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Friday, August 14, 2009

Navasota is no better than its Schools.

A few years ago, when I ran for City Council in Navasota for the first time, I had a great number of reasons to do so. I’m glad to say that many things have been resolved in the past few years. I got to see, with our City Manager’s hard work and God’s blessings, the City’s finances make an impressive recovery. I got to enjoy the thrill of witnessing the restoration of the Police Station and its vitality, and long needed repairs done to our infrastructure, large amounts of city streets repaved, the animal control facility totally overhauled, Patout Pond converted from an erosion nightmare into a handsome water feature, and I could go on. I think I will! The Little League Ball Parks, the flower gardens, billboards on HWY 6, even Madeley Chapel, all saw significant improvements, often with the enthusiastic help of the private sector. In one of those “Cosmic alignment” moments a lot of things flipped in a very short time. Although I hated to leave my seat for a business opportunity, I felt much like former Mayor, Pat Gruner, as I was leaving the City in good hands, intelligent , competent people, who could and would do it without me. And they have.

It will be a long time before I see the purpose and meaning of my brief dip into politics, but all things considered, when the dust settled, Navasota looked better than ever, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

Now I’m going to say something, while I can, that I’m not sure anyone could have said before, with as much conviction and enthusiasm; Navasota has never looked better, and it is only going to get better. Take a look around at the City Council, the City Manager, the Fire and Police Departments, the parks, our public image, our future, none have ever looked or actually been better than those in place right now. We are continuing to blossom in spite of a national trend to the contrary. Navasota is a culture on the rise.

You could see it last year and the year before, at the football games. Even when we lost, and that was rare, we were still winners. Navasota fans outgunned schools twice our size. You could see it at our city pool, where throngs choose to come from all over because they like to have the meets here, in a beautiful, small town atmosphere. You could see it in our downtown, where businesses are hanging on quite well during the “worst crash in the American economy in our lifetimes.”

Today I had lunch with a well known recording artist, looking at Navasota as a place to consider for a major event. Nothing may come of it, but this is the second one I have met here, scouting the area and thinking about promoting in Navasota in just the last couple of months. A fellow from the Woodlands, an event coordinator named Jeff Moreland, is doing everything he can to bring people to Navasota. These two recording artists are just the tip of his iceberg. He loves Navasota and is making them love it too. They all see a great little town with tremendous geography and potential, and a City government doing all the right things to get our local economy moving. They want in while the gettin’ is good.

That just leaves one little piece of unfinished business, and that is our schools. Very often I run into someone who has gotten caught up in some absolutely erroneous hearsay about our schools. And they ask me, is it true? Sadly this kind of self-deprecation has been sabotaging our growth for years. I honestly believe it is spread by Realtors in neighboring counties who consider us a threat, and use this old reliable school criticism deception to discourage land lookers from peeking in Grimes County.

Here is the truth: We have good schools. You want to see bad schools, just look down the road. I’ll be kind and not name names. We see a bunch of them during basketball and football season, and every year thank the Lord we do not live there. So my headline was double edged: Navasota as a whole, IS NO BETTER than its schools! Even though we have a very decent school system, perhaps one of the things that has egged us on to even better performance is this stupid perception that we have bad schools. We have had some administrative bumbles. And we have overcome them. Like many towns, good news travels much slower than bad, so just about the time the general public is aware that you have conquered one ill, and that may take years, a new one surfaces to refresh the negative at heart. But all along, teachers were teaching, our kids were learning, tests were improving. Ignoring those negative hearts, our teachers and students have excelled, and in spite of the instability in leadership. That probably proves something earthshaking, but I won’t touch it.

Every year, Navasota youth compete toe to toe with other districts and are known as serious competition at science fairs, history fairs, band competitions, swimming, football, basketball, and more, and they make us proud. Every year, this little town puts more hard cash into the hands of teachers to encourage excellence, through the Education Foundation, than any town our size. No town does more for their kids, or sees more success out of them than we do. THAT is the truth about Navasota.

