Dr. Annette Tielle: Touring through new campuses has her attention
Claire: Stitcher, the podcast app (she’s obsessed!)
Nichole: Lifetime movies that have been uploaded to YouTube so she can safely have some melodrama in her life
Go behind the ballot with us as we have an enlightening conversation with Dr. Annette Tielle, the superintendent of Del Valle ISD. The foundation of her work is her extensive background in literacy. In this episode, she joins Claire Campos O’Neal and Nichole Abshire to walk us through her leadership philosophy in managing her staff. She helps us understand the funding structure of public education in Texas and what that looks like on the ground in a school district like Del Valle ISD. Dr. Tielle shares anecdotes that illustrate why she’s committed to public education and explains the accountability system in Texas. She also informs listeners about how citizens can get involved and some misconceptions about charter schools.
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Education: Dr. Annette Tielle Explains The Many Hats Superintendents Wear, Why Reading Is Fundamental And How Schools Build Community
We have a fascinating episode for you all. We interviewed Dr. Annette Tielle, who is the Superintendent for Del Valle ISD. I feel like we’ve talk a lot about Del Valle ISD on this show because that is the school district I’m connected to, and my son will be starting there. She was so generous in sharing her time with us and speaking about how she got into education, her work as a superintendent, and all the many hats she wears.
She then shared with us about funding for public education and how the state impacts that, a little about accountability, and her passion for education, specifically reading. I kept thinking over and over, “Reading is fundamental,” and it’s so true. Nichole, what were some of your quick takeaways?
She ties a lot of the pieces together of the conversations we’ve had up to this point. She touched on so many of the things we have highlighted in separate episodes. She talked about the effect of charter schools on Del Valle ISD and in any ISD, for that matter. She talked about, as you said, the budget and how finance works. She talked about how teachers and superintendents can advocate for themselves and need to. She talked about accountability. It felt like a great touch point of a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about, bringing it down to that super practical level and what it looks like for her.
She’s so great too. I’m sure this is her teacher background because it’s so extensive. She’s so great at making things very clear and simple. She knows that starting place and how to get you through each of the pieces that she’s talking about so that it’s understandable. Yet another great interview and I have another person that I am fanning on. I can fangirl on Dr. Tielle all day.
You made me think of something about how we’ve talked to these folks, like Representative Vikki Goodwin, Dr. Audrey Young, who’s the SBOE, and Candace Hunter, who’s running for school board. How they’re in these decision-maker positions, but how she’s on the ground having to implement these decisions and the real impact and challenges she comes up against when they’re hard to work with because they have unintended consequences.
I was going to bring up that phrase she used quite a bit, which I appreciated. She’s trying to build awareness about those unintended consequences.
Check this one out and let us know what you think. Here’s Dr. Tielle. We’re super fans.
Nichole, when did you stop teaching? You were a teacher for what?
Ten years. I stopped in 2011 or ‘12.
What did you teach?
I started in special ed, then moved to kindergarten, and then second grade.
What grade did you like the best?
Second. Kindergarteners are so cute.
They are so cute. I love the kindergartners. They’re hard not to love. I taught third grade. I was in Pennsylvania, so it was totally different back then.
I might have shared it with you, Dr. Tielle, but for this first series, we’re digging into education. It’s great because we’ll talk to people, like a woman who’s on the State Board of Education, Representative Vikki Goodwin, who does a lot with education policy, and a woman running for school board. Nichole chimed in. It’s so helpful to have that perspective.
Nichole, is that why you are involved in the show, because you saw the challenges in education?
It’s not that specific, although I do find that compelling, but it’s the more general political climate. For sure, education is a huge portion of that pie that is frightening me right now. It’s a little more broad.
With the show, we’re hoping to touch on different areas. We’re going to do education first and then we’re going to move into elections. We’re trying to get 7 episodes of education, 7 elections right before election day, and then we’ll probably move into healthcare, infrastructure, or something like that. We’re taking them in nice chunks so we can dig deep and then be like, “Let’s move on to the next.” We’ll probably circle back because this stuff is never-ending. There’s so much to learn.
Even if there’s a specific topic that you see, you’re like, “I’d like to talk about that again.” I would be happy to do that.
That’d be wonderful. We have our little roadmap, but I’m sure once we get feedback, that’ll help us know what is resonating with people and what they want to hear. We’re hoping to help and to educate, basically. What would help us to get into this, Dr. Tielle, is if you could tell us a little bit about you and what got you into education, to begin with. What sparked your interest in that field?
I was in college. I was not involved in education, to begin with. I was in communications. That’s where I started. In the summers, I would work at a childcare center and I fell in love with working with students. I felt that it came very naturally and I was very creative with them and had a knack for them. That’s what made me change my major and go into education. From there, my university was able to partner with my childcare center and I was able to intern and act as the director in summers. It was a great jump-start into education. I became a third-grade teacher and during my first year of teaching, I graduated at 21 years old in May. I was a third-grade teacher in August.
During one of my first parent-teacher conferences, I had a mom ask me what I was going to do for her son to teach him how to read. I didn’t know because I didn’t learn that in college. That prompted me to get my Master’s as a Reading Specialist because that was when I realized how important literacy is. From there, I got my Master’s within three years and embedded that into my instruction. I became a Reading Specialist after about ten years in the classroom. I was a Reading Specialist for every grade level from 1st grade up until 10th grade. It was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
To back up for a second, I feel like a lot of folks that we’ve talked to who are in education have families that are in education. Nichole, your parents are educators too, right?
Yes. My father was a teacher. My mom and a grandmother were teachers.
What did your parents do, Dr. Tielle? Do you have any education background in your family?When you have all of those students in your classroom, you have to differentiate, and not all teachers know how to do that. Click To Tweet
I do not. I was a first-generation college student. My parents did not go to college. My mom worked in the cafeteria at my high school. My dad began working on a loading dock for Topps Chewing Gum and Zippy Joe baseball cards. He worked his way up to be a director in that company. I watched their work ethic. The biggest impact that they had on me was perseverance and work ethic, but no, I did not have any family members prior to me in education.
