When Are We Going To Fix Our Schools?

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 @ 3:36PM

One of my key responsibilities as a State Senator is to ask questions about the hundreds of new laws and proposed changes that pass through the Legislature each session to ensure that we will accomplish what is best for Texas. But when I come home and spend time with the residents of District 23, I become the one who answers the questions and, for many years now, one of the questions I’ve heard most often was, “When are we going to fix our schools?” In my view, we are long past that time. The answer takes but a single word – now.

As a long-time advocate and champion for public education, I want to send a clear message that I will no longer support mediocrity from low-performing schools. The challenge of educating our children has reached a critical point. There are currently nearly 150,000 young Texans assigned to failing schools. Every day that passes without a solution moves those students towards academic uncertainty. That cycle must be broken and I believe there is an innovative approach that we must consider.

The establishment of a statewide turnaround district, currently being debated in the Texas Legislature, will give us the ability to make a meaningful intervention in chronically failing schools.

Giving the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner the authority to create and oversee a statewide turnaround district will also send a message to school districts that we are serious about turning failing campuses into successful ones. We have been patient and we have tried lots of strategies, but ultimately, our priority is the child and I believe every child has a right to a quality education.

The statewide turnaround district will serve as the equivalent of an Intensive Care Unit for those schools, staffed by public school teachers and specialists who have a track record working with public school campuses that are in big trouble. They can offer the kind of specialized attention that makes a difference.

Currently, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has four options to deal with a failing school. TEA can “reconstitute” it by replacing staff or “repurpose” it by changing the campus specialty and focus. Or, TEA can hire education experts to operate the campus, with the final option being closure. A statewide turnaround district adds another meaningful intervention option or as I like to say “another tool in the toolbox” to retool chronically low-performing schools.

Implementing this turnaround process in Texas will ensure the dreams of young Texans and the families who want the best for them are not only preserved, but also energized by genuine opportunity.

I have supported public schools during the entire 22 years I have served in the Texas Senate and my commitment to Texas’ public school system is stronger than ever. However, my patience with promises and studies is wearing thin because many children are aging out of school every year without receiving the educational opportunities they deserve.

A statewide turnaround district is not a silver bullet that will magically fix our schools – there is no such thing. But it will provide immediate and focused help to those failing schools where too many of our children have been stuck for far too long. It will also send a message to those schools that “help is on the way” to get them back on track. Our children cannot wait. We must take steps to fix our failing schools now.

Royce West represents Senate District 23 in Dallas County.

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