Thoughts and Ideas

October 10, 2020

On AP Classes

I received a question about one of my answers in the Community Impact candidate issue, and I thought I’d clarify my comment about looking into limiting AP classes.I don’t know for sure that limiting AP classes is necessary, but I would like the board to look into the research.There are districts that have made the move to do so, including Friendswood ISD, which is the top rated district in the area. My personal experience with my eldest is what brought it to my attention. Dawson is extremely competitive. The kids that strive for class rank learn their freshman year that they need to take every AP and Pre-AP class they possibly can in order to maintain rank. AP classes are great, but I watched my kid develop stomach ulcers over four years taking the maximum (unlimited) AP classes, forgoing electives that could be useful or more enjoyable because they will being the average down. He took six AP classes his senior year, five his junior year, I think. He received an AP scholar with distinction award from the board. He graduated in the top 8% of the class and was still rejected by UT. Ultimately, he was given a scholarship to Rutgers Honors College and is happier there than he ever would have been at UT. It worked out, but immediately after graduation, he expressed great regret at taking so many AP classes. He felt it wasn’t worth it, and a lot of schools don’t accept AP credits from out of state. Limiting AP classes to two or three a semester might be advantageous. The other problem is that this dangerous GPA game the kids get sucked into is RIFE with cheating. It’s so funny, when I was in high school, the kids that cheated were the kids that didn’t want to study. Now the kids that cheat are the top students, and they often HAVE studied, but feel they have to cheat to maximize their position in class rank. Obviously, AP classes are a valuable tool, but it’s definitely worth looking into whether there are diminishing returns after a certain number of classes. My other son, at the advice of his brother, chose to take dual credit classes instead. He’s a senior, and taking four classes at Dawson through ACC, plus electives at Dawson. He will graduate with 18 college credit hours. His class rank won’t be what his brother’s was, but he’s more likely to have his credits accepted, and gets the opportunity to take classes like photojournalism and art.

October 7, 2020

On Apologies and Transparency

When I was a waitress at nineteen, I learned a valuable lesson. I tended, like most humans, to hide from my mistakes. I’d look at my station and suddenly realize I’d missed something and try to sweep it under the rug. One day, I had a slightly terse couple in my station who had ordered an appetizer. Somehow, when entering the order, I realized I’d forgotten the appetizer and they had been sitting there for quite a while with no attention. My first instinct was to ask for a rush order and hide in the back until it was ready. For some reason, I didn’t, I found the manager, asked if we could offer them anything, then marched to the table and admitted my mistake. I didn’t lie, I told them I had totally dropped the ball and it was my fault, and I offered them free dessert. They were so kind, they seemed honestly surprised I didn’t lie and say something happened in the kitchen. They refused the free dessert and left me a huge tip.

From that point on, my approach to my mistakes changed. Realizing you were wrong is mortifying, and publicly owning is is sometimes so hard. But it’s so freeing. And the reception is almost always positive. And there’s no worry that your mistake will haunt you in the future, because you’ve already owned it. People who were wronged feel better and are more likely to trust you in the future. Recently, there was a post in my neighborhood group about a car driving too fast at a specific time. I knew my son was out at that time, so I asked him if it was him. He said yes. I took away his driving privileges for a week. BUT, I then went on the neighborhood group and owned it. “That was my son. I have spoken to him, and he won’t be driving for a week.” Two things came from that:

I have more trust in my son. I asked him, he admitted it.
The neighborhood knows that the parent has addressed the issue and can feel a little better about it. I don’t have to worry about someone one day finding out it was my son and thinking less of me or him.

I often wish the district used this approach more often. Many parents hear about an issue that has happened, and never hear the conclusion. As I said in a recent forum, if something happens at Rustic Oak in the morning, half the parents in the district know about it by the end of the day. If the district only addresses the child involved, or even just the class or school, the rest of the district is left wondering about the conclusion. In a district blog post, Dr. Kelly has characterized the wondering as nosiness. As a parent with a child in the district, I need to know how the district handles issues so thatI can be assured of the safety and education of my own child. District decisions matter to all of the district. As a board member, I would commit to encouraging transparency and communication with all stakeholders, and I am already committed to admitting and discussing any of my own mistakes.