You know how I love to jump in and share the little tidbits that I relate to. Dr. Tielle, we mentioned right before we started that I started off in special ed. The big reason why I moved from special ed to kindergarten was that I kept finding that with my kids. They had a real hole in their ability to read, and I didn’t know how to address it.
That is why I wanted to move to kindergarten because I knew that I would learn the basics of how to teach literacy and also to do it explicitly versus that whole language approach. I knew that hadn’t worked with the kids that I saw in special ed. I turned my focus to how I can self-educate about how to teach basic reading skills. I thought I would eventually turn back to special ed. I wound up not doing that, but that was my motivation for stepping out of special ed and into kindergarten.
My other little thing is my mom was a Reading Specialist and watching her get her Master’s and how she applied that has so many similarities to what you’re talking about. It was fun to watch her go through that process. Also, of course, I called her up when I needed help like, “What are the best resources? What should I be reading?”
One of the things that I focused on as a superintendent is literacy. If you talk to anyone in my district, you’ll know that literacy is a major priority here. One of the things that I noticed was that our teachers, who are special education teachers, did not have that type of diagnostic reading training. Neither did our interventionists, for that matter. We have put together a very robust training program so both groups can get trained, including the special education teachers. It is going to be the first time we’ve done that in the school year. That’s very important for that reason.
You’re making me think. I don’t even know how I would go about teaching a child how to read. When you’re developing policy for your teachers, is that coming from the state or is the district creating that?
It’s a combination. The state creates it and they are the standards that every student needs to know by the end of that particular grade level. What we do as a district is we develop a curriculum. I am very proud of the way that we develop our curriculum in Del Valle ISD. I developed a book and we used that workbook to write the curriculum. It’s not because I wrote the book that I believe in our process. It’s because it is an in-depth process.
Every summer, we start with our data, and I believe this is why our district has made the gains that it has. We look at our data, look at where the gaps are, and refine our curriculum to address those gaps. If there’s a particular area that we see, we’re going to spiral that throughout the school year for that grade level.
Based on the scope and sequence that we build, in other words, when we look at where the gaps are and build our curriculum on a timeline, we create maps for the teachers. We have instructional strategies in our curriculum. What we do for all students, we call Tier 1, what we do and provide for teachers who have students who are struggling in Tier 2, and then what we do for students who are far below grade level and receive Tier 3 instruction.
It’s because when you have all of those students in your classroom, you have to differentiate, and not all teachers know how to do that. You can’t send them out of the classroom. You have to be able to provide for them in the classroom. With that is, what adaptations do we make and modifications for our students with special needs as well as our gifted and talented students? Our curriculum is developed by our teachers for our teachers with guidance from our curriculum team. It does begin with what the state sets as standards, but we highly developed that to be very responsive to our district and our students.
You got light bulbs going off of how amazing that process would have been. There’s something that I loved that you said. When I was teaching special ed was at the moment when inclusion was becoming the standard practice instead of pull out, it was right in that transition. I had my own classroom and kids came to me, but we were trying to have inclusion and be the model. If that’s not obvious for people who are reading, what that means is that there was a time in special ed when you sent kids out of the classroom to go get instruction from a special ed teacher. Of course, what we found is that differentiates between kids.
There are all sorts of challenges that create in the environment. The model became instead that kids stay as much as possible within their general ed population so that they’re receiving the same services as everyone. There’s more differentiation that happens within the classroom, especially when a teacher comes in and supplements with that teacher, but that kid stays as much as possible in the classroom. That was a real switch that happened.
What you’re talking about would have been so great because when I was teaching special ed, there was a lot of tension. Nobody knew how to implement this new inclusion model. Even though you can believe in it theoretically, and I definitely did, there was a lot of pushback sometimes from teachers. I, too, didn’t know how to guide or make that happen. What you’re talking about would have smoothed that process and made it incredible. I love what you’re doing.
Thank you. When I was a teacher in my second year of teaching, a special education director came to me. This was in 1992. She wanted me to implement one of the first inclusion classrooms in third grade. They were doing it in every grade level, but I was selected as the third-grade teacher. I loved it. I did receive a lot of training, and I understood what that looked like. I plan very closely with my special education partner.
I also had a pair of professionals who would come in when she couldn’t be available. I understood how to differentiate within my classroom. Having 14 years of experience, 10 in the classroom and 4 as a Reading Specialist from first grade to high school, I do understand what teachers are facing. They say to me, “You don’t know what it feels like in the classroom.” I spent as much time as a teacher as an administrator.
I’ve had 30 years in education and half as a teacher. I do understand, and I do also understand the training component that we need to provide for teachers. In Del Valle, we started in 2022 Del Valle University. We have created a four-year plan for all of our teachers. Each of our teachers has our core classes that they have to take, which include basic curriculum understanding and instructional strategies.
We then specify whatever position they’re in and what grade level and content they teach. If you’re a first-grade teacher who teaches a bilingual dual language classroom, we have a four-year path for you. If you’re a third-grade teacher who’s self-contained, we have a path for you. If you’re a Math teacher in eighth grade, we have a path for you. It’s for that reason because I don’t believe that universities or alt cert programs necessarily prepare our teachers for the challenges that come with public education and education in general.
I was an alt cert teacher, by the way.
That is alternative certification. That’s what that stands for. It’s for folks who don’t know. I have to remind myself.
An important thing to point out too Is that special is a high need area. At least in Dallas, they were eager to welcome people to their alternative certification program who were willing to teach special ed. That also is an interesting challenge because it’s a very demanding job and it requires a lot of knowledge because it’s the most litigious part of education. You have to know what you’re doing and understand your paperwork.
