(Williams): Students of color and students with disabilities are at a higher rest of disciplinary actions that decreases their chances of graduating and increases their chances of entering the juvenile justice system. What are some solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline that currently exist?

(Buckley): Our chair of public education, Harold Dutton, said something in passing that really stuck with me. “They don’t begin when they drop out, they begin 10 years earlier.” So, what I’ve focused on is that Kindergarten to 3rd grade space. But we’ve got to understand, our schools are a microcosm of our society; and what I mean by that is that they’re going to have conflict in their daily lives the way we do. What you’ll see in our schools that I think works best is when there’s a trusted adult that a youngster can go to, to help sort of diffuse the situation, calm the situation down so it doesn’t involve the disciplinary system.

That’s a good solution, having caring people that are actually trained in mental health to calm these people down. What’s another solution?

I think, when we do look at those students that enter the disciplinary track, we do need to have strong mentors. I think there are times when a child is looking for a role model, looking for a light, if you will. At those times, kids are facing a choice: am I going to find a way back to being productive and have a productive education, a productive life, or am I going to go elsewhere? We need strong mentors.

So how do we get more mentors in the schools?

I think we have more programs now, and I’ll speak to KISD for that; I noticed on the first day of school, a group of people that came in and shook their hand — but that can’t stop. That needs to continue.

Well, that works great for those outside the school, but what about inside the school? There’s a lot of red tape that stops people from getting into the schools.

I think the laws are very clear; we need so much seat time, among other requirements. But there are ways, through innovative scheduling, to carve out time where we can engage our students. Right now we’re looking at what we’re doing for accelerated learning after COVID, and I see that we’re having trouble filling those tutoring spots. That’s one area we have room for a new role model. Now, those solutions are very broad, but the assistance has to be specific as well. When we identify kids with certain learning challenges, we need to be able to meet those kids where they are. Here’s the other thing that I would want to posit — when it comes down to it, the interaction between a child and their teacher is the most important thing that occurs. Right now, in some instances, especially in the special ed space, with such a large amount of documentation that it crowds out their ability to really interact with students. Obviously there are plans that must be followed and parents need to be involved — we need a partnership, it cannot be adversarial.

You do sit on the (House) Education Committee and you do make decisions. We have educators that have been sounding the alarm for years concerning the lack of evaluation, services for children with special needs. As you‘ve said, you know that our educators are already overwhelmed, paperwork is a big part of that. How can we scale that down, how can we provide more resources for these kids?

The main thing you have to do again is to have enough qualified teachers in the classroom. Special education is a very specialized area that requires training.

What about training? I hear teachers say out loud all the time, “I never get training.”

Training is available, it absolutely is, and you’ll see where teachers and districts have to provide that time to train. Every occupation in our economy has seen a drain in power, even veterinarians. Here’s another thing: we need to ensure that we have high-quality instruction materials.

Right now, we have children that are in need of evaluations for the special education program and our state is lacking in the process of getting these children help. The only way they can make up for that is with compensatory services; how do we get those evaluations in a timely manner?

What we have to do is look at why we’re having the issue. Why is there a lack of support when it comes to individual services?

So how do we hold them accountable?

You have to bring more people to the profession. If you have one speech pathologist or speech therapist, you’re asking for a superhuman effort. When you look at a lot of things in education, you look at a tight market. You have to ask yourself, why are they going somewhere else?

Why do you think teachers are leaving their profession?

I think that COVID took everything. From technology, to our economy to education, to energy, to everything. COVID took everything that was on a path and pushed it ahead 10 years. You saw a situation where folks reevaluated their lives; we had a moment to reflect. And I think a lot of people said, “I’m not doing it this way anymore.” When I can’t find someone for my work, I look at myself and say, “why is it that they don’t want to work for me?” Is it climate? Is it financial? Is it work-life balance? ...A young teacher is like any other profession; the worst thing you can do is just toss them out there.

I think the pandemic brought it to a head, but our education system has been lacking for years.

I think we also need to look at all the success stories. At my veterinary clinic, we have a group of young people that are involved in our certified veterinary sister program with KISD, and these kids come and work at our practice. These kids come from all different backgrounds, and I now have kids that are studying at LSU to become a veterinarian.