September 19, 2020

On Gratitude

This post really doesn’t have anything to do with the school board, but more of an introduction to what makes me tick.

Six years ago today, I sat in a hospital room, terrified. For years, I had been experiencing what I thought were sinus headaches, and had finally seen the doctor a week before to look into sinus surgery. I was sent for an MRI on a Monday, and got a desperate call from my doctor the next day. I was told a had a likely benign brain tumor but it was so large is was forcing my cerebellum down my spinal column and causing fluid to back up in my brain. I was told to check into the hospital IMMEDIATELY, because even though the neurosurgeon couldn’t see me for three more days, I would need to be constantly monitored as the situation was very dangerous. It was my eldest child’s birthday. He was still at school. My husband was in London on business.

I knew the tumor was probably benign. I also knew brain surgery was pretty serious. In my three days in the hospital, I was able to do a lot of research, so I also knew I was in for a long recovery, potentially up to a year, and there may be lasting side effects, such as seizures, loss of mobility, loss of some mental functions. It’s amazing how quickly your priorities can turn on a dime. If I’d have awakened one day to be told I was going to be disabled for life, I might have mourned the loss forever. But when the other option was not being there for my husband, kids, and family, I didn’t think much about it.

They wheeled me into surgery at 11am. At about seven PM, I awoke in excruciating pain. Like, out of my mind pain. IV narcotics in a pain pump pain. I remained in the hospital for another week recovering. I was told they had to leave a small piece of the tumor in that was attached to a major artery, but that they removed 95% of a 4×5 tumor that had likely been growing for twenty years. They were almost sure it was completely benign, though that confirmation would come a week later when they were able to test it.

When I returned home, I was a new person. As much of a nightmare the whole experience was, I was giddy with gratitude. I didn’t die, I didn’t have any seizures, I was already recovering well. I DIDN’T WAKE UP EVERY MORNING IN PAIN! What could have been a great tragedy had worked out-I was home with my boys, and I would eventually be normal. When I say giddy, I mean I honestly had a mental bounce in my step. I have very few lasting issues-a slight speech hesitation that pops up when I’m nervous, and the pesky yearly MRIs to monitor the growth of the remaining piece. Eventually I will have gamma knife radiation to stop further growth, and if that’s not successful, potentially another craniotomy, but I AM HERE. Here and honestly grateful every day that I don’t wake up in pain I didn’t realizing had been increasing every month, like the proverbial frog in the boiling water.

I was given a gift. A new perspective. Struggles that might have seemed impossible to the Toni pre-craniotomy are still difficult, but I still feel lucky and grateful every day. I considered running for school board many years ago, and would have been a different candidate that I am today. I’d be honored to share this gift I’ve received with PISD.

August 25, 2020

Special Session of the Board

First I’d like to express my sympathies to the district and the board for having to tackle a totally unprecedented health situation, then have a potential hurricane thrown in, all at the start of the school year. Managing a dire health situation such as this one a way that serves every student and teachers need is an impossible task. My inclination is to lean towards science and safety first, but I’m aware that it’s not simply a black and white issue.

Today’s special session was spent running through the plan to proceed as it stands now, and discussing potentialities down the road. I was pleased to see the level of investigation and research the district has done recently, and feel fairly confident that decisions are being made based on data. Tracing software and plans are in place, the district is open to changing the plan based on what’s working educationally for our kids, and also based on the cases in the area. The district seems to be in general agreement that a synchronous approach is ideal, when possible. Teacher’s concerns are being considered, and many of the less than ideal issues are coming from a higher place than PISD. Here are a few things I jotted down while listening:

