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LISD board disappoints seniors, families

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LISD board disappoints seniors, families

By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

A flurry of tears and emotion dominated the regular meeting of the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees on Monday evening.
A group of some 30 students, along with their parents, friends and other community supporters approached the trustees requesting that 27 LHS seniors be allow

ed to “walk the stage” during Friday night”s commencement exercises. Emotions ran high as students and parents made passionate pleas to the board.
“I think that we all worked hard, even though some people might say we slacked off,” said Tracy Rodriguez, one of the 27 seniors who has not met the State”s Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) testing requirement. “By telling us that we can”t walk, you”re telling us that we didn”t work hard enough, and we all worked as hard as we could.”
Through her tears, Rodriguez begged the board to allow her and the others to participate in the graduation ceremony, not only for them, but for their families and friends.
“I don”t want to disappoint my mom,” she said. “I want my mom to see me walk across that stage and know that I did my very best. I”m not asking for a diploma — I”m just asking to walk. That”s what we all want.”
Several of Rodriguez”s classmates who have met their TAKS requirement were in attendance at the meeting to support their classmates and friends.
“The State is already looking at doing away with the TAKS test because it isn”t a fair assessment of whether a student is ready to graduate,” one said. “I passed all of my exit level tests on the first try, with a commended performance in three out of the four areas, but I think not letting them walk tells these kids that they didn”t try — and I know they did. What we really need to think about is how we”re being taught. If the students aren”t able to pass the test, who is really failing whom?”
Several parents came forward, reminding the board that graduation ceremonies are more for the parents and families than they are for the students.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Billy Bertram. “Depriving these kids of a walk is depriving their families of something that they”ve been waiting 12 years for.”
One parent, Sam Culpepper, came forward to speak against any change in the policy — comments that were met by a spattering of applause from some members of the audience.
“Graduation is not a right,” Culpepper said. “It is a privilege that must be earned. Most of the students have risen to this challenge and the ones that haven”t have been given every opportunity to do so. Please don”t lessen the accomplishments of the students who have done what”s been asked of them and earned the opportunity to participate in graduation.”
The public”s input on the issue set off a volley of conversation among the board members, all of whom admitted to taking the decision very emotionally.
“It”s an easy decision to make if you think with your heart,” said Trustee Carl Ohlendorf. “But it”s also an easy decision to make if you think with your head. It”s more complicated when you think with both and try to do the very best thing for all of the students in the district.”
In the past two years, Superintendent John Hall and Board President Gary Allen noted, about a dozen students have been able to “walk” during graduation without meeting their TAKS requirements. However, Hall said, one of those decisions was made based on a clerical error that was detrimental to a single student, and the others were allowed to “walk” because of a misunderstanding between Hall and LHS principal Larry Ramirez.
“Last year, the board didn”t know that the students were going to walk,” Allen said. “We did not vote to violate the policy.”
Trustee Timoteo “Tim” Juarez, Jr., expressed grave concerns about that lack of consistency.
“If we”re going to change the policy, we need to go ahead and change it,” he said. “If we”re going to leave it as it stands, we need to make sure to enforce it. Either way, we need to make sure that we”re doing it fairly and consistently, and I”m concerned that we haven”t been doing that the past couple of years.”
Trustee John Manning noted he is more concerned about why the students are not passing the tests than whether or not they are able to participate in commencement exercises.
“As a parent, if my child was passing all the classes and not passing the tests, what is going wrong?” he said. “I”d be up at the school trying to find out what the problem was and how to change it. There”s obviously a problem here, and we need to find where the fault is so we can fix it and not have to have this conversation every year.”
Hall then asked Assistant Superintendent James Rabe to present information regarding the district”s TAKS results for this year, hoping to lend some clarity to the issue.
Rabe reported that, while most of the district”s students are meeting or exceeding their TAKS requirements at the elementary and junior high levels, a breakdown happens between the freshman and sophomore years that needs to be corrected.
“There is a dark cloud hanging over the high school scores,” he said. “Looking at the scores at this point, almost half of our tenth-graders, about 150 students, are on track not to graduate. That number increases at the eleventh-grade level, but only to about 35 percent of the students who are on track not to graduate.”
Rabe credited the problem to two factors, first that the instruction at the high school level is not where it needs to be, and second that the State of Texas raised the bar for high school TAKS testing.
“I intend to come to the June board meeting with a list of things we need to do and how we need to do them,” Rabe said. “But we need to think about the way things are being taught and how to make sure that we are teaching students the way they learn. If you”re teaching something in the classroom and the students aren”t understanding it, you can”t expect them to understand it if you”re teaching it the same way in tutorials.”
After Rabe”s report, the board resumed discussion about allowing the students to “walk.”
“I think that a high school education prepares you for life, and I”m not sure we”re doing the kids that didn”t pass the TAKS a service by letting them walk,” said Trustee Clint Mohle. “The rules say that you have to pass the TAKS to walk, and they know that. If you”re trying to prepare them for real life… one of the lessons is that in the real world, you have to play by the rules.”
Mohle”s comments infuriated some parents, causing at least one to leave the building and prompting Allen to remind the audience that the public comment portion of the meeting had passed. After order was restored, the board moved on the question.
Ohlendorf made a motion that a second commencement ceremony be held in August, after the students have had the opportunity to retake the TAKS. His motion carried 6-0, with Trustee Juan Alvarez abstaining because his daughter is a member of this year”s graduating class.
For a moment, the audience seemed confused, silent in disbelief after Allen called for a 10-minute recess. Manning”s explanation that there would be a second ceremony, but that the board”s policy would stand and students that had not met TAKS requirements would not be allowed to participate in graduation exercises was met with a mixture of disbelief, tears, rage and cries of “unfair!”
Still, the board stood by the policy, but vowed to work with Hall, Rabe and Ramirez to determine the root of LHS”s testing woes and what solutions are available.

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