Letter to the Kennedale News July 11, 2015

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My home for the last 12 years has been in Kennedale – my first home. The place where I brought home my babies, put down roots and pulled lots of weeds. Kennedale was not the first school I taught in but it was certainly the first place where I truly learned to be a teacher. {{more}}
I had principals who served us meals and painted hallways. They were not afraid to call me in with concerns, drop by my class to see what was going on or even cover my class for a surprise baby shower. They wrote kind letters that encouraged me to do what I do. They put me in leadership positions and gave me a voice. Teachers and paraprofessionals became my colleagues and my friends. They brought me meals when I was sick, helped make my copies. They gave this young teacher advice on how to manage my class, create more engaging lessons, a place to vent and laugh. I watched them. I learned from them. I cried the day I turned in my resignation.
I have moved on, but I still care deeply about what happens here. These days the resignation letters are piling up. Is anyone paying attention? Is the school board protecting its best assets? Research shows over and over that “Ultimately, the relationships that shape the culture and climate of the school are strongly influenced by the school principal. ‘In schools where achievement was high and where there was a clear sense of community, we found invariably that the principal made the difference’ (as stated in the Journal of Leadership in Education, 2009).
Community is what I miss most about teaching in Kennedale, but they are losing it quickly. Change is always hard and there has been a significant leadership shift in the school. I have served under 34 different principals and assistant principals in my 15 years of education. I have seen new people come and go and the struggle that can sometimes create. Part of me feels like I should not write this letter. I am no longer a teacher there. However, because of the community that KISD helps build, these teachers are still my friends, mentors and sounding boards. I feel like I have to do something because the teachers who work there are too afraid. They are afraid of speaking up, of asking questions. Simple things like what they are teaching in the next school year or even to forward board approved policies. Fear does not do good things to a place.

Michal Fullan, an expert on both educational leadership and change says this, “The single factor common to successful change is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, schools get better. If relationships remain the same or get worse, ground is lost. Thus, leaders build relationships with diverse people and groups-especially with people who think differently. In complex times, emotional intelligence is a must”. I am currently pursing my Ed.D in curriculum and research. My free time is spent reading journal article after journal article on educational policies. The ones I see coming out of Kennedale (grading policy, technology, 21st century skills etc) are not supported by the wealth of research. In the last year I have seen my friends, my mentors and some of the best teachers and leaders I know become afraid of asking questions, of doing their jobs and speaking up for students or even themselves. Some have been asked to leave. Most have been reassigned. The rest are updating their resumes. These teachers should probably be writing this letter, however, they are afraid. I can’t be fired or reassigned so I suppose it is up to me.

It is also up to the rest of the community and the school board. They should start asking questions. They should research educational policy. They should start protecting some of their best resources. Scared teachers are not effective educators. I no longer work in Kennedale, but currently my property taxes and part of my heart still goes to KISD. In the last few years Kennedale has had more than their fair share of negative attention, scandal and trials. They managed to pull together, create pride and be Kennedale Strong. That strength is being dismantled teacher by teacher, leader by leader. Fear has replaced community and strength.
Your athletic teams might be winning championships but your school, community and ultimately students are losing in huge ways. – Michelle Hurst, Kennedale

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