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Superintendent addresses challenges of public education

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By Emily Banks Wooten
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Dr. Brent HawkinsDr. Brent HawkinsLivingston ISD Superintendent Dr. Brent E. Hawkins discussed the current challenges to public education when he spoke to the Rotary Club of Livingston recently.

“We are very passionate about our school system. On behalf of the district, I want to express our appreciation for your support of the Green and White Scholarship Program. Each year y’all support it. That thing continues to grow, and we appreciate your part in it,” Hawkins said.

“Today the greatest challenge in public education is staffing,” he said, remarking that school finance was previously always the greatest challenge of public education.

“I’ve been in the business 32 years. I’m ending the tie of being the longest-serving superintendent in the history of this district. I’m proud of that. I’m finishing my ninth year here. We’ve worked on staffing every day for the past nine years and we’ll continue. We’ve made improvements but we’re still working on it.”

Hawkins encouraged the Rotarians to go to texasisd.com where he said there are “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of articles” that talk about teacher shortage.

Hawkins said the district starts off every school year fully staffed, that seven teachers were hired during the Christmas break and that there are 10 openings presently, far fewer than surrounding area districts.

“We don’t necessarily have a bigger turnover rate. There are just fewer people going into the profession, fewer people answering the calling. One of the things we’ve been able to do over the last nine years is drop our attrition rate which we’ve reduced by a third. We have one of the lowest turnover rates of anyone on the I-69 corridor,” he said.

Hawkins referred to the teacher task force the governor put together that basically revealed what is already known – the three concerns of teachers are compensation, support and training and working conditions.

“Moving forward is the great challenge. It’s important for every community to ensure that their school district is operating at a high-level state of effectiveness. We have to have human capacity capital, not just facilities. That’s our greatest challenge. And it’s a phenomenon across the state.

“Values are up. The school district doesn’t set values. The current school finance formula of $6,100 per student that we’re working under is what the legislature approved in 2019, the last funding that public schools got. It raised a billion dollars and what we got was zero. What the local taxpayer pays, the state taketh away. If we look at the $6,100 we get on the basic allotment, we would need about a $1,000 increase on that just to meet inflation which is 17% for us,” Hawkins said.

“These are grave issues for public education. There are 5.5 million students in the State of Texas that we need to educate and there are 4,062 kids in our district. In any education program that’s ever been, the number one thing that makes it effective, or a failure, is the capacity of the people standing in front of those kids.

“People may say that COVID is over but we’re seeing the residual effects of COVID, the hangover effect, that leeches its way into our schools. Over the last two months, we’ve had eight kids arrested for making threats. We have a societal problem that’s going to take everyone working on and that is mental health. And we have a large population of low socioeconomic kids. We have poor, and then we have people who are hungry.

“And school safety is always an issue. We’ve entered an era that’s very challenging and very strange. We have to take everything seriously. The lesson learned is somebody said something and somebody didn’t take it seriously and then we’re standing over the graves of kids and community members.

“And it all goes back to home life. That’s why we’re implementing a new curriculum next year called ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts.’ It’s basically character education.”

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