There’s a lot that you’re responsible for, teaching being a little portion, which is another reason why I wanted to move out of special ed. I wanted to teach. I felt I was weighed down a lot by paperwork and meetings. I guess I have a point, which is special ed teachers fall in that category alternative certification. It’s also one of the most rigorous positions. I know they all are, but there’s a lot to learn. That is almost separate from teaching.
That is very true. There are a lot of components to special education, and a lot of it is the legal components.
We’re very excited that Del Valle has this additional training so that if you come into the school and you might not be as prepared as you need to be, you all have a pathway to train people up so that they do have competence in the classroom. It can be effective with our students. We love the work you’re doing, Dr. Tielle. For those who don’t know, I am part of Del Valle ISD. You’re my child’s superintendent, which is super exciting for me.
You are so lucky.
We love having you as a part of our district.
It’s a wonderful place, but that’s a great segue into super and into the role of superintendents. Can you tell us how you went from becoming a teacher and your path to becoming the superintendent? What do superintendents do in Texas, and what that role looks like?
I started my career in Pennsylvania. Ironically, the first district that I taught in was Delaware Valley School District in Pennsylvania. I was there for fourteen years. When I moved to Texas in 2005, I began in Round Rock. My position at that time was as a secondary Reading Specialist. I worked with high school students who had difficulty reading. From that position, I became the reading coordinator to coordinate the secondary reading program.
My passion for literacy is what propelled me to the superintendency. What I saw with a lot of our students in high school is they would drop out of school if they couldn’t read, and they would get involved in drugs and alcohol. I’m not saying that happens for every student who obviously can’t read, but I did see that. That broke my heart because I felt like we were failing them. They did not have a chance if we did not provide them that opportunity to read.Universities don’t necessarily prepare our teachers for the challenges that come with public education and education in general. Click To Tweet
As a high school student, if they don’t have us, who do they have? From that, I wanted to train on reading strategies for secondary specifically at that point. I got hired as a professional development director in Manor Independent School District. As professional development director, I developed the training program for alt teachers from kinder through high school in all content areas. I had a very strong niche in that area because of my experience teaching and was very successful with that.
I became very interested in how to help teachers who were new teachers be able to actualize or execute strategies if they didn’t have a mentor or professional development. That was where I started to research and study curriculum writing. I went to St. Louis and I studied Curriculum Writing in St. Louis. I went to Pennsylvania and I studied Curriculum Writing in Pennsylvania.
I also studied Curriculum Writing here in Texas and began to develop a process that was very research-based, which is what I described earlier. Through that, I moved up to assistant superintendent in both Comal and Pflugerville ISD, deputy superintendent here in Del Valle ISD, and then superintendent as I am now. What I believe about the superintendency and leadership, in general, is that you have to know your craft deeply.
For as long as I was an assistant superintendent, I considered myself an expert in curriculum instruction and literacy skills. I still would go into any classroom to teach and co-teach with a teacher or model teaching. I’ve done it for 1st grade, 4th grade, and 8th grade here in the district. The recent is 2021 because it’s important for our teachers to see us as leaders walking the walk and rolling our sleeves up. I will never ask a teacher to do something that I haven’t done myself or stepped into a classroom to see what that feels like.
The core of the superintendency is the students and curriculum and instruction around the student. In the meantime, as an assistant superintendent, knowing that my path was to the superintendency, I needed to learn deeply about the Texas finance system, the purpose and process of developing a bond package and creating facilities based on that bond package.
Also, how to meet with architects and meet with architecture firms how to, with the finance system, be able to build a robust, sustainable budget, and understand how to build raises for teachers. The only way to be able to retain your staff is to offer high-quality culture and strong professional development with an accompanying salary. If they don’t feel supported by either professional development or salaries, you’re not going to be able to continue to recruit and retain.
I personally will sit with our CFO and plan the budget, look at what we can afford, how we can afford it, and project out five years to make sure we can sustain it. A lot of teachers and community members don’t realize that when I’m looking at a budget, I’m not looking at what I could afford this year. I’m looking at what we could afford five years from now. I have committed to our teachers and staff that we will not risk our staff because we can’t afford them and we’ve made a race so high that we can’t sustain it.
I needed to ensure that I trained myself and met with experts in facilities construction, bond planning, and finance, even right down to human resources and staffing, understanding the nuances of staffing. When to add a teacher? Why is that so impactful when you add a teacher or don’t add a teacher? What does it do to the budget and what does it do for the student experience?
There are about ten different functions of a superintendent that people probably don’t realize, which also include technology maintenance and food service. I’m very close with our food service workers because my mom was a cafeteria worker. Sometimes, the impact that they have on students is underestimated. When they walk in, that’s sometimes the first face they see in the morning. The customer service kids get from food service. A lot of people don’t realize the amount of time that superintendents spend in every corner of the organization to make sure that it runs smoothly.
It sounds like you wear a lot of hats and I like when you talk about going to the classroom. It reminded me of Undercover Boss, how you’re at all levels and understanding what’s happening. That sounds very necessary, and I love that you do that because how else do what’s happening unless you have that personal firsthand experience? I’m sure what they’re going through changes year to year.
It does. I’ll tell you, during COVID, when we were remote, I would walk into campuses and put my head in the office of registrars and say, “How are things going? How is it tracking attendance?” I found out it wasn’t going well. Some of the stipulations that the state put on us was very cumbersome. Having the registrars and the campuses do that was extremely difficult. It wasn’t very tight record keeping. I wouldn’t have found that out unless I was going in and visiting with them.
We wound up having monthly meetings to solve those problems. It’s important for a superintendent to be visible and know so that you have relationships with staff and they feel safe enough to tell you what’s working and what isn’t. They’re willing to sit by you and problem solve and they know that they can trust you to be there with them.
I appreciate that you’re very proactive, forward-thinking, and have this long-term vision because when we don’t do those things, you’re going to have to solve these problems regardless. Why not solve them in the beginning, save yourself some grief, and put in the hard work, but it’ll run so much smoother?
