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.
Importantly, this is not unique to Dr. Trigg. His predecessors, Dr. Dawson Orr and Dr. Cathy Bryce, put this district on a path of a technology-driven, political values-focused approach centered around “Professional Development” rather than a traditional liberal arts primary education. How could they not? It’s what they were trained to do. The vast majority of Superintendents across the country come to the job with a PhD in “Educational Leadership”.
In order to earn a doctorate degree, you must add to the body of knowledge in your field of study, requiring a dissertation on an esoteric subject. Unlike a true scholar, such as a PhD in History who could spark debate among the children with deep perspective (e.g., abolitionist Ben Franklin’s disapproval of slave owner Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which outlawed slavery, because Franklin believed the provision would imperil the Revolution and perpetuate slavery), a PhD in a pseudo-science like Educational Leadership studies Critical Race Theory, the nuances of youth gangs and how to interrogate children without a parent present, new and unproven ways of teaching math and reading, EdTech and other specialties that justify the existence of the Ed. Leadership programs but do nothing to serve the interests of the children of Highland Park.
We need a Superintendent who can truly partner with the Board to fulfill the goals of the community. I believe all of the parents of this community want their children to graduate high school with a strong foundation in academic knowledge and skills that will be relevant throughout their lifetimes.
A Classical education is not only foundational, rigorous and fruitful, it’s timeless. A Classical educator will return us to a focus on reading, writing, math, science, real history and the great books, poetry and essays (the classics) that informed the development of Western Civilization. A Classical educator understands the perils of technology in the classroom. Finally, a Classical educator will not be beholden to outside interest groups such as TASA and TASB, or the influences that led to the disastrous Covid policies our children and teachers have labored under for the past two years.
The Founders of our country, all of whom were classically educated, proposed a public education system not because they wanted to produce a modern workforce, but because they knew that in order to preserve the American experiment of a Republic that is of the people, by the people and for the people, the citizenry would have to be educated. A free person’s education is never the latest vocational training, but rather the ability to read, write, employ logic to discern and rhetoric to persuade, and be well-versed in the Great Works of Western Civilization that brought humanity from a state of barbarism to a civilized society of freedom and tolerance, which of course also requires a rigorous study of science and mathematics.
The current administration’s approach emphasizes vocational skills and character traits, with sophisticated and friendly sounding terms like “21st Century Learner”, “Character Strong” and building a “future-ready workforce”.
As a businessman, I look for prospective employees who present an ability to consume a lot of information (reading and comprehension), draw conclusions from the information (logic), communicate effectively (writing) and employ foundational skills in math. From there, we can teach them the details of our industry and train them on the latest tools. We have absolutely no use for young people that lack such foundational knowledge and skills but have had some training in an educational bureaucrat’s best guess of the vocational skills that will be relevant when the child enters the workforce years in the future. Even when it comes to my company’s software developers, whom we employ all over the world, their primary education in writing, logic and math is a far greater predictor of their success with us than whatever technical training they received. If you want your child to be successful, provide them with foundational knowledge, which a Classical education delivers, not workforce training.
Further, I do not believe Educational Leadership programs produce cost efficient managers. Whether utilizing their degree or the “state of the art” tools and methods from the latest school administrator conference, the trained instinct of an Educational Leadership PhD will always be to ask for more funding for the shiny new object. New administrative buildings, constantly changing technology and curriculum, and memberships in the vast array of administrator and vendor associations all cost money.
HPISD’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report shows a central administration organizational chart with thirty of the highest paid employees in the district. Under a Classical framework, several of these positions would be obsolete. Simply employing sound operational management would eliminate others. Finally, there are many more excess administrative and quasi-administrative positions at the campus level that deserve scrutiny.
Due to recapture (aka “Robin Hood), our wealthy district has a finite budget so every dollar spent on more administrators, EdTech, instructional coaches and assistants, etc., represents a dollar that could have been spent attracting, developing and retaining the best teachers. As the chart below illustrates, we’ve been spending a steadily declining portion of our growing budget on teacher salaries
A Classical educator as Superintendent would naturally usher in spending discipline. Put simply, a Classical education does not cost that much to administer. Rather than investing in the latest technology, fancy buildings, ridiculous Covid procedures and equipment and an army of over-credentialed administrators to yet again reinvent the curriculum, a Classical educator will focus all resources on sourcing, compensating and training the best teachers, period.
In addition, a Superintendent with a degree in Educational Leadership will face significant institutional peer pressure to pursue virtue signaling projects such as Covid-related “personal protective equipment”, masks, testing, contact tracing, quarantines, etc., all of which consumed considerable resources and were completely useless, even harmful, to our children. This lack of judgment and inability to resist the politically correct in favor of the best interests of the children is a feature, not a bug, of PhD’s in Educational Leadership, and absolutely unacceptable given our sacred goal of educating children.
As a father of four, I do not want the government teaching my children values. While we all love our district, we must not lose sight of the fact that these are government employees who mostly hail from outside of our community. As a parent, I am much more comfortable with them confined to teaching known facts and well-tested methods of learning. In this community, we have churches, the dinner table, bible studies, sports teams, volunteer organizations and basic parental discipline, all of which are better suited to inculcate values than a software program designed in Silicon Valley, approved in Austin and largely invisible to parents.
To the extent a child should grapple with values in school, it should be grounded in the methodical study of the Great Works of Western Civilization - books (fiction and nonfiction), essays and speeches that have stood the test of time and informed the most important changes in society. Through Oliver Twist and The Grapes of Wrath, Dickens and Steinbeck challenge our sense of compassion for the poor and helpless. If that does not constitute “social and emotional learning”, I don’t know what does.
No matter their background, I personally take an individual’s means of earning a living with the utmost gravity. However, when a Board determines a philosophical difference exists with respect to curriculum and operation of the schools, then it becomes absolutely necessary for the Trustees to take action as soon as possible because every day of dithering is a missed opportunity for our precious children to learn.