July 2021

Page 1


Texas Public Education Successes Abound As Schools Emerge From Challenging Year

PLUS: More Proud Products of Texas Public Schools

A Publication of the Texas Association of School Boards | Volume 39, Number 6 | July 2021 Q u ie ro
2 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org Learn more at tasb.org/smart-demo. The new student documentation software by Special Education Solutions will offer more userfriendly features with the same compliant approach. TASB SMART Solutions™


Mission Statement

The Texas Association of School Boards promotes educational excellence for Texas schoolchildren through advocacy, visionary leadership, and high-quality services to school districts.

TASB Officers 2020-21

Jim Rice, Fort Bend ISD, President

Ted Beard, Longview ISD, President-Elect

Debbie Gillespie, Frisco ISD, First Vice-President

Bob Covey, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Second Vice-President

Armando Rodriguez, Canutillo ISD, Secretary-Treasurer

Lee Lentz-Edwards, Kermit ISD, Immediate Past President

TASB Board of Directors 2020-21

Moises Alfaro, Mathis ISD, Region 2

Kay Alley, Crosbyton CISD, Region 17

Jesus Amaya, Los Fresnos CISD, Region 1A

Rose Avalos, Aldine ISD, Region 4H

Kamlesh Bhikha, ESC 2, ESC Representative

Steve Brown, Ector County ISD, Region 18

Kevin A. Carbo, Mesquite ISD, Region 10D


Dawn Champagne, Katy ISD, Region 4E

Justin Chapa, Arlington ISD, Region 11C

Thomas Darden, Cooper ISD, Region 8

Jason Dohnalik, Cameron ISD, Region 6

Karen Freeman, Northside ISD, Region 20B

Corinne French, Valley View ISD, Region 11D

Demetrio D. Garcia, Kenedy ISD, Region 3

Sylvia Sanchez Garza, South Texas ISD, Region 1B

Linda Gooch, Sunnyvale ISD, Region 10B

Mary Jane Hetrick, Dripping Springs ISD, Region 13B

Tony Hopkins, Friendswood ISD, Region 4C

Sandy Hughey, North East ISD, Region 20E

Mark Lukert, Wichita Falls ISD, Region 9

Raymond P. Meza, San Felipe Del Rio CISD, Region 15

Dan Micciche, Dallas ISD, Region 10C

Vernagene Mott, Pflugerville ISD, Region 13C

Nicholas Phillips, Nederland ISD, Region 5

Jacinto Ramos Jr., Fort Worth ISD, Region 11B

Tony Raymond, Sabine ISD, Region 7

Georgan Reitmeier, Klein ISD, Region 4A

Rolinda Schmidt, Kerrville ISD, Region 20A

Cindy Spanel, Highland Park ISD, Region 16

Becky St. John, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Region 11A

Anne Sung, Houston ISD, Region 4D

Yasmin Wagner, Austin ISD, Region 13A

Mildred Watkins, La Vega ISD, Region 12

Greg Welch, Clyde CISD, Region 14

Robert Westbrook, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, Region 20D

Texas Lone Star • Volume 39, Number 6 (July 2021)

Texas Association of School Boards

P.O. Box 400 • Austin, Texas • 78767-0400 • 512.467.0222 • 800.580.8272

James B. Crow • Executive Director

Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield • Associate Executive Director of Marketing and Communications

Roger White • Managing Editor

Theresa Gage-Dieringer, Assistant Editor

Shu-in Powell • Graphic Designer

Patrick Morris • Virginia Hernandez • Photographers

Jackie Johnson • Advertising Coordinator

360 Press Solutions • Printer

Texas Lone Star (ISSN 0749-9310) is published 10 times a year by the Texas Association of School Boards. Copyright © 2021 by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). All rights reserved. Reproduction, adaptation, distribution, and exhibition in whole or in

part are prohibited under penalty of law without the written license or permission of TASB. Copies of Texas Lone Star are mailed to trustees of TASB member school boards and their superintendents as part of their membership. Subscriptions are available to nonmembers for $36 (1 year), $69 (2 years), and $99 (3 years). Single copies are $5. Address changes should be sent to Michael Pennant, TASB, P.O. Box 400, Austin, Texas 78767-0400.

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5 Editor’s Footnote 7 President’s Message 8 The CTE Cord of Honor 11 Head of the Class 12 Beyond the Classroom 15 A Personal Connection 20 One for the Books 23 The Whole Story 24 Unique Partnerships 30 Director’s Chair 4 Gabriel Franklin, Duncanville ISD 10 Graciela Lopez, Laredo ISD 14 Pedram Fatehi, Pflugerville ISD 16 Loral O’Hara, Fort Bend ISD 21 Leslie Pickett Hutchins, Abilene ISD 22 Jonathan Jackson, Van ISD 25 Evan C. Walker, Garland ISD 26 Megan Rios, Cedar Hill ISD 28 Tyler Christian Campbell, Eanes ISD 29 Andrew Dismukes, Port Neches-Groves ISD

Gabriel Franklin Duncanville High School

Duncanville ISD

Gabriel Franklin discovered he wanted to pursue a medical career while still a student at Duncanville High School. “I knew I had an interest in science, but when I took my Anatomy and Physiology class, that really solidified it for me,” Franklin said.

Gabriel says everyone at Duncanville High—from his basketball coaches, band directors and teachers—encouraged him to pursue his dreams. “They’ve all been super supportive. Whenever I had an idea or a new goal, they would push me toward that.”

When asked about his favorite high school memories, Gabriel is especially enthusiastic: “Marching band, marching band—band, band, band!”

Franklin began playing percussion in the sixth grade and continued through his senior year. “All my best friends were in band with me,” he said. “Creating music was a lot of fun. It wasn’t even like I was in class; I was doing something I truly just loved.”

A 2008 Duncanville High graduate, Franklin attended the University of North Texas, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in both Spanish and biology. He also completed his Medical Spanish Certificate and became a Certified Pharmacy Technician. He went on to complete his master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and was then accepted to medical school at the University of Texas— Rio Grande Valley.

In his first year of residency at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, Franklin plans to finish as a board-certified practitioner in family medicine in 2023. He is considering pursuing a fellowship in community medicine with a focus on treatment of HIV. As a gay man, Franklin says he is especially passionate about providing medical services to the LGBTQ+ community.

“With my personal life and my education, I’ll be able to better treat and provide better medical services to those marginalized communities,” Franklin said. “I grew up never seeing any gay doctors or any Black gay doctors. I have been blessed with so many people in my life who guided me and helped me get to where I am—and it all started out with Duncanville.”

PUBLIC SCHOOLS 4 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo courtesy of Duncanville ISD




Perseverance, Passion, Pride Were Hallmarks of Challenging, Extraordinary 2020-21 Year

Everyone has heard of the fabled “Three R’s” of education: Readin’, Ritin’, and ’Rithmetic. Submitted for your consideration, given the extraordinary determination and commitment exemplified by the public education community throughout these difficult times, are the “Three P’s” of Texas public schools: Perseverance, Passion, and Pride.

In this special “Good News about Texas Public Schools” edition of Texas Lone Star magazine, you’ll find stories of innovation and accomplishment that will inspire and uplift.

There are success stories to share, such as Texas ranking tops in the nation in number of designated Early College High Schools, second in the nation in number of 2020 national Blue Ribbon Schools, and seventh nationally in high school graduation rates, according to the latest numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics.

There are game-changing stories, as well, including Killeen ISD’s Career Center giving more than 360 high school seniors the opportunity to earn industry-level certifications before graduation. And in Northwest ISD, students are earning professional certification as Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) specialists, thanks to a district partnership with the School of EMS. There are many more such thoughtful programs in districts across the state, opening doors for graduates to a wide variety of career paths.

