TISD Calls for Reform

TISD was shocked when the historic $300 million school bond was rejected by voters in February. Superintendent Donald Gentry retired, and board members asked what went wrong. Wednesday, the board admitted they made mistakes. And, along with a new Superintendent, they met with community leaders to ask for help in changing the district from the inside out.

During a morning meeting at the Potpourri House, Board President, Maxine Coppinger was very forthcoming about how far off the bond proposal was from what voters were willing to ok. "We had no idea what was really going on out there. Joey [Seeber] probably did. And, the mayor [Kevin Eltife] probably did. And, Mr.[Gene] Schull probably did. But, what he knew was a lot different from what we knew."

But the day was about reform, not apologies. This meeting was organized by Fred Smith, with the Fourth Partner Foundation. "The enemy is not the civic leadership. The enemy is not the School Board. The enemy is not the teachers or the Superintendent. The enemy is average."

Donald McAdams knows about changing urban school districts. The former Houston School Board Member has written a book about school reform. He was invited to speak at Wednesday morning's session by Smith. He told the audience, in order to be successful, the School Board, the Superintendent and civic leaders must all be on the same page. "They are these three significant centers of power. The key to a high performing school system is lining them up where they are all committed to the same vision. They are all committed to the same plan."

Despite a well received first step, there are still some very large hurdles. The board still has to build trust with many parts of the community. Some of which weren't represented in the audience.

"The Superintendent told us our school system is a third, a third, a third in terms of white, Hispanic, and black representation," said Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tom Mullins. "And, we didn't have that in the room today. And, we have to make sure we work hard to be totally inclusive of the whole community."

If the superintendent, and the school board, and the community are able to reform TISD into a streamlined district running on an efficient business model, then they will look back to this morning as the time when it all started to come together. Because the day also gave business leaders the chance to give management recommendations directly to the School Board.

Lindsey Bradley is the President of Trinity Mother Frances Health System in Tyler. "Look around the state and find one that's like that, that's doing better than your school. What can you learn from them? Those are things we do in business all the time."

Superintendent Dr. David Simmons has made operating on a business model a major part of his leadership strategy. "We need to remember that we do have customers, and, we need to be customer service oriented."

In addition to advice, Tom Mullins and the Chamber offered help implementing changes. "What they want are people in business sector who have experience in accounting and marketing and transportation and technical areas, engineering, to give their assistance to the school system and utilize the talent in this community, which is pretty abundant."

In anticipation of this meeting, the Board Members prepared a list of proposed performance indicators, including reading proficiency for kindergarten and second graders, the number of students taking Algebra I, Foreign Language, AP and IB classes, the number of graduates who need remedial courses in college, college entrance exam scores, teacher turnover rates, and state financial responsibility scores. Dr. Simmons will be responsible for ensuring improvement in all of these areas. "Most of the time, people respond to those expectations. Unfortunately, there are some times when people don't. And, when they don't, I believe we have a responsibility to move those people out, and replace them with people who can perform at the level of which we expect."

Stephen Parr, reporting.