classes then worked on a tougher and faster paced curriculum than their peers.

Last week the school board voted to kill this program on what appeared to be a whim and damn little comment from those members voting to kill it, and seemingly less from the administration urging them to do so.

This group certainly spent far more time discussing their new artificial turf than they did discussing the end of an academic program that has many supporters from the ranks of students, teachers and parents.

My wife phrased it perfectly: “If killing the enhanced program was the answer, what was the question?”

So far, our school board has yet to bother to inform us what problem with the program merited cancellation.

What we did get was a little bit of politically correct, socialist garbledygook from Superintendent Ray Matthews and company about everybody being equal.

“Students learn from their peers and by all of them being in the same classrooms they’ll all be equal,” he said.

In what universe Mr. Matthews?

Are you going to pay the enhanced kids a stipend as teacher’s aides?

How many of us send their children to school to learn from other kids?

I do not, and I doubt most parents do. Last time I checked we hired teachers to do the teaching.

If putting people in the same room makes people equal why did we go through such an exhaustive search for a new superintendent when Mr. Matthews was hired?

By his thinking we should have just dumped 22 men and women in a room and drawn straws. They would have all been equal at that point. All would have the same abilities, the same intelligence, and the same level of knowledge.

All would be equally entitled to Mr. Matthews $100,000-plus salary.

But, back to the question that was never asked? What commonsense-challenged dipstick decided that this program is evil and by what measure?

If nothing else, our school board and administration owe us that much of an explanation.

Now, for the record, I have a horse in this race. My daughter was in the first grade enhanced class this year and I got to see the results firsthand.

But, for the record, whether this program lives or dies will not have a bearing on Ruby’s education. Counting grandparents, uncles, aunts and parents she has about 20 undergraduate and graduate degrees in her family.

She has a support system built in that will damn near force her to go to college, and succeed.

And, we can simply move. There are other newspapers in other towns with different schools.

We are lucky and blessed.

Not every kid in her class, or these other enhanced classes, has that kind of tradition or options.

Pecos is their shot. Now, right now, for whatever reason, they are ahead of the curve. These kids are learning more, faster, than their peers.

They are succeeding. They are on their way to being successful in a world where a college education is more important every day.

Our school administration and board’s reaction?

They kill the program that is enabling these kids to soar.

Why don’t you just tie lead weights to their feet and hand them a can of spray paint and a paper bag while you are at it?

Now supposedly, this program will be replaced by a program where each teacher in each grade will have the opportunity to maintain three, count ‘em, three, teaching plans to teach to her class of kids. That way the teacher will be able to cater to different levels of learning ability and progress.

If I were a dope smoking drunk I might be able to buy into that plan but common sense and experience tell me that while the teachers may try mightily to comply, the real result will be a mid-level curriculum at best, with the slowest kids and the brightest kids wasting away at their desks becoming convinced that they are too dumb to learn, or that school is a waste of their time.

Again, I would suggest handing out the spray paint and paper bags but we cannot do that because apparently our school administration and the majority of the school board already huffed it all.

Billie Sadler, president of the school board, voted to kill this program. She and board member Paul Deishler, are up for re-election in this Saturday’s school board election.

Deishler voted to keep the program.

David Flores is running for one of the two open slots, along with Deishler and Sadler.

Flores has promised to try and bring this program back if he is elected.

Addressing a school board with Deishler and Flores as members will hopefully be a lot less like trying to teach pigs how to sing.

So, I will be voting for Deishler and Flores, and for a better education for the children of Pecos.

Several citizens upset with school board members

Dear Editor:

Once more. I have been disappointed by PBTISD school board. This time my disappointment (or more accurately, disgust) stems from their vote to eliminate the enhanced program. This was a program that separated children into classes based on learning speed, test scores, recommendations by parents or teachers among other things (you notice I didn't mention intelligence-learning speed and motivation are a lot more important. There are some extremely intelligent children in our school system who are not in the enhanced program because the parents don't want their child to be "stressed" or work too hard-parental motivation counts too. There are also some slowers learner who are very smart, but need more repetition or extra time to learn-I've read that Einstein would have fallen into this group).

