Nelson Mandela, the great anti-apartheid activist and former President of South Africa, said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” Truer words were never spoken because without education, the human brain would never reach its full potential.
Without an organized school system, teaching young minds to grasp the academic fundamentals so essential to their future, it’s highly unlikely that society as a whole would have a fresh crop of achievers in every new generation. It’s the reason that teachers and school administrators are so necessary to the advancement of civilization.
It’s always been my contention that we can never pay educators what they’re really worth, because their contribution to the social order is inestimable. Good schoolteachers make an enormous contribution to the well-being of the general public because they help shape the culture, which will have a profound influence on future generations.
This leads me to my interview with Dr. Kevin Rogers, who was recently appointed to the position of Lewisville Independent School District (LISD) Superintendent. A native Texan, raised in the Midland-Odessa area, Dr. Rogers was selected out of 99 candidates in a process that spanned 30 states.
Married with two sons, he currently lives in Highland Village. He’s been an educator since 1986, teaching science and coaching football and basketball in middle school. “Coaches and sponsors have a different avenue to reach kids that is something unique,” he said. “Middle school coaches sort of get to do it all. They don’t get the opportunity to specialize, and that was okay because I really loved that other aspect of working with kids.”
There’s an old adage that says if you love what you do for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. Dr. Rogers appears to be the embodiment of that adage. “I taught what I loved and I loved both science and athletics. I worked very diligently to try to be the best in both. Not long ago, I received a text from a former student of mine from the mid 1980’s. She’s now a professional soccer player in Finland as well as a coach. It was really cool to hear from her and to think that I make a difference in a few people’s lives. To me, that’s really what it’s all about.”
He was the principal at Arbor Creek from 1997 to 2000, then principal at Marcus 2000-2008. A believer in collaboration, Dr. Rogers recently met with all 69 LISD principals to seek their input. “To know people are part of a team is to make sure that they are part of decisions whenever possible,” he added.
What does a superintendent do? “Overall, of course, we are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school district, such as campus personnel, including the hiring and evaluation of our personnel, and we’re responsible for the curriculum that’s taught in our schools. We certainly have a big piece of the puzzle regarding the development of the budget. One of the statutory requirements of the Board (elected LISD Trustees) is that they adopt the budget and set the tax rate, and of course we have to prepare a budget. Our budget is a little less than half a billion dollars. We are a very labor intensive occupation, spending 83% of the budget for personnel. Our budget goes mostly for teachers in classrooms and all the rest of the necessary support staff. We have 69 campuses in LISD, which is very different from when I started in 1986, when we had four middle schools; now we have 15.
“We are a big enterprise! We have 40 elementary schools, 15 middle schools, and then 14 other campuses, most of which are 10 high schools, including two career centers. We have an early childhood center, which is Willie Jackson, and of course an alternative school, which is the Lewisville Learning Center. Early childhood serves Pre-K for ages 3 and up. In 1986 we had about 13,000 students and now we have 53,000 and about 7,000 employees.”
Dr. Rogers said classroom size varies at different levels. “For example, elementary level is set at 22 because that’s what the law states. Until we get to the 5th grade we have to keep the class size at 22. We can ask for a waiver from the state, but we try not to if at all possible. For example, if we have 22 in one classroom and 23 in another we have one of two options.
“Either we ask the state to grant us a waiver, allowing us to keep 23 in one classroom, or we hire another teacher and split those two classes three ways, ending up with about 15 in each class. That would be inefficient for us, so we make a reasonable request for the waiver. However, if we hit 24 in a classroom we are going to add another teacher.”
As for the education of undocumented immigrants, Dr. Rogers said: “We have to educate everyone that shows up at our door, so we have a lot of English language learners in our schools.” If a parent brings in a child, do you ask about their legal status? “We are only able to ask if they live in our district, so if they show proof of residency in our district we have to admit them. We serve about 80 languages in our district. The top five languages we serve are, of course, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Urdu, (which is East and Middle Eastern Indian dialect), and Burmese, which is our Chin population.”
LISD is the second largest refugee center (Indianapolis is first) in the U.S. for Chin refugees. They are political refugees from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Most are Christians and many have fled religious persecution in their former country. “The kids in those families walked about 2,000 miles through the jungle to escape the persecution,” said Dr. Rogers, adding, “Catholic charities does a great job with those folks. There are some amazing kids that graduate and go off to college.” He also talked about how impressed he is with foreign language children who are faced with the additional challenge of learning the English language as they learn the subjects in the curriculum. “Can you imagine how tough it would be for us if we had that challenge? I would struggle if I was shipped over somewhere and had to do that.”
On the subject of Common Core: “It is not in our curriculum,” he said firmly. “The State of Texas outlaws Common Core and we create our own curriculum, which is based on the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). Our curriculum is better than the Common Core. We are actually in the process of working on some documents that the district will publish to reemphasize the way we develop curriculum that is based on TEKS and teachers. We want to be sure that teachers are savvy about what Common Core is and what the law says. The difference between Common Core and Texas standards is that ours are much more specific and much more detailed, and to me, that’s a good thing.”
When asked what he thought of the iPads in the schools: “Overall, these are good things, but in a couple of areas we need to push a reset button. We must emphasize that those devices are for educational uses only. Yes, there are many different ways it can be used, but we need to remember that technology is still just a tool, but I truly believe that nothing can replace a good teacher.” Amen to that!