In The Trenches
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:11
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Well, Marsha, we're back. And welcome.
Marsha Clark 0:25
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:25
And I have to say that this has really been, we've been learning so much from our interviews over these past few weeks. And it's been so interesting to widen our perspective, and invite in so many fascinating and powerful women to learn more about them and the ways that they're stepping into authentic leadership. And last week's episode with Andra and Aletha from Chance to Soar, that was kind of like a booster shot of positivity. I mean, so no wonder the principals and teachers they work with are so encouraged and energized.
Marsha Clark 0:59
That is so true, Wendi. And, you know, what we know from having done this work for, you know, 25 years is that women tend to learn and relate to each other at a deeper level when they hear the stories and they, you know, we can connect on the things that we have in common. And so I'm inspired, you're inspired, we're inspired by the successes of others, and, you know, sometimes even convicted or compelled by those stories to want to dig a little deeper to look for our own ways to connect and to even contribute at a different level. And with Andra and Aletha's story, you know, their approach to supporting local educators, I think, is quite unique and a reflection of not only their professional backgrounds but you know, I want to say their hearts, you know. They're a perfect example of how we can all find a way to reach out and truly support our local education community, which is what we're trying to do with these podcasts series on education.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:54
Yeah. And so that brings us to today's episode "In the Trenches" and I'm excited to continue our exploration of women supporting women in the world of education with our guest today, Amanda Bigbee. So welcome, Amanda. I can't wait to learn more.
Marsha Clark 2:09
Well, Amanda, let me offer my welcome to you as well. Amanda has been an incredible resource and really an advocate for us in our various women's programs. And I'm especially excited today to be able to really shine a light on her, her, Amanda, and her role as a tireless and I would say fierce advocate for school children, administration, teachers, staff. So Amanda, welcome to the podcast.
Amanda Bigbee 2:37
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I'm thrilled to be here.
Marsha Clark 2:40
Well, and you know, our title today is "In the Trenches". And so, as our longtime listeners know, Tracie Shipman is the one who develops our scripts for us and helps us think of questions and so on and so forth. So I know from her that there were some other possible titles to today's episode, like "It Takes a Village", or, and I love this one, "Every.Single.Child.". So I'm interested in kind of working our way through that, unpacking it, if you will. But we settled on this idea of being able to basically get down into the trenches with you because you have very unique insight, I think, and really look at what it takes to run a very large public school system from the administrative side and in your case, as the General Counsel for Keller ISD, which is one of the larger independent school districts here in North Texas.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:36
We're still not letting Amanda speak, I'm realizing. I mean, it's another way for us to shine that light, as Marsha said, on what most people don't see is happening to actually make a school district run efficiently and effectively. And to be completely transparent, we're not just giving people an inside peek into them, but to hopefully give them a greater appreciation for what it takes to to make that happen on a day to day basis.
Amanda Bigbee 4:07
And that's really why I love that you asked me to be here today. It's not about me at all. It's not even really about what I do for my specific school district as their attorney. It's not even me being modest, I promise. It's just that what I do is part of a larger system and it's a village that that has to run well. It's why we thought about "It Takes a Village". So I'm just thrilled to be here and to contribute to the conversation and to help lift this village up.
Marsha Clark 4:37
I describe these podcasts as education podcasts. They're not intended to be pure entertainment, or you know, silliness or mystery stories or fiction or any of that kind of stuff. And so that's why I love doing this series of interviews that we're doing with the women who are so involved and entrenched in the education world as an education opportunity for all of our listeners. And even though you work for Keller, it is representative of independent school districts, not just here in the United States, but I would dare say in variation of ways around the world. And so, you know, public education is what we've chosen to focus on. And it's a topic that is central to our mission of supporting and empowering women and girls. And certainly when I think of school, I think of girls, and then providing equal access to opportunities for quality education, knowing how critical that is to ensure that girls are able to contribute fully to society, contribute economically, mentally, emotionally, in all the ways. And we know from long research that education is the great equalizer and that if women and girls are educated in whatever country they're in, that country is a better country on all levels and metrics. So, again, thank you, Amanda, for providing us with what you're going to offer up today as an insider's view.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 5:58
Well, before we jump into the trenches so to speak with you, Amanda, we do like to provide some context for our listeners about how you and Marsha are connected. You're a Power of Self alumni. (Correct.) Okay, so share with us your Power of Self story.
Amanda Bigbee 6:14
Sure. I was lucky enough to be part of Power of Self class 16. It was during the I think of it as the 15-16 school year. That's how my life runs is in school years. I was really... well, I'm super lucky to have a best friend named Kim Bland, who was part of a class 15. And she could not stop talking about how life changing it was, how much it impacted her day to day just existence and how she moves in the world. So when the Hudson foundation agreed to sponsor another Keller ISD employee and I got chosen, I jumped as fast as I could at that opportunity. And it was everything she promised it would be and more and I can't tell you how, just the shift in the person I am and how I move through the world since that opportunity in 2016. I felt really lucky.
Marsha Clark 7:07
And I just want to say, too, I love the school year, the thinking about it in terms of the school year, but as we were getting ready to record this, and you said to me, "Well, we had our girls, and you know, our Power of Self annual gathering." And so what I want our listeners to hear, and this is true of so many of the groups of women that have gone through programs, is they're still getting together, they built a strong network. It's not just the content and you know, that sort of thing, but that the relationships in the network and the support that are given to one another is a lifetime opportunity. So I love that for sure. And I know that as I said earlier, Amanda continues to give back and she's one of our, we're no longer doing Power of Self, which most of you know, but she was one of our favorite panelists to call back because she could outline so easily, so well, so relatably, with the new students coming in, or new participants coming in, in what the possibilities were. So thank you for that, too.
Amanda Bigbee 8:02
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 8:03
That's awesome. So Amanda, I'm curious. How did you apply the lessons you learned around self awareness, owning your power, trust, betrayal, healing, all those topics that we love and discuss on this podcast, how did you apply those to your job as an attorney for a large school district?
Amanda Bigbee 8:24
Well, I would say the lessons from Power of Self and from Marsha's book are pretty universal and they can apply in any context. So I've found immeasurable, numerous, lots and lots of ways to apply them. I would say anytime you're working with other people and humans in any industry, especially when there's high stressors, there's a lot of different lessons that we can take from that. For me, particularly in the last few years, understanding conflict management and how I naturally show up in a conflict and what tools I have to manage conflict has been critical in any level of success I've had. I also use the feedback model regularly, considering the tattoo of the feedback model. I find it to be an exceptionally helpful tool to use when I need someone to really understand how their words or behavior is impacting me and potentially even the school district. So it's, that's been very helpful. I would also just throw in personally, just the confidence I gained through Power of Self enabled me to reach out into my community in ways that I wouldn't have before. I served on the city's Planning and Zoning Commission for a couple of years and that was truly because I looked and there was only one woman on it, and I thought this is my backyard and I can do something here.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 9:44
That's not an easy undertaking.