And there are life-changing stories.

In Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, Santos Livas Elementary School nurse Jessica Ramos received a wonderfully personal tribute last year from children’s author Michael Anthony Steele. Steele presented his latest book to Ramos, noting that a key character in the book, part of the Tom Swift Inventors’ Academy series, was named for Ramos in gratitude for her saving his life—literally.

Ramos knew exactly what to do when Steele passed out and went into cardiac arrest just after his presentation to the students two years earlier. Ramos immediately called 911 and began CPR. Though the author’s heart stopped twice, he was revived by Ramos and the EMT team and is still going strong today.

“There really is no way I could ever truly repay Ramos and everyone else who saved me that day,” Steele said. “They saved my life, and I am here because of them.”

And in Alief ISD, aspiring young teacher Baohan Phi recently reconnected with her elementary school principal, Ting-Ling Sha, who has served as her mentor and guide—and

has helped encourage the next generation of educators. We are especially proud to revisit our “Proud Products of Texas Public Schools” recognition initiative in this issue, as well. Throughout this special edition of Texas Lone Star, you’ll read about graduates of Texas public schools who have truly given back through their career successes and exceptional achievements.

Perseverance. Passion. Pride. These are the traits that our public school leaders, trustees, administrators, teachers, staff, students, and parents have displayed this year that have sustained the education community through these challenging and unprecedented times.

Let’s look to the 2021-22 year with confidence and optimism. If the grit, enthusiasm, and compassion shown this year by our educators and students are any indication, we have much to look forward to.H


A very special note of gratitude is extended to the Texas School Public Relations Association (TSPRA) from TASB and the Texas Lone Star staff. TSPRA professionals from districts large and small shared their nominees for our Proud Products of Texas Public Schools for this edition of Texas Lone Star.

TSPRA is led by Executive Director Linsae A. Snider and 2021-22 President Veronica V. Sopher, chief communications officer for Fort Bend ISD.

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 5
Roger White is managing editor of Texas Lone Star

Special offerings for school board members

Thursday, September 23 ∙ Preconference*

• Governance for Improved Student Learning: EISO/SB 1566 Training

(Fulfills 3-hour biennial requirement)

• New School Board Member Launch

• Board Officers’ Academy: The “You Decide” Seminar

Friday, September 24

• Small School District Seminar 

• Post-Legislative Update

(Fulfills 1-hour biennial requirement)

September 24–26

Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center

Dallas • tasa.tasb.org


Reminder! Registration and housing open Thursday, July 22.

* Preregistration and additional fee required

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Take a Moment to Reflect on Our Collective Accomplishments in These Extraordinary Times

At last, it seems like the omnipresent fear the COVID-19 pandemic has cast upon our country is starting to disperse. With vaccines now widely available and people eager to make up for lost time, it may seem counterintuitive to turn back and reflect on the past year instead of running toward the light at the end of the tunnel.

While there is no need to dwell on the hardships of last year, there is much to reflect on. One cannot help but marvel at the incredible resiliency of our society. We have found we can push through the unthinkable and, in fact, strategize and develop ways to overcome adversity in record time.

In my district, Fort Bend ISD, we have faced many challenges in serving our students’ needs before. But no obstacle prior to COVID has affected us in such a simultaneously novel and ubiquitous manner. I personally cannot help but turn back and reflect on it all: transitioning from classroom face to face (F2F) to online instruction in the space of two weeks in March 2020 and then transitioning for the fall 2020 term to dual learning—F2F and online (by the same teacher).

This required getting our technology infrastructure up to speed, feeding hungry kids and their families, and conducting a year’s worth of Zoom board meetings, all of which have taken a toll.

We are all, as we deserve to be, excited to return to some degree of normalcy. But I do hope that we also can take a minute to reflect on our collective accomplishments of the past year as we rose to the challenges imposed by COVID. The pandemic has left an indelible mark on the lives of each one of us. But we should take pride in how we stepped up. We found ways to work around these and other challenges in our commitment to meeting the educational, physical, social, and emotional needs of our students and their families.

During the early days of COVID, when the impact of not returning to school anytime soon began to sink in, and with no clear direction of how to move forward from the state or federal government, we were able to overcome myriad challenges to continue our mission of educating our students. Accomplishments such as these simply highlight our unbelievable capacity to adapt to virtually any crisis.

In this special “Good News about Texas Public Schools” edition of Texas Lone Star, you will read about some remarkable examples of local leaders, educators, students, and parents going above and beyond with their determination to succeed

and willingness to innovate and endure during these challenging times.

Work to Be Done

While we have already overcome so much, we know there is still work to be done in getting our students back up to speed. Texas school districts have made plans to return to school face to face this fall and have planned and budgeted for supplemental efforts to mentor our students in support of their learning and to overcome the “COVID slide.”

Additionally, on May 31, the Legislature called sine die without voting on House Bill 1486—a bill that would have allowed us to be compensated for those students whose medical conditions still require online instruction. Now, all students will be F2F as we will not be compensated for online instruction by the state. A work-around will have to be found to accommodate these students.

On top of the need to get students back up to speed, we also must prepare to meet the mental health issues of our students and staff, who have suffered through the stresses and hardships imposed on us by the pandemic.

Recharge Your Batteries

Despite these challenges and those yet to come, we know the sun will rise again and the world will continue to turn. The past 16 months have provided us with confidence in the knowledge that there is little we cannot achieve when we put our minds to it. We will continue to do the best we can for our students, teachers, staff, parents, and community.

I hope you all have a chance to relax and recharge your emotional, mental, and physical batteries this summer and return to school this fall energized and prepared to continue our role as champions for our kids, our families, our communities, and our public education system.

God bless you all.H

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 7
Jim Rice, a Fort Bend ISD trustee, is 2020-21 president of TASB.
Jim Rice


More than 360 Killeen ISD Seniors Earn Industry-Level Certifications

Honoring a special group of soon-to-graduate seniors recently, Killeen ISD’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) leaders distributed hundreds of purple cords in recognition of achievement above and beyond the expected.

The Killeen ISD Career Center expected about 325 seniors to participate in the celebration recently at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center. In all, about 368 seniors are set to earn more than 500 industry-level certifications this year in a wide array of career-focused programs.

While the large majority of the honored students attend the Career Center, some completed their work on other high school campuses.

Stepping Beyond

“The most precious part of this to me,” said Chief College, Career, Military Readiness Officer Nancy Patterson, “is that

they have all met high school requirements to graduate and these have stepped beyond.”

Meeting the state’s academic requirements to graduate from high school while simultaneously earning workplace certification, the seniors, Patterson said, are “prepared and competitive” for their next steps.

Tristan Haynes, the student master of ceremonies for the event, earned a Radio Operators Certification and is set to graduate from Shoemaker High School.

“The Career Center is a big family,” he said prior to taking the stage. “Other than my family by blood, these are the people who looked after me. They made sure I was ready to graduate. It’s a big family.”

Catarina Barajas, Harker Heights High School senior, provided the invocation for the evening. She has completed the Education in Training sequence in preparation for becom-

8 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo by Todd Martin
Killeen ISD honored Career and Technical Education seniors with purple honor cords during a ceremony recently at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center. The district expected more than 368 seniors to earn more than 500 industry-level certifications by the end of the school year.


Ysleta ISD and Longview ISD were recognized recently for their commitment to equity as first-place winners in the 27th annual Magna Awards program. They are two of 15 winners—three grand-prize and 12 first-place winners— across the nation that received the prestigious honor.