As you were speaking about the many hats that you wear, one thing you brought up was finance. If we could transition into finance a little bit, a big part of the state’s budget would be public education. Tell us what you think taxpayers need to know about the spending that happens in schools that they might not know. Why is it so expensive and why it’s also necessary to make sure we’re investing in public education?
The first thing that taxpayers need to understand is that there are two buckets of money. One is the bucket of money that comes from bond sales. That’s what you call Interest In Sinking. That goes towards facilities, transportation, meaning buses, and any type of construction. I say that that’s important for taxpayers to understand because sometimes, when we pass a bond, the next question is, “Why can’t we use that for teacher salaries, or why can’t we use that for supplies?”
You can’t legally use those bond funds for anything other than what was in the bond package and specifically for anything related to construction and planning. That’s one misconception. The biggest, of course, is on the operation side. We have a state budget that comes from taxpayer dollars, but the district does not set that tax rate. That is set by TEA and property values and appraisals.
We are told what the tax rate is from TEA on that side. What happens on that side is that if this is our cup and within this cup, this is the amount of finance allocated to Del Valle ISD, we can’t fill this cup more than this cup can hold. If we gather this much money in taxes, the state with the funding they get makes up the remainder.
If we get this much money in taxes, the state will make up the remainder. This cup, ideally, is always full. However, where this becomes problematic is if you receive taxpayer dollars above this, this goes back to the state. That’s what’s called recapture that you hear about. What people don’t know about recapture is that money goes back to the state, and that doesn’t necessarily get funneled back into education. Right now, it’s not getting funneled back into education.
When teachers are concerned about, “We want raises. There’s a 6% cost of living increase in Austin. How can you help us?” we want to. I tell our teachers all the time, “We want to provide that increase.” We know there’s a cost of living increase, but we only have this much in our cup. Every year, this is all they give us.
Unless the lawmakers start building in that cost of living increase into the allocation set by districts and start determining what to do with that recapture funding in a way that gives back to the districts, we’re going to be in a difficult situation. In Del Valle ISD, the reason that we were able to give a 7% raise increase, which I’m extremely proud of, was by creative staffing. We had to remove a planning period from our secondary educators and add an early release day on Fridays for that planning time.
That was one of the ways that we were able to offer that. Of course, that’s a give and take, but I also think people may not understand why we did that. The reason why we did that is we don’t have additional funding coming from the state. We had to look out. I had to look out five years ahead to make sure we could sustain that 7% raise. We wouldn’t have been able to sustain it without this creative planning. I don’t want three years from now to say to you on this show, “We had to lay off 50 teachers because we gave a 7% increase, and now we can’t sustain it.”
If we want to change the model, that has to happen at the state level.
That’s correct. That has to end, and this is the time for that to happen because they are going into the legislative season, and we need to advocate for that cost of living increase in a different type of funding. We have what’s called Average Daily Attendance. You’ll hear superintendents talk about ADA, that’s Average Daily Attendance.
Districts are to pick a period in the day when they take attendance. Based on that attendance, student districts receive the funding for their students. Right now, we’re projected to have 11,500 students. If this cup is funded for 11,500 students, you would expect us to get all of that funding. For every student who is absent, we will get less and less funding. We aren’t guaranteed the full amount. We’re only guaranteed the full amount if 100% of the students attend 100% of the time.
That’s another misconception. You’ll hear people say, “Districts only care about the money. They want kids to come to school because of the money.” We build our budget on that money and funding. If we don’t have attendance, that impacts the way that we’re able to fund our schools. What’s unfortunate is with COVID, we had students who missed a lot of time. They were ill. They had family members who were ill.
Even during flu season. You have some students, especially on the East side, who are asthmatic. We have more health issues on our side because there’s a dearth of healthcare. Our students, unfortunately, miss more school. That is a direct correlation to not having healthcare services. Thankfully, more are coming. That is a direct correlation to the funding then that we receive. The district is being penalized for parents taking care of their students and keeping them home when they’re ill. That is the blunt and the formula structure of funding.
Claire, do you remember when we spoke to representative Goodwin, she wants this to change. I know that she is invested in building a cost of living increase. That is a part of the legislation, so it doesn’t have to be re-debated every session. That’s something that is automatically included in the budget. That would help a little. It sounds like this is a multiple different issues, but at least there would be that little bit of relief.
The funding that the state is getting back from recapture, that should be put back into the schools for the cost of living increases. It isn’t being put back into the schools.The state is going to 100% online testing this year. There are challenges with that for us and other districts. Click To Tweet
It’s being pointed out that she wants to see change.
That would help the structure of funding for Texas schools. There is an equity and inequity and that’s where the inequity is coming from.
This makes me think of a lot of things, but I’ll take this route. When you’re talking about student enrollment and attendance, it makes me think of the conversation we had with Patty Everett about charter schools. She was talking about how charter schools open in neighborhoods. They’re pulling kids from different schools and you’re having a lot of stranded costs in the local ISDs. Can you talk to us about the impact charter schools are having on districts around Texas and the way that is impacting the budgets that are there?
Before I go into that specific lane, do you want to talk about some of the misconceptions about charter schools? A lot of times, charter schools will very aggressively market to our families. They will do an open records request for the students in our district, send flyers or call the families directly and tell them all that they are offering in a charter school. What they don’t tell them is if there’s a behavioral problem., the student’s no longer attend the charter school.
They’re not allowed to continue. They come back to public school. Students in special education where they can’t support their needs come back to public school. The students who are second language learners and don’t have that bilingual education come back to public schools. Public schools do not have that autonomy to say, “We’re selecting these students, but we’re not going to allow these students in.” That’s one misconception. The other is we offer music and art. All the fine arts are in high school, dance and band, and we’re implementing orchestra. It’s a very well-rounded education in public schools that charter schools do not have the capacity to offer as well as the very robust CTE programs. Sometimes, I’d love to come back and talk about our CTE program.
Dr. Tielle, will you tell us what CTE students are for?