  1. Thank you, Dr. Kelly for making clear that a “kindergarten walk in” is not a safe and possible option. I know the concern I had for my kids on their first day of school, and I’d have been devastated to send them through those doors alone, believe me, but that many students and parents in a classroom together right now is a recipe for disaster. Missing out on this is so hard, I know. 
  2. Many, many thanks to trustee Carbone for asking so many questions and thinking steps ahead on each discussion point. If elected, I’m glad I won’t be the only trustee extending meeting times for clarification’s sake.
  3. The principal of PHS, Mr. Palombo, who was in the meeting because PHS will have the highest number of students returning to campus, expressed uncertainty as to what the cafeteria and class changes will look like after the phase in is complete. Understandably, it’s hard to get a picture of that without actual students, but I hope there will be a plan in place prior to the end of phase in.
  4. Additionally, Mr. Palombo stated that when all of the students who chose on campus learning were in full attendance, social distancing will not be possible, at least in certain classrooms. 
  5. Thank you, trustee Gooden, for keeping our economically disadvantaged students in mind and considering the impact on individual decisions where they are concerned.
  6. I’m very disappointed to learn that, though the CDC recommends closing a school for fourteen days during an outbreak, the TEA has set a limit of five. 
  7. I’m thrilled to know that the technology provision for the students is coming along, seemingly swifter than initially anticipated. As it stands, all students who are in need of a device will have access to one from the first day of school. The others will follow.
  8. Plans are fluid to the extent that if a school or teachers finds a method that is working for them, it will likely be allowed as to sweeping decisions coming from the top of the district that don’t work in every school.

Overall, I was pleased at the work PISD has done in the last few weeks, and left even more frustrated with TEA who does seem to be making sweeping decisions based on unclear data. How is a five day closure during an outbreak going to slow spread? 

I’m extremely interested to hear the perspectives of teachers right now. Please feel free to email me your thoughts and concerns, and I will keep your personal information private. [email protected]

On Shiloh

DHS partial list of issues at Shiloh, link below

All public schools have the responsibility of educating all children. Sometimes the district does not have the resources to handle some of the rarer, and more challenging needs of some students. In this case, it’s the duty of the district to bring that child to a facility than can better handle their needs. Currently, our district contracts with three facilities, sending about five students each to these facilities. Parents are involved in the choice as to which facility their child attends. 

Last week, the board voted 5-2 to renew the district’s contract with Shiloh Treatment Center. The agenda item inspired some parents to speak publicly about their concerns with Shiloh. Shiloh has a dark past-four deaths, numerous reports of physical and sexual abuse, and most recently, drugging migrant children with psychotropics without consent. A cursory google search of this facility will show their website, which holds no information other than two responses to these reports, a host of treatment facility clearinghouse pages, many of which list disturbing reviews, and a number of news articles about the concerning incidents occurring here. The board had a robust discussion of the contract renewal decision, with a few board members expressing dissent with renewing the contract. A representative from the administration that handles these placements spoke of her struggles to find adequate placement close by. In the ensuing discussion, trustee Carbone questioned whether it was possible to send a representative from the district there daily to observe, and Dr. Kelly agreed that this might be best. As the discussion went on, the idea seemed to get watered down significantly, from possible weekly or monthly visits, to one trustee suggesting that simply the threat of a surprise visit might be a sufficient deterrent to the center to violate standards. Ultimately, trustees Floyd and Murphy voted not to renew the contract, while the other five voted yes and asked the district to look into their options for a district attendant, either part time or full time, and the contract was renewed.

In my opinion, given the research I’ve done on Shiloh, the district should immediately sever any association with this facility. Part time supervision will not ensure one of our children won’t be abused. House representatives, including Pete Olson who represents our district, have called for Shiloh to be shut down, full stop. If I am elected to the board, I will fight in any way possible to discontinue the relationship between PISD and Shiloh. HISD already has. Please refer to the state DHS link below to view their recent violations, most of which were in the latter part of 2019, and have not been resolved. Three out of four of the reported deaths at Shiloh (all of which occurred before 2016) were the result of excessive restraint, yet excessive restraint seems to still be a common practice. From the narratives:

Video footage of the restraint performed by staff on a child. The video shows staff grabbing the child’s shirt near the front of her neck and pulling it up over their face, covering their mouth and nose.