Sponsored by the American School Board Journal, the flagship magazine of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), the Magna Awards honor districts nationwide for programs that advance equity and reduce barriers for underserved students. Winners were selected by an independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators.

Ysleta ISD won the Magna Award in the Over 20,000 Enrollment category for its powerful Academic Languages Program, which goes far and above the state bilingual instruction requirements for these students. The program has resulted in gains in English proficiency, cultural awareness, and the development of true bilingualism and biliteracy.

“In the Ysleta Independent School District, more than a quarter of our students come to our schools without knowing how to speak English, but we refuse to be defined by our demographics,” said Superintendent Xavier De La Torre. “It gives me great pride to see our hardworking staff, teachers, and students receive this much-deserved recognition—in spite of the extraordinary challenges we’ve confronted during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Longview ISD, winner of the Magna Award in the 5,000-to-20,000 Enrollment Category, has used the Montessori style for early childhood students for more than 15 years. In 2019, the board voted to move the one remaining traditional campus to Montessori, taking the program districtwide.

“Montessori at Longview ISD is different from the typical Montessori school because we are within a public school setting,” said Jacqueline Burnett, director of East Texas Montessori Prep Academy. “We serve a diverse population, both racially and economically disadvantaged, free of charge.”

The Magna Awards honor districts across the country for programs that break down barriers for underserved students. An independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators met in December 2020 and selected the winners from district submissions.

“[This] was a year like no other,” said NSBA Executive Director and CEO Anna Maria Chávez. “The 2021 Magna Award-winning districts represent the enormous efforts of school leaders during the pandemic to continue removing barriers to achievement for their underserved and vulnerable students.”

ing a teacher and is set to compete nationally in the Educators Rising organization.

“My time at the Career Center has shown me a lot. It’s confirmed that I want to teach,” she said. “It has pushed me to my limits and allowed me to do something great. I think it’s something everyone should experience. It pushes you.”

A Competitive Advantage

Career Center Principal Russell Porterfield expressed pride in the students’ accomplishments. He and Patterson also thanked CTE instructors and parents and other family members for their support to the high-achieving students.

“I just want them to know how proud I am of them,” Porterfield said prior to the ceremony. “They have earned industry credentials that prepare them to go into the work force.”

While some of the seniors will enter the work force right away, many will move on to college or other post-secondary

institutions or the military.

Wherever they go, Porterfield said, they go with a competitive advantage over their peers.

Bradley Watson, soon to graduate from Ellison High School, provided student reflection. He thanked his teachers in the veterinary assistance courses, as well as history and English teachers and other school staff members.

“I began high school as a competitive student, and that was enhanced at the Killeen Career Center,” Watson said. “I had to persist to get through. It was the people who impacted me the most. They helped me solidify my goals. I learned how to lead an organization and to strive beyond the average.”H

Todd Martin is a public information assistant for Killeen ISD Communications Services. Reprinted with permission from The Killeen Daily Herald. Copyright 2021 Killeen Daily Herald. All rights reserved.

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 9

Graciela Lopez Martin High School

Laredo ISD

Serving on the front line for Laredo ISD during one of the world’s most crucial times, district Health Services Coordinator Graciela Lopez has worked closely with various health agencies to bring COVID-19 immunizations to the Laredo ISD community.

Lopez, a proud 2002 graduate of Martin High School and the Vidal M. Trevino School of Communications and Fine Arts, attended Laredo ISD’s Sanchez/Ochoa Elementary and Christen Middle Schools.

With more than 10 years’ experience as a registered nurse, Lopez has worked in home health agencies, intensive care units, and in Laredo ISD as a school nurse. Her passion to help others and pursue a career in nursing was ultimately to better understand how to help and treat her own grandparents. During nursing school, she learned that her duty would not only be to administer medications and care for her patients but also to educate them and their families. She truly believes that one of the most important roles of a nurse is to provide education, prevention, and management to patients.

A participant in the Martin High band and softball team during her high school years, Lopez credits band directors Rosario De Leon, Francisco Sosa, and Juan Sosa and softball coaches Robert Young and Jesse Esparza for teaching her about the importance of hard work, dedication, and discipline. They instilled the mindset that nothing in life comes easy and that you have to put in the time to be successful, she said. Lopez also acknowledges Martin High physics teacher Alfredo Perez for challenging her mind and making learning an enjoyable experience.

Lopez’s self-driven attributes have propelled her to coordinate numerous vaccine clinics at the school district and partner with the City of Laredo, Army National Guard, and Gateway Community Health Clinic. She has also been an advocate to promote vaccines with students ages 12 years and older.

Under Lopez’s leadership, Laredo ISD school nurses have distributed 17,529 vaccines.

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS 10 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo courtesy of Laredo ISD


Texas Schools Nominated for National Blue Ribbon Honors Award Requirements

Twenty-six Texas public schools have been nominated for 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools recognition, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced in February.

“These 26 schools exemplify academic excellence, and I thank the teachers, staff, administrators, students, and parents for their outstanding work,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said. “We have a responsibility to ensure that every Texas student graduates with the knowledge to succeed in college or a career, which is why last session we passed transformative legislation to invest more money into our classrooms and give our teachers a pay raise. This session, we will build on these accomplishments to ensure that every Texas student receives a quality education regardless of their zip code.”

The nominated schools in Texas for 2021 are:

Exemplary High-Performing Schools

• Brownsville ISD: Pullam Elementary

• Dallas ISD: Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy; Trinidad Garza Early College High School

• El Paso ISD: Hawkins Elementary; Lamar Elementary

• Houston ISD: North Houston Early College High School

• Klondike ISD

• McAllen ISD: Achieve Early College High School

• San Antonio ISD: Young Women’s Leadership Academy

• Spearman ISD: Spearman Junior High

• South Texas ISD: South Texas ISD Preparatory Academy; South Texas ISD Rising Scholars Academy

• Ysleta ISD: Ramona Elementary

Exemplary Achievement-Gap-Closing Schools

• Atlanta ISD: Atlanta Elementary

• Brazosport ISD: AP Beutel Elementary

• Brownsville ISD: Gallegos Elementary

• Dickinson ISD: Calder Road Elementary

• El Paso ISD: Clendenin Elementary; Mitzi Bond Elementary

• Hidalgo ISD: Hidalgo Elementary

• Mesquite ISD: Porter Elementary

• Navarro ISD: Navarro Elementary

• Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD: Zeferino Farias Elementary

• Valley Mills ISD: Valley Mills Elementary

• Ysleta ISD: South Loop Elementary; Vista Hills Elementary

Initiated by the US Department of Education (USDE) in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools that have high student achievement and/or highlights where exemplary progress has been made in closing achievement gaps among student subpopulations. Since the program’s founding, 9,000 schools across the nation have received this prestigious designation.

In Texas, public schools are considered for nomination based on student performance on the first administration of the previous year’s STAAR assessments. Each nominated school has an economically disadvantaged population of 25 percent or more.

The nominated schools must now complete a rigorous application process conducted by the USDE. National award winners will be announced in September 2021. Schools that receive the designation are recognized at the Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony in Washington, DC.H


According to latest available figures, Texas public schools have the third-highest percentage increase in enrollment rates over the past decade.

Texas public schools have seen a significant increase in enrollment rates in the last 10 years; since 2007, enrollment has increased by 15.5 percent. The national average over this same time span is 2.8 percent.

Source: Enrollment in Texas Public School, 201920 (https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/ enroll_2019-20.pdf)

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 11


Northwest ISD Students Receive Firsthand Experiences in EMT Certification Program

Northwest ISD students participating in a didactic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program received some unique firsthand experiences, including delivering a baby, this past school year.