Career and Technical Education. We have an actual building that is a completely hands-on lab for everything from welding construction and healthcare to auto mechanics and graphic design. There are things that we can offer in a public school and do offer that charter schools do not. Our elementary school, Smith Elementary School, which has five charter schools around it, outperformed all five.
They are an A campus in the district Del Valle ISD, which is a B district. We’re outperforming charter schools. The way that charter schools negatively impact districts is what I said. We plan our budget based on enrollment, and we base our enrollment on projections. We have a demographer study the area and all school districts do this. We have demographers study our area and study projected growth. This is how we determine when to go out for a bond, how much to set the bond for, which schools we need to build, and where the growth is so that we can build schools in the right areas.
This is how we build our budget. You get a certain amount of funding for every student that comes. As I explained, when we build our budget for 11,500 students, but a charter school markets to 500 of them, now for every student, the state provides funding of $6,150 per student. If you take that funding away from the district, whatever $6,100 is times 500, that funding will follow the students and not filter into the school district. We’re not going to be able to maintain our budget because, right off the bat, we’re not getting as much funding.
We’re building campuses for students who will no longer be attending those campuses. 3) The parents have misinformation about what the charters will provide, and they won’t provide all they promise. All that glitters is not gold. I’ve had teachers and parents who have been in charter schools return to us and say, “What Dell Valley offers is above and beyond anything they’ve had in charter schools.” Their kids weren’t happy, but you wouldn’t know that unless you compared apples to apples.
Something that Patty was telling us was some of these schools don’t have nurses or libraries, these things you would assume would be there because that’s what local ISD has, but you don’t think to ask that. The best comparison I can think of is if I go to a restaurant and I’m like, “Where’s the bathroom?” They’re like, “There’s no bathroom.” I’m like, “What?”
One of my board members and two of my curriculum team members testified in front of the State Board of Education because there were two charter schools that were coming to Del Valle. They testified on behalf of Del Valle ISD, and the State Board of Education voted against those two charter schools from coming based on their compelling testimony. They had a superintendent who had never been a teacher and was not familiar with education.
The State Board of Education recognized them not having that level of expertise. As I shared with you, I can’t imagine not having my background trying to perform this job. It’s hard enough when you have the background, let alone not having that background and making sure that you understand deeply what your students need. That speaks volumes. I have to give the State Board of Education a lot of credit. That exemplifies that when the community is informed truly about charter schools versus public schools, they make the right choice. There’s just misinformation out there.
Another thing that came up in that conversation we had with Patty Everett was the public relations component that you touched on. All that glitters is not gold metaphor is so perfect because we were talking about the challenges that local ISDs face, which is if you had a huge PR budget, can you imagine the blowback you would get for that?
Everybody assumes that charter schools are offering the same set of what we might consider basic services that your local ISD provides, so you don’t think to ask the charter school those specific questions. You wind up in this place that you think is going to be the most amazing and transformative, only to learn all the things that you didn’t know until you were a part of it. If you’ve got a huge PR budget, you sweep that under the rug. Nobody needs to know those things.
They talk a lot about 100% of their students being accepted into college. That’s because they have all of their students apply to ACC. When they all get accepted to ACC, you can say 100% of their students are accepted into college. In Del Valle ISD, I would rather determine that I have twenty students who are in our current technical education program. In our auto-tech program, they received a certification as an auto technician.
They’re getting hired, which they did by BMW of Austin by the City of Austin. Right out of high school, they’re going into the workforce. That’s more important to me than them getting accepted into a two-year college that they’re not going to go to. My students who do get accepted, I want them to go and get a great experience, but just because they’re not going to a university, that doesn’t mean they’re not entering a very valuable career.
Especially when you know the workforce challenges right now. We have got to change that mindset of what is valued and valuable as a society. Absolutely, we’ve got to emphasize exactly what you’re talking about. Creating a workforce is what we need.
I have one more question regarding funding. I have a son who’s going to be starting preschool. I’m very excited about that. Talk to us about preschool funding. Is that fully funded by the state? How does that work?
That’s a great question because that’s another misconception of how districts are funded. Students who attend a school district, again, as I said, districts receive $6,150 per child. For pre-kindergarten student, they receive half of that funding. Half ADA is what we call it. That’s because pre-K used to be a half-day program, the state would fund us for a half-day program.
When the state required, which I 100% supported and I testified for it, the full day pre-K, they didn’t increase that funding allotment. The districts had to make up that other half of funding, which it’s worth it, but eventually, you can’t get blood from a stone. Where are we going to get the additional funding? We were subsidizing that. However, pre-K is only open to students who qualify. Students who qualify means that they’re either on free and reduced lunch.
They are a second language learner. English is not their first language. Their parents are active military. They are in foster care, have been in foster care, or they’re homeless. Now, what I have to think, and I want to give a shout-out to the City of Austin and Travis County. They have partnered with Del Valle to pay for all students in Del Valle ISD to attend full-day pre-K. It doesn’t matter if you qualify or you don’t qualify. I was speaking to a gentleman who was surprised to find out that his child did not need to qualify. Next year, when she turns four, she can come to Del Valle ISD, which is something else that we offer in our district that is in partnership with the city and the county.
I’m so thankful for that as a parent. I have two kids in daycare, and we spend over $2,000 for both of them. We have the money. We can pay for it, but if we didn’t have to allocate that for our budget, we could put our money towards other things. We’re doing all right. I think about families that are struggling. We should have more subsidies for earlier than four-year-olds, but it’s a blessing that the City of Austin and Travis County prioritize that because it has such a great upward spiral for families. I hope we continue prioritizing this, and the state provides money down the road. That would be great.
The state does need to prioritize that because we know that when students enter pre-K, when they go to third grade and test students who attended pre-K and compare them to their same-age peers, they outperform their same-age peers who did not attend pre-K. They’re getting all of those early literacy skills, which I am so passionate about. That’s helping them be able to create the foundation that they need.