And these are kids of color?

Absolutely. These kids look like KISD. Right now, in my clinic, every student CVA student except one is a student of color. These are just outstanding young people, so something is going right.

What are some other solutions to help kids in special education programs?

A $1,500 grant was approved recently that allows parents to receive services outside the school district. This could be technology in the home, or services that kids need. We need to build a better bridge to those funds.

Can the education committee look into broadening the wording about how these funds can be used?

Absolutely. You and I are lock-step in what we want to do.

What specifically do you see as the main special education concerns in KISD?

I think some of the challenges we’re having in the special education space are the same we’re having statewide.

I used to work for the Department of Defense for almost 7,000 EFMP’s here on Fort Hood. Of those 7,000, I would say 3,000 or 4,000 attended KISD, and I used to review those individual improvement plans. One student used to have speech, 30 minutes each time a week. By the time I went to advocate for this student in KISD, they had cut that down to 15 minutes per 9 weeks, which was so heart-breaking. He went backwards; whereas he was verbal, now he was nonverbal. I see KISD is taking away two of their classes and making it one big class and calling it a behavior class; now we have children with autism in behavioral class.

I don’t know the individual part of the budget. But what you have to do is identify the problem and find a way to solve it. Is it that we can’t find the OT, PT people? I believe that any shortcomings in our system are recognized by those in leadership. In the end there are local decisions that need to be made, and the best advocate for that is your board of trustees. At the state level, we need to ensure that the proper funds are available.

Many local families have complained that they are not happy with the special education services provided by KISD, and the district is frequently dropping the ball when it comes to providing the proper services.

I want every family to receive the services that they’re entitled to. And I want an environment where we’re all working together to get those services provided, and I want parents to be a part of it and to have a voice. This can’t happen in a vacuum; it can’t just be the school board. Everybody needs to take a hard look and ask “am I contributing to solving this problem.” I don’t want any parent to think that the system is operating outside of their needs.

The military actually sends parents that have kids with special needs to this area, because the government feels IDEA is a federal program and you must provide those services. They do not understand that they have overwhelmed the system.

We can look at the number of kids we need to serve, we can look at why they’re here — but the reality is that they’re here, and they deserve our best. That’s what we have to recognize.

What would you say to those parents?

Keep advocating for your kid, be a partner. Be persistent, respectful and advocate for your kid. Here’s what I think it comes down to: Everyone has had kids in school where things have gone down and you didn’t agree with what was going on. Now, maybe my kids did not have as big a challenge as what some of these families are facing, but they’ll go into that campus and have a respectful conversation about solving the problem and making sure their kids receive the services they need; it’s no different than what I did as a parent.

As a legislature, we need to figure out why that can’t happen. Why isn’t it happening and what can we do to stand up services alongside that? I think sometimes it comes down to a professional disagreement. At that point, we have to decide why we’re having that disagreement.

I want to add to that. I do find that parents come to people in crisis, and parents are not educating themselves. Several organizations provide education for parents, but they don’t seem to access it as much as they should.

I think that they’re too far down the road sometimes. They’re revved up, and it’s too hot in the road. That’s how you build a partnership; if it starts out with a finger-pointing deal, we don’t get the results they want. The kid suffers; adults may feel better, but the kid’s the one that suffers. I would say it starts at the beginning of every school year, with meet the teacher. Let’s make sure that we’re doing that, that we’re encouraging parents to meet the teacher.

Over the years, educational staff have reported abuse and noncompliance with federal regulations and some have lost their careers. I have numerous friends and numerous educators across the state that have lost their jobs advocating for children. So how do we strengthen the Whistleblower Act and would you consider looking at the Whistleblower Act?

I’m sure we could. Every district has a process for folks to come forward when they find a problem in the system. I think everybody deserves their due process and we want to make sure that those that see an issue with the system can go free to come forward and state their case. I do think that it needs to be recognized as well that there are two sides to every story,

But will you look at Whistleblower Act?

Let’s sit down and pull it out. Let’s go over it.

What is your stance on the mandatory state assessments like the STAAR test?