In the program, offered at all three comprehensive high schools throughout Northwest ISD, students have the opportunity to be work-ready and professionally certified, all before graduating from high school, according to a district news release.

The School of EMS, a leading provider of EMT training in Texas, partnered directly with Northwest ISD and the district’s Career and Technical Education department to create dual-credit enrollment programs for students looking to learn Emergency Medical Services (EMS) skills and advance toward a career immediately following high school.

Across the district in the 2020-21 school year, there were more than 30 students enrolled in the EMT skills training program.

‘Biggest Eye-Opener’

Copeland Taylor, a senior at Byron Nelson High School, already made plans to work as an EMT for AMR, a local medical response provider, after graduation this summer.

“This course has really been the biggest eye-opener,” Taylor said. “It has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever chosen to do. Holding someone’s life in your hands is an out-of-body experience I will never forget.”

By the time students finish their 168 hours of required course work—including 48 hours of ride-along shifts—and

pass the National Registry Test, they can go straight to work in the industry as an EMT specialist, according to Northwest ISD.

Bringing New Life

Most enterprising seniors are looking to get a leg up in the industry, like Byron Nelson High School senior Xavier Juarez-Jacinto, who also added an Occupational Safety and Health Administration

(OSHA) health sciences certification to his resume.

“I wanted to see if I had what it takes to make it at the entry level of medicine, and I wanted to see things that I would never get to see until later on,” Juarez-Jacinto said. “Some people never see some of the things I have seen until they are in their late 20s. This gives me a deliberate level of skill above others in this field.”

Over the course of the year-long certification program, students are required to learn certain basic EMT skills in the classroom, including the administration of critical medications, life-saving techniques, and simple first aid safety training.

Once a solid knowledge base is acquired, students participate in ride-alongs with local emergency medical providers, where students ride in ambulances for 12-hour shifts. During the ride-alongs, students are quickly thrown into real life-saving scenarios, including taking patient vitals, operating electrocardiogram equipment, loading patients into life-flight helicopters, and, for Juarez-Jacinto, bringing new life into the world.

“My most significant experience was when I assisted in the delivery of a child. I got to ‘catch’ the child and hold it for a myriad of time, checking its overall health and reactivity,”

12 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Northwest ISD students participating in the district’s EMT Certification Program work with emergency services professionals and trained instructors in and out of the classroom.
Photo courtesy of Northwest ISD

said Juarez-Jacinto. “It was an amazing experience.”

Learning by Doing

Trained in the classroom at Byron Nelson High School by instructor Greg Roark and School of EMS instructor

Donna Wright, students are given ample experiences to separate themselves from the crowd.

“These students are learning by doing,” Wright said. “They actually have an advantage because they are allowed to spend more time preparing themselves for a career straight out of high school.”H

Mark Smith is a reporter for the Cross Timbers Gazette. Reprinted with permission from the Cross Timbers Gazette. Copyright 2021 Cross Timbers Gazette. All rights reserved.


Texas public schools are performing better than the national average in every demographic category for graduation rates, according to recent numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Texas graduation rates rank seventh in the nation; by subpopulation, Texas is in the top four in several categories: second among Black students; second among Hispanic students; second among white students; second among economically disadvantaged students; and fourth among Asian students, according to the NCES.

Source: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/ dt19_219.46.asp


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Pedram Fatehi Pflugerville High School

Pflugerville ISD

Pedram Fatehi is a clinical associate professor of Medicine (Nephrology and Critical Care Medicine) at Stanford University School of Medicine. A 1992 Pflugerville High School graduate, Fatehi attended The University of Texas at Austin (bachelor’s degree in Plan II Honors) and The University of Texas Medical School. He completed a graduate degree in public health at Yale University.

Fatehi then trained in internal medicine and nephrology at Columbia University in New York and in critical care medicine at University of California—San Francisco. Since finishing training, he has maintained an active practice seeing patients in outpatient clinics, on inpatient wards, and in the intensive care unit at Stanford Hospital.

As the director of inpatient/critical care nephrology, Fatehi was a member of the Critical Care Task Force of the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic and surge in 2020. Aside from clinical work, Fatehi has also been active in teaching physiology and medicine for a broad range of learners. Among others, he is course director of the Pathophysiology Capstone course (presented at end of the second-year curriculum for pre-clinical medical students) and associate program director of the nephrology fellowship. He has been honored with myriad teaching awards for his work as an educator.

“Like my younger sister and many, many other students, I have been indebted to [Pflugerville ISD Trustee] Vernagene Mott for truly exceptional guidance since she first taught me algebra in high school,” Fatehi said. “It was people like her who inspired me to cultivate my own career as an educator.”

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS 14 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo courtesy of Pedram Fatehi


Principal, Former Student Reunite to Help Develop the Next Generation of Teachers

Alief ISD’s A.J. Martin Elementary School is tucked off of a busy stretch of Houston’s Bellaire Boulevard, just west of the city’s Chinatown. The community is decorated with distinctive Vietnamese street signs and lined with iconic mom-and-pop restaurants like Crawfish and Noodles, Pho Binh, and Lee’s Sandwiches.

Buddhist temples sit across the boulevard from CatholicVietnamese churches and next door to Vietnamese-run health clinics, stores, and agencies. “Little Saigon,” as it is known, represents one of the largest Vietnamese enclaves in the United States.

Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese people who sided with the South Vietnamese government fled the war-torn country. Texas’ warm climate, expanding economy, and proximity to the ocean made the state attractive to many Vietnamese refugees seeking asylum and a chance at the American Dream.

Many of these early Vietnamese immigrants joined the fishing and shrimping industry along the Gulf Coast. According to census data, by 2000, Harris County reached a population of 55,489 Vietnamese people—making up 28.3 percent of the total Asian population in the greater Houston area. Today, “Little Saigon” is a vibrant neighborhood that takes pride in diversity and celebrating Vietnamese customs and traditions, while also honoring Chinese, Korean, Pakistani, and other neighbors.

A Student’s Memories

For Baohan Phi, a sophomore at the University of Houston, this is home. Baohan remembers growing up in this neighborhood and being part of Alief ISD. “It was a neighborhood that really shaped who I am today.”

(See Connection, page 17.)

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 15
Photo courtesy of Raise Your Hand Texas Ting-Ling Sha (left), principal of Alief ISD’s Martin Elementary School, serves as a mentor to former Martin Elementary student Baohan Phi, a University of Houston student and aspiring teacher.

Loral O’Hara Clements High School

Fort Bend ISD

Loral O’Hara, selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, completed the initial astronaut candidate training and is eligible for mission assignment.

O’Hara earned a bachelor of science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Kansas and a master of science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Purdue University. Prior to joining NASA, she focused on the engineering and operations of deepocean research scientific submersibles and robots.

At the time of her selection to NASA, O’Hara was a research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, where she spent eight years working on the engineering and operations of underwater vehicles such as the human-occupied research submersible Alvin and the remotely operated vehicle Jason. Her experience includes mechanical design and analysis, systems engineering, manned submersible testing and certification, and vehicle operations. She participated in 11 scientific research cruises aboard research vessels as a mechanical technician and data processor. From 2006 to 2007, she worked for Rocketplane in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, as a project engineer on the development of a suborbital space vehicle.

O’Hara worked as an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2003, participated in the NASA Academy at Goddard Space Flight Center in 2004, and participated in the NASA KC-135 Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program in 2005. She is currently serving as the Astronaut Office’s Director of Operations in Russia. She earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in 2008.