Now the children are all going to be mixed into the other classes. In an ideal world, the other children would strive to catch up to their formerly "enhanced" classmates. The faster learners would help the slower ones, and everyone would graduate with honors, score 1600 on the SAT and go on to Ivy League Colleges and great careers. This is rather like the idea of communism-real people don't operate like they are supposed to in the ideal model and everyone loses. (See the old USSR, North Korea or Cuba for what happens with real people.) Unmotivated kids will remain unmotivated. They will continue to disrupt classes and prevent everyone around them from learning. The faster learners, if not prevented from learning by the disruptive ones, will quickly get bored if they are not challenged. They will then "tune out''-go to sleep, doodle, or worse, join the disruptive kids cutting up and talking (This happens even with "perfect” kids like my older two-when the old pull-out gt program existed, I used to get a lot of phone calls about certain perfect children sleeping, doodling, talking, goofing off, joking around etc.). The slower learners will still need the repetition, but the teacher will probably be busy disciplining the first two groups, so it will be a miracle if they get all the help they need. Besides, who wants to raise their hand and admit they need help if everyone else "gets it". It’s easier to act up and pretend you don't care, than call attention to the fact you don't learn as fast as your peers. The "average" students, if such a thing exists, might continue to get an average education, versus the excellent one they could get without groups one, two and three in the way. This is what our children now get to look forward to-let's aim for the lowest common denominator and make sure no one can do their best.

The teachers will all deserve our sympathy also. In order to teach all children to reach their potential, they will need at least 3 sets of lesson plans. At least three sets of spelling words, vocabulary lists, math lessons, etc. will be necessary. After all, should a 4th grader taking 8th grade reading this year have the same 5th grade curriculum as a 4th grader reading at a 2nd or even 4th grade level? Should their spelling lists be the same? Should the 15` grader spelling temperature this year, suffer through boat and coat in 2"d grade, or should the child who can barely spell coat fail 2"d grade because he can't spell cornucopia? I'm glad I don't have to decide. I'm also very glad that I don't have to provide a "learning environment" with so many differently-abled children in the same room.

If our children and teacher are lucky, maybe our school board will reconsider the issue again, this time with an open mind. For our children's and our town's future, I hope so.

Another disappointment occurred when I heard a board member tell a parent that she did not have to listen to her. Technically, according to Robert's Rules of Order. she didn't. But from an elected representative, I see that as a very elitist point of view. Don't give me your opinion, just your vote. That isn't a very good campaign slogan. I always thought that I should vote for people to represent me and my opinions. I think I will, and maybe next time we have the enhanced program put up for a vote, it will pass. Sincerely:
Cynthia Shores

Dear Editor,

I did not make the most recent school board meeting held Tuesday, May 3rd. There seems to be a lot of controversy on if we should have an enhanced program for our elementary children or if we should do away with it. The majority of the board voted to do away with it. I think the school board zigged when it should have zagged. They went left when they should have gone right.

They went down when they should have gone up.

That’s right, instead of lowering our standards and expectations of our children, we should raise them. Why not put all the kids in the enhanced program? Why would any school board member and superintendent vote to lower our school standards?

I am of the opinion that there are no dumb kids. I am of the opinion that all kids are intelligent and have the same ability to learn.

I am of the opinion that what separates the top from the bottom is motivation.

Our kids are either motivated or they are not. So why not try to motivate them all?

Put them all in the enhanced program. As a school board, as educators, and as parents, shouldn’t we expect our children to achieve the greatest potential they can? Wouldn’t a school board member or parent object if the football coach took a player out of a game after he scored a touchdown or made a great tackle?

What if the coach only played his starters for one half and put in his subs for the second half?

No we wouldn’t stand for it because we want to win. Don’t we want our children to win in the classroom? Is our objective to have our young people just able to pass a state mandated test so that they may graduate or is our objective to prepare them for college and success later in life.

I started school at South Pecos Elementary (now Austin Elementary) in 1958. I will never forget my first day. Our teacher asked us all to write down our name on a piece of paper. Wait a minute, this is the first day of first grade and she expects us to already know how to write!

I thought that was why we were going to school.

As it turned out all of my classmates already knew how to write their names. They had been to something called kindergarten. That upset me badly.

So badly that I ran away to my Aunt’s house at lunch. This country boy wasn’t going to stay in a class where everyone knew how to write their name but him.

Guess what? My aunt took me back to school.

I believe the most important grade we teach is kindergarten. If we give our kids a good start, the next grades will come better.

If we give them a good background in elementary school, then junior high and high school will come better. If they do well in high school then they will be a success in college. Each grade prepares them for the next.

I notice that high school has no enhanced program but they do offer advanced classes like Chemistry, Trigonometry, Physics, and Calculus. If we had kept the enhanced program in the lower grades, maybe these classes would grow. Maybe we could add an advanced Chemistry, or an Organic Chemistry, or Biochemistry or may an Algebra III. We could have 75 percent of graduates going to college instead of 30 percent.

Maybe 90 percent of those starting college would finish instead of 20 percent.

