San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 23rd, 2010
School board candidates speak at meet and greet


San Marcos CISD Trustee Peter Baen (left frame, purple shirt) and challenger John P. Crowley (right frame, blue shirt) speak with likely voters at a meet and greet session earlier this week. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

Two school board candidates vying for the only contested race in San Marcos CISD mingled with citizens at the Price Seniors Center Wednesday night, leading to a May 8 vote in which Trustee Peter Baen is being challenged for the first time in three elections for the seat.

As Baen said Wednesday night about his challenger, John P. Crowley, “I would also like to thank John because I am completing my third term as a member of the board of trustees, but have never been elected.”

The winner in the race for District 5 trustee seat will represent residents living in the northernmost portions of the school district, including the downtown San Marcos square.

Baen and Crowley were present at a meet and greet Wednesday night, sponsored by the San Marcos Area League of Women Voters (LWV).

Crowley is the director of child nutrition for the Dripping Springs and Wimberley ISDs. Baen is a manager at Thurmon and was appointed to the school board in 2003. Baen won re-election to the school board without opposition in 2004 and 2007.

As their remarks developed, Baen spoke of his ties in the community and the school district’s progress. Crowley spoke much about nutrition and the need for initiatives to steer children towards healthy lives.

Baen said Crowley’s challenge allows residents to reflect on what he said are the district’s achievements, which, he said, include new, refurbished or remodeled campuses, and the district’s dual enrollment program allowing high school students to earn college credit at no cost.

“We have achieved one of the highest graduation rates for public schools in the nation in San Marcos, Texas,” Baen said.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Spring 2010 EDFacts State Profile, 73.9 percent of students in the country who entered their high school freshman class graduated within four years. The figures represent the 2006-2007 school year, the “most recent year’s data,” according to the report. According to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) most recent District Performance Report, 75.8 percent of San Marcos CISD freshmen graduated within four years, compared with the state average of 78 percent, as of the 2006-07 school year.

Baen said San Marcos CISD student enrollments in the U.S. Military Academy in West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis this year constitute evidence of the district’s success.

“And to demonstrate my own confidence, my campaign manager is, indeed, a senior at San Marcos High School, Miguel Arrendondo,” Baen said. “So, Miguel, we’re very proud of what you’ve accomplished and your efforts to advance student leadership in local government. Campaigning is not something that I’m very good at. I promote a lot within San Marcos, and as a result of that, I’m not used to self-promotion.”

Crowley said during his three minutes on stage that his campaign for trustee constitutes his first attempt at seeking elected office. Crowley said he has lived in the city for 15 years, has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Houston, a Master of Science degree from Texas State, is a registered and licensed dietitian, and works part-time at Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC). Crowley said both of his children are graduates of San Marcos High School.

“I think my kids got a great education here, I’m proud of both of them,” Crowley said.

Crowley added that his professional background in nutrition through the years will inform his direction on the board.

“I’m passionate about kids’ health, I’m passionate about the School Health Advisory Council, which I was the chair of for a number of years — I served on it for over eight years here in San Marcos and I served on it both in Dripping Springs and Wimberley,” said Crowley, who added that he “strong financial manager” who “turned around” the child nutrition programs in San Marcos CISD and the Wimberley and Dripping Springs ISDs.

During the mingling portion of the meet-and-greet event, Crowley expressed support for “more stringent local policies” to insure kids are healthier, and said the board has the power to modify recess time and school day length.

Crowley declined to indicate what health-promoting policies he would support should he attain the office, but said he would have to examine budgetary issues and the practices of other districts. Crowley said that the district should find ways to encourage kids to enter the nursing field, such as through a partnership with Austin Community College.

Baen said during the mingling portion that the district has done “a lot of good things” but “could do them more often.” Baen said 60 percent of the district’s kids receive free and reduced-cost lunches, indicating that San Marcos is a poor community. According to TEA’s latest District Performance report, 61.8 of San Marcos CISD students are economically disadvantaged, compared to the state average of 56.7 percent.

“The reality is that we are a poor community,” Baen said. “We want to increase parental involvement for the benefit of the kids. How do you do that if the kids only have one parent or if the parents are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet because they themselves may not have graduated from high school. We still have students in San Marcos High School that could be — will be — the first in their family to graduate from High School. Which is just kind of like, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t seem right.’ And it doesn’t seem right, but it’s reality. So our efforts to elevate the — it’s not about the money, but the mean income in San Marcos is in the low twenty-thousand dollars per year … One of the key things I’d like to see us do a better job at is in the area of vocational education.”

