HOUSTON – Sept. 19, 2017 – Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney Watson challenged teachers on Monday to focus on ways they can achieve the changes they want to see in their students by creating classrooms where every child is expected to succeed, no matter what.
That “no-excuses” approach to education underscores the district’s first embedded professional development session of the year for more than 2,400 campus educators, who attended one of three events throughout the day on Sept. 18 with future feeder-pattern colleagues.
“We can achieve the change if you do everything you possibly can do to make Spring ISD a better place,” said Watson, who noted that staff and administration have already proved they have what it takes during Hurricane Harvey. “When the winds came and when the waters rose and families came to our doorstep, the community responded,” he said. “That’s just the beginning . . . and it’s not going to stop now. We’re going to continue achieving the change.”
Participants heard firsthand how to improve classrooms and schools from keynote speaker Damen Lopez, author of “No Excuses University” and founder of the No Excuses University Network of Schools. During his 30-minute address, he recounted his family’s struggle with poverty and the challenges he faced in high school before deciding to become a teacher.
At his first teaching job, he encountered biases and attitudes that got in the way of academic success. “I found the problem was not with the kids but with the adults,” he said. The solution wasn’t a big grant or initiative, but a core belief that every student deserves to be college- and career-ready.
“You have the ability to change the lives of these kids,” he said.
Getting the work done isn’t easy, especially among naysayers who like to blame funding or parents or other external factors for why kids fail. There is nothing more important, he said, especially when the data shows minority men are more likely to get their GED in prison than graduate from high school.
The priority should be on helping children chart a different path by creating a culture of universal achievement, starting in pre-K and continuing through graduation day. “It’s cheaper to send a student to Princeton than to prison,” he said.
Mary Gore, a kindergarten teacher at Meyer Elementary, said she enjoyed Lopez’s message and agreed with his approach of talking to kids early and often about being ready for college and careers.
“I know that when they come in, they have no foundation, but when they come out of my class, I see that they have changed,” she said. “You start at the beginning. You don’t wait until later.”
She starts the conversation with a simple question: “I always ask `what do you want to be when you’re grown up?’”
Ann Vazquez, a 4th-grade math and science teacher at Northgate Crossing Elementary, said hearing Lopez was like “sitting down with a friend and talking,” and that his message resonated with her. “Every child’s success comes from what I can control in the classroom,” she said.
Dr. Watson challenged all teachers to take the same sense of purpose that has helped fuel the hurricane recovery and bring it into the classroom, working collaboratively and passionately on behalf of students who need strong leadership more than ever.
The superintendent ended the sessions by giving each participant a copy of “No Excuses University” to help detail the strategies Lopez outlined.
“You can’t have an excuse,” said Jason Meade, a physical education teacher at Winship Elementary. “You have to find a way to reach kids in the classroom. You have to give every kid a chance.”