Nothing great is ever easy

I love quotes. They speak to me. They guide me. They inspire me.

June 17 was a monumental board meeting where the trustees voted unanimously to approve significant teacher salary increases at Lufkin ISD. Voting on a decision takes only a few minutes. Preparing, researching, crunching numbers after numbers, making executive decisions, presenting recommendations, while praying for guidance, takes countless hours, days and months.

Yet, after the exhilaration of the moment when I realized we all came together for the betterment of our teachers, other issues needed my attention. Needless to say, there was not much time to celebrate our big accomplishment. After the board meeting ended, I was working into the night when I received a text from someone in the community whom I admire greatly. The text message praised the board and administration for the teacher raises and ended with the words, “Keep up the good work.”

I responded to this community member that it was a lot of hard work but our teachers and students were worth it, and I received the following text back, “Nothing great is ever easy.”

I am not an emotional person, but I felt tears prick my eyes. It was an “Aha!” moment for me. Nothing great is ever easy. I immediately wrote that down. It’s not just a trivial quote but a mantra, a realization that hard work does pay off, but it’s still hard.

Throughout this past year, I’ve learned that change is not easy. My family and I have changed residence, my husband changed jobs and our children changed schools. I remember when the realization that we were moving to Lufkin became apparent. My daughter became uncertain about her future stability and wondered about and questioned everything including would she have any friends in Lufkin, would the teachers be nice in Lufkin, and how would her grandparents be able to attend her school events? At one point, my husband even chimed in with the question if our kids get sick, who will pick them up from school and who would be able to support us if we needed help?

After being in Lufkin for only a year, my family and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Our daughter has met some great friends. Both of our kids had excellent teachers. My mother and father-in-law drove to Lufkin to attend Grandparents’ Day at Brandon Elementary. When my son became sick and had a prolonged seizure, we were immediately engulfed with support from EMS, Memorial Hospital, Dr. Fidone, Dr. Benitez, school personnel and community members. The change has not been easy for my family, but the joy that I see in my daughter as she grows as a leader, a learner and a dancer and the proximity to high quality health care services for my son, makes it great.

A year later, I am blessed and honored professionally to serve as superintendent of Lufkin ISD. The work that we are engaged in is the most challenging, the most demanding, and the most significant. Overcoming the challenge of securing raises for our teachers was not easy; however, I believe that having the best teachers who are the best paid is essential to having the best-prepared students. When the work gets hard, we must remember the words of one wise community member, “Nothing great is ever easy!”

Freedom through Literacy

Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” That freedom comes from knowledge, discernment, word recognition and comprehension. Illiteracy not only robs the mind’s ability to grow and learn, but it is directly linked to crime and failure. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

We must read to our children, encourage them to read and provide books to create a love of reading. You cannot start early enough because literacy is such a vital part of a child’s formative years. By age four, children from professional families know approximately 1,100 words, while children from low-income families only know 500 words.

I was blessed to be raised by grandparents who valued reading. My grandmother, whom I affectionately call Big-Mama, loved to go to garage sales. Big-Mama, who possessed an eighth grade diploma, encouraged me to read and gave me money to buy books at these garage sales. My grandfather, Paw-Paw, had a third grade education and signed his name with an X because he could not read nor write. However, he would listen to me read for hours. He once told me, “LaTonya, if you can read, you will be able to go anywhere in the world.” Paw-Paw, who died several years ago, would not be surprised that my ability to read has provided me the opportunity to go many places in the world. (It has not improved the fact that I am geographically challenged and get lost quite often.) Seriously, I strongly believe that my love for reading and my experiences with quality teachers who had high expectations made all of the difference for me to overcome poverty.

Please join Team Lufkin ISD by encouraging your child, grandchild, church youth, neighbor, and/or friend to participate in the numerous reading programs occurring throughout our district and community.  We must create an environment that embraces literacy if we want our next generation to truly be free.

 

 

Team LISD working to finish strong

Believe it or not, I was one of the fastest girls in school and was selected to compete in all three relays in track. At one track meet that will forever be etched in my memory, our relay team had won first place in both the 4 x 100 meter and 4 x 200 meter relays, and our entire track team had won so many track and field events that we were winning by a landslide. While warming up for the final race of the evening, which was the 4 x 400 meter relay, we were all tired. One teammate convinced us that it didn’t matter whether we won or lost the final race because we had accumulated so many points overall.