Baen supported the academies model whereby high school sophomores through seniors would be able to enroll in one of four fields of study – academies – yet to be determined. Academies tentatively proposed during a workshop presentation in December included business/finance technology, communication and arts, health and human services, and architecture/construction/engineering.

San Marcos High School Principal Michelle Darling said the cost of implementing the academies may be $500,000. The board may decide in February whether or not to the implement the program.

Before Crowley and Baen took to the stage to offer their three-minute remarks, San Marcos CISD District 4 Board Trustee Kathy Hansen, who is unopposed in the May 8 election, made a statement.

“I want to thank parents and the community and the staff members and the students for allowing me to serve for another three years,” Hansen said. “I’m very excited about that opportunity and the experience that I bring — 32 years of public education, 30 of the years here in San Marcos — and so I’m proud to be able to bring that experience to our board and to the students that we serve, and I’m excited about the opportunity to serve again for another three years, and I welcome phone calls and input.”

Elected officials in attendance at the meet-and-greet included San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, San Marcos CISD Trustees David Chiu, Jesse Ponce, and Judy Allen, and San Marcos City Councilmember Ryan Thomason.

Early voting in the board trustee election begins Monday and Election Day is May 8. The LWV state convention is this weekend at the Embassy Suites and City of San Marcos Conference Center.

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16 thoughts on “School board candidates speak at meet and greet

  1. SMCISD website says we have an, “overall graduation rate of 73.8%.” I see the article quotes Peter as saying, “We have achieved one of the highest graduation rates for public schools in the nation.” Whether our graduation rate is 73.8% (SMCISD website) or 75.8% (in this article), it sure seems like we’d want to have a higher graduation rate for our local students. However, searching contemporary statistics, I am disappointed to learn that Peter’s quote is spot on. The nationwide average for graduation rates is shockingly low. And it is worse for urban compared to suburban. For example, one article I read stated, “New York also had a large gap, with 54 percent of freshmen graduating within four years from schools in the city, compared with 83 percent from suburban high schools.” As Diann noted, many thanks to everybody involved in helping our students achieve success in life.

  2. Here’s an interesting thought from the best-seller for business managers, “the One Minute Manager” that applies to all education systems and may explain PART of why it’s not working the best it could: “…you see, in this country we have a normal-distribution-curve mentality. I remember one time visitng my child’s school, I observed a fifth grade teacher giving a state capitals test to her class. When I asked her why she didn’t put atlases around the room and let the kids use them during the test, she said, ‘I couldn’t do that because all the kids would get 100 percent.’ As though it would be bad for everyone to do well. I remember once reading that when someone asked Einstein what his phone number was, he went to the phone book to look it up…..he said he never cluttered his mind with information he could find somewhere else…now, if you didn’t know better whaty would you think of someone who went to the phone book to look up his own number? Would you think he was a winner or a loser?…” Einstein, of course, was not a loser…
    Unfortuantely, it is TRUE that teachers at all levels—including college—are pressured to keep grades within some imaginery “normal distribution curve” and critized if they don’t rather than seeing perhaps that they are actually motivating the children, AND that the children are LEARNING…learning WHERE to find information AS NEEDED in life rather than just simply MEMORIZING to get past some brief test….
    Think about it…. what is actually better for society? And, how much do YOU remember from those memorized tests in subjects you didn’t care about or use later in life???

  3. There are plenty of schools with graduation rates in the 90%+ range and there are schools all around us with higher graduation rates than ours.

    Our schools have improved, but they have a long way to go and still rank among the poorest performing in the area.

  4. I was incorrectly quoted from the League of Women Voters’ “Meet & Greet” on the subject of SMHS graduates. The statement was that we have one of the highest rates of college or university acceptance among our graduates. Thanks to the alliances with TXS (Texas State University) and ACC (Austin Community College) almost all of our high school seniors are able to properly complete and submit applications and gain acceptance to a post-secondary institution. This does not mean they are able to enroll and attend, but the great programs such as the TXS Bobcat Promise help our students with even more opportunities than many other districts.

    Regarding the continuing evolution of nutritional and obesity issues at the national level, I expect this will be an even higher priority in every school system, public and private, throughout the country. Mr. Crowley’s passion and interest in this subject could be volunteered to SMCISD and could likely be an additional asset… without his being a member of the Board.