Amanda Bigbee 9:47
No, it was a time commitment. Yeah, it was a time commitment. Yeah, there was an energy expelled there.
Marsha Clark 9:54
By all participants, by everyone that was there. What I love though, but to me, that is just another piece of evidence about your commitment to being a servant leader in your community, school system, planning and zoning.
Amanda Bigbee 10:06
Thank you. I do love my community.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 10:09
Well, I think that many of our listeners may be in the same boat as I am in that we know quite a few attorneys, but I only know a couple of attorneys who specialize in municipal or public administration like school districts. So what does that, what made you decide to go that direction and focus on school districts?
Amanda Bigbee 10:29
Thank you for asking. I love talking about this because most people think of litigators as attorneys. And yeah, that's not me. So when I started my education career at Baylor, I thought I wanted to be a teacher primarily because I had exceptional elementary teachers that truly changed my life from a very early age. I'm still friends with a lot of them to this day. Hey, Miss Moncrief. I know you're listening. She was first grade. So I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to make life changing impacts that they had made on me. So when I came home, my first holiday break, my dad said, "Why don't you substitute while you're home, since this what you want to do." And I thought, well, that's great. I'm gonna make some money and do my passion. And they put me in a kindergarten classroom for a woman who was out on maternity leave. And by Wednesday of that week, I remember vividly, I was laying in the floor as the big hand of a clock, and I thought I cannot do this. This is not for me.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 11:31
I can see the arms and...
Amanda Bigbee 11:33
and a five year old next to me being the small hand and I thought this is not my calling. So I finished the week.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 11:41
Full on undergraduate degree.
Amanda Bigbee 11:44
I will finish my commitments. So I went through Friday, but then I called Baylor and said I'm gonna be changing my major. And law school was easier. It truly was easier. I thought, I'm going to, I'm going to figure out a way to do this. So I had a tremendous professor at Baylor law school named Professor Gwynn. And he taught my constitutional class and my civil liberties class. And I was talking to him about loving education, and his dad was the superintendent in Cleburne years ago. And I said, "How do I get back to there with this degree?" and he opened me up to the world of municipal law and taught me that school districts need lawyers too. So I got a job right out of law school with a law firm that had a municipal section, and I represented cities, police officers, schools, and teachers. And I really, my heart was with the teachers all along. So after about three years of that I represented just teachers at a law firm. And then I don't want to say I manifested it, but I'd made a list of school districts and said, if they have an in house position, I'm willing to go. And Keller was on that list. So when they created this position, I got, I got lucky, and I was prepared for capitalizing on the luck. (That's awesome.) So I've been at Keller since I was 30 years old. Looking back now I feel like I was a baby lawyer. But it's been about 15 years with them at this point.
Marsha Clark 13:04
I love when we find the intersections, right? I mean, you know, we love this, we're good at that. We have a passion about that, we're compelled to do this. And then it all comes together in that sweet spot and it sounds like this is your sweet spot.
Amanda Bigbee 13:15
I don't know if you remember this, but when we did Myers Briggs at Power of Self and I don't remember who was leading that session, but they said, "Where's Amanda?" and I raised my hand and she goes, "Man, law school must have been hard for you". And I felt that so deep in my soul because I live, I'm positivity, empathy, like, I've got all the soft skills, and none of the analytics and none of the like strategic stuff. And truly school law is the only way this works. I couldn't do another type of law well, but this is truly where I'm meant to be.
Marsha Clark 13:20
But there's an underlying message in this. I know... we this education and all that, but find, you know, don't be limited by, you know, I bet law school was really hard for you, because there's a way that can work for you. And that's true on a much broader scale. So I just hey, man, throw that in. Thanks. So you joined Keller ISD when you were 30. So I know that's been, I'm not going to say how many years. I'm not talking about that if you don't want to. It's not my job to tell you that. Been a while. So one thing I'd like for us to do is to set the stage for public education, but really by thinking about it first from a global perspective, and then kind of drilling it down, you know, a couple of levels to public education in the U.S. and then finally, in really the day to day operations of what it takes to run a school district. So we have a global audience, I'm happy to say on this podcast, and I want to make sure that everyone has something that they can connect to or relate to in our conversation.
Amanda Bigbee 14:37
Sure, that sounds great.
Marsha Clark 14:43
So as we said in the opening, we know by much research, that access to quality education is one of those great equalizers. And, you know, could be trivialized as a soundbite, but that study after study around the globe, really shows says that those countries that provide access to education outperform their peers in virtually every category. So when I think about, you know, the girls in Afghanistan, who are now told that they can't go to school, and it just breaks my heart on so many levels, and so, but virtually every category when education, access to education is providing economic output, health and longevity, safety, political stability, and the list goes on and on. So I want us to really recognize the importance of that.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 15:30
Yeah, one of the things that I found really interesting in preparing for this episode was the amount of research available on education access around the world. And I think, honestly, my favorite resource on this was on unicef.org, because they do such a good job of explaining the importance of gender parity when it comes to education. And I just want to read a little tidbit from their site. And they say, "Investing in girls education transforms communities, countries in the entire world. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young, more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for their selves and their families. So girls education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals including boys and men the opportunity to fulfill their potential." I know.
Amanda Bigbee 16:39
I want that. More of that.
Marsha Clark 16:42
And there's two related items that come to my mind. One is that this is the second time that I'm aware as a global citizen that in the case of in the example I said earlier Afghanistan, that they've been denied access to education. And the level of depression and suicide for women in that country went up dramatically. So there is a mental toll that is taken that impacts that entire society as a result of not having that. And you know, it's the old if I didn't know what I didn't know, but then I had it and you took it away from me. That's like an exaggerated impact on me. So that's one thing. And then the other thing I want to say, and to me, this is where some of the economic the geopolitical stability and that kind of thing comes in. So we know from research that the micro loans that have been a big part of the global economy, where I can give a $25 loan to a woman in an emerging third world country, and what does she choose to do with it. And what those companies that give those micro loans have learned is that, and I this is not intended to be ugly, it's just the facts. If you give them to the men, they spend, even though small amounts, on alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and women. If you give it to a woman, she spends it on education, health care, and a better life for her family.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 17:06
Which means investing into some kind of business,
Marsha Clark 18:17
that's more sustainable, and that contributes to something larger than my pleasures, my sole individual pleasures. So to me, these things are all wrapped up together in this and I just want to say, we think about it as just education. It has a much, you know, further reach, I guess the way to say it.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 18:37
Amanda, any other thoughts on that?
Amanda Bigbee 18:40
I couldn't agree more. It reminds me of Melinda Gates' book, "The Moment of Lift", and she talks a lot about how women do lift their communities and education being the great equalizer. And truly, that's why I do the work as that I do believe that education is really the answer for most of what ails us. I believe that in my core being.
Marsha Clark 19:03
So whether it's in an emerging third world country or whether it's in whatever socio economic level I might be born into in this United States, it is a great equalizer to help me move to whatever place I want to move.
