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Sutherland for Schools blog

Some class size waiver requests denied

by Ann Sutherland on 12/21/14

Increasing the central office staffing without reducing class size, as we did with the last budget, is having an impact.Of the 300 waiver requests submitted (this goes by grade) the following were denied by TEA on Nov 20:

Christene C Moss K,1,4
Maude I. Logan K
SS Dillow K,1,4
Harlean Beal 2,4
John T. White 1,2,3
Sunrise McMillan 2
Atwood McDonakd  K,1,3,4
I M Terrell K

  If you have 22 students in a grade K-4 classroom and they give you a 23rd, the board is required to apply for a waiver to TEA within 30 days.  Keep track of the # of days after your child is enrolled and let me know.

Education's Big Lie

by Ann Sutherland on 12/18/14

It's come to this.  Earlier this month our board held a workshop on our goals which was excellent; we came together on three major goals which, if followed, will make our district better.  We all agreed, and the list will be presented at the Jan. 13 meeting.

But I have to withdraw my support of one:  that all children can achieve at "grade level".  Here is the email I sent to my colleagues this morning:

I am withdrawing my support of this provision because student performance on tests stems in large part (about half) from student background characteristics, and because in the United States we are such a disparate group of people--statistically very much more diverse than in any other culture I am aware of.  I can give you data if you wish.

You need to know that this is a major reason for state assessments' changing to the criterion referenced tests that the STAAR and other state tests are built on.  It's because it reduces the difference between students.  It also enables states to lower the passing rate. It's why Mississippi, with the highest state passing rate in the nation, has the lowest student performance rate on the NAEP.

I discussed this with Mr. Dansby when he was superintendent.  He believes, as I do, that all children can learn.  Both we and they can do better.  

But I do not believe that all children can perform at grade level, unless "grade level" is made so low as to be of limited utility, as has been done in the past with our state tests.  More recently, state policymakers are raising the passing score in the mistaken notion that all kids can be "made" to pass them. Then, when schools fail to measure up, the principals and teachers are blamed.

Sometimes the principals and teachers should be blamed for failing to work to children's profit.  But just to give you a picture of the imprecision of these measures, California used to do predictions of the adequacy of school performance.  But they never said "pass" or "fail".  Rather, they gave the schools a range of the middle 50% of like schools for the school to measure itself on.  They knew that the comparison measures could not adequately measure the difference between schools.

Make no mistake:  schools make a HUGE difference in our society.  But the tests don't measure the difference between 'school' and 'not school'.  Instead, they measure the difference between one student and others.  Although individual children, and small groups of children, can be moved to parity, no one has figured out how to move large groups children with disparate performance profiles to parity. 

And states' insistence on shifting the conversation from the effect of schools to the effect of teachers, led by people who have little or no classroom experience, is killing our urban schools.


by Ann Sutherland on 12/13/14

You may have heard two board members express concern over reports of bullying at the board meeting.  This is a tough area for board members.  When grievances are filed, the situation becomes a legal process.  It is designed to work with employees and children on one side "of the table" and management and board on the other side.

Let's analyze this problem.  I will first cite a case where retaliation could be said to be clear:  employee reports illegal actions.  Within the number of days stipulated in law, that employee receives a demotion, with salary reduction. Employee files a grievance, arguing that the district's action was occasioned by his reporting.  In this case, the burden is on the district to show it wasn't bullying.

But most cases are not this clear. Instead of reporting an illegal action, the employee are sometimes just doing a good job, but are unhappy about manaement's actions.  And instead of an adverse management move such as a transfer or salary reduction, allies of management could begin making comments, or doing little hurtful things (like criticizing the employee's work for some small thing), or other.  With a raft of underperforming children, it's easy to blame a teacher for falling short.  

These things are much harder to deal with.  Often the employee is unable to effect any resolution.

We now have a situation where central office employees, including Dr. Sorum and Mrs. Breed, are entering into discussions at school sites about improving student performance.  Never mind that they have been ineffective over the last seven years in doing this:  having a retinue of 8-10 central office employees descend on a school and demand changes has a chilling effect on all staff at the school site.  If grievances are in process, it makes it even more threatening.

The net result is very bad.  The social fabric which holds our school district together, which affects its very viability, is weakened.  The stronger employees leave, to be replaced by others not as strong.  The cost is growing.

I am very concerned about this.  I think it is our biggest problem.  I wish I knew how to address it.

Do you have ideas?

Cost of Palazzolo defense / most information is not confidential

by Ann Sutherland on 12/11/14

In response to my open records request, the district reports it has spent $410,700 in legal fees for the Palazzolo defense.

By the way, staff has begun marking everything they send out as confidential.  Open records responses are, by definition, not confidential.

What is, and is not, confidential is controlled by state law and board policy, not by staff.  Staff does not tell board members what they can and cannot share.  Our attorneys should know this.

Facebook's public shaming of SCA errors

by Ann Sutherland on 12/09/14

One parent has become so irritated about the SCA nonsense that he is resorting to public shaming by posting an error on his facebook page.  You can join in! or, for your own privacy, send to  You could also send them to and I will forward them.

Dec 9 agenda and board book now available

by Ann Sutherland on 12/05/14

The December 9 agenda and board book are now available.  A major issue is to vote on $1.2 million for outside legal fees.  This is in addition to our legal staff.

I want to reduce the amount of money spent on attorneys.   We all know about the Palazzolo case (I've asked for a summary of outside costs on this; it should be available in another week).  I am also hearing that our outside attorney is doing some investigating, although there might be disagreement about the term "investigating."  