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS 16 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo courtesy of NASA

While Baohan fondly remembers her time at Martin Elementary, she also remembers hearing negative perceptions from those not intimately familiar with the school. People judged her school based on the fact that it is a Title I campus. When Baohan was in fourth grade, the student population was 84 percent economically disadvantaged and 74 percent limited English proficiency.

While in an underserved community, Baohan found the outside judgments and biases against her school to be false. She experienced a warm, supportive community of teachers and students. “The teachers along the way gave me the inspiration to be where I am today.”

And now she is studying to become a teacher herself. Baohan is an education major at the University of Houston with dreams of teaching high school math.

Baohan’s two biggest inspirations are her mother, Soan Phi, who taught elementary and middle school Vietnamese for 10 years in Vietnam before immigrating to America, and Andrea Lotsu, a career and technical education teacher who became her high school mentor.

At Alief ISD’s Taylor High School, Baohan had the opportunity to participate in a “grow your own” education and training program. This innovative program gives students experience with teaching over the course of four years, from learning introductory principles of education to a two-year, field-based instructional practice as an intern teacher in the district.

Through this experience, Baohan developed lesson plans, managed a classroom, and built long-lasting relationships with her students.

“I got to see what teaching was, and I got to do hands-on activities,” Baohan said. She credits this unique high school practicum opportunity and the supportive mentorship she received from Lotsu with discovering her passion for teaching.

Baohan said she believes the most impactful way she can give back to her community is by returning as an Alief alumni educator. By understanding students on a deeper level, she hopes to shape the future generation, one student at a time.

An Unexpected Reunion

During her first year at the University of Houston, Baohan applied for and received a Charles Butt Scholarship for Aspiring Teachers. These scholarships are granted at universities committed to high-quality clinical practice and awarded to promising teacher candidates interested in teaching in majority-economically disadvantaged schools or in a shortage subject area in Texas public schools.

When Baohan interviewed for the scholarship in the spring 2018, she noticed a familiar face during the interview day—her elementary school principal, Ting-Ling Sha.

“I was at the University of Houston doing scholarship interviews and this really cute, young, energetic girl runs up to me and says, ‘Hi, Dr. Sha. Do you remember me?’” Sha recalled. “‘I was at Martin when you were a first-year principal and I was in fourth grade!’ I saw the face and had that dawning moment when I looked at a little girl in this adult woman standing in front me.”

Sha is a second-generation Chinese American, who followed in the footsteps of her family in pursuing a career in education. She is a product of Alief ISD herself and has been serving in the district for 25 years.

“I grew up in Alief. We are Alief proud,” Sha said, noting that there is something special about growing up in the neighborhood and coming back and contributing to the community.

A Love of Mentorng

As a member of the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation alumni network, a group of school leaders who have participated in one or more of the foundation’s initiatives—Sha volunteers as a panelist for selecting new cohorts of Charles Butt Scholars and as a formal mentor to current scholars.

As a benefit of the scholarship, all scholars have the opportunity to be paired with a mentor who is an experienced educator. After their chance encounter and reunion on the interview day, Baohan and Sha stayed in touch. Then Baohan reached out to see if Sha would be her mentor.

“I love mentoring. I love coaching. I think that’s something that I thrive on,” Sha said about the connection.

Prior to COVID-19, Baohan met Sha for monthly checkins at Martin Elementary and was thrilled to reconnect with her childhood campus. “I haven't been back in so long. Just to be able to walk the same hallways and even meet some of the teachers that were there when I was a student, it was just extremely bittersweet.”

During their check-ins, the two work together on goal setting, problem solving, or resume building. They talk about their families, campus life, what it’s like to navigate the pandemic as a college student and as an educator. Sha has even created opportunities for Baohan to observe classes over Zoom to see what teaching looks like during the pandemic.

“She inspired me,” Baohan said. “I also have aspirations to become a principal like her one day. ...These mentors, they mean everything to me, especially the fact that they’re women and that they’re teaching here in Alief. Dr. Sha was a product of Alief, as well. It’s cool to see that, and they’ve really guided me along the way, making sure I’m on the right track and making sure I pursue my dreams.”

Representation’s Impact

Research consistently shows that having teachers of color matters and leads to positive outcomes for students of color. A report from the Learning Policy Institute titled Diversifying the Teaching Profession through High-Retention Pathways stated that “teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, including improved reading and math test scores, improved graduation rates, and increases in aspirations to attend college.”

Additionally, the report showed that teachers of color benefit from colleagues who share their identity and lived experiences: “Greater diversity of teachers may mitigate feelings of isolation, frustration, and fatigue that can contribute to individual teachers of color leaving the profession when they feel they are alone.”

“We always say that educators should represent the population of the students and community they serve,” Sha said,

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Connection (from page 15)

reflecting on the importance of representation. “In a large, diverse, urban city like Houston, it’s imperative for children to see that minorities can become leaders and have a positive impact on the community. African American and Hispanic women are becoming more prevalent in educational leadership positions, but Asian Americans are slower to rise.”

The growth in representation and retention of Asian teachers is important to the social and emotional development and learning of students in this population. According to Texas Academic Performance Report data, when Baohan was in fourth grade, approximately 13 percent of students at Martin Elementary identified as Asian, while less than 3 percent of teachers were Asian. Over the last 10 years, teacher and student demographics have become more closely aligned. In the 2018-19 school year, approximately 9 percent of students and 11 percent of teachers at Martin Elementary identified as Asian.

Some of this shift is likely thanks to the strength of leaders like Sha who have paved the way for other Asian teachers and school leaders to follow in their footsteps.

Sha currently mentors four Charles Butt Scholars, three of whom are Asian American women. She reflects proudly on this powerful opportunity to nurture and support a generation of aspiring teachers who share her cultural ties and experiences.

“I’m proud that I have three strong Asian American women who are my mentees,” Sha said. “They actually sought me out, partly because they were interested in elementary school or in potential job opportunities in Alief, but also as I am an Asian American leader.”

Sha said she loves her personal connection to her mentees, as well as the impact mentorship has on the future teacher work force. “We want the next generation of teachers to be strong and successful and then stick with it,” she said. “It was really nice to be asked to be a mentor to these fantastic women who want to continue to grow in their journey to be a teacher.”

Studies show that new teachers are most likely to leave the teaching profession in the first two years. Research also shows that strong clinical-based preparation programs, such as the early experience Baohan had in high school and her current experience at the University of Houston, lead to higher retention rates.

Sha encourages any campus or district leader to seek opportunities to mentor teachers in training and help develop the next generation of education leaders.H

Anne Bannister is director of Narrative for Raise Your Hand Texas.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced in May four additional public school systems have been approved for a Local Designation System as part of the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA). This announcement paves the way for 4,616 highly effective Texas educators to be recognized and additionally compensated for their excellent work in the classroom.

Approximately $43 million will be generated and paid out to more than 4,600 designated teachers. This year, Texas also has 108 National Board teachers who earned this special designation; these teachers hold a nationwide certification that focuses on professional development.

Donna ISD, San Antonio ISD, School of Science and Technology (San Antonio), and School of Science and Technology Discovery (Leon Valley) join 26 school systems that were approved to become Local Designation Systems last year. To gain approval, these four new school systems developed a robust plan for evaluating their teachers.

“We stand by our teachers whose talents have diversified and grown during the pandemic, and whose classroom leadership will help students recover from any learning loss they encounter,” said San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez. “This is a pivotal time to make sweeping change to the teaching profession, and we are so appreciative that the state of Texas is allowing us to be part of this moment.”

Donna ISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez said, “As a small, high-poverty district, this is exciting news because TIA will enable us to reward, retain, and recruit highly effective teachers to our district.”

For more information on the TIA program and a complete list of school systems that have either been approved or are in the process of being approved, visit tiatexas.org.

