I have never sued anyone in my life.

On April 30, 2021, I filed a Rule 202 petition in Dallas County court to obtain limited discovery rights because the Administration and the Board of Trustees failed to communicate to HPISD parents their rationale for continuing to require their children to wear masks all day every day at school after the governor issued an executive order removing the requirement. A Rule 202 petition is not a lawsuit.

The petition sought meeting minutes, scientific studies and testimony about:

  1. The development of the Administration's policy
  2. Communications about the mask policy to parents
  3. Potential violations of the Open Meetings Act
  4. Enforcement of the mask policy at the schools
  5. The policy’s basis in science and the inclusion or omission of consideration of other weighted factors in developing HPISD’s mask policy.
  6. TEA requirements to ISDs regarding mask policy

The petition sought testimony from the following individuals because their position provided them with a unique perspective on these critical issues:

  1. Tom Trigg: Superintendent of HPISD
  2. Jim Hitzelberger: President, HPISD Board of Trustees
  3. Jeremy Gilbert: Principal, Highland Park High School
  4. Stacy Kelly: Trustee, HPISD Board of Trustees
  5. Tom Sharpe: Trustee, HPISD Board of Trustees
  6. Lee Michaels: Trustee, HPISD Board of Trustees
  7. Jon Dahlander: Chief of Staff, Director of Communications of HPISD
  8. Wendy Chung: MD
  9. Mike Morath: Commissioner of Education 

The individuals received service of process on May 10, 2021 and on May 11, 2021 the Administration announced that beginning in June 2021 masks would no longer be required on HPISD property.

Throughout an entire school year of our children forced to cover their faces, restrict their breathing and not see the expressions on the faces of their teachers and classmates, I questioned HPISD’s Administration and Board of Trustees in countless emails, phone calls and public comments at Board meetings. As I, along with other parents, pointed out inconsistencies and problems with this policy, the rationale provided by the Administration and the Board for the mask mandate continuously changed and at every level our leaders passed the buck. One thing was clear - our Administration and Board of Trustees were responding to pro-mask, political pressure on this issue.

Finally, for the well-being of the children, I decided that someone had to step up and supply pressure from the other side. I have no doubt that our children would have suffered the fate of the students at DISD and been in masks all this year again if I had not pressured the Board to act.

While this action may have made some in our community uncomfortable, I do not place the comfort of adults over the well-being of children and will never hesitate to fight for the children of our community. This is an example of what I can get done on behalf of the children at HPISD as a parent acting alone. Imagine what I could do as a Trustee.

The decision to replace a leader of an institution should not be taken lightly, but as the representatives of the students, parents and taxpayers of this community, the Board must act when it is clear that the Superintendent maintains a vision and set of goals that conflict with HPISD’s mission. The gap between the values and aspirations of our community and Dr. Trigg’s philosophy of how to educate our children is simply too wide to bridge.

Whether it’s Lucy Calkins instead of phonics; the “student-centered” instead of teacher-led classroom model; CRT, which is embedded in BrainPOP and online curricula such as CharacterStrong and PurposeFull People, instead of historical facts; dollars spent on instructional coaches/assistants, technology, new buildings and administrator lobbying groups instead of paying to attract and empower the best teachers; multiple-choice software apps instead of developing core writing skills; trendy comic books rather than classical literature; online PE/Health curriculum QuaverEd, which is laced with CRT and SEL, instead of kickball; Common Core “New Math” replacing tried and true mathematical rigor; data-mining of our children through QR codes, constant surveys and path-dependent software applications; or teaching government-approved values such as Implicit Bias Training and Gender Fluidity Surveys instead of foundational lessons from the Great Works of Western Civilization, it is clear HPISD needs a change at the top.

Read the Full Page on Why We Must Replace Our Superintendent with a Classical Educator

We moved here eight years ago because we believe the Park Cities is the best place in the country to raise our children. We enthusiastically enrolled all four of our kids in HPISD schools, where we have made many of the most important memories of our lives. Like many HPISD parents, we began to see deficiencies several years ago in our children’s foundational skills, particularly writing, but their grades were good so we assumed that we just didn’t understand the process. In recent years, the problems with the quality of the curriculum, the turnover of experienced teachers and the level of technology used in instruction employed at HPISD were too great to ignore.