Vote Jan 13 on stopping SCAs

by Ann Sutherland on 12/04/14

At our Board Agenda Review yesterday, Dr. Linares agreed to place a vote on the January 13 agenda on whether to continue SCAs.  I will remind you the week before to contact your board members.  

Desks, chairs, tables delivered

by Ann Sutherland on 12/02/14

Readers, I've received some complaints about broken desks and chairs.  Mr. Cavazos sent a list of deliveries which is at the "data" tab on our website.

Schools should not have broken desks sitting around.  Let's try this:  if you have broken desks, chairs, or tables at your school, send me an email with the school and room # ( and we will get it fixed.

Mr. Cavazos says the desks are guaranteed for ten years.  Thanks to him.

Where are the reading lessons the district told teachers to use?

by Ann Sutherland on 11/30/14

I received this email privately from an elementary teacher.  One of the good things our district does is to provide the lessons the district tells teachers to use.  The problem is that someone has to prepare the lessons, and the district has already reportedly gotten into trouble with a publisher for using copyrighted material without permission.  So now, we are requiring teachers to "teach to the test" but are then asking the teachers to find the particular lessons.  (This means the teachers would have to plagiarize rather than the district . . . )  In my opinion, this is another reason why the centralized control doesn't work well:  it is too complicated to run effectively.

Well as the school week will begin again on Monday, I was looking on the frameworks to see if the STAAR Like passages have been put up for us to use.
Still no passages available, like we were told we have to use every Friday, at waiver day, Nov. 10.  I brought this to my administration's attention before Thanksgiving break.  
My AP said at an AP meeting the subject had been brought up.  Ms. Angelini said that there are plenty of resources available for purchase.  Hmmmm is the district going to buy these? These are expensive books.  I don’t understand why we are told we will be doing one thing and then the reading department doesn’t deliver, again. 

Once again, I am doing what my students need and pulling from the limited resources I already have in my classroom. 

I'm thankful for teachers this Thanksgiving

by Ann Sutherland on 11/27/14

It is amazing what our teachers are teaching about these days.  Last night my 3 grandchildren shared stories of their joy at different things they are learning--music, business, science.  So much is new since I was in high school (beginning with DNA--the 5th grader talked about the way a virus enters a cell . . .) 

I am thankful for all you teachers who take charge of the education of our children. So often we forget how much studying was involved. 

Trustee elections May 9th 2015. I'm running!

by Ann Sutherland on 11/24/14

It is incredibly important that the board have someone who keeps their eyes on our tax dollars and who is not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths when necessary.  This, and issues with our curriculum, is why I will run again.

Powerful interests with agendas different from ours will be working to replace me.  The only question is whether we will be able to let them.  I've planned a vigorous campaign and you will be able to lend a hand if you wish.

Candidates file in early February.  

Substitute availability is better but still below target

by Ann Sutherland on 11/23/14

Readers may recall that the district responded to our request to improve the availability of subs.  They increased the salary by a small amount and also established pyramid substitutes, who work every day, get paid better, and can get health benefits.  The goal was to reduce the lack of availability to 5% of the teacher requests. 

Thanks to Sammy Monge for the quick turn-around.

The data for September and October is below.  We do have better coverage (last year was  5.6% for Sept. and 11.9% in Oct.).  It gets heavier later in the year. But we aren't hitting 5% yet, and the holidays and winter are approaching.  

     September        October
High school 62 3.50% 126 4.80%
Middle School 120 7.80% 210 9.50%
Elementary school 191 5.20% 379 7.40%
Other schools 5 2.40% 27 10.10%

REVISED: They don't live in the district

by Ann Sutherland on 11/20/14

In response to at least one request, here are five senior staff who, according to Dr. Linares, do not live in the district.  This is required by policy which was adopted by our board.  Because it has not been followed in recent years, I believe staff should be given a period of time in which to re-locate.

1..  Dr. Sharon Meng
2.  Barbara Griffith (Ms. Griffith was 'guaranteed' there would be no problem with her residence when she came on board under Dr. Johnson.)
3.  Acting CFO Elsie Schiro (who lives across the street from the district and will be moving into the district) 

BTW, we specifically allowed Mr. Johnson to move out of his apartment and return home for valid personal reasons.  He asked for this vote.  Nobody else has done this.  

Comments on other board members

by Ann Sutherland on 11/19/14

Dear readers,

We are entering another election season, with trustee elections next May.  The seats of trustees Moss, Needham, Jackson and mine are up for re-election.
I am not going to publish comments about these other trustees during this season.  

Artificial turf / Technology Refresh schedules / bond contingency list

by Ann Sutherland on 11/19/14

The Nov 17 Bond Citizens Oversight Committee meeting featured a lively discussion about the need for artificial turf. Parent and COC member Jennifer Frank and I spoke on the need for local option on the turf which I believe the board approved subject to campus wishes.  Thanks to chairman Isaac Manning for permitting this conversation.

We also received the schedule of laptop and other refresh schedules which is at the "data" tab.  Included are schools and dates re:
Distance learning centers (p. 1)
Promethean projectors (pp. 2 & 3)
Laptop refresh (pp. 4, 5)
Desktop refresh (pp. 6, 7)
IT infrastructure activities (p. 8)
Upgrades for kids' individual computers (p. 9)
On p. 10 is the list of $49 million in projects to be deferred in case there is not enough money, due either to (a) increases in local costs (which seems real) or to (b) some misses in projected project cost.  These are in p. 10 Some of (b) is inescapable in a project this size.  I have issues with the $6 million in deferred maintenance.  Our schools need to show kids that they are important and these funds are needed now.

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