18 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org


Through specialized schools; Head Start early childhood education; afterschool programs; school-based therapy services; and a scholastic art and writing awards program, HCDE makes a BIG impact on Harris County communities.


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Author Thanks School Nurse in ‘Storied’ Way for Saving His Life During a Campus Visit

Author Michael Anthony Steele used to suffer from tachycardia, meaning at random times, his heart rate would spike to a speed at least twice faster than normal—and his greatest fear was that it would happen in the middle of presenting to kids.

Steele, who grew up in Brownsville, writes children’s books for a living and travels to elementary schools across the country to talk to young students about his job. One day in October 2018 while he was presenting at Santos Livas Elementary in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, Steele’s worst fear came true.

He felt the lightheadedness that usually comes with attacks, but he convinced himself it was just an anxiety attack. After his first presentation of the day, Steele went to visit Jessica Ramos, the school’s nurse.

He told her he just needed to lay down and relax, but Ramos knew it was more than an anxiety attack. She dialed 911; while Ramos was on the phone with an operator, Steele passed out.

‘Here Because of Them’

Steele didn’t have a pulse, so Ramos began to perform CPR. She called in the district’s emergency response team, who had to use paddles to electrically shock Steele’s heart to get it beating again.

His heart stopped twice, and the team saved him both times.

“There really is no way I could ever truly repay Ramos and everyone else who saved me that day,” Steele said. “They saved my life, and I am here because of them.”

‘I Had a Job to Do’

As a token of his gratitude, Steele showed his appreciation for Ramos in the way he knows best: writing about her.

In his latest book for the series Tom Swift Inventors’ Academy: The Spybot Invasion, Steele includes a nurse in the storyline under Ramos’ name. The book came out last summer.

The book follows the adventures of Tom Swift, who has a passion for inventing machines, and Jessica teaches him how to make sure his creations are safe for people. This motivates Tom to invent tools that save lives— something Ramos knows about personally.

Ramos graduated from South Texas College’s nursing program in 2004 as a registered nurse, and after working at Edinburg Regional’s emergency room as a charge nurse for six years, she joined Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD as a school nurse in 2013.

She said saving Ramos that day brought her back to the emergency room.

“I had a job to do, and I did it—and it feels great,” she

20 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Jessica Ramos, school nurse for Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD’s Santos Livas Elementary, now stays in contact with children’s author Michael Anthony Steele.
Photo courtesy of The Monitor

Leslie Pickett Hutchins Cooper High School

Abilene ISD

After completing medical school at the University of Texas— Southwestern and her residency at Virginia Commonwealth University, Cooper High alum Leslie Pickett Hutchins returned home to Abilene and now works as a neurosurgeon at Hendrick Medical Center. She is certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery and specializes in brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerve disease.

Hutchins has co-authored key articles within her field of neurology, including Heterotopic Ossification of the Calvarium Following Bilateral Craniectomies in Traumatic Brain Injury and Tranexamic Acid for Recurring Subdural Hematomas Following Surgical Evacuation: A Clinical Case Series.

The Abilene ISD community made a significant impact on Hutchins's life. D.R. Jonas, her senior biology and anatomy teacher, helped her prepare for the next steps in her pursuit of becoming a neurosurgeon. The lessons she learned in his classroom helped her throughout her medical school endeavors.

Hutchins’s father, Hubert Pickett, also served as a longtime principal and administrator for Abilene ISD. Hutchins attributes her ability to lead her diverse team of nurses and hospital administrators to her father’s determination and success in working with teachers, coaches, and students in Abilene ISD.

“I love Abilene ISD,” Hutchins said. “AISD influenced me to pursue the field of medicine. It prepared me for both my undergraduate and graduate studies, as well as my current profession being a physician here in Abilene.”

said. “But that’s not really important. What’s important is that Anthony is still around to keep teaching children what is right and wrong. He does a phenomenal job of teaching our young kids through his books and changing children’s lives that way. He’s touched more people than I have.”

On a Mission

Ramos and Steele have stayed in touch ever since, and she keeps a small library of his books in her office.

“I really think all kids should read his books,” Ramos said. “Anthony is quite the author and teaches great messages in his books. He’s doing something great for our kids. This guy is on a mission, and I am just glad that I was put in a place to help him with that.”H

A. Colleen DeGuzman is a former reporter for The Monitor.

Reprinted with permission from The Monitor. Copyright 2021, MyRGVNews. All rights reserved.

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 21
Photo courtesy of Abilene ISD

Jonathan Jackson Van High School


Following high school graduation, Jonathan Jackson pursued his dream at Rice University, where he majored in cognitive neuroscience and graduated cum laude in 2007. From there, he continued on to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis, where he focused on the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and received a doctoral degree in psychological and brain sciences in 2014.

Jackson completed two postdoctoral fellowships and then joined the faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School in the Neurology Department in 2016, where he currently resides as an assistant professor.

“It was here that I learned our cutting-edge treatments for Alzheimer’s disease weren’t being made available to everyone,” Jackson said. “Because so many groups weren’t represented in creating new medicines, not only did that mean that these medicines were less available to underserved populations, it meant that the medicines were less likely to work on these populations in the first place. By ‘underserved,’ I mean racial and ethnic minorities, in addition to women, people without a college degree, and folks who live outside of major cities, too.

“So I started the CARE Research Center at MGH and Harvard to try and fix some of these issues,” he added. “I still work on Alzheimer’s disease, but I also work on studies related to chronic pain, diabetes, cancer, precision medicine, and yes, COVID-19, too. New medicines should work for everyone, and I’ve dedicated my life to making sure that happens.”

Jackson noted that his time at Van ISD helped him hone crucial public speaking and communications skills that he still uses every day. “During junior year, Mr. Brown’s AP English class completely changed the way I write, pushing me beyond the same old five-paragraph essay and making compelling, creative points. I gained a deep appreciation of math from my trigonometry and calculus courses, which have given me a leg up in managing advanced biostatistics. And of course, extracurriculars like cross-examination debate and drama helped me see the world through the eyes of people who may not have a voice. It is primarily championing this perspective that has led me to the path I follow now.”

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS 22 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Jackson


Learn More on How You Can Share Good News And Stand Up for Your Texas Public Schools

Often, the news about public schools and education in Texas is incomplete or lacks context. Find out what schools are doing well and where they need more support. Learn how to speak out for Texas public schools.

Get Involved

The Texans for Strong Public Schools site (texansforstrongpublicschools.org/home.aspx) informs and organizes advocates across the state to engage in the legislative process and to ensure the needs of 5.4 million Texas schoolchildren are heard by lawmakers.

Take action. Send a letter to your state lawmakers, asking them to support public schools. For more information, visit texansforstrongpublicschools.org/issues/funding-publicschools.aspx

Stay informed. Sign up for the Texans for Strong Public Schools mailing list to receive updates on legislation impacting public education. Visit texansforstrongpublicschools.org/ subscribe.aspx

Get alerts. Text SCHOOLS to 313131 to receive action alerts about opportunities to speak up for public schools.

My Texas Public School

Informed parents are involved parents. The My Texas Public School site (mytexaspublicschool.org/home.aspx/) is a resource-rich website that has information for the guardians of students new to Texas schools. Topics addressed on this site include:

• Preparing and enrolling your child

• Understanding the school system

• Learning about academics and accountability

• Determining how to get involved

More Tools and Resources

These tools and resources will help you raise your voice in support of public schools:

I <3 Public Schools. Show the world how much public schools mean to you and your family. You can download the I <3 Public Schools logo at https://www.tasb.org/about-tasb/ supporting-texas-public-schools/images/iheartpublicschools.jpg to place on your website or use on social media. Social media posts. Some sample posts you can use for your district include:

• I love Texas public schools because every kid deserves the same great education. #txed

• Our communities are stronger when we’re all invested in our kids’ education. That’s why I love Texas public schools! #txed

• I’m a Proud Product of Texas Public Schools. They made me who I am today! #txed

• I love my Texas public school because… [share your story] #txed

I Care. I Vote.

