The Smartest Kids in the Room

Hint: It may not be the AISD board of trustees

The Smartest Kids in the Room

Between budget cuts and the unrelenting anti-intellectualism of standardized testing, there is no place for skills like rhetoric and public speaking for Texas school kids any more. So two Austin ISD students – Callier Creedle of Kealing Magnet and Eastside Memorial Junior Elijah Cofield – used the board meeting to show their skills.

Last Monday the pair took time out of their demanding test prep schedule to plead with trustees. Cofield was there on behalf of all the families and students terrified by the seeming disinterest from the board about what their planned handover to IDEA Public Schools means for his community. It seems only fair to present his brief but spirited comments in full:

"There were a lot of students who would like to be here tonight, but they're resting for the TAAKS test, so they sent me as a representative for Eastside Memorial High School students. I want to tell you that I'm tired. I'm not tired of being an Eastside student. I'm not tired of showing my Panther Pride. I'm not tired of fighting for my school. I'm tired of showing up every month and feeling like it doesn't matter and you don't hear me. I'm tired of watching teachers stand up for me and then disappearing. I'm tired parents taking their kids out of my school because they think it's turning into a charter school and shutting down next year.

"Another junior would like to point out there are a lot of unanswered questions about our future and our vertical team. People are already confused about our campus and there are a lot of understandings about Johnston, about what Johnston was and what Eastside is. We need to help clear up the confusion. We need your support. We need stability. This Fall she had teachers she knew and she trusted with her grades. Since the beginning of the school year she has lost four teachers. The reason for her GPA going down is not because she's not working hard. It's because every time she gets a new teacher, she has to start over and learn how their teaching habits are, how their grading habits are, and what their expectations are. It makes it hard to focus when the expectations are constantly changing.

"How many would like to know, what are y'all planning to do for the next three years to help Eastside again be successful? We need you to ensure and offer a variety of programs at our school so that we can get more students. We may have small numbers, but we are big in heart. All the students at Eastside would like to thank you, mister Mark Williams, for coming to talk to us. We would love for more of you to come out and talk to our Eastside Memorial students. Thank you."

Cofield has spoken to the board before, but Creedle is fast becoming an experienced spokesman for the needs to AISD and Texas schools. On Monday, he was speaking on behalf of all his class mates, school mates and every student in the state that will be bludgeoned and battered by the state's feckless dedication to high stakes testing – an issue that the district has finally taken a stand upon. Later that evening the trustees adopted a resolution imploring lawmakers to fix what they have broken, but it was up to Creedle to explain exactly how damaging the current system is:

"This week, as in many schools, we are uprooting our academic schedule to spend a couple of days on STAAR testing. At Kealing we only take a week at best off for STAAR testing, whereas at other schools they spend weeks if not months preparing for the STAAR test.

"That is not to say that we are unaffected at all at Kealing. I myself had to drop a high school credit course, Algebra One, because of the STAAR test. I was fine, that was not a big consequence for me, but that is not the story I want to tell you here today. I have a friend who, like many people at Kealing, is pressured into taking better classes by their parents. When this form came home, there was no question he was going to continue the course until the end of the year, lock it in. Now because of the performance on one test on one day, this score will follow him into his high school, into his college, based on a test he takes on one day in middle school.

"People say the children are our future. The STAAR test seems to be preparing us for a future where rote memorization and bubbling in is all that matters. A future where real education is a thing of the past. I apologize, but I refuse to stand idly by while my future, the future of people I care about, hangs in the balance. Please vote to adopt this resolution.

"If you don't want to listen to the parents, that's fine. If you don't want to listen to the teachers, that's fine, but please, take it from the students. We're the reason you're here today. Please."

There's no small dark, dramatic irony in the idea that Texas students are becoming more aware of public policy by fighting against to save their schools than they are learning in the classroom.

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Austin Independent School District, IDEA Public Schools, Eastside Memorial, Callier Creedle, STAAR, TAKS, Kealing Middle School, Elijah Cofield

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