That statistic that people don’t know is that if kids are not reading on grade level, by the end of third grade, there’s a 25% chance there’ll be a non-reader for life. It’s critical that by the end of first grade, we have kids reading on grade level. If they’re not reading on grade level, by the end of third grade, there’s a 50% chance. They’ll be a non-reader. If they’re not reading on grade level by fifth grade, there’s a 75% chance they’ll be a non-reader for life. My passion for literacy is well founded in research, and that is what my concern is.
I keep thinking. Reading is fundamental for everything. It’s such a wise investment. $3,000 extra dollars, and think of how we will save societally down the road by making that early investment. I’m convinced.
We can all testify together this legislative session.
We’re the choir that doesn’t need to be preached to, but we certainly send that out to others. Totally converted, total believers, 100%. I remember another conversation I’m making so many connections when Dr. Young talked about the bus issue in her district, which was a requirement by the state that buses had to have seatbelts, but they didn’t fund it. For some districts, that burden was unbearable, and they adjusted the legislation a bit to grandfather in some things. Anyway, I guess the point I’m making is that I find it strange and would not have known without these conversations that the state can mandate things and not fund them.When you prepare a dataset of students online versus students on paper, students do better on paper. Click To Tweet
The interesting piece is that with these unfounded mandates, it’s not that we don’t believe in these mandates. I believe in full-day pre-K wholehearted, but I also believe that it should be funded. If you’re going to mandate it, that tells me you believe in it. Why wouldn’t it be funded? The other piece is we offer dual language in our pre-K program, and that is helping us become a global society.
We have a mission and a vision in our district that our students will be bi-literate both Spanish speakers and English speakers. We want our Spanish-speaking students to retain their home language. We don’t want them to be immersed in English, so they lose that home language. We want our English-speaking students to be exposed to the culture and language of the Spanish culture because it’s important for them as they grow up to be able to be bilingual. Also, to understand the culture of the state they live in.
My son is going to be in the dual language program, but I think of these parents who say, “My kids aren’t challenged.” I’m putting them into a language. I can’t imagine it would be more challenging but also so enriching for them and beneficial. The way your brain is so malleable and such a great opportunity to start early.
I wish I had that as a child because my mother was a native Spanish speaker. She spoke Spanish at home and learned English in school. She tried to teach me when I was young, but we were living in Georgia. We weren’t around a Mexican community. I was like, “Mom, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” I was so dismissive. If I had been in a different culture where Spanish was normalized and heard, I’m sad I missed it, but I’m so glad I can give that to my son now.
We want to instill that pride in our students, the pride in their culture and language, and they deserve to be proud. It’s a shame that you’re in an environment where you couldn’t be proud of that because that is something to be proud of. I have a lot of students who sometimes will say, “Miss, I’m not smart. I can’t read English. I have a hard time reading and speaking in English.” I’ll say to them, “You speak two languages. Don’t say that you’re not smart. You’re smarter than anyone else around you. You have that ability.” It’s also about helping our kids learn to believe in themselves. I believe that this is a priority that we need to have for our students.
I have a quick anecdotal story. I was talking to a mom and she said that they were sitting in a Mexican restaurant, and their little five-year-old was sitting there and started ordering in Spanish and talking to the waitress. She had no idea because the child doesn’t necessarily engage in the home in Spanish because nobody could speak Spanish. When she heard her child talking with the waitress and ordering in Spanish, she thought, “This is amazing.” There are some cute stories that come out of the program as well as it being fundamental and necessary. It also is pleasurable and rewarding to watch the kids blossom.
As Cole starts in this dual language program, I’m also hoping it will help. I do my Duolingo. I’ve been taking Spanish classes, but I’m excited to do this alongside him. It’ll be great. We can speak with each other, and hopefully, it’ll help my brain get back in gear.
It would be good for Connor to hear. You’re younger.
It’s going to help all of us. This would be a good place to talk about reading and English as a second language to test and accountability. I’ll preface it a little bit, but we keep schools accountable in Texas primarily through the star test and our A through F rating system. Can you talk to us a little bit about the accountability system we currently have in place?
The accountability system we currently have in place is based on three domains, and the first is straight academic performance. The second domain is based on growth. The third domain is based on how many students in each of your student populations meet domain 1 and domain 2. This is interesting because in that third domain in districts Del Valle, we have a very high percentage of students in those student populations from all ethnicities to second language learners and even special education.
The district is rated by how well each of those student populations performs and each of the content areas by grade level. Now, when you look at a district that doesn’t have that type of diversity, and they’re getting rated on domain three, sometimes they don’t have enough in the student population for that domain to even count.
If you underperform or fail in that domain, if you collectively take the cumulation and the cumulative score of domains 1, 2, and 3, and the district passes, if you fail that last domain, you still will fail, even if, collectively, your composite score is meeting the standard. That’s something that people don’t know. Also, in domain one, students who meet masters receive three points, students who reach the meets level, which is, in fact, on grade level, receive two points, and students who are approaching grade level, which is passing, receive one point.
What’s interesting about that is I believe all students should be at the meets and masters level. There also is a philosophical debate here because if you have a campus of 100 students and 100 of them pass and you have 100 points, then you’re going to be a D because you didn’t get enough points to be an A or a B. If you’re a campus and half of your students reach masters, that’s 3 times 50 or 150 and half of your students fail and get zero, you’re still going to have 150 points and you could be a high C or a B.
The priority isn’t on all students. It’s on the students and meets the masters. Again, I believe that all students should have high expectations. I believe that all students should hit that meet the master’s level. It also is interesting that when you have a district like ours, we have a lot of mobility. We can’t control how. Where students are moving in and out of, we do have students with poverty. Our goal is we want to have them pass as well as move to the master’s level.