Amanda Bigbee 19:04
I believe that's a universal truth.
Marsha Clark 19:07
I do too.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 19:07
Yeah. One other thing that stated on the unicef.org site that I just don't even think about as someone who basically lives in an affluent bubble here was quote, "But education for girls is about more than just access to school. It's also about girls feeling safe in classrooms and supported in the subjects and careers they choose to pursue including those in which they are often underrepresented."
Marsha Clark 19:47
Yeah, go read Malala's Story. That's the first thing, example that you know...
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 19:52
When getting to school is like going through a warzone, that's a problem.
Marsha Clark 19:57
You know, and we often hear the mantra you can be whatever you put your mind to. I mean, I've heard that from the time I was in school. And you know, but if the resources aren't available for me to learn about those opportunities outside of whatever traditional jobs or roles - teacher, nurse, mother - I mean, you know, that kind of thing, or that it's not socially acceptable to pursue an education in those subjects that are non traditional, then it continues to perpetuate the gender gap around the world.
Amanda Bigbee 20:25
You know, some of those very same issues do impact families here in the U.S. and in North Texas as well. And that's hard to think about when we, we have a lot of privileges here in the United States and here in North Texas, too. Those aren't just third world challenges, though. I think part of what is so surprising to people, when they really dig in, is all the services that public schools provide and how, because of the laws that require public schools to provide a variety of what may be considered social services, it really goes back to the idea of how public school districts really can be a village and when it comes to supporting children in their families in that village. One really simple example that you just mentioned, Wendi, is the idea of hygiene needs for girls and the barrier that can sometimes create for them to attend school in third world countries, but also here in our community. People don't think about it, but a girl that is menstruating, for her to attend school comfortably and hygienically, she needs feminine care products, obviously. And those products can be really expensive for some families and they may be choices between tampons and electricity or feeding the family. So if we notice there's truancy issues with a young girl, and we find that she's missing school in a pattern, it may be that she's unable to get those products. And that would be a barrier to her education and that's something that we have to deal with to make sure that that she can attend safely and comfortably. (Right.) Similarly, I would point out that in the United States, pregnancy is the number one reason teen girls drop out of school. According to the ACLU, approximately 70% of teen girls who give birth leave before getting their diplomas. Most public school systems provide quality pregnancy related services for students. But that's certainly an area that we can always improve and do better at protecting young ladies.
Marsha Clark 22:26
And this is where I think about this podcast as an education. The things you just brought up, maybe the pregnancy thing, you know, we're kind of tangentially understand, but the whole idea of just availability of feminine hygiene and that it's a choice of do I pay the rent, do I pay the electricity, do I buy things that I need? And you know, even in many cultural aspects, what that cycle, that menstrual cycle really means.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 22:49
Marsha Clark 22:50
It's shame, right. And so that school districts have to look at that, in thinking about providing services to all children through the public education system, not just the ones that it's easy.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 23:04
And meet their needs right where they are. (That's right.) So and Amanda, you said something that really, it sounded like an insignificant comment but it really isn't. You said, "And now we have to deal with that", "that"being the the feminine care that we were just talking about, but also for the boys. I mean, it's sometimes it's like basic toothbrush requirements, and shaving needs, and all those kinds of things. And I think that, you know, that is exactly at the core of what makes public schools so critical to the success of the community. Because by law, a public school has to figure out a way to serve every student at their need level in the community. And you don't get to pick and choose which students you accept or support. Now, it's, you know, it's clicking for me on why this episode should also be entitled "every single child" because that should be a rallying cry for the public school district.
Amanda Bigbee 24:02
Sure. People don't think about it. But when companies are churning out their product, you get to pick the best of the component pieces and churn out a quality product that you're proud of. Public schools can't and shouldn't work that way. So every single kid that lives in the community is served by the public school system and what may surprise some people is sometimes we serve kids that aren't served in our communities. It's taxpayer funded entity and we don't have the luxury of saying "Oh, you're not at a place where we're ready to meet your needs so you're gonna need to go somewhere else." Like we, when our doors are open and we take every single kid.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 24:39
Okay, at the risk of sounding like a total research nerd, I also found some information, researching for this episode. Guess what year the first free tax dollar supported public school was opened in the United States. Y'all take a guess.
Marsha Clark 24:56
Okay, so I read the script, so I know. I know. (Cheater!) That's right. I cheated.
Amanda Bigbee 25:03
It's gonna be silly early. It's going to be early because we have a proud tradition in the United States of public education and educating every kid because we didn't, you know, we fled a monarchy. We're not, we don't believe in that. I would say 1705.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 25:18
Okay, that's a great guess because it was actually 1635.
Amanda Bigbee 25:23
Oh, that's not a great guess. That's 70 years off.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 25:25
No. Considering...2023 years...
Amanda Bigbee 25:30
That's early. That's early.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 25:32
So I learned a lot of other interesting history about public education in this article, entitled "A Relevant History of Public Education in the United States" by Grace Chen on her website, or not on her website, but on a website called publicschoolreview.com. And according to this article, less than a decade after the first official public school opened in Virginia, Massachusetts, in 1635, they created a law requiring towns with populations of 50 or more to hire a school master to teach the children of the town basic academics. Towns that had 100 or more people were required to also hire a Latin grammar school master who was equipped to prepare students for higher education. Latin.
Marsha Clark 25:33
So I just want to say this, we think of Latin today as Latin America, Latina. I just would say, this is the language Latin. It's all the European, but it's the base of all, you know, the European languages and including English. And so I mean, my mother took Latin and she tried to encourage all of us, she tried to encourage every one of her kids, they didn't even offer it when I was that age. So it was a very different time and place. But I love this. And I want to make the connection to women, which is the to hire a school master. I heard a whole lot more about the school marms, the women who had the little red schoolhouse down in the valley, you know, kind of thing where they had kids from all ages and all grades all learning things at the same time.
Amanda Bigbee 27:10
Public education, like I mentioned, is really woven into the fabric of who the United States is but also just to bring it back home a little bit, public education is really at the root of Texas' history as well. And I point this out every Texas Independence Day on all my social media platforms just to remind people. One of the reasons Texas broke away from Mexico way back when when we were turning into the Republic of Texas, was because Mexico did not allow for a public education system that educated every child. It was hierarchical and you had to be wealthy. The Texans believed that there needed to be a general diffusion of knowledge across the entire state. And to do that there had to be a public education system that reached all the corners. So it really was a foundational piece for why we broke from Mexico in the first place.
Marsha Clark 27:58
And I just want to say, I know that Texas became a state in 1836.
Amanda Bigbee 28:05
There you go.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 28:05
I know that, too.