    Here’s to everyone (including those inelegible to vote in District 5) helping encourage a better than expected turnout at the polls. Early voting starts tomorrow and continues through May 4 at the County Election office and the SMCISD Central office. Election Day is Saturday, May 8, at Travis Elementary School.

    Thank you,
    Peter Baen, Trustee,
    SMCISD District 5

  5. Mr. Baen, I am confused. I don’t know a lot about ACC, but I didn’t think there was much in the way of admission requirements. What is required, other than that students ” properly complete and submit applications”?

    Why aren’t all graduates able to get into ACC? After a debate a few years ago, another trustee told me that all graduates were automatically accepted to ACC, Are you saying this is not the case? From the ACC website, it appears that all Texas high school graduates are automatically admitted, provided they properly complete and submit applications. Am I missing something? Can you clarify the nature of the alliance that we have with ACC? Can you tell me the number of students who graduate and continue on to college and how many of those enroll in four-year programs?

    Thanks for the feedback.

  6. Max:

    Quoting your statement;

    “When I asked her why she didn’t put atlases around the room and let the kids use them during the test”

    When I was in school (and they actually required that you study and learn the material), we called that an open book test, and I recall having maybe one or two of them, in all of my grades 1 through 12. The thought of it was usually considered to be a mythical improbability, almost too good to be true for us as young kids. As a result, I studied in elementary school (fractions, multiplication tables, long division?), junior high (Algebra, English Grammar, RWS) and high school (Geometry, Biology, Chemistry, History, Algebra II), and actually got a pretty decent education, which DID prepare me quite adequately for college.

    The military is fond of open book tests, since too few would pass if that was not the case, and the reference material is usually available down the line, but you at least have to know where to look for it, due to the volumes of information covered.

    Students on the other hand, need to excercise and develop their mental faculties and thought patterns, much like knowing the way to a location in a strange city, rather than being continuously driven there by taxi and not being 100% sure of the route. It’s a different mental process when you have to rely fully on yourself.

    Our schools pass their students these days whether they know the material or not, in order to “protect their self-esteem”.

    This may give all involved (students, parents, teachers) a warm fuzzy feeling and a measure of instant gratification, but in the long run, it does the student and our society overall a great disservice, and the student who is allowed to take the easy road, is left holding the bag, for a lifetime!

    We have become a society and a country of fluff and appearances, with a loud minority that insists to continue to push for a system that lacks the structure and substance necessary to further sustain the life that they feel entitled to, unfortunately for much longer.

  7. Well, “Ben Franklin” guess you’ve been dead too long…lol…perhaps you missed the point of what Max said. Try reading the book “The One Minute Manager” (which by the way, is used by leading corporate leaders and has been since it was published as well as leading MBA schools!). It’s called “going beyond the surface” when reading, something you will miss with the method you espose of “memorization”.

  8. Stanley;

    While you were …lol…ing, and bothering to “espose” my espousal, you managed to miss my point as well.

    I never took a test in a class, where ALL of the students did not have the opportunity to score 100 percent.

    The fact that all students do not make a perfect score, and that the distribution displays itself as a bell curve, is a natural occurrence, and is a pattern which is demonstrated over and over throughout general statistics and nature.

    Teachers do not attempt to force that pattern of average grade distribution, with respect to their students’ academic performance. It just tends to happen as a natural fact.

    Recently however, with your NEW philosophy of teaching, which is not working out so well in this “great inventive new age of teaching excellence” in the schools across our nation, we continue to fall further behind the rest of the world in academic aptitude and performance.

    Substandard teachers strive to take measures to NOT produce a natural grade distribution, and those efforts by “educators” and academic administrators to skew grades and test results in order to meet certain criteria, are influenced by economic and financial incentives, career advancement, pressure by superiors and the like, rather than a genuine interest in education and the future welfare and success of the students.

    Cooking the grade books will lead to the same types of results in the long run that we are seeing in our economy meltdown, when a lie about financial reliability and stability is being held forth as the truth. It’s just in a different setting, and there will certainly be victims, in this case the students themselves in later life, not to mention the effects on the society that they (we) live in.

    I am firmly advocating the requirement by teachers and administrators with respect to their students, to actually learn the material that is presented. And yes, even rote memorization has its place in that process as well as having to take all of those “useless” courses and “Having to learn all of that STUFF, that you’ll never ever use.” I sincerely believe that in this point in my life, I’ve actually had the chance to use most of it.

