Adopting a theme for the new school year of “find a way to win,” Tyler ISD employees flocked in for a general convocation Thursday to the beat of a drum line welcoming them at the door.
They convened in the auditorium of Green Acres Baptist Church, where a retired army colonel urged them to be the best they can be, the school board president advised being stubborn about overcoming obstacles to education, and the district superintendent cited advances in student academic performance.
As the program progressed inside, outside members of Green Acres washed the windshields of hundreds of cars of Tyler ISD employees in the parking lot as part of the church’s kindness initiative.
The convocation opened with a procession of campus teachers of the year and the district honor choir sang the national anthem.
Walking on the stage to give the invocation, the Rev. Orenthia Mason first surprised the crowd by announcing that she has chosen to make the upcoming school year her last on the board.
Mason, who previously had a long career as an educator in the district, has served on the school board 15 years.
As she announced her intention to step down from the board, boos erupted in the audience and someone threw a wad of paper.
Later Wade Washmon, school board president, sang to Mason, “You dropped a bomb on me,” and then the song “Please Don’t Go.”
Mason surveyed the Tyler ISD employees and sang back, “I’ll always love you.”
There was also an announcement of the Employee of the Year. The award went to Supervisor of Maintenance Robert Grant.
The program featured two spectacular laser shows to the tune of “Rocky” that were sandwiched between speeches.
Calling the gathering of Tyler ISD employees an “annual family meeting,” Dr. Marty Crawford, superintendent of schools, recognized many departments within the district and the school board, then declared to employees, “You’re doing a heck of a job teaching our kids.”
Crawford said the district moved from a “C” grade in the state accountability program last year to a “B.” Crawford recalled that the district’s showing in the accountability program was “pretty bleak” five or six years ago, but pointed out improvements made by several individual schools.
This year, he said, Birdwell, Bell and Bonner schools are all within three points of an “A” rating. He added that Jack Elementary got an “A,” Owens received a “B,” Three Lakes School went from a “C” to a “B” and Moore MST Magnet School got a “B” and six of seven distinctions.
Crawford said an emphasis for the coming school year will be on specific areas including: reading, safety for students and staff without putting guns on teachers, outcomes compensation, and innovation as needed.
Washmon, the school board president, called attention to words written above doorways into the auditorium, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control. Those are characteristics of a creator that is “stubborn in his love for us (and) relentless in his pursuits for our heart,” Washmon said.
Washmon said, “It is stubbornness for these things that I believe will help this district go from good to great. If we can apply this type of stubbornness to the success of our students and an attitude of relentlessness in the belief that there is a solution to educational obstacles that kids might be facing, our students are going to do amazing things.”
There is a flip side to this coin, Washmon said, pointing out that every student learns in a different way so one strategy might not be working.
“Instead of continuing to beat your head against the wall trying the same thing the same way, care enough about the success of that student to put that strategy aside, find a way to win and try a new strategy,” Washmon said.
He urged teachers to be able to “pivot for the success of a child,” and told all district employees that the school board is proud of their efforts and sacrifice day in and day out. “It’s an often tiring and thankless job,” he said.
The guest keynote speaker, retired Col. Gregory D. Gadson, related the cornerstones he had used in forming a new army battalion and preparing soldiers for combat in Iraq.
Saying his football coach used them when he was a cadet at West Point, Gadson said the ideals are pride, poise and team.
Gadson said he could see that every Tyler ISD employee has pride in the district and their individual school and that there is cohesion among them.
To him, Gadson said, pride is first about self-accountability to be the best that you can be.
“You can’t hold others accountable until you’ve willed yourself accountable. I want to instill that it starts with you being the best that you can be every day,” he said. “If you do that, then you can demand and ask that (the best) from those around you.”
Poise obviously has an element of being calm and collected in difficult situations, Gadson said. “But for me, poise is more than that. It’s much deeper than that. It’s truly about your character.”
If people have the correct character, then they can get through difficult times and situations, Gadson said.
Turning to the importance of being a team, Gadson noted the acronym that “together everyone achieves more.”
“That’s what life is about and that’s what this journey of what you are going to do in this academic year is about,” he said. “It’s about a mission. It’s about young men and women together achieving their best and you inspiring them to be their best and overcome the challenges that life will present them.”
Ultimately, Gadson said, Tyler ISD employees need to recognize that everyone is important and everyone deserves dignity and respect.
Gadson recalled that while he was serving in Iraq, a device struck his vehicle, the blast lifting his 15,000-pound vehicle off the road and ejecting the colonel.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday; I remember flying through the air,” he said. His teammates found him 120 feet away lying unconscious in a pool of blood and a 19-year-old applied a tourniquet that saved his life.
Afterward in the hospital, Gadson received 129 units of blood within six hours even though the average human has between six and eight units. Doctors later amputated both of his legs above the knee and discovered Gadson’s right arm and elbow were broken.
When he further lost the use of his right arm because of complications, Gadson said he gave up and didn’t want to live in his condition. But eventually Gadson decided he could not quit and said, “I’m back in the game.”
Without legs, Gadson earned a graduate degree from Georgetown University, stayed in active service and commanded a military base before retiring in 2014.
Gadson told Tyler ISD educators that some kid in their classroom is like him. “We can never give up because we don’t know if that individual in one of our classrooms here in Tyler is going to be someone that makes a difference in someone else’s life,” Gadson said.