I have authored, two times, radical change to the STAAR test. Now, let’s be clear, the STAAR test is no longer a barrier to promotion. But, it creates significant anxiety in our school and we focus very hard on that in our campuses. Here’s the other thing about state assessment, because a lot of people say just get rid of it: the federal government requires us to have a state assessment. We have to be able to prove we’re doing what we said we’d do and we have to be able to provide a fair assessment. So getting rid of the state assessment, that’s not going to happen. Still, I long for the day when our accountability system is just another day in school.

Has the state ever looked at not just using the STAAR, but maybe having another test that has as much data but doesn’t have as much punitive damage towards kids?

I think where the anxiety comes from is — it’s a human nature thing. We’ve looked at using the ACT or things like that, but the SAT testified the other day that they didn’t want to be that test. But, the ACT might be. I want to see where we’re at, but I don’t want to see our schools get skewered.

We have a lot of military people and Fort Hood so near, and a lot of people believe that impact aid funding should be directed towards the military. What is your stance on that?

The purpose of the program is to be payment in lieu of the property tax. I also look at it this way: if Fort Hood was a giant Dell factory, they’d be paying property tax. What concerns me is that the percentage of military kids is going down. It used to be that 50% of our families were veteran, now that’s around 35%, and that can impact the amount of funding we receive.

Systematic racism, embedded in our schools, has long held back students of color. So, what changes, solutions or recommendations would you recommend for students of colors who are failing in the academic environment?

I think it all goes back to what we spoke about earlier. You have to begin with early childhood education.

But how do we impact kids in 9th grade that are falling behind?

For now, we’ve got a new schedule option in KISD called Power Hour where kids can use tutoring time during lunch to get done what they need to do. It’s an opportunity for kids, given COVID learning loss, where they can get the help that they need. I think it’s more positive than negative. Data shows that high-quality tutoring is the best way to close the gap.

jdowling@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7552

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(6) comments

Noe Rodriguez

Why is it that democrats always ask for more funds? Raising salaries and spending more money will not solve the problem. A school can have so many resources and funds, but if you do not have teachers qualified and devoted to their teaching , the resources are no good. And I still believe , education starts at home. From what I hear and have listened when shopping, there is one high school that is called out for being the least and worst schools here. My three kids graduated from that school, and today they are great productive citizens. They had great teacher that really look after their education progress. My kids were military kids. They went to all kinds of schools. Their surroundings and friends changed. But what we parents taught them went with them and still today they have kept those traits and family values. So again, funds is not the problem, professoinal, well balance and dedicated teachers is what we need. As a father and retired military, I would take the most of my time to be with my kids. Parent are the principal source and responsibility of educating our kids.

SunDevil6

The issues in KISD are not within the span of Buckley's immediate control. You want change in KISD? Look to the Board of Trustees.

MRBennettKing

Texas is hemorrhaging teachers because of the vilification coming from the radical right and terrible legislation coming from the Texas legislature. Brad Buckley has been on the education committee and owns some responsibility for the struggles the education system faces. It's time for new leadership in the legislature, and it's time to replace Buckley.

dailymajor

Mr.King, you are exactly wrong about every view you just gave. Teachers are not leaving the profession because of conservatives and their values. It is exactly the opposite....Theoretical training, in service, testing, paperwork and more paperwork are the reasons most teachers are getting out of the profession now....Dr. Buckley owns some responsibility for the struggles in education about like you own part of the responsibility for the covid pandemic. ..He is a good man, very, very intelligent, cares about the kids and schools, and is always ready to talk about things.and listen. I wish we had many, many more like him.

schiperno

I don't think Brad Buckley wants to help parents with kids with special needs based off what he said in this interview.

So if you have a problem with KISD, like many parents before you, he seems to have made the assumption that the parent must not have been "nice" enough.

He refused to acknowledge that, specifically in Killeen, there are problems that he is going to help fix. Instead he gave us excuses.

I guess Mr. Buckley wouldn't want to help parents and go against many of his financial endeavors.

dailymajor

schip, just where do you get all the mess you just stated in your post. It shows no resemblance to what Dr, Buckley said or is about.

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