Staff placed their arms around a child’s neck; obstructing their airway and causing the child to be unable to vocalize distress.

Staff intentionally and knowingly placed their arms around a child’s neck, obstructing their airway and causing the child to feel suffocated for a length of no less than two minutes. 

A child sustained physical injuries to their face, neck, and abdomen as a result of a restraint. 

Child was able to get medication and go to the restroom with it

Children in care were inadequately supervised due to staff members being distracted on their cellphones. 

Staff did not attempt a less restrictive intervention before using a restraint.

There was no presence of an emergency situation to conduct a restraint on a child in care.

A Word On Current Events and Why I’m Running

Hello all, I’ve been working on editing a video, but I’m having trouble and wanted to get this message out. It was brought to my attention today that two PHS students tweeted a truly horrific, racist and violent song. I felt the need to share with you an instigating factor in my decision to run for school board. In 2012, Pearland was named the second most diverse town in the nation. This is something of which I’ve always been proud. But our school district has had some rough spots in the past ten years. Last year, in response to a racist incident in PISD and one in Sweeny ISD, the NAACP asked the board to adopt a resolution condemning racism and white supremacy. While one trustee brought the resolution up for discussion several times, there was never a second. The response from the district and some parents was twofold-first, the resolution was unnecessary as there was already an anti bullying policy in place, and second, they felt the resolution was too political in nature. The NAACP is a nonpartisan organization, and condemning white supremacy should not be associated with politics in any way, but rather, should be the starting point for all of us. And as most parents know, a “No Place For Hate” sign on the building does little to stop a bully. While I’m aware that being a school board member is likely far more complicated than just what we see at meetings, and adopting a resolution alone doesn’t solve the problem, I do know that refusal to consider confronting the issue is not a good look for the district. Before I considered running, I had learned of two teachers who, after watching several students become radicalized by white supremacists online, designed a toolkit for schools to be on the lookout for this, and hopefully prevent disaster. I requested the curriculum and planned to bring it to the attention of the district. After seeing the failure to consider the NAACP resolution, I realized it would be fruitless, and I might have better success if I served on the board myself. White nationalist groups ARE targeting teens on social media. Simply teaching our children “colorblindness” is not enough. As a parent and a former teen, I know that at a certain point in a teen’s development, parents’ voices become quieter in their heads, while peers’ and social media’s are amplified. I encourage you all to have a discussion with your kids and ask if they’ve seen any incidence of racism in their lives. What they share may surprise you. I was certainly knocked off my feet by the video/song shared by Pearland teens on Twitter. Whether or not I am elected, I will continue to speak out on this topic. I would be proud to amplify anyone’s concerns–feel free to message me with your experience and I will protect your anonymity if you so desire. You are welcome to message me if you’re interested in a copy of the Confronting White Nationalism Toolkit. It was free, so I should be able to share it.

I’m sharing a message from my high school principal, now the Head Of School at St. Agnes Academy. She posted this message weeks ago, after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and I was heartened to know that St. Agnes adopted an anti-racism, and more importantly an anti-silence policy.

A moment of prayer for Ahmaud Arbery and for the end to racial injustice. #irunwithmaud

Posted by St. Agnes Academy on Saturday, May 9, 2020

July 1, 2020

STARR Testing In The Era of Covid

I stand with the teachers on this. I encourage parents to let the TEA know that STARR testing our students this year when we don’t even know what school will look like is not in the best interest of students or teachers.[0]=AT3cfat2PT698BuzMoJXOhjZMkLRWIw-RJQst7cKALs5r8FX4Qf-jJKTVUOLVsLOjHwKoJanmT9VELS1fgLD1h67gcuovm2M1FgrvR6fgusqDHYaYuapuc0tZHKo7F_tCWtxmXONkGkYh31Mf8Ulf11QJZvzBBICFU5XeKYZ6DoAkNthYVIGIgRu0j9CvqNF4zRXyMb0jMm71qkVqMKfnKIMNrQ5Wo9rQOhj7eHp20nWsSORgptzArJoRlPwZcOWoA