If they’re below the approaches level, we first have to get them to approaches before we can get them to meet the masters. They shouldn’t be penalized for that. If they passed, I understand that we want to get them to masters, but again, there is a discrepancy for having a whole entire campus pass versus half of the campus pass. The other half fails because the first half is achieving that high level. Meaning if the other half is poverty, then the campus could still outperform other campuses.
I also feel my brain is going to explode. I feel like I have to go back this section a few times. You explained it beautifully and broke it down, but it is complicated. I like your emphasis on pointing out how the formula works in terms of how we compare a campus where everyone has passed versus when maybe half haven’t, and half are at the exceeds. How are we that compare and feel unfair?
I want to have positive intent all the time. I do believe that some of these are unintended consequences, but there are unintended consequences that have to be pointed out because they do proportionately impact campuses that have high poverty.
When they’re getting the master’s meets level passing, that’s from the star test
It’s the accountability system. That’s correct.
My understanding is that the star test is going through some changes right now, and they’re trying to move the test to fully online. 1) Is that correct? 2) What are the benefits or advantages and disadvantages of doing that?
If I may, I would like to point out one other thing about the current system before I go into online. At the high school level, something that I do think is very beneficial is our campuses get credit for what’s called college career and military readiness. The number of students who receive certifications and pass SAT, ACT, and what is equivalent to college readiness for dual credit courses also get credit for entering the military.
In 2022, the military hasn’t been reporting back to TEA the numbers of students enrolled in the military. That could adversely affect our high school campus rating because we do have a large population of students. Again, in a military district, Del Valle is historically a military district, and in a district where many of our students go into the military, if we’re not receiving recognition for that, that will adversely impact the high school. That’s important to point out because, again, unintended consequences, you think, “They’re not going to count military, but that disproportionately impacts districts where you have a high number of students entering the military.”
Why is that the case? Why aren’t they reporting to the state?
I don’t know if it’s confidentiality reasons. We’re not exactly sure why, but there does need to be an adjustment. I know that one of the arguments from TEA is that it’s apples to apples because no one has military count. It shouldn’t matter, but it does matter if you have a district where a large number of students go into the military, and you have a district where they don’t. It’s the unintended consequences that I did want to take an opportunity to point out.
Back to your question about online testing. The state is going to 100% online testing in 2022. There are challenges with that for us and other districts. What we will tell you is that when we have had all online testing, there are times when the state mandates full online testing, and our special education students take online testing.
When all of the districts have their students online, the system crashes, and we will need to get our technicians involved. We wind up calling technical education at TEA. Sometimes our students can get on later in the day. Sometimes they can get back the next day. Sometimes they get kicked off. When you’re talking about your most fragile students, special education students with special needs, who are trying to engage, concentrate, and keep getting kicked off, that doesn’t keep that stamina going.
It breaks that down. That’s been a challenge, and that’s something that we’re worried about, the connectivity. The other thing I’m worried about is a lot of research I’ve done and observed in my own district. Our students in Del Valle ISD do better on paper than online. Again, I’m making a very factual statement of our students in Del Valle ISD.
I have data that I can show you. There’s a very large difference. As a matter of fact, there are students who took the Algebra test online in 2022, 92% failed. Our students who took the test on paper pulled the scores up so much that the high school campus is tentatively going to be rated a B right now. That online component would have hurt us if all of our students had taken the test online.There is a lot of push to move with the times and technology. But we're hearing the states say that virtual learning didn't work and students need to learn in person. Click To Tweet
Now, the research I’ve done shows that students perform more poorly online by 11 months as if they had not received 11 months of instruction in Math and Reading. The research also shows that students of minority populations perform more poorly online. It even suggests that girls perform more poorly online. It talks a lot about students’ accessibility. Now, our students do well and have access to technology, but students who grew up with technology at home and are always on the computer tend to perform better.
It even states that when you prepare a dataset of students online versus students on paper, students do better on paper. That is a concern of mine. I am not suggesting that we stay with paper. I know that there is a lot of push to move with the times and technology. On the one hand, we’re hearing the states say that virtual learning doesn’t work and the students need to be in person, which I agree with. Why does that mean that they can test online?
If learning wasn’t as successful remotely, then why is testing going to be successful? Many of the strategies we teach students are manipulatives that our younger students are allowed to use in Math. The reading strategies that we teach them are to chunk, draw lines, and circle can’t be done online. When it can be, it does become a distraction because the voice may talk or the color may pop up, but it is very distracting. I have interviewed my own students, and they prefer to take it on paper.
I would think of myself right now. For an interview, I printed out the questions. I typed them online by like, “I have all these notes that I wrote.”
I always prefer to write rather than type. Eventually, I like to type, but I like to start with handwriting. That is how I get my first best ideas, so I can understand that connection for sure.
I will say that proponents of online testing will say that our students are digital natives and it’s easier for them, but I can tell you that is not the case for our students. When given a choice to take the test online or on paper, they prefer to take it on paper. When we have looked at the scores for students on our own tests, they have deferred by at least 30 points in many cases. That’s a lot. Also, I’m not suggesting for us to go all on paper necessarily, but wouldn’t it be a good idea for the state to allow a star placement committee to determine if a student will do better on paper or online?
Again, the people who oppose that will say, “That’s not apples to apples.” Why should some students take it on paper and some take it online, then you weren’t comparing apples to apples? You then made my point because if they can perform as well in both, it shouldn’t matter. They should be able to perform as well on both.
If the goal is to measure performance, then how the performance happens? Isn’t it the issue?
I believe that they performed better on paper. I not only believe that I see it based on data. When you have a student taking that assessment on paper, they perform better. What I’m suggesting is that if our opponents were to say that’s not equitable, you can’t compare apples to apples. What I’m saying is they’ve made my point.
This is making me think of a podcast I heard that said, “Cognitively, it is a different experience writing your notes then typing them. Something happens in the brain to hand process.” I’m going to try to find it because it was fascinating.
I can tell you what it is. It’s the Neurological Impress Method. That means that when you see it, say it, do it, and hear it at the same time. It impresses that information on your brain and the kinesthetic process of writing connects that process to your brain. What I have researched in my years of practice, it’s always associated with hitting the save button on the computer.