As luck would have it, our coach walked up as we were deciding to not put much effort into the last race. Coach Murphy pulled us together and explained (more like yelled or barked) that the track meet was not over and for us to get out on the track, represent our school, and finish strong. I was the second leg and when I took the baton, I ran like my life depended on it. As I ran around the last curve, “the monkey got on my back” per se, and I began to struggle. All kinds of negative thoughts crossed my mind and I wanted to quit, but I heard Coach Murphy’s voice ringing in my ear, “LaTonya, finish strong!”

Finish strong! I feel somewhat today like I felt during the last 100 meters of the last event of that track meet.

We took the baton and started this year off strong in August at the Opening Convocation, where we welcomed back our entire staff of more than 1,300 employees. The community, parents, and business leaders of Lufkin helped us to celebrate Team Lufkin ISD with food, fellowship, T-shirts and door prizes.

We continued on the course spending countless hours informing thousands of parents and community members about the activities and programs at Lufkin ISD through our Panther Community Forums, our first-ever Evento en Espanol as well as our social media outlets and our updated website.

Business members, church leaders, volunteers have walked our hallways and supported our students with tutoring and mentorships throughout the year. We’ve had input from hundreds of stakeholders in our strategic planning process. Additionally, we have spent hours, days, and weeks looking, listening, and learning about every department and providing feedback for audits. We have done all of this and more in an effort to make our good school district a great one.

One thing I know for sure, now that graduation is approaching and the close of the school year is near, it’s not over. We must finish strong. As I remember my days as a runner, I realize that during those last 100 meters I struggled because I lost my focus, forgot to breathe, and allowed negative thoughts to cloud my reality. In education, it’s important that we finish strong because there are kids depending on us. Not just my kids and your kids but all of our kids. We can celebrate our successes and be proud of our accomplishments, but it is not over. We must finish strong.

As I reflect over my first year of superintendency at Lufkin ISD, I am honored to be a Lufkin Panther and be surrounded by some of the most giving, supportive people God has ever created. These are the ones who have run along beside me and given me words of encouragement. We can do this together. Stay focused, breathe, avoid negative thinking… let’s finish strong!

It’s a privilege to honor outstanding teachers

You remember that teacher that made you feel like you could do anything … that your dreams were attainable, that you weren’t awkward and unaccepted, but loved and appreciated?

That teacher for me was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Proffer. I will never forget how she made learning fun and treated me like I was smart. I remember being in what I thought was a starring role in the second grade play “Ghostbusters” to perform in front of everybody. I wanted to give my part to someone else, but Mrs. Proffer believed in me and said, “LaTonya, you were born to be a star.”

That was all the encouragement I needed to give it my best and to this day, I will always remember Mrs. Proffer.

Last week I had the privilege of going campus to campus (15 campuses, and walking in heels mind you) to award some of the most amazing people in our district with a Campus Teacher of the Year award selected by their peers.

I must admit it was fun for me to surprise them, but what it meant to them was so much more. It meant countless hours of preparation and hard work inside and outside the classroom finally realized and recognized. It meant that they were loved and appreciated like they make our students feel every day. It meant tears of joy and hugs all around and pure joy to the children in their classrooms who have known all along how amazing their teacher is.

It was truly one of my favorite days as Superintendent at Lufkin ISD. One teacher who was acknowledged has been teaching on her campus for 42 years! That’s a lot of years and a lot of students who have been in the presence of greatness and inspired by one of our finest. Another teacher has proven to be a fighter as she has overcome health issues while also focusing on the needs of her students.

We appreciate all of our teachers and staff at Lufkin ISD, and I was honored to take a day to remind 15 campus Teachers of the Year what an asset they are to our schools and community. Congratulations and job well done to: Andrea Eoff-Travis, Alternative Center for Education; Julie Thornton, Anderson Elementary; Amy Reynolds, Brandon Elementary; Carol Riley, Burley Primary; Tracey Charanza, Coston Elementary; Jean Ann Keen, Dunbar Primary; Odessa Cullum, Garrett Primary; Barbara Holden, Hackney Primary; Kristi Mackey, Herty Primary; Sharon Collins, Kurth Primary; Cindy Rich, Lufkin Middle School; Michael Hillis, Lufkin High School; Arline Gates, Slack Elementary; Susan Spencer, Trout Primary.

