Tag Archives: WFISD

STATE UIL

For the ninth time in 10 years a Rider Media student is on their way to State Academic UIL competition. I’m excited. My student won 3rd in features at District and first at Regionals. Making it to State is a huge accomplishment. As a student, I never did. Over the course of my high school UIL career, I won 4th, 5th or 6th at Regionals in Newswriting, Headlines and Editorial. Back then I didn’t even understand that there was a State. LOL.

We didn’t make it to State last year. In a way that was good for me personally because usually when we win at Regionals, DH says, “Ah man, you’ve got to go to State,” because it means I’m gone three days, two of which include me driving across the state. This year, he knew better. When I texted him Shannon won first, his response was yay. Yeah, he gets it now. I was a mopey adviser during State last year since I wasn’t there…. 🙂

I’m looking forward to seeing my adviser friends.

 

In other news, Dead Girl Walking, the first Guardian book, is in audiobook production with an AMAZING narrator. I can’t wait for y’all to hear it!

Happy writing!

I’m Voting Yes

I just left the community town hall meeting the board and superintendent did to give facts about the bond and to allow community comments. The meeting cemented my choice to vote yes in May.

ImageThis year for the first time I’m worried about my students’ competitive chances after they leave Rider. My students are not receiving a 21st century education. Their peers across the state have access to technology that should be common but isn’t in WFISD. It can’t be without spending a ton of money to improve our infrastructure. That ton of money doesn’t exist. The district has spent money trying to update our old buildings to work with the increasing technological needs of students and teachers, but we haven’t been able to keep up with the demand. Computers alone won’t fix this problem. Our techs work tirelessly trying to update an already antiquated system. We’ve reached the point where we can keep pouring money into the old buildings and still have the old buildings that can’t keep up or we can invest in new. In Texas investing in new means passing a bond.

I keep hearing people say we could pass a “different” bond at a later date, but the bond I’ve heard floated is one that the majority of voters have said they would in no way support. It’s too expensive. Saying no now only delays the process. It takes three years to open a school and this proposal has already been in the works for two. We can’t afford to wait.

The May 10 bond isn’t perfect, but it’s the right direction for students and teachers in WFISD. If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose students to surrounding area schools (we already do; that trend will grow), and we’re going to lose amazing younger teachers to districts that can offer higher pay and 21st century facilities.

I love the tradition in Wichita Falls schools. We can bring those traditions with us to the new campus if the bond passes. This bond is right for Wichita Falls. Change is never easy, but it is essential for growth. If we don’t pass the bond, students and teachers lose. The city loses.  I’m voting yes to bond and build.

 

 

 

The School Board Speech, A Little More and Why I WIll Always Fight for Education Based on Something Other Than Tests

Original title: Hey, Bill Gates, Reform This #EvaluateThat BUT then I thought, that’s preaching to the choir and this post isn’t, so I changed it…

Since it’s been in the paper, I thought I’d post my actual speech to the school board. I’ve added some comments at the end. I would’ve said a little more at the meeting, but that pesky 3-minute time limit got in the way. 🙂 The payoff for this post is at the end. I might be a little too honest with it, but honesty is what can bring true change. (If you read the TRN story, you can skip the speech part because Ann Work pretty much summed my words up perfectly.)

The speech:  My name is Mary Beth Lee. I’m the student media adviser at Rider. I’ve taught in the district for 20 years. I enjoyed participating once and then serving as a teacher leader in the Leadership Cohort. I have served on the Superintendent’s advisory committee several times. I’m a member of ATPE. Several of my former students serve as teachers in the district and elsewhere.
First I want to thank the board for their service. I can’t imagine volunteering the time you do in easy years and I certainly can’t imagine serving on the board in the midst of such massive change. I appreciate the board and downtown administration. Unlike so many politicians across the country, you haven’t blamed teachers for the problems in our schools.
I’m speaking today as a teacher and a concerned citizen. In the midst of the talk about buildings, I want to make sure the board remembers buildings don’t educate students.
As the Coalition for Hispanic Education report stated, the district is in the midst of huge change demographically. More than ever we need seasoned teachers in the classroom.
When I started teaching our buildings were filled with experienced teachers. My friends who signed up for jobs in the Metroplex were jealous of our career ladder that started far above state minimum and continued with its guaranteed raises that included a little extra on the five-year marks. They were even more jealous of the help mentor teachers gave us without being asked.
New teachers are so important to education. But I’m concerned that as a district we’re not doing enough to keep teachers in the district, to build loyalty to the community.
We need teachers committed to the district and the city. Teachers who won’t use us as a stepping stone to a bigger pay check.
There are several things the district can do to help promote life-long Wichitan educators.
First, it’s been shown several times over the years that guaranteeing pay raises doesn’t cost the district money. Because of attrition and moves pay raises for educators who commit to the district is a wash.
When the legislature cut funding to schools, every teacher I know agreed that we should all share in the pain of those cuts rather than see quality educators lose their jobs. Those lean days aren’t so far in the past that we don’t understand the need for austerity, but I sincerely hope the board is looking at ways to make sure teachers are rewarded for their commitment to the district.
Second, I hope the administration will look at ways other than a set career ladder to recruit and keep teachers. Finding a way to reward master teachers with continuing contracts would help in that endeavor.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know we’re facing a real crisis in this town. Wichita Falls is changing. The school district can help. They can ensure we hire and retain excellent teachers. They can make sure our buildings have depth.
Yes, we need new facilities, but without a staff committed to the district and the city, facilities are like wrapping paper on an empty box.

