Thomas, superintendent of the Beeville Independent School District, told one of the 10 Tea Party members during a meeting at the Joe Barnhart Bee County Library that the State Board of Education does not design or require all the tests that Texas school students have been required to take over the years.
Thomas, who said she had worked on writing some of the tests created over the years, ran down a list of the requirements that the Texas Legislature has passed.
Today, students in the state are required to show that they have the basic “essential knowledge and skills” that a high school graduate should have after graduation.
One of those attending the meeting asked about discipline problems in Texas schools today.
Again, Thomas said that had little to do with the local school system.
“Our hands are tied in terms of discipline,” Thomas said. “A student who comes into class and drops the F-bomb on a teacher, we have (him) arrested,” Thomas said.
However, one justice of the peace in Bee County routinely dismisses those cases, saying they are a school problem.
“It’s not a school problem,” Thomas said. “It’s assault.”
Thomas went on to outline some of the requirements handed down by legislators that interfere with the job of teaching students.
Elementary schools are required to teach sex education, for example. And schools are also required to provide a level of fitness programs.
“It’s mandated curriculum,” Thomas said.
The superintendent said 25 percent of the school year these days is spent on testing. And the teachers have to prepare their students for the tests, so schools end up spending about a third of the school year on testing.
Today, schools are asking the state to scale back on some of the testing requirements.
One of those attending the meeting asked what it would take to change the system.
But another Tea Party member asked, “How to you expect things to change if no parent is aware of the problem?’
Thomas then explained another problem with Texas high schools, saying the state is requiring that all students pass a number of difficult mathematics courses to be able to graduate. If they do not pass those, they are required to take even more difficult courses the next year.
“Texas is going to have a lot of dropouts,” she warned.
Thomas also addressed the fact that not all high school students are cut out to spend four more years in college. It is a mistake to think all students should go to a college or university.
In many other cases, the parents are to blame for the performance of the students.
Thomas said there are parents in Beeville who believe that a GED was good enough for them and it should be good enough for their children.
When asked about drugs in schools, Thomas said she was aware that is a major worry in Beeville. But again, school districts have their hands tied when trying to deal with the problem.
The school is allowed to bring in drug-sniffing dogs, and they do that here. But the students are required to leave the classroom before the dog enters, and the dogs are not allowed to sniff the students themselves.
Thomas said she has written letters to Gov. Rick Perry and to legislators.
“There are 1,026 superintendents in Texas,” Thomas said. “They (legislators) don’t always listen to us.”
Thomas said the only way schools in Texas can change is for the parents to want it and then vote accordingly.
She said some school districts allow seniors to walk at graduation if they don’t pass all the requirements. “We don’t,” she said.
The superintendent said another thing school districts need is a way to be more flexible to deal with different ability levels among the students.
One of the projects the BISD is trying is teleconferences where teachers of certain subjects are able to reach students in other school districts or campuses.
“The kids love it,” Thomas said. “It’s how kids are learning these days. I’d like to see more of it.”
She recommended that persons interested in seeing changes and improvements made in Texas schools contact a website called “Raise Your Hand Texas.”
The project was started by Charles Butts of the H-E-B Food Store company. It helps connect parents to other parents and allows them to learn more about ways to improve Texas schools.