My youngest son, Terrell Fulton, graduated from Brownwood High School in 2006. He was a better-than-average student, took some dual credit courses and was a Texas Scholar. Besides that, he was a pretty good kid, with a whole lot of heart and a double-dose of sass and smart-aleck – oh, and don’t let me fail to mention – a stubbornness and stick-to-it determination that can be a good or bad thing, depending on cause and circumstance.

Within two weeks of graduating high school Terrell was on a plane, bound for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. Eight weeks later I was standing on the black-top parade grounds at that MCRD hugging a handsome straight-standing guy dressed in a Marine uniform who called me, “Mom.”

Terrell’s Military Occupational Specialty or “MOS” was diesel mechanic, which he trained for at Camp Lejuene, North Carolina. Middle East sand does a lot of damage to diesel engines and for the most part during Terrell’s deployment to Iraq, he was kept busy in a garage on base.

He said he liked having a necessary trade. He liked being a fix-it guy, who at the end of the day could count more than a few accomplishments.

In 2012, Terrell decided not to “re-up” as a Marine Reservist. He got a job as a bartender in San Angelo, and I’ve been told, he was a dang good one. By day, he went to Angelo State, and in 2014, walked across the stage to accept his diploma – student loan debt free, thanks to the Marines. He explained to us at dinner, to take a job in his major he’d probably take a $20,000 cut in pay – so for now, he’d keep bartending.

But late last year, the long nights and non-existent days just weren’t working for him. Reviewing his options, Terrell decided to recertify as a diesel mechanic. Even before he finished the process he had five or six job offers. By Christmas, he was a sort of roadside assistant for diesel truck drivers, making more money than he made in his bartending days, and doing a job he loved.

“Do you ever think you could have done what you’re doing without getting a degree?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “But no one ever regrets having a degree. Anyway, I like driving around West Texas thinking big thoughts.”

I’ve told this story often, when things like student loans are talked about. Some of Terrell’s high school classmates, who had to depend on financial aid, graduated $100,000 in debt.

But I also tell it discussing modern public education, the challenges it faces and the real success that it is. Terrell, a product of public schools, is one example of a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. Therefore he is a good example, I think, of why public schools’ accountability should not rest largely on a one-size-fits-all test.

School ratings were released last week. San Angelo ISD, where I work, received a “C” letter grade. My particular elementary school, scored a 58 out of 60 and is an “Improvement Required” campus. The label is a crushing, frustrating one. If the try, effort, dedication and ability counted for anything, surely our teachers and staff would deserve an A+.

I read, Brownwood ISD also received a “C.”

The undisputed truth is, the larger the district, the harder to pass, much less receive the high scores. True, individuals within the larger districts may have higher highs, but the lows will almost certainly be lower than smaller districts and districts with less diversified populations. It’s fact: Extremes affect the average.

Did you know that from 2013 to 2017 the State of Texas paid Educating Testing Services $280 million? And I can’t begin to do the math on how much more was spent so districts could “properly” administer the test. Statewide, the testing process has been riddled with problems, most with ETS to blame. But here’s the kicker. Texas schools’ ratings are hugely, disproportionately, determined by the STAAR testing scores. Tests students take on several hours over a course of two days in a school year. Questions on the tests are specific for minute details – hardly covering the scope of what a child has learned in school.

Yet those tests get to define who we are and what we do.

Regardless of the score or rating, the point is, we must educate our children well. Teach them much. Let them discover their abilities. There is, and always has been, life after high school – whether our students are college bound or not.

 

Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is an instructional assistant and freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly bi-weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin. She can be reached at ccfulton2002@yahoo.com.