These teachers along with other staff members will be acknowledged for their extraordinary impact on students and years of service to our district at the End of Year Convocation on May 8.

Teachers, staff work for future of our children

On any given weekday, the students at Lufkin ISD are preparing for their future. A future that is molded and sculpted by some of the finest people you will ever meet … members of Team Lufkin ISD. It has been my privilege as superintendent of Lufkin ISD to work among excellence, but I’m also excited that my own children are surrounded by people who love what they do and love children.

We recently hosted a reception for our new teachers to see how their first year at Lufkin ISD was going. These teachers were very complimentary of the support they are receiving from their principals, colleagues and support staff. This does not surprise me. We work among the best in the state and not afraid to say it. Our employees go above and beyond and at the end of the day, students learn above and beyond.

Since my appointment last spring, I have been looking at our teachers’ classrooms, listening to how they inspire students to reach their full potential, and learning about their instructional processes and curriculum resources. What I have seen has enriched and edified me. I have found a team where all teachers and instructional staff are involved in continual personal academic growth that enlightens the lives of our students.

As we plan to grow Team Lufkin ISD, we are seeking quality candidates who more than measure up to what our district wants, needs and should have, not for the sake of earning a paycheck, but for something far more precious — the future of our children. If you possess these qualities and want to be part of Team Lufkin ISD, join us for our upcoming job fair on Tuesday, April 1 at the Lufkin High School cafeteria. We’re not only looking for teachers, we need quality bus drivers and auxiliary employees as well. Come by and meet our principals, directors, staff and see why our employees are known to be the best.

Teamwork makes student dreams come true

Black History Month is a celebration of the contributions of African-Americans to our U.S. history. Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated the month of February as Black History Month.

Recently, I attended a program honoring Black History Month at Brandon Elementary and was amazed at the talent, poise and wealth of information shared by our students during the program. One African-American student recited the famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a Dream,” written 50 years ago. A group of students of all nationalities performed a dance and another group performed a skit.

By the time a white student led the audience in the Black Negro Spiritual, “Lift E’vry Voice and Sing,” I was practically in tears.

Jordan, an African-American student who introduced me, leaned over and whispered, “Dr. Goffney, why are you about to cry?” I placed my arms around him and replied, “Baby, we are living the dream!”

I am thankful to the Brandon Elementary staff who worked as a team to bring this program and other celebrations of accomplishment to fruition. As I drove back to my office, I thought about the fact that it takes a team to live the dream or in the words of John Maxwell, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Teamwork doesn’t happen by accident. It requires effort and commitment, and a willingness to accept the challenges of working together.

At Lufkin ISD, we know we must work as a team to make the dreams of success a reality for our students. We come together with one goal and one mission: to educate and equip all students for success through exceptional learning experiences.

Whether the experiences are memorable programs such as the Black History Month celebration at Brandon Elementary, or day-to-day learning in the classroom with above and beyond curriculum planning and teaching, our teachers and staff members make a difference in the lives of our students.

In addition, through the partnerships with our community via strategic planning, community forums, parent liaisons and our newly formed education foundation, we connect across all boundaries to get the job done.

Dr. King’s words ring true today filled with a message of hope for a brighter future. I realize that many of our students are full of hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

At Team Lufkin ISD, it is our belief that all children can learn and perform up to their potential. We believe that all of our students deserve a 21st century education so that they will leave us with the ability to communicate, to collaborate, to think critically, and to be creative. Our vision is for all Lufkin ISD students to graduate and access the “great vaults of opportunities of this nation” that Dr. Martin Luther King alluded to in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Let’s use teamwork to make dreams come true for the students of Lufkin ISD.

School Board Members are a Gift to the Community

School board members donate countless hours of their time — preparing for meetings, attending meetings, and supporting school-related functions and events. The word “donate” is an important one; school board members are volunteers, receiving no pay for the work they do to help our school district. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their willingness to serve.

I am very fortunate to work with a board of trustees that is focused on the work of making Lufkin ISD the best choice for all of the students who live within our boundaries. I will never forget the first time I met them when I interviewed for the superintendent position. The interview was held in one of the conference rooms at Crown Colony Country Club on March 7, 2013, at 6 p.m. I had been preparing all day — reviewing the data, reading past news articles, driving by different campuses, and talking to community members about the district while visiting a local restaurant and hotel. I arrived early, so I had time to pray asking God to anoint me during the interview and that His will be done in my life.

