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Irving ISD Election Could Change Direction Of School District

Bill Zeeble

Current leadership on Irving’s School Board may shift after this Saturday’s election. As a result, the new leaders could change the district’s direction.

  Irving ISD school board President Ronda Huffstetler leads a 4 to 3 majority. The four  have defended the district’s pricey two year-old curriculum designed to improve test scores, and its ongoing bilingual education plan. The four also extended the superintendent’s contract. And each time, Huffstetler says they were opposed by trustee Steven Jones.

“He does not follow the governance. Meaning  policy, the state education code. We have all that in writing now. It has been sent to the TEA.”

In other words, Huffstetler says Jones overstepped his authority and meddled in staff decisions. Last month, the four trustees officially reprimanded him with a censure. Jones says he didn’t do anything wrong. He now backs candidates in each of Saturday’s three races, and could end up leading the next school board with their help.  Jones wants to shake things up  starting, he says,  with the administration.

“When I ran for the board two years ago, one of the motivating factors for me was the fact that we were cutting teachers, but we had postings for four new central administrative office high-level paid positions. That’s wrong,"  said Jones, “and we have been too central-administrative-office-focused for way too long.”  

Huffstetler disagrees, saying the district has repeatedly earned the state’s highest 5-star efficiency rating while simultaneously keeping administrative costs down to 3 percent.

At the top of the administration sits Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden, who is backed by the board’s current majority. But it's unclear whether a new majority under Jones would keep him. The outspoken trustee wants several changes, like scuttling the curriculum he calls secretive and controversial. Huffstetler says there’s nothing secret about a curriculum most Texas school districts have adopted. Jones might also change the district’s bilingual program, adding an English immersion option  for the 71 percent of Irving’s Hispanic students.

“What I propose and what I hope we do after the election is we go to an early exit model from bilingual which is what our one exemplary elementary, John Haley did quite successfully,” Jones said.

Jones also plans on tackling discipline, though he didn’t’ give specifics.

“Now we’re tying teachers hands behind their back. They don’t have discipline,” said Jones. “Our administration is not supporting teachers. An unruly classroom is not a good learning environment.”  

The discipline issue resonated strongly with voter Cindy Avila.

My daughter was extremely bullied and had to transfer schools and everything. Teachers need to start sticking up for these kids. It should not be about paychecks,” added Avila. “The school board personnel need to start sticking up for the children, not their employees or staff members. Things need to change and hopefully they will, but I don’t’ see them changing.”

Jones predicts he’ll easily gain a majority on Irving’s next school board.

“My goal, what I want to see happen, is each and every child in Irving ISD achieve at his and her highest level. That’s what I want to see happen,” said Jones.

Departing board president Huffstetler worries about Jones and his possible new majority.

“We all should be waiting and watching and paying attention every minute to see what they’re going to vote on, what they’re going to change, and be ready to come to the board and tell them we don’t want it changed if that’s what we believe.  I think we have no idea what their plan is,” said Huffstetler.

Huffstetler says she’s concerned about the future of Irving education. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.