Now the more…

I don’t think teachers should get automatic raises just for teaching. I think we should have a career ladder with clearly defined raises and expectations for getting those raises that center on TEACHING not TESTING. Expectations like multiple CE hours, pre-lesson objectives complete with what we think will happen and post lesson analysis over what really did happen. What problems do we see with the lesson? What could make it better? Truly studying our craft in action, and make no mistake, teaching is a craft. That’s what a test-centric system misses completely.

The rest of the story…Why the Fight Matters

When I hit ninth grade I developed this weird social anxiety problem. I couldn’t really talk to more than a couple people at one time unless they were really good friends OR unless I was wasted (I didn’t learn about how freeing alcohol could be until junior year. I was a pro pretty quickly after that). I don’t like to remember those days. High school wasn’t easy. I wanted to love it….but…yeah, not so much.

Thank GOD for my small group of friends and my amazing teachers.

My math teacher practically held my hand through every lesson in Intro. Algebra. He helped me see that my problem was a mental block, and he promised me that one day I would conquer the fear instilled by an evil monster of a teacher in junior high. If my test scores had been held against Mr. Brown, one of the best math teachers to ever grace a Burkburnett High School classroom, that would have been criminal. I wasn’t the only one in his class with math problems. He taught classrooms full of us. The best part of this story other than him being an angel is he was right. I would never go around solving equations for the fun of it, but I took the self-paced Algebra classes at Vernon Junior College, and I survived. And that evil junior high teacher that traumatized me so much I could barely see straight in math classes after…he taught most of the star students. He would do GREAT under the merit pay system that considers standardized test scores as the be all, end all.

My American Lit teacher, Mrs. Bo…probably the best English teacher to ever walk the earth…she made me LOVE literature. She taught me to write. She didn’t make me talk in front of the class, but she let me know that one day I’d be able to.

My eighth grade English teacher was brand new. I can’t remember her name, I think it was Ms. Reed,  but I wanted to be her when I grew up. She taught me research skills I used from eighth grade all the way through my MA in English. She changed my life with her passion for education and her absolute belief in me.

My journalism teacher Mrs. Gillespie helped me discover my passion and held me to a higher standard than I ever held myself. As a teacher now, I know she had to see me making those scary life choices and she had to be worried. But she didn’t hold the choices against me. She never judged me. Instead she showed me what the world could be.

And then there’s Dencil Taylor. He taught my college speech class. He told us all he knew we were terrified. I don’t figure I was the first person he’d run across who could barely whisper in front of a class. He made it clear we WOULD give our speeches, that we had no choice if we wanted a degree. I wanted a degree, but talking in front of five people terrified me. An entire class….oh God, that was torture. I had to leave class after my first speech to get sick. He told me I’d get over that. He didn’t coddle me, or let me make excuses. He made it clear I could drop his class, but I’d just be putting off the inevitable. He let me think it was my idea to stick out the class. The class changed my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be a teacher, I wouldn’t have spoken at the school board meeting. I also wouldn’t be married to the love of my life. I met my husband in that class.

The above story would be a great place to end, but I can’t without a shout out to Dr. Hoffman, yet another teacher who changed my life. He helped me see that I was smart. That’s such a strange thing to write, but it’s the God’s honest truth. He and I have talked about that often over the years since I was in his Sophomore Lit class at MSU. Back then he just encouraged me to keep writing. I did. AND I kept taking his classes. AND when I finished my BA, he dropped an application off at my house to start my MA. And he didn’t really take no for an answer even though I wasn’t all that excited about going back to school. God, I’m glad he didn’t let me cop out of getting my master’s with the “I’m too busy” excuse. Those seminar classes helped me truly fall in love with learning. I definitely wanted the advanced degree, but more than that I wanted to know more, read more, write more, debate more, research more. That hasn’t changed.

NONE OF THOSE stories can be measured on a standardized test. I doubt seriously I would have graduated from high school if I would’ve had to pass a standardized math test, but I’d put my writing, reading comprehension and problem solving skills up against any politician, any test maker, any CEO in this country.

