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.