In the Spring of 2021, a good friend who lives in the district told me she had sent her three children to a Classical school and raved about their experience. Given our sacred duty to properly educate our children during these crucial years of development, my wife and I toured the school and were instantly impressed. They had no technology; a library full of the classics; enthusiastic teachers; written exams (and oral exams!!) and so much more. But they had a waiting list. After facing extinction by 1950, the Classical school model was resurrected in the late 1990’s and the parents who have heard of it have been flocking ever since 

While the educational benefits were obvious, moving our children from HPISD schools was a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking experience. Our children cried and begged to return to the schools they love. However, drastic action was necessary. When my eldest, who breezed through AP classes at Highland Park, attempted to write an essay for admission, I was stunned to find he couldn’t put two sentences together to save his life. When we finally found a Classical school that had openings, the headmaster informed us their testing indicated he was two grade levels behind their expectations! My son was a 7th grader in the body of a 9th grader!

While we pine for the days when our kids were in their neighborhood school, the early results from their first six months in a Classical school are unambiguous. My children can write essays (in cursive); have read challenging books like Crime and Punishment, the Aeneid and The Great Gatsby (original text and translations, not picture books); regularly memorize poetry and great speeches; handle advanced math and science; and they get eight solid hours per day away from digital technology.

As parents, we had to take immediate corrective action for our children, but we in no way abandoned this district, this community. In fact, we doubled down. Over the summer we moved into a larger home in the district so we could maximize these precious few years we have left with our four children and their dozens of friends. Now I want to bring what we discovered in Classical education to all the children in Highland Park and provide my children with the option to return.

Classical education refers to the method of passing the wisdom and knowledge of one generation to another, literally a cultural transmission. Classical education enables children to join the “Great Conversation” of civilization, which means reading great books (the classics), studying them, and talking to others about the influential ideas they contain. Classic literature can be any work of enduring excellence. While Classical has taken on many forms over its more than two thousand years of development (trivium and quadrivium, Scripture-dominant, Science-dominant), the fundamental essence of Classical is faithful adherence to what is proven, excellent and lasting. In other words, a Classical educator does not experiment on children with trendy methods and materials when there is not enough time in the day to impart all the knowledge and wisdom we know for certain will be relevant 100 years from now.

The Founders of our country, all of whom were Classically educated, advocated for a system of public education, not so that we would have a pipeline of “future-ready” workers trained for the use of corporations, but because they knew that the American experiment in a government of the people, by the people and for the people could not perpetuate itself without an educated populace who understands what led them to this position of freedom (and now prosperity) and why.

Article 7 of the Texas Constitution makes clear that the purpose of HPISD is to ensure generational freedom:

“A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public schools.”

Classical education systematically addresses this mission through the trivium (i.e., three ways) - grammar, logic and rhetoric - and the quadrivium (i.e., four ways) - geometry, astronomy, arithmetic and music (Note: to the ancients, geometry also contained geography and architecture; astronomy included physics; and music had a very broad definition, particularly to the Greeks). Together, these subjects comprise the seven liberal arts, which translates to the skills necessary to obtain and maintain an individual’s freedom.

The basic philosophy of Classical education is to teach children in the ways they naturally learn. We teach grammar to young children because they have an enormous curiosity and appetite for raw information, particularly language. We teach logic to middle schoolers to provide them with a framework to reason correctly and identify false arguments and other logical fallacies. Finally, we teach rhetoric to high schoolers so they can articulate their passionate arguments eloquently and persuasively.

The important takeaway is that these methods have been proven to work over thousands of years. The Administration that gave us experiments like EdTech, Lucy Calkins and New Math showed impressive PowerPoint presentations claiming data supported the efficacy of these methods, but they didn’t work. Let’s return to the tried and true.

Yes. Incredibly, despite the failures of our current Administration, our Board has annually rubber-stamped rolling five-year extensions of the Superintendent’s contract, resulting in an “evergreen” relationship. In addition, the contract does not include a buy-out provision and per Section 21.212(e) of the Texas Education Code, a Superintendent under a term contract may leave at the end of each school year without penalty, which our contract recognizes under Article 6.5. This begs the question: “What do we receive in exchange for continually guaranteeing the Superintendent five years of employment?" Nothing. While assurance of an initial five-year term may have been understandable when Dr. Trigg was deciding whether to move his family from Kansas, are we to believe that our Superintendent has done such a good job that we must continue to provide him with such guarantees in exchange for nothing? No. I don’t understand the Board’s motivations for evergreening this contract, but the result is the unnecessary weakening of our hand in negotiations.

