MISD teachers urged to invest time, energy into each student

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By HANK MURPHY

editor@woodcountymonitor.com

An array of orange hardhats was arranged before a lectern to symbolize the hard work that lies in store as teachers and staff in Mineola assembled for convocation at First Baptist Church on Aug. 8.

Students return to the classrooms in Mineola on Thursday, and teachers will work to fulfill MISD’s mission of providing each student a quality education.

During an often humorous, upbeat and at times sobering presentation, Mineola educators heard an analysis of public education and the challenges it faces – chiefly from the crushing effects of poverty.

Teachers were praised for their pursuit of a noble profession and the difference they make in the lives of children. They also were informed of a pay increase, which Supt. Kim Tunnell said was in “recognition for the value you have in the lives of students.”

Starting teachers and those with up to four years experience will see a minimum $3,000 per year increase, and those with five or more years experience will see a minimum $3,600 per year increase.

School board President John Abbott said that with the teacher shortage in Texas, every teacher in Mineola had an opportunity to sign a contract with another district. He acknowledged their commitment to Mineola and noted the serious challenges ahead, including doing what’s best for each and every student.

During last week’s convocation, John Draper, a longtime educator and nationwide public education consultant for the National School Public Relations Association, delivered a multi-faceted look at public education. A constant theme during his talk was poverty and how public schools must adapt to the challenges it presents.

Poverty is a common factor among low achieving students, Draper noted, and school districts across the nation struggle with closing achievement gaps among kids who come from impoverished homes and those from minority populations.

“If you have a higher poverty population, you’re going to struggle with testing,” Draper said.

Even though public schools don’t deserve blame for poverty-driven achievement gaps, it is their challenge to narrow them, Draper said. To an extent, public schools make headway during the school year at closing gaps, but those gaps reopen during the summer, according to Draper.

“During the summer, the gap rips back open. Children from poorer families do not learn during the summer,” he said.

“The accumulative effect of 12 years of summer forces the gap to get larger,” Draper stated.

The answer to the problem, he noted, lies with educators and in placing kids early with programs such as Head Start.

“A lot of our kids are coming in behind,” Draper said. “The quicker we can catch them up, the research shows the better off we are.”

Another common thread in Draper’s presentation is that perceptions of public education often differ from reality. Many people believe American high schools are “drop out factories.” They bemoan the United State’s middle-of-the-pack status in international standardized test scores. They equate standardized test scores with a student’s overall intelligence and ability to succeed.

Those “myths” drive elected bodies to believe they need to “fix us,” Draper said.

For instance, the “drop out factory” myth is perpetuated even though today’s high school graduation rate – 84% - is at the highest point in the nation’s history.

“It’s hard work. It takes dedicated people working together as a team in a culture that says we don’t let any child drop out of here. …We don’t quit on kids. That type of mentality can make the difference,” Draper remarked.

Another myth: American kids’ test scores are mediocre compared with those in other advanced countries, which must mean public schools are failing.

The truth is other countries, many of which are Asian, sort out students before they complete middle school, according to Draper. They move those who demonstrate scholastic promise along an academic path and funnel other students into trades. Their test scores reflect a greater concentration of high academic performers trained to excel at test taking.

The United States, however, strives to provide each student – regardless of their socio-economic status or scholastic abilities – a well-rounded education. Public schools also encourage creativity and promote achievement in multiple arenas – music and band, fine arts, athletics, FFA, trades and technology, and more, Draper said.

“Our kids are more than a test score,” Draper said, noting that nations with high-performing test-takers lag far behind the United States in measures of success such as Nobel Prizes, scientific achievement, copyrights and patents.

Each student, he explained, has variable intelligences. Although they may struggle with some subjects, they can excel in others, such as math, science, language, mechanics, art, music and athletics.

Instead of a few large tests, a students’ progress is best measured by many small assessments done frequently, he argued.

“We have to have lots of small assessments where we’re constantly catching up seeing how we’re doing,” he said.

Overall, he challenged public schools to do a better job of teaching early, testing often and providing each student the time they need to grasp a subject.

“They don’t all learn the same way.”

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