Kilgore lends voice to education conversation

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Educators, community members and parents all joined together to discuss the future of education in East Texas and across the state.

The stop Nov. 14 was the second in a statewide tour of 10 Texas education service centers to gather data to determine what is best for public education in the state. In the spring, as the tour of service centers winds down, the board will issue a statewide survey for people to voice their opinions on different topics in education.

“Basically the same tasks that we’re doing tonight at a table, we’re going to ask individuals to look at and give us feedback on via the statewide survey,” State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich.

Once the data is collected, an 18-member steering committee made up of state board members and representatives from the Texas Workforce Commission, the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency will form a recommendation for the state public education’s long-range plan.

This long-range plan poses a different challenge than most, though, because instead of covering five or seven years, the plan will go through 2030 to coincide with the Higher Education board’s 60x30TX plan, which focuses on having 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Texas earn a certificate or degree by 2030.

“I think it’s more difficult because you’re asking to project 13 years into the future as to what your goals ought to be,” Bahorich said. “I do think it makes it more challenging to make sure those are relevant trying to go more than a decade beyond today. I think that does present a challenge, and so hopefully what we come up with makes sense for a 13-year projection.”

Bahorich’s goal as board chair, she said, is for the board to add value to public education and to the conversations about the future of public education in Texas.

“I want whatever we come up with at the end of the day to be a value added service for public education, to the public, to educators, to school leadership, to our legislators,” she said. “That’s what my hope is that they’ll look at this and say, ‘Yeah, this is contributing to the conversation and moving public education forward.’ Trying to bring in those voices, trying to make sure that we’re understanding the complexities that do occur in public education.”

Those complexities include the diversity in student populations and the variety of learning environments that exist across the state from rural to urban school districts.

“To try to come up with something that speaks to the variety of circumstances, the variety of children, the variety of environments that the education plan would play out in is a very challenging thing to do,” she said.

While in Kilgore, Bahorich visited different communities and schools across the area with state board representative Keven Ellis, and noted how different they each are and the different atmosphere in each of the hallways.

Jennie Good, director of STEM, accountability and advanced academics for Kilgore ISD, was able to hear ideas from multiple perspectives on a variety of topics, including parent involvement, teacher retention and student engagement.

“It’s very interesting to hear that kind of cross-section of ideas about how things can be accomplished in schools,” she said. “I think one of the most interesting ones I heard was about funding, a business person as opposed to a superintendent’s thought on how schools are funded.”

The ideas brought up by community members allow the educators to explain the laws and why or why not something is done a certain way, while also allowing people from outside the education field to suggest ideas that may help in schools.

“I think that makes it a good conversation… I enjoyed the conversations. There’s some really smart people in the room and interested in education,” she said. “There wasn’t anybody here who had to be, so the conversations you get to have with them is genuine.”

Parent Tiffany Angus appreciated hearing the different perspectives and collaborating with educators on how it might be possible to address some problems in the education system and area classrooms.

“It was good to hear a lot of feedback from other people in that arena, and from all different areas of East Texas, not just where I live and not just my district, which is mostly what I hear all the time,” she said. “I hope that they take all 10 of these areas across Texas and they take it and they do something that’s helpful in a way that’s not burdensome more to the education system as it is. I feel like there’s already so many laws created over education every legislative session that it can be too much.”

Good said she believes the community conversations and survey will have a positive impact on the future of education because she has seen the impact open conversations about education can have. She attended a similar meeting about assessment and has seen the changes.

“Some of the things that we have for access for students now – those designated supports – have just expanded greatly and I think part of that was what they did hear and part of it was the new commissioner of education.”

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