Commentary: Why I Still Teach in Edgewood ISD

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Starting Monday, this classroom in Edgewood ISD will be filled with young minds. Photo by Matthew Lynde Chesnut.

Matthew Lynde Chesnut for the Rivard Report

A classroom in Edgewood ISD.

It’s the Friday before the first day of school. Teachers are scrambling to finish the layout of their classrooms, shearing off colorful slabs of butcher paper and wheeling black metal carts stacked high with textbooks. This is not unlike other years, but what is unusual is what is not seen.

In part due to our school board’s in-fighting, our school does not have a head principal. When we do get around to hiring one, he or she will be my fifth principal in six years of teaching. The remaining administrators are breathlessly working the halls making sure teachers have enough desks and the requisite first-day paperwork.

The stories we are primed to hear about Edgewood Independent School District are the perils of a small, resource-strapped school system: the nepotism; the pathological dysfunction and high turnover; the sense of misplaced priorities. The media narrative is that our school district is broken and its rancorous politics are to blame.

As teachers, it’s seductive to let the cascade of negativity wash over us, stewing in the outrage and panic induced by the district’s mismanagement. I personally wonder what kind of impact I can have when my schedule gets scrambled two days before school starts, including the removal of my beloved newspaper class.

And then that Friday afternoon, I sat down with a few of the editors over pizza and sodas in my classroom. We talked about the year ahead, the excitement of going to college next year, the fear of the unknown. I made horrible puns which elicited equal parts laughter and grimaces. They talked about summer road trips and band practices and showed each other Vines on their phones.

We agreed that we needed to keep the newspaper going even if we didn’t have a class period to do it. And then all the outrage and panic subsided. Whenever I sit down with my students and conspire with them, I’m reminded of why I chose this work in the first place.

There are a lot of Edgewoods in this country, school districts plagued by structural hurdles out of their control and doing a miserable job responding to the adversity. We have made a spectacle out of the seemingly petty and self-defeating actions of these districts. But rather than look at this as a primary cause of educational inequity, I want to look at the tumult of my district at the onset of the school year instead as a symptom of our deeply unequal educational system. When resource-poor districts like Edgewood are asked to make progress without progressive funding mechanisms and often with culturally irrelevant curricula, it shouldn’t shock us when disarray rules the day.

Nikole Hannah-Jones’s indispensable reporting on the resegregating of America’s schools is informative here. Apartheid schools – that is, schools in which one percent or less of the student population is white – are deprived by design. Edgewood ISD is an apartheid district, the legacy of San Antonio’s generations of intractable segregation.

But in each one of those Edgewoods are thousands of kids who need a team of adults who care about them: parents who holler at the school when justice must be done; teachers who don’t feel successful unless their students feel it first; counselors who are charged with changing a thousand schedules and listening to a thousand more wounded souls trying to make sense of their pain; paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and support staff who perform the unsung miracles that keep schools afloat.

No one in Edgewood loves what is happening in the district right now. Teachers are demoralized, the remaining administrators are stretched paper-thin, and parents are rightfully angry. But we all have jobs to do anyway. This morning, I will drive to school and make some last-minute adjustments to my room. I will greet the nearly 190 students currently on my roster – most of whom I taught in previous years – brimming with pride and anticipation. This year, I will hound my seniors to meet application deadlines for colleges and scholarships. I will write effusive recommendation letters. My students and I will explore how we fit in this fragile democracy of ours, what role they can and should play in changing it and their futures with it. They will read and write and debate and vote and think like the young adults they are.

That’s why – in spite of the gross inequities between our district and our wealthier, whiter counterparts  – some of us choose to stay and work here for the long haul. We know deep in our hearts that our students and this community deserve the world and more. And though we cannot singlehandedly deliver them the world, we can promise them our love and unyielding commitment.

School starts today. We are ready.

*Featured/top image: Starting Monday, this classroom in Edgewood ISD will be filled with young minds. Photo by Matthew Lynde Chesnut.

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23 thoughts on “Commentary: Why I Still Teach in Edgewood ISD

  1. Makes one wonder how we ever got this far since one room schoolhouses. But back then they didn’t have calculators, computers, unlimited books, buses, a/c, or school board egos and greed. What they did have was desire, respect, and discipline. Wonder how much money needs to be spent to get that back. How absurd it is to think the more money spent per student will get them better educated. Way to much being spent now.

  2. Why can’t this district open it’s doors to all of San Antonio. Northside ISD has so many students they don’t know what to do,let’s say JFK High open it’s doors to all NISD so long as they follow NISD curriculum format. I am a Alumni 85, and it really really hits hard to here this. My family all attended JFK 65,70,73,83,85. the school was diverse in those day’s we were also a military family. What can we or I do to help!

  3. We’ve been throwing money at this issue since the Robin Hood Plan was implemented. 51% of my property tax is taken from my son’s school district and given to school districts like Edgewood. It doesn’t seem to be working. Is it time to look at other options? And why are the windows of that classroom covered up with dark paper? That’s a depressing learning environment.

