Contributor: John Doughney
I have had the honor (duty) of attending countless school board meetings over my career. I would guess 200 or so. In all of those meetings, I cannot remember a single time when the president wielded his or her gavel in the act of disciplining the community in attendance. I am sure it happened once or twice, but I cannot recall these infrequent incidents.
Over the last four months, the singular sound that can be heard repeated over and over in GCISD board meetings is that of the gavel striking the sound block. It is wielded by a small, insecure man who uses it to silence and remove mostly women who express opposing viewpoints. We are not talking about unruly, screaming crazies who you might fear would attack the dais. These are well-educated, reasonable people who see their school district slipping away to an extremist agenda. They are concerned and worried. And they are silenced.
This is life now in GCISD, a once-proud destination school district - a district where people used to fight to get in. They are now fighting to get out. Of the approximately 250 professional positions vacated between January and July, I interviewed about ten percent. The overwhelming message communicated by these incredible educators was that they left because the culture had become toxic, they existed in a climate of fear, and they could no longer work for a school district that was now controlled by an extremist agenda. Every one of them cited the new majority on the school board as a reason for leaving. They did not want to be the next one on “the list”. They did not want to pour their lifeblood into enacting policies they could not defend. They did not want to be forced into ignoring board policy in order to satisfy small-minded people who screamed about pornography at board meetings.
Guess how many official book challenges were made (outlined in board-approved policy) last school year when it became a favorite topic in the public comments portion of board meetings? Zero. In fact, only one book challenge was made during the five-year tenure of the former Language Arts Director. She resigned rather than be forced to violate board policy.
That’s quite the conundrum - violate board policy or resign. The educators I know would certainly choose the latter. We don’t always agree with board policy (or laws governing public education for that matter), but educators are public servants whose responsibility it is to act in accordance with these policies and laws. After retiring, I have spoken out repeatedly against the use of standardized test scores in valuing students, teachers, schools, and school districts. While employed by GCISD, I dutifully carried out the mandates of the state and school district.
So, now the GCISD school board will enact policies that reflect their extreme ideologies - or the ideologies of the deep pockets who put them in office. There’s nothing we can do about it - and they know it. They will continue to hurt GCISD, censure the minority, and limit any meaningful debate because they can. They will hire a superintendent that either aligns with their ideologies or one they can push around. Either way, more staff will leave.
Some of the greatest accomplishments of the district occurred under the leadership of Dr. Robin Ryan, and it was my pleasure to be part of many of those innovations. Some of the most embarrassing and disheartening experiences in GCISD history have marred his final days. He doesn’t deserve this - neither do a thousand teachers and countless other staff members. With his departure, many more who admire his leadership will leave as well.
No organization can withstand the loss of countless top-performing employees year after year and still expect to be as strong as it once was. GCISD will replace those who leave, but they will never replace the talent already lost. Most parents will not even notice and be lulled back into complacency - a recipe for disaster come May. As one former employee said, “Know that the loud minority have impacted the kind of schooling their kids are going to get. It’s going to be fine but not as good as it could have been.” Families and staff came here to be part of the best. They will now have to settle for not as good as it could have been.
Today we're highlighting and important article by William Joy (WFAA). Below are some excerpts.
Across a dozen North Texas School districts, retirements and resignations from January to July of 2022 were 48% higher than the average of the previous four years, from 2018 to 2021.
Smaller, suburban districts have seen the fiercest battles over race, library books and curriculums. In Carroll ISD, which is currently facing five federal civil rights investigations regarding discrimination, resignations and retirements in 2022 were up 40% compared to the previous four-year average.
Grapevine-Colleyville ISD made national news when the district’s first Black principal was placed on leave after being accused of teaching critical race theory when he sent a note to families after the death of George Floyd. The district also saw a 40% jump in retirements and resignations this year.
Keller ISD and Granbury ISD also both dealt with repeated book-banning controversies -- and, in turn, saw retirements and resignations rise 59% and 115% higher in 2022, respectively, compared to the previous four-year average.
An AFT survey found 66% of teachers are ready to leave their jobs. Then, this month, the Texas State Teachers Association similarly found that 70% feel on the verge of quitting -- the highest mark reported in the 40 years they’ve done the survey. A full 85% also said they didn’t feel support from state lawmakers.
School board meetings have become filled with vitriol towards teachers and librarians, particularly in suburban districts. And debates started to spring up over how race and sex should be taught, with teachers becoming criticized for reading diverse and long-established literature.
In November of 2021, Abbott asked TEA commissioner Mike Morath to investigate pornography in public schools. Roughly a year after that request, the TEA said it was not aware of a single arrest or closed investigation into the issue.
Steven Poole saw it coming. Poole leads the United Educators Association, which represents teachers in 43 districts across North Texas. "You have politicians who are demonizing [teachers], calling them 'groomers' or [saying] that they're indoctrinating their students," Poole said.
Poole believes the education crisis is partly intentional. State lawmakers have made clear their desires to see more charter schools and vouchers for private schools. Abbott was even in Dallas last week to endorse vouchers -- a system where public school tax dollars are diverted to instead help families send kids to private schools.
"There are bad actors out there who are cheering that teachers are leaving in droves -- because they want our public schools to fail, and they’re doing it for selfish reasons,” Poole said.
Contributor: John Doughney, longtime former GCISD employee
Two hundred forty-two professional staff members left GCISD between January 1, 2022 and July 14, 2022. More left after that date, and more will continue to leave. Typical? I think not. According to TEA, in 2020, GCISD reported 1914 total staff with 981 of these being teachers and 310 administrators and professional support staff. So, just about 1300 professional staff. According to my calculations, that’s about 19% attrition.
Although this is not significantly higher than the state average of 16.8%, it is still troubling. Of the professionals who separated from the district, 10% moved out of the area, 13% retired, 17% are pursuing another career, 23% are now working in surrounding districts, and 33% left for personal reasons.
The district always loses good people because they move or have opportunities elsewhere. What should concern us is a third leaving for personal reasons, a quarter benefiting neighboring districts, and 17 percent pursuing other careers. Of the 242, only 54 left because they were retiring or moving. All but 17 left between May and July.
You can draw your own conclusions, but 73% leaving the district to work in other districts, to work in the private sector, or for personal reasons should be alarming. Some will contend that this is just the cost of doing business these days. What I’ve learned from those I’ve interviewed tells a different story. A primary factor for their leaving is a culture of fear and distrust. As a GCISD veteran said, “I don’t want people to know I work for Grapevine-Colleyville.”
So, while the new board majority and their sycophants are celebrating a “balanced budget”, discovering millions of unallocated dollars, and eliminating 18,500 vendors, GCISD is hemorrhaging talent that can never be replaced. Amidst all these adult shenanigans, somehow we’ve lost sight of our real purpose - to serve the 14,000 students of GCISD. Losing incredible talent because a board demanded a “balanced budget” did nothing but hurt these kids for years to come. They deserve better!
It’s critical to be informed as a voter. Ask questions. If you know someone who left GCISD, ask them why. If you have questions about the budget process, ask someone who develops it. Most importantly, if you truly want to know what goes on in classrooms, ask a teacher. Better yet, go see for yourself. You might be amazed at what you see - don’t just take my word for it.