Think about it school board.

Is our objective to win on the football field and hope that someday someone from Pecos makes it to the Pros or to send our young people to college?

Both of my children have been in the enhanced program. They are not smarter than their classmates - they are just more motivated.

Their mother and I see to that. When they make highest honors each six weeks, I am just as proud of that as I would be if they hit a homerun or scored a touchdown.

You see, it is what they achieve after high school that will determine their success in Life.

None of us - school board, teachers or parents, should be satisfied with just average. As a football coach will teach his players not to leave anything on the field during a game, we likewise should not want our children to leave anything in the classroom.

I think the school board zigged when it should have zagged. Sincerely,
To the Editor:

We are all on this planet and some of us are uniquely placed on the ship of Pecos. We can ALL care about each other and have the ship forge ahead OR we can seek what is INDIVIDUALLY best for us and it appears that most likely that will cause the ship to sink.

When our family moved here 12 years ago, I was thrilled that this community was able to educate ALL it’s children together. As one person wrote, we are not all alike and I’ve always thanked God for His variety in creation. “Variety is the spice of life!” If that variety helps us all to be better and not bitter or divisive, it becomes a beautiful bouquet.

Since two of my children, that were partially educated in Pecos, represent both those who are part of the ‘enhanced type’ and the ‘non-enhanced type,’ I speak from experience. My child, who is blessed with many unique gifts but dealt with some struggles academically, blossomed when placed with those we label the ‘enhanced type’ and struggled when placed with only those who struggled academically. I was not particularly happy to see the enhanced program start several years after we moved here.

Even the gifted and talented and advanced placement programs in some ways are questionable. But if we speak to provide for ALL students’ needs, I realize none should be left out. I prefer we push for small class seizes in the elementary level (15 students) and get help for teachers that have special needs students in their classes. Special education moved away from a pull out program when they realized this segregation is not beneficial on the side of trying to go back to that again? If we really care about a large group of our students we should work harder to go to what once existed here, from what I am told, and teach a lot of trades in high school.

I do not consider myself the enhanced type, but I am an educator, have been a parent of children in this district and will be a member of this community for as long as God has me here. I was raised being told our Creator says, “to whom much is given, much is required,” and I hope I have expected this of myself and sought to teach my children this way as a life style. I want to see and have prayed along with others for Pecos to move forward. Let’s pull together and look out for each other in ALL aspects of life. SYLVIA DANNELLY-MCCREE To the Editor:

We genuflect in the direction of the goal post, but we terminate the enhanced program?

Every time I think things could not get worse in education, I find out how little imagination I have.

Anyone who thinks (the emphasis in this sentence is on the verb thinks) that eliminating the enhanced program will “benefit all the kids” academically and socially either has not been in a classroom in a very long time or is contemptibly irresponsible. Excuse me, was I hallucinating or did I actually read that students are going to be “adequately served” through the GT pull-out program? Isn’t adequate defined as “passable, but not outstanding?”

I learned years ago not to expect much from administrators; the rule is, with very few exceptions, that the higher one looks, the emptier the head one finds. Mediocrity still reigns there, I see.

As for the school board, excluding Amy Miller, Lila Cerna and Steve Valenzuela, it is negligent in its duty to the community and the children. PRISS McNUTT

Reeves Co. Courthouse needs cleaning up

To The Editor:

For nearly 30 years, I served the State of Texas as a law enforcement officer. I had the opportunity to travel to many small towns in Texas and have always admired the pride a community takes in having a well kept court house square. For the past twelve years I have been a frequent visitor to Pecos and I now work in Pecos. I cannot help but notice the sad condition of the Reeves County Court House. The lawn is unkept, trash can be found under the shrubs and at every corner of the parking lot. The Christmas lights are still hanging on the shrubs and trees.

Approximately two weeks ago, I spoke with Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo. He listened to my complaint and told me that he has had a difficult time scheduling workers to keep up with the courthouse lawn. Shortly after our conversation, a worker appeared and proceeded to “mow” the east lawn with a weed eater. In the time I have worked in Pecos, approximately five months, I have never seen a lawn sprinkler in operation at the courthouse. Just to the south of the courthouse, a Reeves County Jail inmate can be seen washing, what I presume to be county vehicles, two or three times a week at the jail parking lot.

To my knowledge, few new businesses have come to Pecos in the past few years. Who knows, a drive along the courthouse may have scared some away.

This community is filled with good, hard working honest people who are loyal to Pecos and who deserve to be appreciated for their dedication to this community. The Reeves County leaders must pay this debt!

Texas Ranger, Retired
Fort Stockton, Texas

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