I was privileged to be an adult sponsor once with some Navasota kids when they went to “Frontier,” a Young Life camp in Colorado. Navasota kids ran the place, winning the competitions, physical and spiritual, and the hearts of the camp workers who saw something special… a kind of big family mentality, that they admired. Black or White or Brown, the Navasota bunch worked and fought and played together and functioned as a winning force. A rising culture. And I’ve seen it many times since. Some of you do not remember it, but our Bert Miller was the president of the local Jaycee chapter when little old Navasota swept up the state Jaycee awards for several years. That generation is now leading our present City vision, and it is kicking ass. Navasota has always had great young people, who perhaps lacked only one thing; Pride in their town, and that is where some of the badmouthing about our schools came from. But even that is changing.

The new crop of teachers hired this summer has a striking element. Out of the 24 or so, nine are our own kids, coming home. Our kids are starting to choose to live here and work here, and that may be the most telling example of our new community self-worth. The trash talk about our schools in general was never true, and has become the favorite lie of those who love gossip and innuendo. Yes there were problems, there will always be. Look in the dictionary under pandemonium and there is a picture of a school. But today we have the best team of Principals we have ever had. We have to credit the present School Board for the way they have pulled our schools through a firestorm of criticism, building our district brick by brick, and now vindicated, find themselves in the best shape they have ever been. They are starting the year with two of the campuses rated Exemplary, the highest rating a school can get in Texas. The rest are more than “Acceptable,” which means good in my book.

People might ask then, what was the beef? Simple. The State rates school achievement not by how much the regular or “GT” [sadly, this designation no longer exists] kids excel, but how the under-privileged and challenged kids are doing. Test averages and standards are determined in Austin, and then applied to everybody the same, regardless of your demographic mix. If you have too many kids that are not up to State expectations, they do not care if the rest of your students are rocket scientists. They do not care if a third of our children are migrants either, many of whom speak little English. State expectations do not change from a school with no non-English speaking children, to ours with large numbers of them. It has been an unfair comparison all along. The truth is that Navasota kids and teachers have performed heroically, and satisfied the tests and deserve our admiration and respect, not disparaging remarks based on ignorance or nasty opinions.

It’s not that we have bad schools. We have great schools who are and have been under unfair scrutiny in a flawed rating system. So when some people say we have bad schools, what they are saying in a roundabout way is, well, we have a lot of, you know, Mexican kids. And that, to some is a slam. Then these Mexican kids, called properly “Mexican American” children, as my wife tells be, but in truth they are at least off spring of Mexicans, and should be proud of that, this past year in an historic, pivotal crossroads of their lives, and our district, stepped up and achieved. In a classic, breathtaking moment, they made a mass movement towards excellence, equality, and in my book, just became worthy Americans. But then, that’s just my opinion.

All we need now is to stop talking trash about ourselves and treat each other with respect and work to keep the progress going. Some people will never get used to that, to living in a positive, beautiful, peaceful place. A place where artists and celebrities want to hang out. They probably know better how to fight and complain than build and encourage. They are really going to be unhappy from now on. When they crank up the lie about Navasota schools send them to me.

I will show them my own kid. She had a great experience in Navasota schools, preparing her for life. She was almost a National Merit Scholar, earned 13 semester hours before graduating , had a head start on college, where she graduated with a very high GPA, and was scooped up by a company in Temple owned by Warren Buffet. There are plenty more where she came from. My kid, our kids, Navasota, Navasota Schools. I’m proud of them. And you should be too.


Anonymous said...

I have lived here for a few years and Navasota is where I want to be. We are minutes from Waco, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio if we need something that cannot be had right here.
Washington On the Brazos... Pierre LaSalle's history... local music... wineries... rivers... ranches... hard working people who love their children... good neighbors... industries... I have seen many school systems and never have I encountered one with the quality of committed employees as is in the Navasota ISD!
Thanks Russell for speaking about how great the city and school are!

JAM said...

Well, said!! An update: there ended up being 15 new teacher hires that are returning students who graduated from Navasota. There were also an additional two teachers who have taught in the district previously, who chose to come back to teach here.