Amanda Bigbee 28:06
200 years after the first public school...which is fascinating. It is.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 28:12
So one last piece of history from that same article was that Thomas Jefferson argued that there should be a formal education system and taxpayer dollars should support it. So after the Declaration of Independence, 14 states had their own constitutions by 1791 and out of the 14 seven of those states had provisions for education. Jefferson believed that education should be under the control of the government, free from religious biases and available to all people irrespective of their status in society. Others who also vouched for this public education stance around the same time were Noah Webster, guess your Webster's dictionary founder, and, and George Washington. And so in 1837, Massachusetts created the first state board of education after establishing the first public high school and free public school to all grades in the years leading up to that board's creation. And Massachusetts also took on the lead and passed the first compulsory school attendance laws in 1852, followed by New York in 1853. So by 1918, all states had passed laws requiring children to attend at least elementary school. Okay, so there's my book report, Encyclopedia Britannica recitation.
Marsha Clark 29:42
So I want to make some connections, at least the ones that are going on in my head. So this idea that public education should be under the control of the government free from religious biases and available to all people, irrespective of their status in society. And you know, Wendi, we're talking and doing a podcast where we will mention that the non partisanship of school board members and how that has been a long practice and now is beginning to shift and change. And so the same people who are, in my opinion, my opinion only, bringing partisan politics and education are the same ones who say take us back to the, the tenets and principles on which this country was founded. Okay. Okay. Yeah. Which means non partisanship.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 30:32
Shut up and sit down.
Marsha Clark 30:34
Well, and yes, it could be that. But I just want our listeners to get that, that if you if you truly believe, because we often refer back to the good old days and all that kind of stuff. And wasn't it easier when? Well, it was intended to be for all and not attached to a political agenda, a partisanship, a bias, or whatever that might be. And the idea is public for all. I just, it's like I can't stress that enough.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 31:04
Yeah. Well, I, I do recommend that article for anyone who's interested in learning more I and I didn't even get into the history of desegregation, all the federal legislation required to address racial and gender parity issues in public schools. I mean, we can, we could spend an entire podcast just on that.
Marsha Clark 31:24
Yes, we could.
Amanda Bigbee 31:25
For sure. I teach a master's level education class at TCU, so if you're interested, I do teach those things. (There you go.)
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 31:33
Those topics are still hot today.
Amanda Bigbee 31:36
They're still really relevant. And even though public schools are technically managed at the local and state level (frankly more state than I'd like, it should be local), the federal government has quite a bit of oversight and involvement and how we do our jobs especially around those politically charged topics. I do appreciate the historical context because it reinforces that there has been a long standing social contract here in the United States, and that we will provide that those educational opportunities for our children. And what started out as an expectation to teach reading, writing arithmetic basics, has grown exponentially beyond what any of those forward thinking leaders back in the 1700- 1800s could have ever imagined possible for our kids and our communities.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 32:26
Well and that's a great segue into the types of services and programming that is provided by today's public school system.
Amanda Bigbee 32:34
Yeah, before we get to the school district level, though, I think it would be smart to level set a little bit by explaining how the three different levels of governance actually do play in so federal, state and local and how those impact a school district like mine. We've already touched on a couple areas where the federal government gets involved in public schools. One is enforcement of discrimination laws. There are many other laws that control how we do that work. Title Nine, for example, protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities in schools that receive federal funding. I think most people have heard of Title Nine, but they usually think of it in terms of sports and how it impacts public schools. And there are also many other examples, hundreds of them really, where both federal and state government established rules that local school districts must comply with and they don't come with any additional funding attached to them. But the districts are required to deliver on those services anyway. We call those colloquially unfunded mandates. We're constantly begging legislators to stop that because we can't keep, can't have more mandates without more money forever. Another really good example of that is federal law called the McKinney Vento Act, which addresses services that must be provided to homeless students. And that's a big, that's a big deal in all schools.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 33:58
That's a big deal in all schools. So what does that entail?
Amanda Bigbee 34:01
Yeah, in a nutshell, because it is complicated, each school district that receives federal money, not for McKinney Vento but any federal money, must provide equal access to school programming to students who qualify as homeless. And this can mean everything from transportation to and from school, where the child is, even if they're not within the district anymore. So it could be downtown homeless shelters, motels that are an hour away or any of those kinds of things, but also includes food technology, anything else that may be a barrier for a homeless child actually being able to attend school and learn while they're there. And I know you may think you may be thinking, "Wow, that must be a really big deal for Dallas". And I'm sure it is, but there are homeless students everywhere in places that you would never suspect. Keller is a relatively affluent suburb in North Texas. I think people, most people would think of us as relatively affluent. And we have, give or take at any day, about 200 homeless student It's within our school district alone. And again, this is one of those just invisible needs that goes on in the background that most the time people don't have to think about. But as a public school district, we support those needs of every single child in this case, regardless of where they live, including those that are considered homeless.
Marsha Clark 35:20
Two things. Is the McKinney Vento a federal or state?
Amanda Bigbee 35:23
It's a federal law.
Marsha Clark 35:24
It's a federal law. So that's true in every state in the United States.
Amanda Bigbee 35:27
Every state in the United States.
Marsha Clark 35:28
Okay, and then can you give us maybe just to help get clearer, what is the official, if you will, definition of homeless?
Amanda Bigbee 35:35
I'm glad you ask because people often think that means you have to be living under a bridge or in a car. And that is not the way the law defines it. So the definition of homeless means an individual (easy for me to say) who lacks a fixed regular and adequate nighttime residence, and includes children and youth who are sharing housing of other persons due to a loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reason, that can be living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, campgrounds, any of those kinds of places that aren't considered adequate accommodations and are living in an emergency or transitional shelter, or also abandoned in hospitals. Sometimes we pick those up. They have primary nighttime residences that are public or private place not designed to be a sleeping accommodation for humans. We also have students that are living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, trains, anything like that would be considered homeless under the statute.
Marsha Clark 36:36
Wow. So you know, it's I just tried to get my head wrapped around even the definition of homeless and and all those possibilities. This is a federal law that's intended to provide those homeless children with equal access to public education services. And I have to tell you, that what goes through my mind is, these children didn't likely create their homelessness, right? It was some adult who created that and yet, what I love about this federal law, though, is that we're here to provide that to children so that they don't continue to perpetuate the challenge of homelessness of our generation.
Amanda Bigbee 37:11
Part of the law is to provide as much stability as we can to those students to enable them to complete their education. And part of what they need a lot of times is transportation. So we call it a school of origin. So wherever the child was when they became homeless is their school of origin. And we're required to transport them back to that school of origin regardless of where they're currently sleeping. So if a child is enrolled in my school district, and becomes homeless, and is in a temporary living situation, say downtown, or the next town over in a shelter, even if it's 60 miles away, and they want to continue to get their education in their home district, which would be mine, we're required to go pick them up, bring them to school every day and return them. Hope, obviously, the hope is that they'll get their situation back to a stable, safe living arrangement. But until they do, that's, that's something we pick up to make sure that we're taking care of them the best we can. I like that you said these children that they don't choose homelessness. We may have a handful of kids that we consider unaccompanied youth because they've been kicked out of their homes or left home. But the vast majority, this was something that happened to them. So we we do our very best to put everything in place to allow them to continue to be successful.