So, should we give up and tolerate the woke curriculum, erosion of local control and financial mismanagement that has come with a “doctor” of Educational Leadership as Superintendent? Of course not. The cost of exiting the Superintendent’s contract pales in comparison to the cost of more than 6,500 young souls waiting another day, let alone another year or five years, to receive the education they deserve. 

However, I take stewardship of the district’s resources very seriously and therefore have sought to quantify, or at least frame up, the highest amount we would have to pay in order to exit this relationship and move our district in the right direction.

The Annual Cost of the Contract

The contract provides our Superintendent with an extremely lavish compensation package. To manage a small district with incredible parental involvement, zero economically disadvantaged children, two sets of world class police and fire departments and close physical proximity between the schools (in other words, HPISD is one of the easiest districts in the country to manage), plus the services of two assistant Superintendents, a Chief of Staff, Director of Human Resources, all of whom command their own departments and staff, and an executive assistant, our Superintendent receives the following:

HPISD superintendent compensation chart

  1. Calculated using the average 30-year mortgage rate of 3.65% in 2016.
  2. Calculated using the top marginal tax rate of 37%.
  3. Calculated by multiplying the Base Salary by 17 days and dividing by 365. Upon retirement the District would have to pay this amount if the Superintendent did not take vacation.
  4. TRS stands for the Texas Retirement System.

The contract is worth at least a half-million dollars per year .before factoring in the superintendent's contributions to the TRS and other benefits that are matched by the district. While we don’t know how much the Superintendent contributes to his retirement, it’s probably sizable considering he doesn’t have a mortgage, car payment or cell phone bill.

The Solution

I deliberately made my intentions clear and specific during the campaign so that the members of our community know exactly what they are voting for. In so doing, we will have the community’s full support to make this change, which is important in any contract negotiation and frankly respectful to the community.

Unfortunately, our Board continues to further encumber the District by inexplicably amending and extending the Superintendent’s contract so that the term remains at five years. The undiscounted value of the Superintendent’s total compensation over five years, a reasonable estimation of the worst case scenario, is likely close to $3 million, which is approximately 4% of the District’s annual operating budget. The children’s futures are worth it. Section 6.1 of the contract provides for termination by mutual consent. We will first attempt to negotiate an exit that allows our Superintendent to resign with dignity and severance closer to one year’s salary.

If Dr. Trigg does not negotiate in good faith, we will provide him with the same instructions we would provide a Classical educator to replace him. Those instructions will include the implementation of a Classical curriculum and time-tested methods and the restructuring of operations to focus resources away from administrators, instructional coaches/assistants, and technology in favor of compensating, training, and empowering classroom teachers.

If our current Superintendent succeeds, I’ll personally thank him on a regular basis. However, if he refuses or fails to do so, we will swiftly terminate the contract for good cause, specifically under Sections 6.2(b) and 6.2(c).

Even if the District agreed to pay more than five times the Superintendent’s annual base salary to exit the contract, I’m highly confident that we will quickly come out ahead financially; much more importantly, the children will receive a drastically better education. As described in greater detail in other sections of this website, our Superintendent employs a management style consistent with his training as a PhD in Educational Leadership - layers and layers of bureaucracy. Removing the Superintendent and replacing him with a Classical educator will help us to reallocate the District’s resources from the central administration and middle layers to the classroom. HPISD will have the highest compensated teachers in the state and begin to pay down the large debt incurred under our current Superintendent.

Have I given replacement candidates a tremendous amount of thought? Yes.

Have I met with Classical educators? Several.

Have I thought about changing the selection process? Absolutely.

However, I want to be respectful to the community by bringing in all of their representatives, specifically the six other board trustees, into this process.

The more important questions are (1) from what pool will we draw candidates? and (2) will we continue to allow the Big Education Lobby to “consult” our Board and effectively select our next Superintendent for us, which will mean more of the same?

We should look to the growing pool of educators that are following time-tested principles of a Classical education. In addition to the network of Classical headmasters found here in DFW, there are Classical education associations, such as the Society for Classical Learning.

