Area superintendents, college, business leaders and college-level educators gathered Thursday at The University of Texas at Tyler to discuss their framework for a new vision for Texas public education.
The movement, which began in 2008 with a meeting of 35 superintendents and the Texas Association of School Administrators, is based around the idea that educators, parents and business leaders can contribute to this dialogue.
“Locally we come up with ideas for change and improvement, and we present those to the Legislature,” Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt said before the event Thursday.
Three area superintendents presented the basics of the vision to about 80 people representing area school districts, chambers of commerce, colleges, universities and more. They then requested feedback from attendees so they can determine how to move forward.
In the opening presentation, Bullard ISD Superintendent Keith Bryant emphasized the importance of better engaging students.
Bryant said part of what this vision embraces is taking public education from where it is into the 21st century, which means better integrating technology and encouraging student collaboration.
The current situation resembles a balance in which standardized testing is on one end and 21st century learning skills are on the other, Bryant said.
He presented a list of the top 10 soft skills valued by employers as created by a similar meeting of Lufkin area educators and business leaders.
Among the top skills listed were: a strong work ethic, positive attitude, good communication skills and time management abilities.
“These skills are not assessed in our classrooms in any formative way,” Bryant said.
Martins Mill ISD Superintendent Todd Schneider said although portions of a student's K-12 career are tied to successful standardized test performance, colleges and universities place little to no emphasis on it.
He said no four-year public university in Texas that he has found considers a student's standardized test performance when awarding college admissions.
Some junior colleges or community colleges use them to determine if a student can be exempt from a college entrance exam.
“Our public schools systems are aligned with a test” that colleges don't even value, he said.
On the contrary, Schneider said, college will demand of students that they be independently responsible and resourceful.
And they must be prepared for that environment to have a better chance at success.
TISD interim Superintendent Gary Mooring said educators are not afraid of accountability, but they would just like to see a system that is more representative of all of the student's work and not one test.
Tom Mullins, president/CEO of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, said the summit is a great place to start, and he especially appreciated the regional participation of high-level school district administrators and business leaders.
He said the representation from the business community was good, but the next step is to get employers around the table.
The Tyler chamber is doing this with its Business–Education Council, which has 17 members representing both areas.
Mullins said the chamber is committed to getting the education and business sides of the community talking to each other and, in this way, both groups can work together to create better outcomes for students.
State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said the summit was a profitable time.
Hughes said accountability is important, but that being said, “Everyone realizes that the emphasis on standardized tests has gotten too heavy.”
He said he believes there is openness in the state Legislature to placing less emphasis on standardized testing.
“There's a lot of support in the Legislature for taking another look at (the) accountability system,” Hughes said.
Audience members asked several questions following the presentation. These touched on legislators' awareness of this movement; the role of the business community in the effort; and the next step for this.
Bryant said the summit was the first step in the effort, and the superintendents want to gain feedback from the business community.
“We would hope within the next year to develop a plan to take to the Legislature,” he said.