Marsha Clark 38:33
So I do want to just this is such a specific question. But when I think about 200 on any given day and colorized it, and I think about their living in the next town, downtown, you know, wherever it may be, just practically speaking, do you Uber them?
Amanda Bigbee 38:51
Very reasonable question. We don't often have enough students in one location to send a full bus, that would be a really expensive bus route. So there are car services, believe it or not, that are kind of like Uber but are more controlled and safe. And we contract with them, usually, to go pick up kids and come back. We also have district owned vehicles that we can use to pick them up. But that also requires somebody missing their regular duties to go get a child. In an emergency situation we can do those things as well. But usually it's a car service. It's cheaper than running a bus.
Marsha Clark 39:25
I just have to say, I had no clue. I had never even just thought. First of all, I didn't know about that law, the federal law. So that's a new piece of information, and then how you practically do it and that school districts have to figure that out.
Amanda Bigbee 39:37
Even affluent ones. All of them. All of them. It's not a huge population, obviously. 200 out of in Keller 35,000. But every single kid matters. And when every single kid matters, sometimes kids take a little more resources than others and that's what you do. A couple other ways the United States Department of Education which is federal, is connect into what we do at the state or local level, is that it also collects data to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement in the public education sector. States can use that data to support the needs for changes in programming and curriculum. We do a lot of data in education. And this data is used at the national level to identify problem areas like learning gaps and other systemic issues that the states may not be necessarily seeing at their level. And it really provides a bird's eye view a high 35,000 foot view of the state of education in our country, and allows states to do more proactive work if they know where the challenges are and are able to address them efficiently that way. So that's the federal level.
Marsha Clark 39:37
You know, Amanda, here's what I, here's what I really appreciate about this conversation. You're certainly helping me and hopefully, our listeners as well, to better understand that, you know, we always think about school districts as being local, but they're these different levels of government in our public education system. And I'll be honest, my son went to public school, you know, K through 12. And most everybody, I don't know, of anybody, my family who went to any other kind of school, you know, and so a large chunk I know of my property taxes, you know, pay for those public schools, as do most people who live in these communities. But, you know, I'll be honest, I never really spent much time paying attention to how and where that money was spent. I just, I trusted the institutions. I mean, because I grew up with that public school, and it was good for me. And you know, it's good. And, you know, this is seriously helping me be a better, more informed citizen and quite honestly, voter when it comes to the next round of, you know, school board elections.
Amanda Bigbee 41:41
I'm so glad you're finding it helpful. And we like it when the system works so well you don't have to think about it. But I think particularly now, it's important to realize how much goes into it. And I will tell you informed advocates for public education are the very best kinds of advocates. As a woman or what a warrior of sorts who supports women and girls, and as an advocate for empowerment and self efficacy, understanding the real value of public education is one of the best ways everyone can ensure that more girls have tools that they need to be successful, fully contributing members of their communities and of society in large.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 42:21
Yeah, and I agree with Marsha. I mean, I've been pretty involved at the local level and my mother was a career elementary school teacher. I mean, so but yet, you know, she saw a lot of change over those four decades, almost five that she taught. And in even living in the house with her, I never put the full picture together. So, Amanda, you've addressed the federal level, then we get to the state level involvement, which is...
Amanda Bigbee 42:51
Yeah, I will add a caveat here, in that every single state in the United States is set up a little bit differently when it comes to education. Yeah, and I'm just fully candid and I'm just an expert on Texas. II don't really know what they're doing over in Wyoming. A great resource, though, to learn more about this is a website www.nasbe.org and that stands for the National Association of State Boards of Education. For the most part, each state has a state level board of education. We do here in Texas, and some states, those board members are elected and others they're appointed. Ours are elected. The state level boards usually oversee the development of statewide curriculum, standards for accreditation for teachers, graduation qualifications, assessment standards, a lot of things like that. Other key players in the public school game are the actual state legislature which sets out state property tax rates, maximums and establishes the state level funding for school districts. Again, each state is different in how they calculate the taxes, then allocate them back to school districts. That could be a whole podcast on itself here in Texas. We have a very complicated funding system. Most people are somewhat familiar with the role of the state legislature plays in funding public schools. What most people don't realize, however, is how much more deeply involved the state legislature actually is in setting policy and really controlling the operations of local schools. I always tease that other than DOPS public schools are one of the most regulated industries in the... but man public schools are over regulated. Just by way of example, in the past legislative session here in Texas, which was two years ago, there were more than 115 bills passed related just to public education. And that was everything from teacher accountability to extracurricular activities, a whole a whole band of things, and those are the ones that passed. So we were tracking over 1000 bills and 115 new ones, and they never take away any requirements. It's just an add on session after session.
Marsha Clark 45:03
Yeh, you know, I mean, the other thing that you bring up that I think is important for me to think about and as well as our listeners is that we often, you know, are encouraged and encourage others to focus at the campus level when they're unhappy with the curriculum or the policies. But I have failed to realize that it's not the campuses we need to be you know, providing our feedback or input to it's really our state legislature and legislators. Because what the local campuses are doing is simply executing from the playbook that's been established at that state level.
Amanda Bigbee 45:39
That is absolutely right. That's perfectly true. Honestly, the local campuses have very little autonomy when it comes to curriculum, major policy decisions, any of those hot topic kind of things. Those are all pushed down from a higher level. And it's really easy to grab your keys and race on down to your local elementary school and shout at the principal. But they really are just executing a playbook, as you said, from the state level. And I want to be sure everyone hears me on this. There are many, many times when it's very helpful to have consistent policies at the state level being applied across all school districts. Having a statewide set of standards that all schools in Texas use for curriculum, we call them TEKS, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, it has, it would allow a child to move from district to district and not be terribly behind because they're learning the same thing in every school across the state. Most of the United States follow something called Common Core, which you may have heard of, but Texas does not. And we have the TEKS that all schools in the state follow.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 46:50
Okay. So this starts making me think about things, the phrase that people get really upset about whether they're a parent or not. And it's called teaching to the test.
Amanda Bigbee 46:50
I've never heard that.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 47:03
And they have no idea that it's out of, its out of the control of the local school districts because that's where they take their flaming torches and their pitchforks and try to demonize the teachers and the principals and the school board members for making decisions that are actually being made at the state level.
Amanda Bigbee 47:20
Yeah, they are. And sometimes even at the federal, some of that assessment conversation goes all the way back to No Child Left Behind, which is renamed now, but that some of the assessment issues, and watching all of that happen with the level of heat that it has is really hard to watch, particularly as someone who just, I mean aggressive levels of love for public school teachers and the people who work in public education. And I will say that the demonizing has been really at a high point over the last few years. I'm pro of the whole national frenzy to turn school board meetings into viral video moments. When people came to meetings with concerns, they were civil, there was a real conversation that was relevant in real communication. There were parents of students who actually attended schools. That's not always the case anymore. And they were part of an important feedback loop for what the community wanted to see in their local school. And it was all in the spirit of partnership and was meant to build up the district and help us get better every day. And that's the way it's supposed to work.