Public schools are supported by a healthy civic culture, and voting is an important part of that culture. Show your support and advocacy by downloading the I Care. I Vote. logo at tasb.org/about-tasb/supporting-texas-public-schools/ images/icareivote_b.jpg to place on your website or to use on social media.

Some sample social media posts include:

• Texas is better when we all have a say in our future — that’s why I’m voting in this election and in every election. #IcareIvote

• Every election is an opportunity to stand up for the things we believe in. I care and I vote — do you?


• Most of the 5.4 million schoolchildren in Texas can’t vote, but I can. #IcareIvote

• Our votes can have the biggest impact in our state and local elections. I care, and I vote in every election. Do you? #IcareIvote

Stand Up for Texas Public Schools

Use your public profile to highlight the great work done by Texas public schools. You can download the Stand Up logo at tasb.org/about-tasb/supporting-texas-public-schools/ images/standupftps.jpg to place on your website or to use on social media.

Some sample social media posts include:

• Public schools educate 90 percent of school-aged children in our state. Let’s stand up for public schools as they prepare the next generation to lead Texas! #txed

• When compared with other states, Texas’ graduation rate is among the top five in the nation. Stand up for Texas public schools! #txed

• Texas public schools are there for every student. Let’s stand up for our schools by asking lawmakers to support public education during the Texas legislative session. #txedH

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 23


Premont ISD Featured in Book for Efforts to Change Rural Education

Premont ISD was recently featured in a new book titled The Middle of Somewhere, about education in rural America. The book was accepted for publication by the Harvard Education Press—and in the world of scholars and national educators, that’s a big deal.

The book focuses on an in-depth study on rural education and features a chapter on Premont ISD and the Rural Schools Innovation Zone (RSIZ) program.

School District Turnaround

Author and professor Gerri M. Maxwell, a rural demographics educator and social justice scholar, has been at the forefront of social change in rural South Texas; she helped assist in the early partnership of Premont ISD and Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) in 2011 when the rural district was on the verge of closing its doors.

The potential school closure was due to poor academic scores, poor attendance, and aging facilities, leaving the state with no other choice until TAMUK System Chancellor John Sharp announced that the university would partner with the small school district in a historic effort to collaborate to address concerns from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Since that time, the district has worked on efforts to implement a school turnaround model facilitated through an

unprecedented university-public school partnership, Maxwell stated.

“It is exciting to have Premont ISD included in a book that will contribute to helping improve the landscape of rural education in the United States,” Maxwell said. “Education in rural communities has been marginalized for many, many years, and there seems to be a shift on perception where, now, rural education is at the forefront. The truth is many of these rural communities have very bright children with strong contributions to society and deserve the same education opportunities as urban communities.”

In 2019, Premont ISD expanded the partnership to include TAMUK, Del Mar College, and Coastal Bend College, along with the rural public school districts in Brooks County and Freer ISD to share resources in the innovative RSIZ program.

Sharing of Services

The program allows sharing of educational services in partnership with founding member districts participating in the RSIZ, with Ed Point and Empower Schools providing technical assistance throughout the zone’s formation.

(See Partnerships, page 27.)

24 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
The mission of Premont ISD and the Rural Schools Innovation Zone program is to expand opportunities for students in the region to attain meaningful and valuable career opportunities.
Photo courtesy of Premont ISD

Evan C. Walker Lakeview High School Garland


Evan C. Walker, majoring in Operations and Research at the US Military Academy, is the first Garland ISD student to earn the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

“I knew I wanted to help people and travel the world, and I wasn’t really sure what type of job I could do that in but the military,” Walker said. “They go around and help people, and I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll join the military.’”

Walker’s mother, a Garland ISD teacher, admits she pushed her daughter to always do her best, urging Walker and her brother to do schoolwork during the summer. “Growing up, they were like ‘Why are we doing work in the summer?’ But those things pay off. She’s been maintaining a high GPA, those stars on her collar, that’s evidence that she is. It means academic excellence. She’s thriving.”

Walker joins one of the most diverse classes in the history of the Rhodes Scholarship, something as an African American woman she doesn’t take lightly. “Not seeing many people in leadership positions who look like me makes you question if I’m capable of doing it—are your skills enough—and of course they are. But seeing it is really important,” Walker said.

Walker, a regimental commander, served as the chief liaison between survivors of sexual harassment/assault and on-campus medical professionals and is president of an initiative to mentor minority cadets. She is also captain of the nationally ranked and gender-integrated Army Boxing Team and last year placed second nationally in her weight class.

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 25
Photo courtesy of Evan C. Walker

Megan Rios Cedar Hill High School

Cedar Hill ISD

When Megan Rios, a 2007 graduate of Cedar Hill High School, thought about becoming a teacher, she had positive memories of her educators at the forefront of her mind.

“I had some amazing teachers throughout the years, but the ones who made the biggest impact on me were the ones I had in elementary and intermediate school: Mrs. Ruiz, Mrs. Lichtenwalter, Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Burns, Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Phillips, and Mrs. Franklin,” Rios said. “I always knew I wanted a career helping kids, but I didn’t realize I wanted to be a teacher until I did student teaching. As soon as I stepped in a classroom, I knew it was where I was meant to be.”

Rios was selected as the 2020-21 Plummer Elementary Teacher of the Year. “Mrs. Rios always perseveres through every challenge,” Plummer Elementary School Principal John Edmun said. “She puts scholars first. Her deep roots in Cedar Hill make her passion for teaching even greater. She is truly a beacon for the Plummer family.”

Rios, in her eighth year as a kindergarten teacher at Plummer, began her career as an instructional aide. She said it’s an honor to receive the campus Teacher of the Year award. “I work with the best teachers, and I look up to so many of them,” Rios said. “I came to Plummer fresh out of college, and my Plummer family helped me grow, and continue to grow, into the teacher I am today. I am so thankful that I have gotten to learn from such incredible people.”

Rios attended the district’s Highlands Elementary, Belt Line Intermediate, and Permenter Middle School before graduating from Cedar Hill High School. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University-Commerce.

“I love teaching where I was taught,” Rios said. “Cedar Hill ISD is truly my home, and I am proud to work in a district that cares about kids and values their teachers.”

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS 26 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo courtesy of Cedar Hill ISD


Texas is home to 182 designated Early College High Schools, including plans to add 12 campuses in the most recent school year—a number that leads the nation, according to Texas Education Agency (TEA) statistics. An estimated 65,000 students take advantage of these initiatives in Texas public schools.

Early College High Schools are open-enrollment high schools that allow students who may not otherwise attend college an opportunity to receive both a high school diploma and either an associate’s degree or at least 60 credit hours toward a baccalaureate degree.

According to TEA, Early College High Schools:

• Enroll historically under-served students, targeting at-risk and economically disadvantaged

• Provide dual credit at no cost to students

• Offer rigorous instruction and accelerated courses

• Provide academic and social support services to help students succeed

• Provide students with highly personalized attention

• Increase college readiness

• Partner with Texas institutions of higher education to reduce barriers to college access

For more information, visit https://tea.texas.gov/academics/college-career-and-military-prep/early-college-high-school-echs


In Texas, a nation-leading 307 public schools earned a College Success Award in 2020 based on their success in preparing students for college and ultimately career. The College Success Awards recognize public high schools that stand out in getting students enrolled in and staying with college.