  4. Teachers in Edgewood ISD and districts like it around the state deserve profound respect and appreciation. There are no silver bullets to fix the problems you face, but you are making a positive generational difference for our community. I realize that for some it may just be a job, but for the Teachers who genuinely are trying every single day to reach their kids hearts and minds in spite of the despair they are surrounded by in these poor districts, you are impressive and brave beyond words.

  5. “Apartheid” past is so right on the money. And the white folks wonder why there is so much crime and gangs in our neighborhood. Add to that poor living conditions like polluted land to live on and lead paint in that home. “Separate but equal” yeah!

  6. Great read. If you’re reading this from the comfort of NISD, NEISD, AHISD, et.al., you just might not get it. And shuttering the district? What would these kids be offered instead? Respect to the teachers and students who make it work, when you’ve got so much working against you.

  7. Having had the privilege of working at EISD and meeting students, parents, teachers and some administrators, my observation is that the provincial attitude of board leadership and the subsequent fiefdoms that are created are the root cause of why the district is so far behind in terms of performance and output. Petty politics and power grabs hurt kids. Consolidation into neighboring districts and/or a TEA takeover both seem like better options than status quo.

  8. Beautiful article and I applaud you, Matthew!! I am a product of the district and a proud graduate of John F. Kennedy High School (’87). I had some wonderful teachers who cared and made an impact in my life. I give them credit for teaching me so much and pushing me beyond my limits; I was also blessed with great parents who encouraged my sisters and I to further our education (which we did). The district may be in disarray due to in-board fighting and top administration that appear to be more concerned about wasteful spending, but with teachers who care and offer their support will be the determining factor for many of the Edgewood ISD students.

  9. If sprucing up a classroom made all the difference, I would be in agreement with the comments about the “blah” room or “depressing learning environment”. While understandable to some degree (e.g., our environment can influence our mood), it doesn’t appear that window dressing is the answer in this situation and these comments are in my opinion petty and off-point for the context of this piece. Perhaps the windows are covered up with paper because the view outside is not inspiring, or because the activities outside the room are distracting to the students. We just don’t know at this point and frankly it just doesn’t seem as important.

    Let the retorts begin.

    • I completely agree. Considering that the teacher almost certainly had to spend his own money on any improvements to the classroom, the negative comments are confusing to me. Someone takes less salary (but with more stress) to teach in a community in need and people are upset with the way he has decorated his classroom?

  10. Don’t bother letting facts get in the way of a good race card story. Spending per student per EN in 2014:

    Schertz Cibolo UC ISD – $6,791 (44th in spending for area) ranked as 6th best school district in area.
    Northside ISD – $7,336 (39th)
    Northeast ISD – $7,724 (33rd) ranked as 5th best school district in area.
    Southside ISD – $8,390 (25th)
    South San Antonio ISD – $8,597 (20th)
    Alamo Heights ISD – $8,790 (19th) ranked as best school district in area.
    Edgewood ISD ——– $8,883 (18th) per student, or nearly $2,100 more than SCUC

    Nice new multimillion dollar stadium expansion at Kennedy……..

  11. It’s become a PLAIN SONG event to talk about money not fixing anything.
    Anyone believing this walk down the Halls during class change.
    Compare size of classes. Compare facilities.
    It stretches the credibility to be able to say it doesn’t matter.
    Fact is that schools have always had this disparity.
    It is also true to say that ambition to succeed is the key to success.
    Parents either furnish or discourage that ambition.
    They alone can do that!

  12. Thanks Jeff for the facts. They further prove Matthew’s argument that the problem lies with “district mismanagement”. Rooms are over flowing with workbooks, manipulatives, and calculators etc..,all money well spent at one time or another. Funding and lack of resources is not the problem, it’s the lack of consistent leadership and the lack of higher-ups who are held accountable for how they spend all that Title money, how they track progress, and how they inventory materials or manage a campus improvement plan. the money is there but the restrooms are still run down, the hallway walls are dingy, ceiling tiles falling, and the elevator sure could use a facelift and a tune up.
    Go Matthew Go!! Inspire on!!

  13. Matthew,
    Thank you for your continued dedication and persistence to our students. I can’t imagine a world without journalism since I was enlisted at a very early age. I was the editor of my middle school and high school newspaper and then went on to work for my college publication. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for sharing your words and thoughts with us.

  14. This article is full of liberal buzz word and race baiting (for lack of a better term). Edgewood spends some of the most money per student than many districts as a previous comment already pointed out. It is this type of nonsense that keeps me from putting my kids in public schools. You can’t throw money at something and expect it to be fixed. Parents are the ultimate factor in how well a child will do in life (of course there are exceptions, but this is not the rule) and not big government spending.

  15. I am saddened to see that my hometown school district still, after more than 50-years, is still mired in funding chaos.The rancorous school politics and perception of a broken, dysfunctional school district stems from a much larger problem that seems to defy solution. The Edgewood School District continues to be the victim of a pervasively unequal state education funding system that forces schools to draw their wealth from their tax base. In Edgewood, that means less money than its wealthier neighbors. We know how to fix the problem. We just cannot find the political will to do so.

  16. Matthew I worked with you at Edgewood brave stand you are taking!
    I am proud of you and keep inspiring and working hard with the kids from Edgewood they need good teachers like yourself.

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