Marsha Clark 48:34
Right. I wish we could return there. You know, and it's my turn to be honest now. And I admit I just really haven't been giving any energy to the spectacle that the school board meetings have become, I look at them and I talk back to my television when I see them on the 10 o'clock news is the energy I've given to that. But you know, I've heard about how ridiculous and seen it you know, on those video clips, how disrespectful some of the speakers and people who want to make a spectacle and I've I've been pretty disconnected and I can't begin to imagine how disheartening it must be to sit through those meetings month after month and just listen to people disparage and really diminish the commitment, the hard work, the tenacity, the passion with which our, and the dedication of our teachers, our staff, and you know, all people in support of that. And I tell you, it breaks my heart.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 49:34
Yeah. Yeah. And the school board members themselves. I mean, for the most part, these are, well, for all part they are volunteers who don't get paid to be on these boards.
Amanda Bigbee 49:44
That is true here in Texas. They don't get paid for that service. And man, it has been hot. It's a hot volunteer project, I'll tell you that. There are so many amazing things that are happening in public schools today and really all of that good news has been drowned out by the drama. So what I really love is talking about the good things and doing the good work that's happening. (We want to hear that too.) Yes, thank you. And I try not to let ourselves spend too much time feeling bad about the naysayers because most people do get to just go about their lives without thinking about whether it's working or not, because it's working. And I try not to get too dug into the to the negativity of it. They're loud and they're organized. Yes, of course. And I don't believe generally though they're reflective of the actual day to day work that's being done by teachers in classrooms across the country. It's not even close.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 50:44
So Amanda, let's spend a few minutes. You share with our listeners a few examples of what does go into running a district like yours at your village so to speak, and let's talk about the good.
Amanda Bigbee 50:56
I'd love to. It is an honor and a privilege to brag not only on my district, but on all public school districts around the world that are providing some just incredible services every single day. It's helpful to think of a school district like a village we keep talking about this village. In our case, we support there, like I said, 35,000 students across 43 separate campuses. We have roughly 5,000 staff and like many school districts, the largest single employer within our community. Not only are we educating students, we're feeding them, in some cases two meals a day. Our cafeteria program serves more meals than any restaurant in North Tarrant County.
Marsha Clark 51:38
That blew, that blows my mind by a long ways. Yeah.
Amanda Bigbee 51:43
We provide free transportation for eligible students, lots and lots of miles our buses run every month, not only to and from school, but across campuses for some programs that are centralized. And if you think about it, some cities with 35,000 citizens don't have transportation programs. But as a public school we do. We run that system.
Marsha Clark 52:04
You are so right. That's another thing I hadn't even considered.
Amanda Bigbee 52:07
We even hire, we have our own plumbers and locksmiths and all sorts of things. (Goodness.) On any given day we also have medical care. Our school nurses are supporting the physical and mental health needs of our students. They dispense everything from ADHD medications to insulin, epipen injections. Our school district recently started housing Narcan for opioid overdoses. We've even on occasion dispensed chemotherapy pills for kids so they could stay in school rather than going to the hospital. We have to be ready for everything in a public school setting. So we train on things like AED protocols, those run every building. And I am proud to tell you that I very recently finished my training on how to stop bleeding in the event of an emergency. I am prepared.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 52:58
You are prepared. So what's AED protocol?
Marsha Clark 53:00
Before we go there I just want to say this. So the next time you find yourself going, "Oh, those people in the school district." Just remember all this. Remember all the things they're doing. So much!
Amanda Bigbee 53:13
AEDs are pretty popular at the moment because of the NFL moment we had with...
Marsha Clark 53:20
Ah. Damar Hamlin.
Amanda Bigbee 53:22
I was just trying to remember his name. Yeah, an AED is in an external defibrillator that can be used by almost anyone. And we've had a few occasions where we've had kids or adults collapse in buildings and had to use them. So we've got them in every single building, and we're ready for truly any kind of emergency within the schools.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 53:25
At least until a professional like fire or ambulance can get there.
Amanda Bigbee 53:49
Yes, yeah, we can certainly hold the gap for a bit. So it really is our own little city and we have to be ready to take care of any one of those 35,000 students and 5,000 employees at any moment. People really just, it's hard to understand the scope. There are times when our school nurses are the only health care practitioners a child may have access to either because a child's family has no insurance or the parents aren't able to get them to the doctor. So a child's primary medical needs are being met through that school as much as we can. We even have a program in Keller where with a parent's consent the child can telehealth with a doctor in the nurse's office to diagnose some of the more common illnesses.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 54:30
That's absolutely incredible.
Amanda Bigbee 54:32
Yeah, it's a really great program. We have this working and it happens every single day. I think another incredibly inspiring level of support public education school provides for students who require special education services. We don't pre-test your child to see if they can come with learning abilities that will be a good fit for us. It's not about whether we're going to accept a child based on their physical or cognitive abilities. As a public school, we're obligated to find a way and a place to support every single child. So no matter how profound their particular physical, mental or emotional challenges are, we're prepared to meet them. Even for students who are homebound for some reason, we have lots of those maybe because they're undergoing cancer treatments and can't come to school for immunity reasons, or recovering from some sort of long term illness or injury, we'll send a teacher right to them.
Marsha Clark 55:28
You know, and I just have to tell you, those things are near and dear to my heart. I shared in an earlier podcast that I had a sister who was profoundly disabled. And, you know, as I said then, my mother was encouraged to put her into a home and because, you know, we just don't want to deal with that, and so on and so forth. We chose not to do that. She was never able to attend any sort of public school. But you know, what I think about is even we used to call them quite honestly, special education children and they were in my school when I was going through the public system. And I'm gonna bring in an aspect, I know, we talk about the disabled as part of the diversity, you know, and the EEOC, equal employment opportunity, you know, stuff. But I do think that it is important for our children to see people of all kinds, whether it be learning disabilities, physical disabilities, emotional disabilities, whatever those might be, even fiscal or financial, or socio economic, that this is the world in which we live. And it's not just this affluent bubble that we often talk about. And I think that's an important part that public schools can offer up. And if parents would reinforce some of that so that the bullying or the fun making, or the you know, as I said, we've been asked to leave many a restaurant because people were uncomfortable looking at my sister, just looking at her, you know, and, and that's not humanity. That's not the humanity or the communities I want. I'll put it that way.
Amanda Bigbee 57:06
And when we invite all of that diversity in and around us, that's what makes the village so rich. Like that's where we learn from each other and gain empathy. And there's life lessons to be learned. (Absolutely.) Yeah. As a society, in general, not just in schools, we've eliminated a lot of those state run institutions. So now, that's not even really an option for most of our families. Public school systems are tasked with developing programs to support these children. So this is an example of a federal program that provides some financial help to meet students needs, but nowhere near enough to cover all the costs of special education programming. These days the federal money covers less than half of what it costs to educate our students who are special education eligible. In some cases, the student's needs can be more profound than most people realize. We have many nonverbal students who are utilizing feeding tubes, catheterizations, and have other pretty profound medical needs. So our nurses are giving medications for grand mal seizures every day. We have an entire staff of paraprofessionals required to help meet those needs. And filling those positions is exceptionally difficult right now. It's a critical shortage area for us.
