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Time to move education from the farm

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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A personal failing that I must acknowledge frequently is that lost causes follow me home like sad little puppies. I’m so attracted to them that I continue to adopt them even though doing so once came precariously close to getting me killed. 

Never one to be deterred by something as clarifying as a near death experience, I’m going to wade into the long running debate of the best way to structure the public-school year. The 21st Century debate centers around the four-day school week, but the discussion has been going on for decades.

My bona fides for discussing education don’t stem from any personal experience as a teacher. I have a very short tolerance for children (we didn’t have children, so please don’t call CPS), so a career in education would have been very short lived. My experience with schools is even stronger…I married a teacher.

When my wife and I married, she was teaching second grade and would teach elementary age children her entire career. I learned two things very quickly by marrying a teacher. First, a small-town teacher in 1978 made shockingly little money. Secondly, teachers worked very long workdays.

In the mid 1980s, the discussion about changes to the school year centered for a time on year around school, and the school she was teaching at was chosen by the district to test the idea. Instructional time was structured as six-weeks in class and one week off. The thinking was that the frequent week longs breaks would result in better educational outcomes because the students and teachers would be fresher after that weeklong break.

At the end of a year, the results were exactly as predicted. Students’ scores were up, and teachers were much happier with the arrangement. Exactly the outcome educators were hoping for. So, of course, the district immediately adopted year-round school? Well, no.

While the students were happy and did better, and the teachers were happy (less stress buildup), the parents hated it. Their complaints? Because day care is expensive, and parents depended on the school to act as free daycare so they could work, that week off every six weeks was unacceptable. The second reason was that the kids not having the summer months off conflicted with their vacation plans each year. When it came time to decide on continuing the program, there was such an uprising from the parents, even though their children were doing better in school, that the district killed the project.

The 2022 analog to the 1980’s year-round school is the four-day school week.  Shepherd ISD in San Jacinto County is one school that has adopted a four-day school week. Teachers are likely more enthusiastic with the concept than parents. And I’m sure the district has worked to resolve these issues.

But a primary concern of Shepherd ISD is not just educational advantages, but a practical one. Fed up with the obstacles to teaching students teachers face every day, many teachers have left the field. 

My wife often complained that if they didn’t have to do so much administrative stuff (paperwork), they could spend a lot more time working with the kids. In fact, the state passed a “paperwork reduction” act for educators around that time. Which, of course, only increased the amount of paperwork they had to do.

Faced with the difficulty hiring experienced teachers, Shepherd ISD appears to successfully be using the shorter workweek as an incentive for hiring teachers. Hopefully, shorter, more focused school weeks will result in positive benefits for both students and teachers.

The primary obstacle for school districts, in my experience, to innovation in educational approaches, is tradition. Few of our students need the summer off to work in the fields on the family farm. In fact, even in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was in public school, the first few weeks of summer vacation were great, and then we were just bored, and looked forward to school starting again. Taking even a couple of months off at a time sets students back and requires wasted time with reteaching at the beginning of the school year.

While I personally think year-round school is the better alternative, the four-day school week is a start to moving away from an educational system mired in an agrarian culture that no longer exists.

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Time will tell about school plans

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FromEditorsDesk TonyBy Tony Farkas
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Going to school as a young pup a couple of years ago, there always were times I wanted to go home. Sometimes, in my senior year, I did stay home, since I was finishing my high schooling while working a full-time job.

Heck, I even want to play hooky from work on occasion, having been doing this for more years than I care to relate.

My problem back then was that I was bored, but that’s just me. Even so, I noticed how much effort the teachers put into their work to get me smarter than I was.

In trying to keep that effort alive in the current millennium, there is an effort aimed at teacher retention in East Texas, one that I’m not convinced has merit.

In our area, Apple Springs and Centerville have adopted the new calendar, and it currently is in use. Corrigan-Camden, Jasper and Shepherd have approved the change, and Groveton will evaluate it in the next school year beginning in August.

Arguments on both sides can be compelling.

For parents, shorter weeks can mean ease of making appointments and more time with their children, even though extracurricular activities such as sports and band won’t change. For some, though, there will be issues and expenses with day care, particularly for the younger students.

The kids, of course, will most always choose less days. That’s par for the course; I would even go so far as to say that the school isn’t responsible for daycare; that’s the purview of the parents.

The underlying reasons that school districts have given for the change, though, deal with teachers, their needs and how that relates to the district.

Teachers are finding it difficult to deal with the requirements of the profession, what with all the educational mandates from every level, and when that is combined with what is viewed as low pay, having to work late nights and on weekends for things as simple as planning doesn’t seem worth it.

