GISD • Ben Stewart, “My Education Journey”

I am proud to be a product of public education. I refuse to listen to those that say public education is failing, or those who find value in an A-F rating system that makes students and teachers feel shame about their efforts, or allows kids to fall through cracks because a school is rated “Exemplary,” according to narrow standards, and need not change. Using standardized testing to measure an infinitely diverse population, as a means of categorizing schools in an A-F system, seems a bit perverse to me. 

All children should be provided the opportunity for an education that meets them where they are in life, not an education that is unbearably linear and state governed to provide A-F outputs.

I find unlimited value in implementing and expanding programs that provide kids with social and emotional wellness, that get them excited to go to school, or get them talking with their parents around a dinner table. When we match kids’ talents to the right programs, we provide them with confidence that is magical. That is when the learning can start.  

When was the last time you heard of a kid becoming excited for standardized testing?  We do this to kids so adults feel better or worse about where their tax dollars go without ever having to get involved in the system.

Using all our efforts and resources to focus on programs and engaging kids will provide a better outcome than chasing metrics on a state-mandated test. 

Every time I hear someone say “Public Education is failing” I feel a bit of rage in my gut.  Each time someone throws a letter grade out and says, “this school is failing kids,” I want to scream.

~Ben Stewart
2019 State of the District • Culinary Program

LIVING PROOF

I come from a single parent home; raised by my mother, with an older and younger sister. If not for them, my grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, and public education, I may have met all the statistics and wound up in jail or worse.

I don’t speak of my background often; I had a wonderful childhood. Until recently, I have not reflected on my past. In doing so, I am beginning to understand how I became who I am today—a son, brother, husband, father, a community servant to the best city and school district in the country, and a proud Texas State Bobcat.

I attended elementary school in Harvey, Louisiana.  My younger sister is dyslexic, so my mom researched schools and moved us to Austin to attend Eanes ISD. Vastly different in terms of socioeconomics and perceived educational quality; my hunch is many of the students in Eanes ISD would be above average students no matter where they attended school.

From 5th grade until my sophomore year at Westlake High, I was an average student. I often think about my life at that time as a statistical probability. Looking at the data on fatherless homes*, a lot of it lines up—behavioral problems began. I went from being an average student to dropping out midway into my junior year. My life was falling apart at 16 years old, and I was at one of the “best” schools in the nation.

My mother stuck by me and was brave enough to make me walk the line as an “adult” since I was not going to attend school any longer. Working for minimum wage, and trying to pay rent and bills was all the catalyst I needed to emphasize education.  

After life kicked me around, and a good amount of counseling, I went back to school. Perhaps a bit of shame, and a bit of needing to know my father, led me to try living with him in Oxford, North Carolina where I enrolled at J.F. Webb High School. It was a relatively small school in a very small southern community, and I have compelling memories of the teachers who engaged with and cared about me. 

With a head newly-filled with academic confidence, I decided to head back to Texas to complete my senior year.  I returned to Westlake and graduated, one year later than planned.

PAYING IT FORWARD

As a School Board Trustee, I am committed to giving students in GISD the same experience. The goal is to find programs that engage them. My children attend GISD, I see what they are doing day-to-day; what they are bringing home, and the satisfaction they feel with the culture and climate in our schools today. Once you have kids interested and excited, they will learn. Whether it is building planes, cooking, or theater, they thrive when you give them the spark.

My experience is my own inspiration, which is why I am so passionate against people who say public school is failing. People need to see the dejected faces of teachers and kids who are disappointed to hear that the school they love isn’t any good by someone else’s measurement. I am confident that the public school system will ensure they will learn reading and writing; that is our job. But it is also our obligation to discover what makes them want to come to school so they can receive the teaching.

We must consider that “data-driven” is not a way to take care of kids. If the STAAR test is the only metric we look at, we’re only investing in a single stock. The whole market doesn’t fail because of one stock. 

I do not come from an education background but I do know Dr. Brent is the only person in the state willing to step out and take the initiatives to build programs over testing. But, the school board has the power to approve or disapprove our District curricula, and a more liberal school board will not reflect the conservative mindset we have in Georgetown. I am pleased to be a part of this board because I am investing, for my children, that we will not lose that mindset; it all starts with what is being taught in school. 

A Teacher’s Perspective

Georgia Medler was a public school teacher for 32 years in three different Texas ISDs and is now a member of the Board of the Georgetown Education Foundation. About Georgetown, she says, “I am pretty familiar with how Districts are run and what happens in the administration, and I am so impressed with Dr. Brent and all the people I have met in our schools. Everyone in the District is gracious and professional about working with the Kiwanis Club and many others in Sun City. I am always eager and excited to tell people about the many benefits of volunteering with our schools and students. I never wanted to do anything but be in the classroom, and I can personally recommend helping our students will make your own life richer.” 

Georgia is a student mentor and also enjoys being part of the Kiwanis Literacy program. In a typical year, members read books to students and provide each child with a copy of the book. Over the years, they have distributed more than 6,000 free books, and are looking forward to the day they can come back to campus for in-person reading. 

She says, “Everything Dr. Brent and his team do is with constant emphasis on their mission, to inspire and empower every learner to lead, grow, improve, and serve. The schools’ Key Clubs we work with are a perfect example of that; they are very receptive and eager to volunteer for their school and community.”

As a member of the Grant Committee, her enthusiasm for the ingenuity and creativity of the proposals submitted by teachers, year after year, is topped only by the pride that these educators have been empowered by leadership to do so, and are inspiring in the classroom on a daily basis. 

She says, “It’s not about taking a dumb state test. When I was teaching in a public school, I got sick of hearing about what my kids had to do for a test. That is not what learning is all about. I have seen for myself how involved our teachers are, looking for different ways to inspire these children to come to school every day and learn. I want to personally encourage every person in Georgetown to attend a GISD State of the District to see the things we are able to brag about.” 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.