While many of these headmasters and associations are part of the Classical Christian movement, I’ve had numerous conversations with these educators who are confident they can easily adapt the curriculum for a public school environment. First, it’s important to note that Classical literature and the rudimentary methods predate Christianity by over 600 years. While the Reformation period (c. 1517-1700), which has inspired many of the Classical Christian schools we’re familiar with in Dallas, included a heavy emphasis on the study of Scripture, other eras, most notably the Enlightenment Period (c. 1700-1789), were much more focused on Science and Mathematics, in addition to Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. 

I look forward to discussing the Age of Enlightenment with fellow Board Trustees as inspiration for the specific brand of Classical education we implement at HPISD. The Founders of our country were all Classically educated during this period, were all brilliant and versatile and believed a system of public education was necessary to perpetuate our liberties.

As for the selection process, I believe it is imperative that the trustees handle the process without the influence of administrator-stacked committees, lobbying groups and consultants. Currently, our Board pays a former DISD Superintendent, also a PhD of Educational Leadership, to lead the search for a new Superintendent, which virtually guarantees we replace Dr. Thomas Trigg with another “doctor” of Educational Leadership and member of the Big Education Machine. There is another way.

Let’s have the tough conversation now so that we can act quickly over the summer to embark on this promising new direction.

I do not advocate the banning of any books.

I perceive a much less divisive way of ensuring our children spend their precious time reading appropriate and challenging books. Classical education requires the children to read so many of the great works of civilization - the most vetted books, essays and pieces of poetry in the history of the world - that they won’t have time to read anything a parent might find objectionable.

Below is a 10-12th grade reading list from a Classical school. While not all of the titles will be read together as a class, the students are expected to read all of these books by the time they graduate from high school. This is not hard to implement - the list was last updated in 2013, presumably when Tom Clancy entered the canon.

Author Title
Asimov, Isaac Foundation
Austen, Jane Pride and Prejudice
Balzac,  Honore Pere’ Goriot
Bradbury, Ray The Martian Chronicles
Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily Wuthering Heights
Bunyan, John Pilgrim’s Progress
Cather, Willa My Antonia
Christie, Agatha Murder on the Orient Express
Christie, Agatha The A. B. C. Murders
Clancy, Tom The Hunt for Red October
Cooper, James Fenimore The Last of  the Mohicans
Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness
Crane, Stephen The Red Badge of Courage
Dana, Richard H. Two Years before the Mast
Dickens, Charles David Copperfield
Dickens, Charles Great Expectations
Dickens, Charles A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoevsky, Fyodor Crime and Punishment
Eliot, George Silas Marner
Fitzgerald, F. Scott The Great Gatsby
Faulkner, William The Sound and the Fury
Golding, William Lord of the Flies
Hamilton, Edith Mythology
Hawthorn, Nathaniel The Scarlet Letter
Herbert, Frank Dune
Herriot, James All Things Wise and Wonderful
Herriot, James The Lord God Made Them All
Homer (trans. by Fagles) The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor Les Miserables
Jenkins, Peter A Walk across America
Kipling, Rudyard Kim
Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, C. S. Out of the Silent Planet
Lewis, C. S. Screwtape Letters
Llewellyn, Richard How Green Was My Valley
Melville, Herman Moby Dick
Nordhoff/ Hall Mutiny on the Bounty
Orwell, George Animal Farm
Parkman, Francis The Oregon Trail
Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the Western Front
Sayers, Dorothy Mind of the Maker
Sayers, Dorothy Murder Must Advertise
Scott, Sir Walter Ivanhoe
Shakespeare, William MacBeth
Solzhenitzn, Alexandre One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Steinbeck, John The Grapes of Wrath
Swift, Jonathan Gulliver’s Travels
Thackeray, William Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry Walden
Tolstoy, Leo Anna Karenina
Tolstoy, Leo War and Peace
Twain, Mark Life on the Mississippi
Verne, Jules 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
Wallace, Lew Ben Hur
Wells, H. G. The War of  the Worlds
White, T. H. The Once and Future King
Wister, Owen The Virginian
Wouk, Herman War and Remembrance

If, for example, one of our high achieving juniors has grappled with the innumerable life lessons found in these classics, along with Classical curriculum courses on identifying argumentative and logical fallacies, and wants to read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo or Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, I think we will have prepared her to judge the quality of the material for herself.

