Richard Greene

April 19, 2014

Push for excellence in Arlington schools

Our future is on the shoulders of students who need our support.

Facing the most important school bond election in the city’s history, Arlington voters would be asking a fair question when inquiring about how well the system is doing in meeting its core mission of preparing the next generation.

Thanks to the generosity of the Texas Rangers Foundation in support of the AISD, I’ve enjoyed a first-person experience for the past decade and a half that will help answer that question.

Every year a student in each of Arlington’s high schools who demonstrates strong academic achievement, leadership potential and an interest in community service is selected to receive significant funding through an innovative scholarship program supporting their pursuit of a college degree.

Being a member of the selection committee, I have had the opportunity to examine how well the public education system has worked for almost 300 students — some facing challenges and others with positive life experiences.

I’ve only room here for one example, but it is typical of the kind of promising young adults that the district is turning out and, more especially, the support they are receiving from some exemplary educators in our schools.

I learned of the story and the journey of this boy’s young life from his application file and the personal interview the selection committee conducts as part of every year’s selections.

With a father in prison for most of his life, a mother who disappeared with another man, and living with 14 other people in a three-bedroom home — none of whom provided any sort of parental support — he faced little that was promising.

This youngster arrived for his high school freshman year amid high expectations that he would just drop out and be lost among those on one of life’s dead-end roads.

A compassionate faculty member thought she saw something more. Together with her husband, two of his middle school teachers and the school’s social worker, they took the kid under their wings. With their nurturing attention for the past three years, his prospects for a successful future are today virtually unlimited.

By the time he met with the scholarship selection committee, he was sporting a 3.68 GPA, and that included almost every advanced placement class offered at his level.

His teacher describes him as a kid with all odds stacked against him, with all the influences around him to just not show up.

“Instead,” she writes, “he does more than just show up — he excels in his classes.”

In his own words he explains, “I realized that the only way I wouldn’t be a burden on somebody’s load, was if I was to carry the load myself. I like the feeling I get when I know I’m doing something completely for someone else.”

I fully realize that turning around the life of one kid among more than 60,000, many doing just fine in their life circumstances, isn’t that big of a deal. Or, is it?

The point of my sharing this is to demonstrate how crucial it is that we, the people of the entire community, meet our obligation to provide those on whose shoulders our future depends the support they need to make this kind of difference.

More than all the debate over this and that aspect of the school bond package on the ballot next month, it’s really a question of whether we want excellence in public education or will just settle for mediocrity.

When it comes to shaping the lives of young people with whom we are entrusted, it’s not just the duty of parents and teachers.

It’s a shared community responsibility, and that’s why my family and I will vote yes on the Arlington school bond package.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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