Marsha Clark 58:27
I want to offer and this is going to be a political opinion. I just I'm gonna just say it right off the get go. I wish because as you said, so many public institutions have been shut down. So to me, I'm going to call the responsibility and I would say it has even become burdensome on our police departments and our schools to cover the wide array of what other public institutions used to support.
Amanda Bigbee 58:59
Marsha Clark 59:00
And my personal preference, I am not for defunding the police because I think police are bad. I'm for reallocation of resources to provide financial support and services to meet the wide variety rather than thinking that teachers and schools have to be everything to everybody or police have to be everything to everybody. Whether it be for food scarcity, whether it be for homelessness, whether it be for mental illness, whether it be for fill in the blank. So I am for reallocating resources and having public institutions that support that wide variety of needs and not expecting you know, teachers who make $40,000 a year to be everything, or police officers who only make $40,000 - $50,000 a year to be everything. Yeah, okay, off the box.
Amanda Bigbee 59:56
But for right now, our teachers and paraprofessionals do the work not because it's a good paycheck. We're going to admit that. It's because they really do love children and love the work. And, and truly, it's because nobody else will. Because nobody else is picking up that slack. So we know other educational programs out there can be selective and can turn students away who don't fit exactly into the model that they're pushing. Public schools find a way somehow underfunded, overworked, somehow we find a way every time.
Marsha Clark 1:00:31
Again and again and again, every time.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:00:32
Amanda, what about those students who are so emotionally destructive that it's just, it's not physically safe for the other students to keep them in a regular school environment?
Amanda Bigbee 1:00:45
We hear we are more and more about that these days. And I will tell you it is a it is a profound challenge, no doubt. And society does need a solution. And it needs to find a way to manage that. It's amazing how much money we spend to help students with profound psychological and emotional issues when a district can't meet the needs of those students and there are some times that it's just not possible within a public school setting. We still have to find a solution that works, we're legally obligated to do that. And occasionally that will mean that we have to residentially place a child to make sure their needs can be met appropriately. And we pay for that to happen.
Marsha Clark 1:01:27
I just think about, you know, just in stepping back and looking at this, public schools in public education have certainly gone beyond those three R's, the reading, writing, 'rithmetic. So you know, it's ironic considering that one of the critiques has been that schools need to go back to the basics. And, you know, I, every time I hear that from this point forward I will go, let's talk about that, you know, because let's get smarter about it, know better/do better. And, you know, the the other thing I think about is, recently we heard that Texas has a $32 billion surplus in our budget. If I were in charge I'd love for some of that to go to some of the education and even the police and again, funding institutions to meet some of these really profound needs.
Amanda Bigbee 1:02:16
And it's my turn to be just a little political. $5 billion of that surplus is on the backs of public schools because it's based on the surplus, or the recapture is what we call it from schools that have to give money back to the state. So $5 billion of that is public school money that they're calling a surplus to use for other purposes.
Marsha Clark 1:02:37
So for our Texas listeners out there, write your legislator right now and tell them to get the money back to the schools.
Amanda Bigbee 1:02:43
Yes, it is really, unless you're living it day in and day out, it is really hard to grasp and understand the depth and complexity of all the services that public education provides. And even if we wanted to get back to the basics, the three R's, the law doesn't even allow it anymore.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:03:04
Yeah. Well, Amanda, so in your role as general counsel, besides interpreting all of the federal and state laws that are affecting your your district, what else do you get involved in? Okay, get ready for a list.
Amanda Bigbee 1:03:19
How much time do you have? All right, well, we've already kind of talked about this, but I do attend monthly school board meetings, and sometimes special meetings as well. And then there's a little bit of a cycle to my work in my office. I say my office like I have a giant office. It's me and a paralegal. So it's the two of us. We're small but proud. So every school year, you ramp up during the summer and get ready for all the things. You write the handbooks and the manuals and all the things and then August is a frenzy of new employees and all that entails. But also people don't think about things like enrollment and custody situations. We do a lot of divorce and custody work that first month in determining who gets what and who makes which decisions and those kinds of things. At the beginning of the year there's a lot of ARD meetings. In Texas we call them ARD. In the rest of the country, they call them IEP meetings.
Marsha Clark 1:04:17
And what does that stand for?
Amanda Bigbee 1:04:18
It stands for admission, review and dismissal. And that's what we call special education meetings. So if a student is represented by an attorney in those meetings, I go to all of those. I also sit on employee, ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, accommodation meetings. Then those happen, tend to happen towards the beginning of the year, and then kind of trickle in through the rest of the year as well. Once you get into September and October, we're looking at more contracts because the budgets have opened up so in my office we do everything from the DJ prom contract to multimillion dollar construction projects. And then you've got consents and all the permission slips and things for field trips and all those other things. And then usually it's right around September, October, pushing closer to the holidays, that discipline starts ramping up a little bit. So I obviously go to discipline hearings when an attorney is representing the child. But I also am a touch point for campus administrators and district level administrators when we have to work with the connection between the criminal world and the school world because sometimes there's crimes that are committed either on or off campus. And we have to decide how that's going to look in a public school setting, what kind of discipline is going to happen. And then you get the holidays rolling through, and everybody's just a little lost. So sometimes we get personnel matters come up around then. And then it really turns into a bit of a cycle. I also serve, this isn't true of every attorney, but in Keller I also serve as the title nine coordinator, the records management officer, the public information officer. So we do all record, records requests go through my office, there's a lot. And we also manage all the subpoenas that come in, and that is pretty constant. We'd get usually at least one or two a week, subpoenas for either teacher testimony or records production.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:04:33
Ah. Okay, that makes sense.
Marsha Clark 1:05:08
And isn't it true that you also, I mean, doesn't the school get pulled in when there's divorce cases?
Amanda Bigbee 1:06:32
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Often, teachers, counselors and campus administrators will be asked to testify in divorce proceedings, and those individuals are subpoenaed to go and testify. So I do a lot of prep to make sure teachers aren't scared to death, and help them get through that.
Marsha Clark 1:06:51
Yeah. Well, and I just want to say she does all that with two people. That is ...
Amanda Bigbee 1:06:57
Yes, I do appreciate that. We work hard and we're really a good team. And it's a, it's an exceptional district. And it's not a job for me or work for me because it really is something I'm passionate about and love. And I, I do my best when things are moving quickly. I do well against deadlines. So this is a perfect kind of law for me because everything, everything changes every single day. And I can have the best laid plans and two phone calls in and it may be blown to bits. So I thrive in the energy of public education. And I can't imagine a better dream job.
