October 4, 2007
I announced last week that fall was here, and even went so far as to call it my favorite season of the year.
I now admit that I was, in large part, just sucking up. While I really do like it, I was hoping that some flattery might make the season get here a little faster.
It’s October, and I’m still burning up. It seems hotter right now than it did during the summer. It’s like we’re being punished for the fact that we had a milder summer than normal.
Liz got the cast taken off of her right arm yesterday. This was the most anticipated medical moment in the Watson house since the birth of Cooper.
Liz was really ready for that thing to come off.
Cooper, our 12-year-old, and the Kealing “Pep Band” played at the Kealing Middle School seventh and eighth grade football games this week. Those kids are great. It’s so much fun to watch them. Coop plays the trumpet and is a talented young musician. He loves the piano, guitar, and acting like he’s Miles Davis.
You ain’t lived until you’re in your home, lying on the couch with the TV turned way down, sort-of watching a football game, about to doze off . . . when your son blows out the Kealing fight song in the next room.
It will, indeed, pep you right up.
This past week, I hosted a Community Forum at Johnston High School.
You may remember from last week that Johnston’s test scores have been low for several years, and state law requires that they improve by the end of the year. If they don’t, the state will have to close or radically reorganize the school.
I called the forum so that parents and students could hear what’s already going on to help the school, and officials from the state could hear the community’s thoughts about how to turn things around.
By the time the meeting started, it was standingroomonly in the school’s cafeteria. All nine of the Austin ISD Board Trustees were there, as were the Superintendent, a number of other elected officials, representatives of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Johnston Alumni Association, the PTSA, and lots of parents.
Robert Scott, the acting Texas Commissioner of Education, and Raymund Paredes, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, were also there at my invitation to hear the plan for bringing the school up to acceptable standards, and to hear the community’s hopes and dreams for the school and our children.
The meeting generated a lot of good discussion about what Johnston’s up against and what to do about it. There were a lot of comments about reaching out to parents and helping them engage their kids and the school. And folks talked about not just how many Johnston students have to work, but how often their jobs interfere with their studies.
Clearly, the kids at this school face challenges every day that many of us couldn’t imagine, and they face them before they’re old enough to vote.
But more than all of that, the forum showed the amazing passion and desire to keep that school open, and to make sure those kids have all the opportunities that are available to students in any other school in Texas.
I say this all the time and I’ll say it again: this effort is not just about Johnston. These problems aren’t unique or confined to this one little school. Campuses across the state are facing similar challenges – and will soon face similar crises.
As a state, we have a constitutional obligation to educate all of our kids and prepare them for the future. Their lives depend on it, but so do ours – our economic fortunes rest on our ability to train innovative, creative workers and entrepreneurs while ensuring that this region remains an attractive place to move and live. This demands a strong educational system and well-educated students.
As I said on Tuesday night, public education is a moral responsibility. We must keep Johnston open, and we must make sure it merits staying open under state law. But more than that, we must help Johnston students succeed this year and in years to come.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. We’re talking about the lives of our children. I deeply hope Johnston will succeed, but it will succeed if and only if the people who showed up to the cafeteria on Tuesday night – along with many, many others in the community and across Central Texas – play their part.
As one parent noted on Tuesday night, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” This dream has to work, and it has to work now.
This Monday night, there will be a meeting of the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), which I chair. We are scheduled to vote on amendments to the Transportation Improvement Plan that will allow the region to move forward on much-needed highway improvements.
The meeting will start at 6 p.m. Monday, and will be held in the Anderson High School auditorium, located at 8403 Mesa Drive in Austin.
Of course, I’ve written manytimesaboutthis. We’ve been working on addressing our serious mobility problems and financing challenges for the full 9 months I’ve been a senator. It’s been the most open and accountable approach that has ever been pursued by CAMPO.
One result of this transparency will be a series of “covenants” that I’m recommending to the Board. They are ways to make sure that any use of tolls will be completely accountable to the public.
The covenants break down into five categories:
These covenants may look familiar to long-time Watson Wire readers – particularly those who remember a bill I passed through the Senate (but not the House, unfortunately) that would have required more transparency and accountability for toll road agencies. I’m still disappointed that the bill didn’t pass, and I’m still working to make sure that these roads are true public investments – not giant mechanisms for harvesting toll dollars.
But I’m also very hopeful that we can create approaches to make sure Central Texas’ transportation system is the most comprehensive, transparent, and accountable in the country. And I hope that Monday’s vote will go a long way toward achieving that goal.