I WAS poor growing up. I WAS a mess growing up. I WAS the kid in the gap the “reformers” say they’re trying to save. Well guess what, reformers: your kind of reform would have destroyed me. Thank God for the master educators who didn’t have their careers measured by my scores on a test. #EvaluateThat #QuitKillingOurKids #QuitKillingOrSchools

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Time to Make a Difference #TeachTheVote

I teach in a 21st century classroom. I’m one of few people in my building who do. My friends who teach English, social studies and math do everything in their power to expose their students to a 21st century classroom, but it’s not easy. Those who teach science in my building have newer labs, thank goodness, but even those could be better.
My 21st century classroom is great, but it’s also frustrating because our current infrastructure doesn’t support true 21st century education. We’ve grown accustomed to dance parties while our computers and their spinning pinwheels of doom provide a nice background.
In 2008 I started the school year in a wheelchair. My husband rolled me to class every day, and he was shocked to see the classrooms looked just like they did when he graduated in 1983.
When we go to Denton, Austin, Lubbock, Abilene, Mansfield for competitions, my kids wonder WHY their schools don’t look like those of their state peers.
When they see their friends in the small towns in our surrounding area going to new schools, they ask why we don’t have new schools.
That could change.
When bond election discussions started, our local school board made recommendations based on a study done by outside sources. They decided the decision shouldn’t be theirs alone.
A Community Facilities Action Team was created from people across the district: educators, parents, former board members. They worked for months on recommendations and heard from groups across the city. The district has kept the community factually informed on the district website.
It’s been democracy at its finest.

They’ve narrowed the decision down to two choices for now with an election scheduled for May. If you’re a Wichitan, I highly recommend going to http://www.wfisd.net and looking at the possible future for our secondary schools.
I hope you’ll get out and vote.
I know how I’m voting. Our kids deserve new schools. They deserve the chance to be competitive with their peers.

 

Awesome #Newsroom = #Education Rockstar

Today I was looking through the district’s website making sure what we’re doing in the newsroom lines up with the goals set forward by our upper admin and school board. I knew what I believed about my program, but I learned in leadership cohort, which I did twice–once as a participant, once as the  teacher leader–that your personal beliefs aren’t worth much in real educational discussions if they can’t be backed up with data.

What I found thrilled me! If you’re a J-teacher or if you’ve ever been a J-student, I bet you’ll agree.

Goal 1: Develop a culture of continuous improvement and accountability that fosters student success.

Objective A deals with STAAR. I’m not a fan of testing when it alone drives curriculum, but I tutored kids who failed the writing test this year and learned I actually like the STAAR writing test. I’m not sure about its grading, but the test itself is solid. Students have to learn several forms of writing, so no form is left out for years and years. At the heart of all quality student media is story. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an in-depth investigative piece on the average experience level of teachers in your district this year compared to five years ago and how those results affect student performance OR writing twelve full captions for a yearbook layout OR writing a teaser for a broadcast piece on teachers carrying weapons OR writing your intro and close for your advertising sales pitch. The newsroom’s first order of business is quality writing of ALL types. Nice.

Objective D is the best, though: Identify effective applications of instructional technology and develop a plan for acquisition, training and implementation. I realize the plan is talking about for teachers, but honestly, the kids are the ones who need to be learning true technology integration NOT just PowerPoint and Word. The newsroom kids learn the ins and outs of the entire Adobe Publishing Suite. Our yearbook rep spends hours training students. We go to camps. We study trends. My kids can earn freelance design money right away. They earn scholarships for their work. They get real world jobs right out of high school. And they are accepted to their collegiate programs where they can earn money for the work they do.

Goal 2: Produce students that are globally competitive. B and C deal with CTE. While we are definitely a tech heavy program, yearbook and newspaper don’t qualify as CTE classes. That’s a state issue I find weird, but I can’t fight that battle. D says the district strives to ensure a seamless transition for graduates pursuing post-secondary education. Most college professors are vocal about the fact that students are leaving high school ready for a test but not for college, so this is an absolute must for the district. Fortunately, there’s a plethora of data showing Journalism Kids Do Better.

The final goal on our strategic plan deals with fiscal responsibility. The fiscal part of the newsroom can be the most challenging and the most rewarding. We are constantly monitoring our numbers. Checking to see if we’re on par to sell the number of books we sold last year. Developing marketing plans and advertising goals. Today I met with my editorial board and rep, and we looked through the past couple year’s trends, projected sales, started a marketing plant to meet that sales goal and fine-tuned our advertising goals. When school starts every student in the program will learn about business plans, marketing plans, professional social media use and how to sell advertising space in a student produced, student led product. We do all this because we get a $0 budget, so the only way we can produce the books and papers we do is to develop these plans. It’s stressful, but it’s also the ONLY PLACE on campus students learn these skills with real world application. Two years ago at the end of my former marketing manager’s freshman year at Tech, she beat out people with marketing and advertising degrees for a paid internship with a major non-profit. They were blown away by her marketing and sales portfolio. She attended summer camp offered by the yearbook company two years in a row and developed an amazing plan. She won awards with the plan. She worked the plan, and it paid off for me and the Rider program, but more importantly, for her.

I love that after all these years–I started teaching in 94, started yearbook in 98–I can see the evidence of a quality program in so many former students. I love that the yearbook companies help yearbook and newspaper stay on the cutting edge as far as software, design trends and curriculum go. I love that I still learn something new every year AND that what we do changes…just like in the real world.

I love that the J-programs line up perfectly with the District Strategic Plan 2012-2017, and I’m looking forward to sharing that message.