Local schools look back on 2021 and ahead to 2022, teacher says content inquiry as ‘political stunt’

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Educators and students alike saw yet another long, tumultuous year in 2021. From returning to classrooms and debating local district masking policies, May local elections, bills from the Texas Legislature, ongoing staffing issues, and school library audits – education statewide and on the High Plains has become a stampede of stories to follow.

Here’s a look at a few key points from education around the High Plains in 2021, one month at a time, and what to look for in 2022.

Part I || 2021 – New problems, old problems, the struggle to learn, and the struggle to teach

Part II || 2022 – A new year, familiar conversations

Alongside ongoing coverage as the stories have developed, MyHighPlains.com has been able to speak with a number of district officials and staff regarding topics such as staffing shortage-fueled closures, as well as how teachers may navigate school curriculum and classroom content as the school year continues.

In a November comment, Dumas ISD Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Brett Beasely discussed the district’s class cancellations around the Thanksgiving holiday. Beasely stated that while the district was fully staffed with teachers and instructional personnel, they have experienced a lack of custodial staff and bus drivers. He also mentioned the ongoing shortage of substitute teachers across the state of Texas.

“We are actively seeking to add to our custodial staff and bus driving staff,” said Beasely, regarding the district’s efforts to prevent similar closures, “We feel like this issue is one that is shared across the state and our country. We have a labor shortage. We are doing everything within our power to recruit the very best people and maintain the very best people. We want people to know that Dumas ISD is a great place to work and that Dumas, Texas is a great place to raise a family.”

MyHighPlains.com reached out to Hartley ISD for comment on its class cancellations, but had not yet received a response on Dec. 14.

In the wake of the school content inquiry, MyHighPlains.com reached out to Amarillo ISD officials, as well as Amarillo Education Association President Aaron Phillips regarding the process of the audit, perspectives of teachers and officials on the audit, as well as priorities for educators and legislators proceeding into 2022.

Amarillo ISD officials had not responded to MyHighPlains.com as of Dec. 14.

As a first grade teacher alongside his position as Amarillo Education Association President, Phillips commented regarding the audit and the needs of local educators.

“The audit is a political stunt and a waste of time and resources. It’s another way to portray educators and our public schools as the scapegoat for an issue that isn’t really impacting our communities. Public education is constantly beat down by Republican lawmakers in Texas who are catering to a tiny fraction of the base who hold fringe ideas about society,” said Phillips, “I’m concerned this make-believe crisis will be used to further take resources from our kids and allow the state to skip out on its state constitutional duty to provide a free public education to all. Educators often use their own funds to buy curriculum and materials because schools aren’t allotted enough funding to truly give us every resource we need. If lawmakers are concerned about anything happening in the classroom, it should be that their own actions often make it harder to teach and learn in this state.”

“I have not seen any directives or inquiries related to this request and have not had members report back to me so far,” Phillips continued, regarding the audit itself.

Going into 2022, when asked what educators hope legislators and school district officials would keep in policy focus, Phillips said, “I’d love for lawmakers to actually listen to the educators in this state, and to drop the manufactured culture war issues. We have state leadership that is working to dismiss systemic issues in our state and rebuff any accountability for providing an education to all students by stirring up racist fears about curriculum. Our schools teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), with those standards being written by our elected State Board of Education.”

Spurred on both by the school content audit, as well as the report published by the TASB aimed to address how content is adopted into both classroom materials and curriculum, Phillips spoke on how teachers create daily lessons and use materials in class.

“Typically, teachers design lessons around the TEKS and will build a single lesson or even a unit around one standard or a set of standards. There will be checking for understanding along the way, assessing understanding at the end of the unit or throughout, and then intervention if a student is failing to completely understand a standard or subset of standards,” said Phillips, “Some elements may be part of daily work, such as participating in a phonics program that is aligned to the TEKS.”

Regarding how teachers create lessons plans from curriculum maps published by districts, Phillips continued, “State law requires the district provide a curriculum map, and we do often have access to lesson resources. We’re expected to use the resources we have in terms of lessons to meet the needs of the students currently in our classrooms and help them have success in learning the TEKS. Board policy outlines how resources can be purchased. Some teachers may buy their own resources with their own money, and there is not an approval process for that. If lawmakers only want us to use approved and aligned resources, I would again reiterate that they need to pay for the diverse content we need to teach. We are required by law to meet the needs of every child, and a single, standard format or lesson isn’t going to ensure that success.”

“The district is supportive,” said Phillips, “but again, does not have the funding to provide everyone everything they need. I believe resources are prioritized well in Amarillo and are aligned to state standards. Demanding book lists, trying to ban books, and other actions to prevent critical thinking are political stunts that will ultimately hurt kids in our state.”

As school content continues to be a cornerstone talking point for many candidates across the country headed into 2022 elections, how the priorities of day-to-day educators and school officials will align with the actions of legislators in the coming year remains to be seen.

This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.

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