I’ve spent a lot of time in recent days reflecting on my life’s work and one of my greatest passions — public education. My love of teaching, learning, and ensuring every student has the opportunity to grow and to reach their fullest potential has sustained me for more than 30 years — as an educator, principal, superintendent and, most recently, as executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards.
Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of parents, teachers, school board members, and other elected officials. We could usually find common ground by focusing on the role of public education in bringing communities together to build a better future for our kids and our state.
Call me an idealist but I’m still hopeful, despite the contentious discourse we so often hear in the news. Most Texans understand and appreciate the importance of their local school district and the educators working hard to support their community’s students. Two recent events helped remind me that we can still agree on more than the headlines might suggest.
Teachers Are the Backbone of Public Education
First, the Charles Butt Foundation released the results of its annual survey on Texans’ attitudes toward public education. I would recommend everyone look at the key findings, but I want to highlight a takeaway that resonated deeply with me — namely, that Texans — especially public school parents — are broadly confident in our state’s teachers.
Second, when I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) Midwinter Conference, the most pressing matter being discussed was teacher resignations and the lack of a strong pipeline of new teachers from colleges of education. Every district in the state and nation is struggling to recruit and retain educators.
What We Can All Agree On
That’s why it’s essential we start finding common ground. Amid all the contentious discourse on K-12 issues, no one should be surprised that many teachers are leaving the profession. Discussions on how to improve learning and instruction must start from a place where the work of educators is appreciated and respected, and where public education’s role in bringing people together to learn from one another is valued. Doing this will help our state become stronger and more unified.
There are other areas where most of us can come together. I took some time to write them down. For me, the process of thinking about where we might agree rather than disagree is a reminder that we can bring some balance to divisive conversations. Here’s what I hold true, and I hope you do too:
- Parental rights and responsibilities are essential for a strong public education system.
- Schools have the greatest potential to succeed when district leadership and locally elected school boards work together with parents and the community to improve student outcomes.
- Public school classrooms are the best places for most Texas school-age children to learn, grow, and become responsible citizens.
- The goal of equitable educational opportunities that lead to positive student outcomes —ensuring every student can reach their full potential — can be attained if the appropriate resources are provided to frontline educators and public schools.
- Local school governance — a longstanding tradition here in Texas — is the best approach to ensuring publicly funded schools are responsive to parents and community members.
- Our Texas State Board of Education’s process for approving curriculum must continue to include community input — to ensure accountability to voters and parents.
- Progress has been made in ensuring that schools are a welcoming and safe environment for all students. This must continue.
- Progress has been made in removing barriers to opportunities in Texas public schools. This must continue.
Most importantly, I believe in the potential of all Texas schoolchildren, especially when they have consistent, caring, and committed teachers in the classroom. Let’s all agree that nothing is more important to the future of our state, both economically and as a great place to live, than a strong public education system.
Dan Troxell is the executive director of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). He has more than 30 years of experience as a public school leader and was named the TASB Superintendent of the Year in 2008.
Troxell began his career in public education in 1987 as a middle school social studies teacher at Round Rock ISD. He quickly moved on to administrative roles, serving as assistant principal and grade-level principal at Round Rock ISD, principal at Allen ISD, principal and assistant superintendent at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, and superintendent at both Kerrville ISD and Leander ISD.
Holding a doctorate in education administration from The University of Texas at Austin, Troxell has taught university-level courses as an adjunct professor and authored several journal articles, including an article on multicultural competencies and one on board president-superintendent collaboration.
At TASB, Troxell is responsible for advancing the association’s mission of promoting educational excellence for Texas schoolchildren through advocacy, visionary leadership, and high-quality services to school districts.