Upon entering the room, I shook all of their hands and was escorted to what most would refer to as the “hot” seat. I will never forget the preface to my response to their first question, “Tell us about yourself.” I stated, “I understand that you have an important decision to make and it is my hope that our conversation over the next hour or so makes your decision a little easier as you envision us working together to build on the excellence and make a positive difference for all the students of Lufkin ISD.” To my surprise, my interview ended at almost 10 p.m., and I left feeling excited about the possibility of working with these new “bosses.”

Each one of our board members brings so much experience and wisdom to the table in their own unique way. They have many tough decisions to make, and I feel privileged that hiring me for the position of superintendent was one of them. A little over six months later, I still feel the same excitement and joy working with such a positive, visionary team of eight.

The work is not easy. Our board of trustees must stretch the district’s dollars as far as possible and take time to understand complicated legislation affecting our schools. They speak up to help community members see the vision of what can be provided for our children. The work may not be easy, but it is definitely rewarding. Seeing firsthand how our students and staff succeed under the leadership of the board is fulfilling. Although we know our board does not serve for accolades, we give them praise for all they do.

January is School Board Recognition Month in Texas. Join me in taking a moment to thank our Lufkin ISD school board members. We appreciate their commitment to provide visionary leadership and their continued support to uphold the mission of Lufkin ISD: To educate and equip all students for success through exceptional learning experiences.

Thank you, Andro Branch, president; Stanley New, vice president; Andra Self, secretary; Scott Skelton; Dr. Keven Ellis; Allyson Langston and Don Muhlbach.

Thankful for our Opportunities for Education

As a child, I was sheltered and did not travel much beyond our rural community. Although I was a black girl from a poverty-stricken family, I didn’t understand my limitations until I started school.

The first day of kindergarten will forever be embedded in my memory. I walked into a class filled with students. I remember that day so well because I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was not “good enough” as I noticed all of the perceived perfections of the students that surrounded me. I compared the worn-out clothes that I was wearing to the new clothes that everyone else was wearing. I was fascinated by the new clothes and lunch kits that everyone else possessed.

I remember being mesmerized by my teacher who spoke perfect English and wore pretty clothes. I compared her to the ladies I had seen in the movies and on the soap operas. I wanted desperately for her to like me, but to my chagrin, our relationship started out rough.

It all started when it was time to take up lunch money. I remember squirming in my seat because my mother had not given me any lunch money. When my name was called, I hesitated and I remember being scared.

After my teacher repeated my name several times, I finally responded that I did not have any lunch money, nor had I brought my lunch. She then said, “You’re probably on free lunch” in the most hateful voice. I knew immediately from the tone of her voice that being on free lunch was not a good thing. This is how my first day of kindergarten started. My first day of kindergarten ended even worse. We were on the playground when a black boy called me “blackie” and caused all of the other students to laugh and mock me. I cried. Actually, I cried a lot that year.

Thankfully, kindergarten was my last experience with a teacher who I felt didn’t like me. Throughout my elementary school years, I excelled in school and worked fervently to meet my teachers’ expectations. One thing I know for sure is that life’s experiences can either make you bitter or better.

As I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday and reflect on my entry into public education as a kindergartner, I am thankful that I was born in America. Although freedom is not free, all have the opportunity to attain a free, appropriate public education. I am thankful for education and that I get to live the American dream in spite of the circumstances and obstacles I have had to overcome as a result of being born into a family with limited resources.

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve in Lufkin ISD as the superintendent. Each day, I work fervently as your Superintendent of Schools, to ensure that all of our students have access to a quality, 21st century education. I feel extremely blessed to work with a Board of Trustees who is committed “to educate and equip all students for success through exceptional learning experiences” and work with administrators, teachers, and staff who are passionate about the work of educating our future leaders. I am thankful to all of the business and community leaders who have joined Team Lufkin ISD in our efforts. I am thankful that all internal and external stakeholders have accepted me for who I am and not how I started in kindergarten.

On your worst day on the job, somebody needs you

Most, if not all educators will agree that it is not easy being a teacher. We all know the joys and frustrations that teaching can bring. We know the day-to-day realities and the trials that pop up as we give our best to educate our students, a goal we all share. We also know that it is important to keep a positive attitude that will communicate itself to our students and encourage them as they strive to achieve success. We know this, but it is far easier said than done.