    Taking the easy way out, feeding the answers to the students, and not requiring them to study and learn, or letting them get by with the bare minimum, hurts everyone including our own community right here in San Marcos.

    If you don’t believe me, just ask a Realtor.

  9. A true education is learning how to pose the relevant questions – not just in knowing the answers. Even a rat can learn how to navigate a maze through memorization…

  10. Anybody!

    Quick, what’s 9 X 8 ?

    Off the top of your head…

    With no calculator!

    I memorized the multiplication tables in the 3rd grade.

    Do they still require that? Do the third graders learn it?

    I hope so, but somehow I doubt it.

    If not, I’m sure there is some “rationalization” for not requiring it.

    Learning is hard.

    Digging ditches for a lifetime is harder.

    But now they can steal and sell drugs and make all the money that they need.

    So,… no problem!

  11. Since I’m probably one of the youngest regular SMLN readers/posters, let me weigh in a bit here. For the record, I graduated from High School southeast of Houston (but thankfully not in HISD) way back in 2007. Starting from 8th grade I began taking what we called “Advanced Placement”, or just AP classes. I don’t know how SMCISD does things but they must have a similar program. There is a drastic difference between AP classes and “regular” classes. In regular classes the approach was to teach formulas. The “perfect” formula for a TASS/TAKS essay requirement was 4-14-14-14-4, i.e. 4 lines in our introductions and conclusions and three body paragraphs of 14 lines. Horror stories were told of students who tried to be original and creative and ended up failing for not meeting the strict state-mandated requirements. One example repeated multiple times when I was in High School was an earlier student (I suppose this happened in 2004ish) who wrote a poem for her TAKS essay. She was originally given a 0. They (meaning the massive testing center that actually grades these essays) ended up convening a special committee and after much debate gave her a 4 (out of 4). Teachers warned us against trying the same and practically begged us to “stick to the formula”. In AP English, we actually read literature. Poe, Coleridge, Hemingway. We actually learned, expressed our opinions, and most importantly enjoyed it (except for Hemingway…)

    Things weren’t much better in Math. Instead of taking an extra year of generic “math” in 8th grade I moved ahead to pre-Algebra, i.e. for the next 5 years I was a year ahead of most people in math. Unfortunately, I still got the brunt of the “ratio lobby”. Some teacher came back from a fancy conference with the genius idea that ratios were the key to solving any math problem, and if you could just teach everyone how to do ratios, the school’s math test scores would go up. EVERY teacher, no matter what the taught, was ordered to incorporate ratios into their courses. Some were ingenious, such as French and Spanish who could actually teach how to talk about math in their languages. For my History course, we just started every class with math problems.

    Starting a year early meant my core requirements were done by my sophomore year. I ended up taking a year of Pre-Calculus. One of the requirements of the course was a tutoring requirement. Of course, we’re talking about public, school-provided tutoring, so the mentees were, on average, more concerned with getting someone else to do their homework than actually learning. I would ask someone how they would do a problem and they would either look at me blankly or try to scribble out some mnemonic they had learned but never been taught how to use, or worse, start counting on their fingers the letters in the phrase “See, I have a number” in order to calculate the circumference of a sphere.

    Here’s my advice:
    Mnemonics are good, but people should memorize things like pi and roman numerals.
    Every course in its place and in its place only i.e. no math being taught in history, etc.
    When you give an open book test, the test stops being over the material and becomes an issue of research skill.
    Focus on teaching, not on being replacement parents.
    And most of all: If a child does not wish to learn, he/she WILL NOT LEARN. Fostering a DESIRE to learn is the absolute most important prerequisite to furthering an education.

  12. Ted,
    You are exactly correct in your understanding of the ACC admissions process, and thanks for putting Peter Baen on the spot about his comment. While he and the board have made an important accomplishment in arranging for “almost all” students to apply to post-secondary, I think Mr. Baen’s three gloating paragraphs were a good example of an elected official trying to call a duck a swan during election time.

  13. Local school boards and TASB (Tx Association of School Boards) reminds me of the lessons learned from Toyota and General Motors – a bunch of folks giving themselves accolades while serious problems brew unchecked and unreported. The competitive world for our students is not the local area, Texas or even the country – we must consider what is needed to compete globally. Sadly and all too often, being “better than … ” (fill in the blank) is not good enough. Unfortunately, we are fatter and dumber than we care to admit. Will a school board member or superintendent that constantly sings that song be very popular?

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