Of course, Dr. Tielle, you’re so well-researched. I listen to podcasts and I’m like, “That’s fascinating.”
There’s research behind what you’re here. It’s true.
Our last little section, and then we’ll move on to the last part of our interview. You talked about the need to advocate. There are obviously things that you have strong opinions about that are positive for students and families. How do we advocate for the things we believe in public education?
On August 9th, 2022 at the Capitol, there is a House committee on public education discussing star testing. That would be an opportunity for those who support any beliefs about testing to be able to go and share their thoughts and testify at the Capitol. That is truly how to get involved, to follow what legislation is being passed. Keep yourself informed, go to the Capitol during the legislative session, and listen to the testimony. I can tell you that I am on the Texas virtual commission for education, and they do listen.
The legislators listen when you have individuals who come informed with facts and data. It’s important for legislators to know about some of the unintended consequences. I recognize in meeting with many of the legislators that they do want what’s best for the kids and don’t know what some of the unintended consequences are. When you can go out and point that out to them, especially hearing from parents, that’s especially important.
With this show, we’re hoping to obviously connect with a lot of the audience, but also give them tools so that if they want to go beyond reading and take action, we can suggest things that they do, like testify, write letters, written testimony, and share their experience. We’re hopeful that our representatives do receive that and perhaps change their minds or have an impact on policy.
Any parent groups that you know would be willing to hear me speak, or some of my colleagues, that’s always important to help inform the community because, as you shared now, there’s a lot of misinformation. It’s important to get the facts out to the community.
Nichole, should we move to our last little section?
We didn’t even prepare you.
To wrap up, we like to do something called Our Attention Mentions, where you’ve mentioned something that has your attention this week or over the last couple of days, whether it’s a show, an article you read, a podcast, or maybe an experience. We like to do that to wrap up.
One of the most exciting things I’ve done in the first few days is taking our teachers from Smith Elementary School on a walkthrough of their new campus. The ribbon cutting is this Friday at 9:00 AM. We walked together last Thursday. It was our first time seeing the campus. We walked in with the principal and all the teachers, and they got to see the brand new building for the first time they got to go to their classrooms.
There were murals that were painted by parents and the old building that we were able to replicate and surprise the teachers and have those restored on the library walls. That campus is a beautiful campus. There are a lot of tactile opportunities for the kids, even when they’re walking down the hall. It is something that was extremely exciting for me to see.
I always tell our teachers that everything we do for our kids’ matters. The way we dress, the way we show up, letting the kids see that we value them, the facilities that we have if the facilities aren’t painted or run down, the kids walk in feeling they don’t matter. When you provide them with a brand new building, they walk in and realize that they’re valued, even at two of our older campuses, Beatty Elementary School and Hillcrest Elementary School.
In 2021, we renovated the facade of Beatty Elementary and our teachers and students were excited. They walk in, and they feel valued in 2022. We did the same thing for Hillcrest because it’s important to me as a superintendent that every campus students feel valued when they walk in, whether it’s a brand new campus or a campus that’s been here for 50 years. That was something that was super exciting. The first day of school is also on August 9th, 2022. I’m excited to welcome all of our kids back.
I completely agree. The environment you are in absolutely affects your performance. I think about form over function, but how the form matters for how well you’re going to function.
I’m so excited. I’m going to go to the groundbreaking, so I can’t wait to do it.
You can make it too. You need to join us.If students were given a choice to take the test online or on paper, they prefer to take it on paper. Click To Tweet
I need to. This is so sweet. I love it.
The thing I will mention, and Nichole might laugh, is an app. If you are a listener like myself, I’m obsessed with the Stitcher app. That is the best way to listen to podcasts. Whenever we have podcast friends that say, “I have a podcast,” and they’re not on Stitcher, I’m like, “You’re dead to me.” You have to be on Stitcher because it’s such a great and easy. It’s so functional. I love the way that it’s laid out. It’s designed for heavy podcast listeners. I listen to two hours of podcasts a day. I listen to so much. Stitcher, I love you. Maybe sponsor us one day. You’re the best.
She’s not getting when she says. That’s always her first question to people. “Are you on Stitcher?”
We’re going to be on all those channels, like Apple Podcasts and Spotify, but Stitcher is what I prefer.
What is catching my attention right now? I did not come prepared. That was not smart of me. They have uploaded a lot of Lifetime movies to YouTube. It is interesting to explore some of the titles that they have. I started watching Stalked at 17. It is fun to watch. I guess that’s what’s catching my attention. The Lifetime movies are now available on YouTube. If you want a melodramatic thing to watch, it will satisfy that itch.
It sounds good to have on in the background when you’re folding laundry or whatever.
You can always count on a dramatic moment. They are full of that. It’s not like my real life, and maybe that’s I enjoy it. I just watch it on a screen.
Thank you so much, Dr. Tielle, for your time. We appreciate learning more about what superintendents do. We’re so thankful for all of your hard work as a superintendent because it’s a very important role and it’s not easy. We’re so thankful that you are committed to Del Valle.
It gives me so much faith in where we are in public education to know that people like you are serving in this role. It’s incredible.
Thank you. I was very honored to be part of this. Thank you for the time and for allowing me to be on.
- Del Valle ISD
- Representative Vikki Goodwin – Past Episode
- Candace Hunter – Past Episode
About Dr. Annette Tielle
Dr. Tielle has dedicated her life to improving outcomes for the students of Del Valle ISD and she leaves no stone unturned when it comes to bringing the necessary resources to her community! Dr. Annette Tielle previously served as the Deputy Superintendent of Del Valle ISD. With 30 years of experience, she was formerly the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum in Comal ISD and Pflugerville ISD, respectively. She is a graduate of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, and received her Masters degree at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. She continued her education to pursue a doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin in the Cooperative Superintendency Program.