For more information, visit greatschools.org/texas/ college-success-award/.

Partnerships (from page 24)

The RSIZ program was a first-of-its-kind initiative, aimed at improving educational opportunities for rural students in South Texas. The mission of Premont ISD and the RSIZ is to expand opportunities for students in the region to attain meaningful and valuable career opportunities, knowing that preparing students for the 21st-century job market is critical to their success, Maxwell explained.

According to TEA, Premont ISD and the RSIZ represent emerging proof of what is possible when districts, higher education, and technical assistance partners come together to multiply options available to students while increasing job creation and entrepreneurship across the region at the same time.

“Regional collaboratives such as the RSIZ offer rural communities an opportunity to access additional resources (including both public- and private-sector investments), advance systems innovation, and sustain student academic outcomes,” said Premont ISD Superintendent Steve VanMatre. “Given the capacity constraints of rural districts generally, the success of Premont ISD and the RSIZ has been amazing.”

Creating a Change

VanMatre was named Premont ISD superintendent in 2017, when district enrollment was about 450 students. The district now has more than 700 students.

From the outset, VanMatre was determined to make Premont ISD a flagship district, Maxwell wrote. Premont ISD students have benefited, and the district has continued to build capacity sustained by TEA grant funding and other grant initiatives—ultimately resulting in the RSIZ initiative. Currently, more than $10 million in funding has been generated for RSIZ programs.

“Premont ISD has spent funding wisely, and the educators who are in the classrooms providing the day-in and day-out support are the ones who need to be commended for a job well done,” Maxwell said. “The hope is to share this story with other districts and create a change with long-reaching results for other rural communities in the nation.”H

texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 27
Robin Bradshaw is a reporter for the Alice Echo News. Reprinted with permission from the Alice Echo News. Copyright 2021 Alice Echo News. All rights reserved.

Tyler Christian Campbell Westlake High School

Eanes ISD

Born in Houston in 1986 to Earl and Reuna Campbell (yes, that Earl Campbell), Tyler Campbell recalls life-changing words learned from his father at an early age: “A Campbell Never Quits.”

When confronted with life’s obstacles, Campbell found those words provided strength and encouragement. He received a football scholarship to San Diego State University in 2005. He was a consistent scholar athlete and contributed mightily on the gridiron for the Aztecs.

During his junior year, when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Campbell became the first individual to play Division 1 college football with the disease. After graduating in 2009, Campbell moved back to Austin, where he has worked since as an entrepreneur and professional speaker.

Campbell travels the country delivering empowering and inspiring messages of self-worth. Popularizing the term “TC Speaks,” Campbell hosts the radio show “Real Lyfe, Reel Talk” weekly in Austin. The inspirational show became so popular that The University of Texas’s Moody College of Communications hired him on as a consultant to work with students on their semester podcast projects. Campbell, his wife, Shana, and their three children live in Central Texas.

“Westlake High School was deeply competitive academically. It truly prepared me for college and allowed me to be a consistent scholar athlete,” Campbell said. “My coaches in college would ask me how I did it. My reply was that my high school prepared me for the challenges college courses would present.”

Campbell credited his favorite Eanes ISD teacher Lorie Schoch with showing him the value of sentence structure in sixth grade at Hill Country Middle School. “It was her foundation that made me fall in love with grammar,” Campbell said. “Mrs. Schoch showed me that writing could set me free and take me anywhere I wanted to go. I am still reminded of her lessons as a public speaker today.”

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS 28 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
Photo courtesy of Tyler Christian Campbell

Andrew Dismukes

Port Neches-Groves High School

Port Neches-Groves ISD

A 2013 graduate of Port Neches-Groves High School, Andrew Dismukes has been a writer for the “Saturday Night Live” (“SNL”) television show for the past three years.

“I’m not surprised,” former broadcast journalism class teacher Lisa (Mitchell) Johnson said. “When I met Andrew, it was, how do you say, he has that innate humor in him. He’s just got it.”

Johnson’s class was responsible for “PNG Prime Time,” an in-house Friday morning broadcast in which class members would anchor the announcements, work events, edit highlights, and more.

It was during his senior year that Dismukes convinced his teacher to allow him and others to do some fun breaks from the normal announcements, and anybody in the building at the time will remember “Advice from Andrew,” Johnson said.

The tongue-in-cheek skit centered around “Dear Abby”-like letters taken from a box in the cafeteria. The box and letters were part of the skit.

“SNL” made the announcement in 2020 that Dismukes, along with Lauren Holt and Punkie Johnson, were the show’s newest cast members.

In 2020, Dismukes, a University of Texas graduate, starred in the film Call Me Brother, a coming-of-age romantic comedy.

PROUD PRODUCTS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS texaslonestaronline.org | July 2021 | Texas Lone Star 29
Photo courtesy of Andrew Dismukes


Local Education Leaders’ Determination Led Texas Schools through Unparalleled Obstacles

In my 25+ years as executive director of TASB, seldom have I witnessed such extraordinary examples of determination, innovative thinking, sacrifice, and indefatigable optimism as has been shown by the Texas public education community during these unprecedented times.

Schools across the state continue maneuvering resolutely through the pandemic, guided by thoughtful local leaders making difficult decisions and fortified by educators, students, and parents achieving amid ever-changing instructional milieus and social and economic upheaval.

On the cover of this special “Good News about Texas Public Schools” edition of Texas Lone Star are these words: Perseverance. Passion. Pride. Indeed, these words fittingly describe the good news about our public schools—for through the perseverance of local boards of trustees and superintendents, the passion of classroom educators determined not to let any student fall through the cracks, and the pride of students and parents willing to endure perhaps the most difficult school year in recent memory, success stories such as the ones in these pages are possible.

Success Stories Abound

The stories and statistics of success in this edition are just a few of the thousands of examples of our schools overcoming the incredible hurdles this scourge has presented. Every day, whether at home on a computer or in the classroom, when a student gets out of bed and makes the decision to learn, that means success.

Every day, when a teacher puts in the extra hours to facilitate effective teaching in an environment that can be termed challenging at best, that means success. And every day, when a superintendent and school board members—the local Team of Eight—make the tough decisions to keep a district up and running in the face of almost overwhelming logistic and economic hardship, that means success.

It’s not just about numbers, or test scores, or rankings in a national poll. It’s about keeping the love of learning—the light bulb in a child’s mind—brightly burning despite the barriers.

More Challenges Await

Although the pandemic has apparently eased and life is beginning to return to a sense of normalcy, the days ahead will continue to pose great challenge. Districts large and small

must be prepared to deal with myriad consequences that may result from these months of isolation and terrific change, including possible student and staff mental health issues and getting students up to speed who may have suffered what some are calling “the COVID slide.”

Additionally, schools that may have opted to continue relying on virtual instruction will likely need special waivers from Education Commissioner Mike Morath, as a bill introduced in the 87th Legislature that would have funded such efforts died on the eve of adjournment.

A Job Well Done

Whatever the challenges, however, I’m confident that Texas public schools will find a way to endure, achieve, and ultimately succeed—as they have always done.

In this, my final Texas Lone Star column as TASB executive director, I want to extend to each local trustee, superintendent, administrator, teacher, and staff member my sincere congratulations for a job well done. Though I will retire as the Association’s executive director in August, I will always be an ardent admirer and follower of Texas public schools and the incredible people who make them what they are.

You are true heroes.H

James B. Crow is executive director of TASB.

30 Texas Lone Star | July 2021 | texaslonestaronline.org
James B. Crow DIRECTOR’S
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