Smaller school districts having to deal with teacher recruitment and retention need some sort of incentive to get good teachers not only hired, but willing to stay. As many of the superintendents who have presented this plan to their respective boards have said, it will make the smaller schools competitive in hiring.

Nothing wrong with that, either.

The one thing I haven’t heard much of is how this will affect students’ learning, other than passing remarks on how more time can be spent on individual subjects and attendance is expected to improve.

However, the remote learning required during the COVID pandemic had a negative effect on proficiency; most boards agreed that face-to-face learning, and more of it, was necessary to improve student rankings in relation to STAAR tests.

In other states, such as Nevada and New Mexico, that have adopted four-day weeks, studies have shown that scores have taken a slight hit. However, these plans are in their infancy, and there’s no real data.

I applaud the educational system for looking for answers, and as long as a complete education is the end result for our kids, that’s great.

It will take the passage of time, though, to see if this becomes the educational panacea it’s expected to be.

Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Future funding for government entities

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County Judge PicBy Sydney Murphy
Polk County Judge

The Texas Legislature determines acceptable methods for funding government entities and school districts in the State of Texas. The main method of funding, as all of us know, is property taxes. The amount of funding from other sources such as sales tax is minimal compared to property taxes. We are all interested in reducing property taxes. However, if the State Legislature wants to reduce property taxes, then they must provide counties, cities and schools across this great state with alternative means of funding, or take back the responsibilities of providing services that they have thrust onto the counties, cities and schools over the years.

They have not. It is disingenuous for state legislators to continue to pontificate and politicize the very means of funding that they control. Instead of providing alternatives for other government entities (other than the state and state agencies), they reduced the percentage of revenue that counties could raise from one year to the next—from 8% to 3.5%. What does that mean for rural East Texas? How will that impact us? Why would politicians in Austin know what is best for East Texas?

Traditionally, Polk County Commissioners Court utilized the growth, new development and increase in valuations to fund improvements and maintain services. The county had maintained a $0.6461 tax rate since 2013. That strategy has allowed Polk County to slowly improve infrastructure, employee pay and county services, and also undertake the added responsibilities assigned to counties each legislative session. That strategy has also maintained spending well below the previously established cap of 8%. However, due to the lower revenue cap that was established by the Texas Legislature, the Court had to decrease the property tax rate to $0.6376 for this budget cycle. This legislative decision will have a resounding effect on progress and development in our area and especially for Polk County.

Consider the following:

The entire United States is currently dealing with an 8% inflation rate. Quite obviously, forcing every county in the State of Texas to minimize any increases to a maximum of 3.5% will not even allow us to maintain the pace with regards to employees raises. Previously implemented “cost of living” raises have been consumed by inflation and county employees continue to battle high prices. County employees, across the State of Texas, have historically not been in the highest compensation brackets. Quite often, the county benefits and retirement are their greatest compensation which is a long-term commitment.

We are all ensnared in the supply line crisis, along with COVID and other major obstacles. The county has also been impacted by the current circumstances that the entire United States, and the rest of the world, have been trying to manage. If the legislature is not going to allow us to benefit from growth in our communities and increased valuations, then we can expect to have a major reduction in infrastructure development and maintenance and certainly in services. Growing counties will constantly battle the changing needs that are occurring in their local communities, with inadequate funding.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Polk County saw a 10.4% increase in population over the last 10 years. Most of us would argue that the number is higher. However, that is the documented number that was provided to all of us. Furthermore, we have witnessed an explosion in both residential and business development and construction. With the paradigm shift that has occurred due to COVID restrictions, urban dwellers are moving towards rural communities where they can work from home and enjoy a different lifestyle. Polk County has experienced this increase over the last two years and we can only expect more. We need to be prepared for these changes in population and development, along with the infrastructure requirements that come with them.

The limitations set by the Legislature seriously hamper the county’s ability to respond efficiently and quickly to the rapid increase in population and development—it becomes impossible to stay ahead of the demand curve for more roads, more infrastructure, more services and increased development prior to it becoming a reality. Rural counties are going to forever find themselves strictly in a reactive mode as opposed to a proactive mode.

Our state legislature increases the burden on local government after every legislative session, without fail. The burden for mental health, indigent defense, indigent healthcare and a plethora of other duties and responsibilities continue to be shifted onto Texas counties and the taxpayers. Those “mandates” come with a price tag that the local taxpayers must pay. As the amount of money consumed by legislative mandates increases, Texas counties must face the challenge of continuing to pay for services and infrastructure needs for their residents. By capping revenues across the state, our legislators have seriously hampered the ability to respond to all constituents appropriately. They need to allow local government to provide local services and make local decisions.