Educational technology (EdTech) dumbs down our children and removes all transparency from the curriculum. Under the influence of state and national administrator lobbying groups and their training in Educational Leadership programs, the Administrators at HPISD have been pushing more and more of the curriculum to software and our children’s class time to screens. Classical educators, on the other hand, advocate for empowering teachers and unplugging children during the school day.

EdTech dumbs down our children by making lessons cartoonish and easy. EdTech relies heavily on multiple choice questions that do not require the student to write out their thought process. Classical education requires children to read source material and think on their own without the assistance of a machine.

Classical Learner Vs 21st Century Learner

EdTech interferes with the development of core writing skills through the lack of correction and the emphasis on multiple choice exercises and tests. Classical education requires rigorous writing practice, where the student must begin with only pencil and paper. In addition, Classical education requires answers to all exercises, quizzes and tests in written form. Even in classes that we don’t normally associate with writing, such as Math and Science, a good Classical educator will correct spelling, punctuation and grammar errors in answers to reinforce proper writing habits.

EdTech is terrible for Parental Rights because it practically eliminates transparency in the educational process. Parents simply have no ability to go back and review what their child watched or participated in. This is particularly a problem for the more advanced “path-dependent” adaptive software programs, where the next question or lesson depends on how your child answered the previous question. Even when the vendors claim parents can go on their website to review their friendly-looking software applications, the programs can be updated and tweaked at any time from afar, often without the teacher’s involvement.

Instead of opaque and ever-changing software, Classical education uses textbooks parents can review both before and after the child has been exposed. Moreover, Classical educators prefer to utilize original source material wherever possible. Why read a summary of the Magna Carta in a textbook when the children can read (in cursive!) the original text? The transparency inherent in Classical education not only enables parents to assess what their child is learning, but it also allows them to help their children with their homework.

Technology creates an environment of the path of least resistance. The top executives at Apple, Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies are well aware of this, which is why many of them send their children to small schools with no technology. Famously, Steve Jobs wouldn’t allow his children to use an iPad for educational purposes, and Bill Gates limited screen time for his children.

Let’s unplug our kids and introduce a proven educational system called Classical.

Like other derivations of “balanced literacy”, Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study is a horrible pedagogy, and a Classical educator will rip it out immediately. In fact, it’s the polar opposite of a Classical approach.

However, Lucy Calkins is merely a symptom of a much broader problem. Lucy Calkins; the Workshop method and below grade-level reading; the lack of correction of basic spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and paragraph structures; BrainPOPs; New Math; the collapse of literary standards; CRT embedded in online curriculum such as CharacterStrong and PurposeFull People; recently proposed online PE curriculum QuaverEd, which is laced with CRT and SEL; and so much more is all the result of an educational philosophy imported into HPISD from the “doctors” of Educational Leadership programs.

It should surprise no one that our Administration is fighting hard to keep Lucy Calkins, a legend in Educational Leadership circles. For over 30 years, she’s led the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, based at Columbia University’s school of education. The resulting “workshop method” has been in the Educational Leadership lexicon for some time.

I applaud the efforts of Board Trustees such as Bryce Benson and Maryjane Bonfield to challenge curricula like Lucy Calkins. However, I believe that without addressing the root cause of the problem (the Administration), removing just one piece of bad curriculum will be like pulling weeds - Lucy Calkins will get replaced by another piece of EdTech that they will brand as “the Science of Reading.”

We must remember that Lucy Calkins is not a pilot program. Lucy Calkins was deliberately adopted by HPISD’s Administration and strenuously defended by the District’s Assistant Superintendent of Education Services. Lucy Calkins is a key step in implementing the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA)’s Vision, which our Administration has adopted to transform education in the state of Texas.

If we’re getting this much pushback from the Administration on changing a piece of curriculum that is clearly unacceptable and that parents have lined up against, how can we possibly partner with this Administration to replace all the other bad curricula they’ve implemented?

Classical educators have taught children how to read very effectively for thousands of years. The founders of our country, all of whom were Classically educated, were voracious readers. With a Classical educator leading our District, we will teach children phonics, reinforce their reading skills by developing strong writing skills and challenge them to read the Great Works that informed the development of our civilization.