Marsha Clark 1:07:39
Well, and thank you for doing what you do, because it takes a special person to do all of that. And I want to, I want to know, and I want to help our listeners know. We watch these things on the evening news, or we hear about the kooky headlines or the Facebook post or the this that or the other. How do we get behind or beyond the hysteria of all of this?
Amanda Bigbee 1:08:02
I appreciate you asking this. There, it's really easy to capture a snippet from a headline or a Facebook post and believe it to be true. I would beg people to be better informed and to make sure you know the truth before you repeat things and spread rumors or speculation about something. I know this isn't the most exciting answer but watching school board meetings will really help you be informed of what's going on in your community. School districts in the state of Texas are required to record their meetings and post them for public access. So everybody can watch their school board meetings without leaving the comfort of their home. Many school districts live stream them. Keller is live so you can watch in the moment. They're not always just terribly intriguing. It's not always viral. But it is a good way to know what your, what your schools are doing and what it's all about. It does make sometimes sad entertainment when people are really angry. But I'll take a good old fashioned respectful board presentation any day. You can get a great idea of the shape of your district and how it's doing, what kind of visually issues they're really grappling with the stuff that really matters by watching those meetings.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:09:26
Yeah, and for me, the worst part is when people are being so hateful sometimes during these meetings and towards teachers, students. It's heartbreaking and it's infuriating.
Amanda Bigbee 1:09:37
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:09:37
And there's no need for it.
Amanda Bigbee 1:09:38
I agree. I just try to remember that these are not the people who are making a positive difference in the lives of our students. And I'm there to shield the people who are. I prefer to focus on the people who are connecting, contributing, and making it better. I'm hopeful if they care enough to show up and share their opinion which we hear, even when they're angry, even when it's infuriating that they will stay long enough to hear about the work that's being done. And they will grow, learn that we're trying to grow every single kid and doing the best we can. Every district has committees that do various things that you can get plugged into, it's a great way to plug in and learn to share ideas and opinions. I know some districts have programs like our ambassador program in Keller ISD, where any resident can join for free, and you really get a peek behind the curtain to learn more about what your local school district is doing. Ours is just four nights each semester and you get to walk through all the nuts and bolts of the district. People can pretty much crawl into the trenches with us, as we and see what we're doing and just figure out how it all works. And of course, check to see if your local schools are taking volunteers. We will always take a volunteer. It's a great way to plug in and see firsthand, always better to experience all the great work with your own eyes than to rely on what you're reading on social media. Don't believe everything you read. Reach out directly. I promise your school would prefer to answer your question than have you share a Facebook post that's not true. And when you discover that something is not true, speak out, be a voice of reason. I promise your local school would love to answer the question and help you get out actual information. And finally, vote. Voter turnout in the United States and in Texas is terrible. And honestly, amongst educators, it's particularly terrible. When your local races are on the ballot, it is just as important as voting for the president or other big national races.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:11:51
I think it's more important. I'm gonna go out and say that. It affects us more directly and you feel it faster the day ...
Amanda Bigbee 1:11:58
Absolutely. I would encourage everyone do a little research. Find out who best represents what you believe and the direction you want your local school or city to go. And get out there and vote.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:11:59
Yeah. Yeah. So Amanda, as we start to wrap up here, I'm wondering. If you had one wish about how to help people better understand and appreciate their local public schools, what would that be?
Amanda Bigbee 1:12:25
One wish? Yeah. All right. This is pie in the sky thinking. But my wish would be that we could find our way back to when public schools were the center point of a community. And that's where you gathered. It's where you went to football games and PTA fall festivals, where you knew the teachers and you were friends with the PE lady. Somehow schools have become othered and it's those people doing this to us. And it's not, it's your neighbors. They're no longer seen as providing this valuable public service and part of that community. So if we could get back to that. That'd be my dream. Yeah. So go to football games, go to middle school concerts. theatrical performance, man, I love a good theatrical performance in a high school. Reengage in ways that are fun. You don't have to be drudgery. You don't have to just do the copying and laminating. Like go to a play. It doesn't have to be heavy, heavy and laborious. Our kids are making amazing art. They're engaging in tough competitions. I promise. I promise you, you'll be impressed with the commitment level of teenagers and their teachers and what they can pull off on a peanuts budget. It's incredible. For that matter if your local district has a CTE Center, its career technical education, check it out. Things have come such a long way from back in the days of auto shop, and it's just a new world. So they are doing amazing things.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:14:06
There are advanced programs here in Frisco. We're recording in Frisco, and we have three CTE Centers and they're amazing. They're amazing.
Amanda Bigbee 1:14:16
In Keller, ours offers free tours once a week. You can even get some coffee and donuts if you go. We have a student run restaurant there. It's delicious. It's called The Heat. We offer animal grooming and welding classes and you can even get a pedicure or a haircut there. I mean, the opportunities that these kids are provided to become productive, successful, self sustaining members of society right out of high school, it's fantastic. But don't take my word for it. Jump into the trenches and see for yourself. There is so much good going on every single day in your public schools. And that's what I really want us to focus on. I promise you, local school districts will be excited to share this information with you if you reach out.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:15:02
Well, Amanda, thank you so much for being our guest today and allowing us to dive into this for a better understanding and appreciation of what it's like to be in the trenches with you, as on the inside of a public school system. I mean, so powerful.
Amanda Bigbee 1:15:18
Marsha Clark 1:15:18
And I'm thinking on what you just said about what our kids today are doing. And I think about I come out of, I'll call it one of my corporate programs and they're like, 'Oh, these young people coming into the workplace that are entitled, and they expect so much', and all this kind of stuff. Then I go into a group of young people, and I'm blown away about how amazing they are. And so this, there's a disconnect in all of that as well. And so I just think we've got an opportunity to know better do better. And you've certainly helped us do that today. So thank you, thank you, thank you. I've always known you were awesome. And now you're even bigger, better, more amazing, awesomer. And so, I hope that this episode has given me ideas for how I can, you know, support public schools better. And, you know, I do hope that even as we have our listeners here, and some of them may have relied on us from a business perspective or professional perspective, that as parents now as as moms and dads, with children in school, or neighbors, or grandparents, whatever it may be that they can now see deeper and broader about what roles our public schools play, and how we can help in that. I also think about my generation, the baby boomer generation, we're all retiring, what are we going to do with ourselves? Go volunteer at the school! Read to a kid. You know, be one of those licensed drivers to go pick up those homeless children to help ensure that they can (wouldn't that be amazing) continue in those kinds of ways. So thank you again, and again and again. And I will just say to each of our listeners, again, let us hear from you. If you've got thoughts, questions, or anything else that we can help you with, you know, and share this with your friends and colleagues and family members and whoever you think can benefit from this kind of learning. And be a good citizen and support your schools. So thank you, Amanda. Thank you, as always, Wendi. And as I say, I think in our roles as powerful women leaders there is no better forum like public education where we can do women supporting women. (Amen.) So "Here's to women supporting women!"
Transcribed by https://otter.ai