Our legislators provide a service to the people of Texas, but they need to allow other entities to work without being sidetracked by Austin. Texans are decision-makers and we can decide what is needed in our communities. We do not need legislation from afar. We thank all of them for their service and appreciate their role in making Texas a great state. However, the whole is only as strong as the 254 pieces with which they are interfering.

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Are you drunk?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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If you spend much time on the internet on message boards or in comment sections on media websites, or follow Twitter, you will see a common response questioning the seriousness of a poster’s opinion, “Are you drunk?” The obvious accusation is that no one would say such a dumb thing if they were sober. It’s an insult.

Clearly in modern parlance, most people define the word “sober” as not intoxicated with alcohol or various drugs. But that isn’t the original meaning of the word. The original meaning is of someone with a thoughtful character, who is marked by moderation of thought, not being driven by extreme emotion or prejudice against ideas.

For those who study the New Testament, we see this original meaning in both Romans 12:3 and Titus 2:12, both books attributed to the Apostle Paul, where different tenses of the Greek word  σωφρόνως (sóphronós) are used to convey a sense of moderation, sobriety. In Romans, the word is translated (NIV) as “sober.” In Titus, it is translated “self-control.” People who are not subject to flights of fancy or unconsidered outbursts.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3 (NIV)

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say, “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age,” Titus 2:11-12 (NIV)

Whether in modern English or New Testament Greek, King James or New International Version translations, a sober person is a person who carefully considers why he believes what he believes, is not easily influenced by the flavor of the day opinion, interacts with others seriously and consistently. They, in other words, live their lives consistent with their presuppositions.

You don’t have to spend much time interacting politically with people online to figure out that sobriety in its original meaning is rare these days. And that lack of seriousness is incredibly dangerous in modern times. 

Name calling and ad hominem attacks achieve nothing but to increase the divisiveness that has split this country apart. The willingness of people to uncritically accept any kind of nonsense that supports their bias without sober consideration is moving us towards civil war. The lack of any kind of consensus that has made the U.S. effectively ungovernable means we have a serious problem and need serious, sober people if there is any hope of survival as a country.

To quote President Andrew Shepherd in the movie The American President, “We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people…”

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Get back to the basics, for all our sakes

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FromEditorsDesk TonyThere seems to be a preoccupation with sex in this country, which is puzzling, given that if you ask most anyone, they will tell you they’re good, moral and sensible people.

It’s not just the physical act, mind you. Now it’s also about the actual biological outcome of birth, and whether that is the end of things for a human.

This preoccupation is evident pretty much everywhere you look anymore. It started with magazine advertisements and moved into radio and television ads.

It started subtly; scantily- or unclad women hidden cleverly behind male models (or men leering at women), or double entendres in radio and television ads. 

Flash-forward a couple-three decades and you see a different landscape. Television shows, movies, stories, pretty much all entertainment and information avenues are focused not only on sex, but all manner of social justice, such as gender fluidity and LGBT issues.

Even the supposed paragon of family programming, Disney, is making big noises about not enough LGBT characters, and is even positioning itself in opposition to a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis regarding school curriculum.

The woke public, along with willing woke puppets the national media, have cast this measure as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and now everywhere you turn, people are saying gay like it’s a new form of hiccups. Even the Oscars broadcast started with it.

As a point of fact, the bill isn’t about that at all, and doesn’t even include the word gay anywhere. What it actually does is stops teachers and school districts from teaching sexual orientation and gender ideology, such as transgenderism, to children in kindergarten through third grade.

Seems reasonable to me, but the woke brigade is apoplectic. 

I’ve made it clear in the past that I couldn’t care less about what people do or who people love, because I am not in charge or even remotely qualified to direct anyone’s life, well, except for raising my children. 

However, I’ve also made it clear that schools and education is no place for this, particularly at the levels that this bill addresses. 

However, the members of the Alphabet community, especially teachers, are livid because the bill “bans” them from telling their students all about their lives and partners. It’s like lifestyle choices, gender identity and sexual preferences are more important than teaching things like reading, writing and arithmetic.

The Disney corporation has set itself up as a crusader, sort of an educational Prince Charming, dedicated to getting the law struck down in courts because it is fully committed in its support of the LGBT community.

Problem is, both with Disney and with the teachers who are against the measure, is that both have decided that their causes are more important that actually teaching children.

With withering school rankings due to COVID-related issues, and children in general scoring lower across the nation, getting back to the business of instruction seems a bit more sensible that worrying about sex and non-binary people. Coloring, ABCs and 123s are the order of the day.

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard and San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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