Frankly, on some days it is not easy to keep a positive outlook and a high energy level. So much can happen to override the enthusiasm and joy we once felt every time we set foot in the classroom, that it is easy to find ourselves discouraged. We know this from personal experience.

We do our best and still there is a child who refuses to learn; we work and spend extra time and effort on helping a child with a behavior problem only to see him or her slip back into old habits; we do our best to teach and to inspire only to have someone who does not know the situation criticize and complain; we plan and prepare for learning experiences that will be unique and inspirational only to have those plans dissolve before us when something happens over which we have no control.

Oh, yes, there are so many things that can lessen our enthusiasm. It is extremely easy to get discouraged and allow this discouragement to lead to “teacher burnout” — that state where we go through the motions while the spirit lags behind.

During those times when I feel beat down and discouraged, I reflect on my favorite quote by Larry Bell, “On your worst day on the job, you are still some child’s best hope.”

Somebody needs you!

Somebody needs you to do the very best you can so that they can have a future that is better than their present circumstances. Somebody needs you to challenge their minds so that they can get accepted into an Ivy League school. Somebody needs you to go above and beyond so that they can see firsthand servant leadership. Somebody needs you to show true commitment and caring so that they in turn can care and empathize with others. Somebody needs you to take a stand for him or her when no one else will.

The lessons teachers teach far outreach the classroom. On those days when nothing seems to go right, how you handle the situation can inspire or discourage a child. Being a good communicator is being a good educator. When you think about how you are molding the minds of future, productive citizens and that what you do above all else really matters. Being an educator is not for the faint of heart. You must keep on keeping on because somebody depends on you.

Graduate to something, not just from somewhere

It is hard to believe that I am embarking on four months as Superintendent of Lufkin ISD. It is simply amazing how fast time flies. I am privileged to work with a Board of Trustees that supports the efforts of the educators in our schools and is focused on making a positive difference for all students in Lufkin ISD. I am blessed with passionate staff members who are focused on ensuring that all students — regardless of their race, gender, or the economic status of their parents — experience high-quality learning activities. I am proud to work in a community and to work for students and families who value education. I recognize the importance of strengthening partnerships with our parents, our community, our businesses and industry, and our higher education institutions to ensure that our students graduate from Lufkin High School with more than just a high school diploma. Let me be clear, we want our students to graduate from high school to high success. In the past, a high school diploma was a ticket to the middle class. Today, having only a high school diploma is a ticket to poverty considering that the cost of living is continually increasing.

We are all familiar with the saying “it takes a village,” but I am certain that it takes a team. It takes partnerships, and all of you are on Team Lufkin ISD to ensure that all of our students walk across the stage and graduate to something and not just from somewhere.

A strong partnership with parents is crucial. We need parents to be actively involved in their child’s education by sending them to school every day the door is open. Going to school every day is not only a choice you make when you wake up in the morning. It is an expectation of excellence. According to www.BoostUp.org, when your child misses 18 or more days of school in a year, their graduation is in jeopardy. Being absent just two days every month of the school year can put a child behind academically. We need parents to continually communicate the importance of an education to their children. Another partnership is a connection with the community. This includes churches and civic organizations among others. All of these entities help students see the big picture. When the community has the same message to support our students, it in turn helps the student to overcome social challenges.

Business and Industry is a partnership that can be life changing for our students, preparing them for meaningful jobs. We want Lufkin ISD students to explore career options so they can envision a future occupation. Students as young as elementary age must be exposed to jobs from engineering to healthcare to begin setting goals early in life.

Our partnership with colleges and universities helps us to evaluate all options and capitalize on opportunities to extend learning beyond the K-12 classroom. Whether accumulating college hours or earning a certification, it is this partnership with higher education that will provide a bridge from graduation to a lifelong career.

We have a moral obligation and an ethical responsibility to educate children. We can no longer exist in isolation. We can no longer just focus on our own. We have to take ownership because we are all benefactors of these efforts. Education is the only long-term solution to eliminate poverty and change futures. When I stand on the stage at John Outlaw Field to shake hands with our graduating seniors, I want to be certain that this is not the end, but that our students are graduating with more than a diploma — choices and opportunities.