Fall 2016

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Page 18 of 43

TEXANS ON EDUCATION ATPE NEWS 19 Our Culture's Brightest Gift to the World BY DAVE IRBY PAST PRESIDENT OF FRIENDS OF TEXAS PUBLIC SCHOOLS Dave Irby has served on the Friends of Texas Public Schools board since 2011 and is a senior account executive with Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit research and assessment company. O ne evening, while my wife and I were watching TV, I heard a familiar sound- bite: "Our public schools are horrible!" My wife, a fourth-grade teacher in Burleson ISD, glanced up at the screen with a scowl and went back to her school work. I have often heard poli- ticians and leaders denounce our public schools, scoring cheap political points at the expense of hard-working teachers and administrators who give their hearts and souls for the kids they serve every day. Are there schools that need improv- ing? Yes. Are there bad teachers? Of course. But the vast majority of our schools and educators are doing an amazing job considering they often lack the resources and parental support necessary to prepare students for life after high school. I recently had the opportunity to meet Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year. Shanna is an English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, a destination city for the resettlement of refugees from around the world. Shanna says, "As a teacher of refugee students, I've been priv- ileged to see public edu- cation through the eyes of students from coun- tries as diverse as Burma, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Cuba. I'm thinking of a student who taught me that public schools are so much more than a building—they are our culture's brightest gift to the world." She tells heartwarming stories of sev- eral refugee students whose lives have been dra- matically impacted by Amarillo schools. During an interview on Good Morning America, Shanna was asked why she loves her job, and she respond- ed, "[I] can help write the end of the story for every kid." Over the past several years, I have visited a number of public schools in South Africa. South Africa's top schools rival ours, but the disparity between their best and worst schools is vastly greater. Many schools, even in urban areas, lack essentials that we take for granted, like electric- ity, supplies, and basic training for teachers. And not all children have equal access to education opportunities. More than a few countries and cultures around the world write off children with disabilities and treat them inhumanely. This is not so in America. Forty years ago, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, requiring public schools to educate all children, regardless of any mental or physical disability. Why do most private schools refuse to take stu- dents with disabilities? Because educating every child with a disability is an incredibly difficult and expensive proposition. Hats off to the educators who work tirelessly with our children, including the extra special ones. Many say teachers have an easy job with more vacation time than any other profession. As the husband of a Texas public school teacher, I can attest that teachers put in countless hours during and outside the school year to prepare for each day in the class- room. The next time you hear someone disparag- ing our public schools, ask what evidence they have to back up their assertion. When they stare back at you with a surprised look on their face, ask, "Did you know the United States is one of the only countries in the world that guarantees an educa- tion for every child, even those with disabilities?" Or "When is the last time you volunteered to men- tor a student or give your time at a school in your neighborhood?" Then share something positive THE VAST MAJORITY OF OUR SCHOOLS AND EDUCATORS ARE DOING AN AMAZING JOB CONSIDERING THEY OFTEN LACK THE RESOURCES AND PARENTAL SUPPORT NECESSARY TO PREPARE STUDENTS FOR LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL. continued on page 40

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