When Kathleene asked me to share my DISD recollections, I wasn’t sure that there was much that I would recall from those early years. However, I did know that relationships with the DISD staff and my students are and were my most important memories. Relationships with students, staff, and parents are the greatest and lasting reward of the “call to teaching”.
My career began at Devine Junior High School in 1977 with staff members: Linda Stanton, Richard Malone, Louis Stroud, Bill Herring, Kathleen Outlaw, and Cynthia Strait along with many others. It was an interesting start to my career because no one knew on which campus I would work. There wasn’t a room for me at Devine Junior High (now DMS), so Principal Gordon Bryan sent me to the elementary school.
I met with John Ciavarra, the elementary principal, who also had no job for me on his campus and sent me back to Devine Junior High. I was quite frustrated for several days about my “job” and no classroom. I resorted to a visit to Mr. Barnhart, superintendent, to determine if I had a job or not as I had signed a contract. Mr. Barnhart told me to report back to Devine Junior High for a new position called Title 1 Reading for which no one had information. I received a notebook of Title 1 information to read and follow as I set up the new Title 1 Reading program for grades 6-8. Mr. Barnhart told me to follow the Title 1 Reading program guidelines in the notebook and identify which students in grades 6-8 qualified for the program. I was sort of on my own with this new Title 1 program.
Imagine my frustration as I returned yet again to the junior high, and Principal Bryan told me to find my own space to teach reading. Thankfully, I met Mrs. Alta Chant, a kind, knowledgeable, and highly efficient paraprofessional, who assisted me in locating a space to teach. With Mrs. Chant’s help, we moved the teachers’ mimeograph (copier) machine into the smokers’ lounge and set up a classroom in the teachers’ workroom, locating and moving desks on our own. After a few days, Mrs. Chant and I had a classroom with desks, developed my student roster, and created my own schedule. Without Mrs. Chant’s help, I am unsure how long I would have waited for a room, the desks, and students. I worked at Devine Junior High for only one year, and I was forced to seek a job in Hondo ISD for the next five years; DISD didn’t accept transfer students, and our older son was entering first grade.
Finally, I returned to Devine ISD in 1982 when Superintendent Byron Steele hired me to teach G/T grades 1-8 and several English classes for grades 7-8; board policy now allowed student transfers and our two sons became Warhorses to my delight! I enjoyed setting up the Devine G/T program with Mary Conrad, and I had wonderful support from parents for many interesting projects! Beth Ann Noak helped me with many projects including a Christmas gingerbread project that would make Bobby Flay proud, and Joyce Bendele added her “artistic” talent to my limited art skill set! For two years, I had great support from many people for the G/T program; however, I knew that I was a secondary person and was better suited at grades 9-12.
By 1984, Bob Bendele was DHS Principal, and I approached him about teaching English or speech. I offered to take any job that he had as I wanted to work for him at DHS. Bob had five different English classes with one each of grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 along with a CVAE English as the fifth class. Also, if I took this position, I would not have my own classroom (here I go again without a room) and would share five other teachers’ classrooms during their conference periods. The difference on Bob’s campus was he offered the solution to my room problem. Bob reminded me that I would move every hour (five times each day), and I would have five different grammar books and five different literature books. I was thrilled to be on a high school campus; I took the job regardless of not having my own room.
In typical Mr. Bendele style, he took care of “his people”. Bob provided me a two-drawer rolling file cabinet which he happily delivered to me before classes began; I was in business as the itinerant English teacher. With five different preps, I was often at school late in the evening; unfortunately, my room light was visible from highway 173 as Mr. Bendele drove by DHS. One evening about 7:30 PM, there was a rapid knock on my door. It was Mr. Bendele, who asked what I was doing on campus alone so late; I told him that I had five different six-weeks tests to prepare and print for my students. Bob told me to go home now, and to ensure my departure he escorted me outside to my vehicle. His parting words were that I needed to be home with my children, and he didn’t want to see me there alone late at night again! After that, I took all my work home for fear that I might get another visit from Mr. Bendele and another escorted walk to my car! How Bob cared about us all-students and staff!
I taught a variety of classes for several years but never had five preparations except those first two years. Eventually, I was moved to the English IV teacher in 1989-90 school year, and I loved that job. I had wonderful students, and I worked them hard to prepare for college English. In summer of 1993, I was trained at the Advanced Placement Institute at Texas A & M, which allowed me to add AP English to options for DHS seniors. Our first year, I had about 15 students take AP English and then sit for the AP exam; these students scored 4 or 5 (with only one 3) on the AP exam! DHS students proved themselves on the national level with those AP scores, which gave them college credit; I was so proud of these students in the first year of AP English. I continued AP English only two years. We learned some universities wouldn’t accept AP English except as an elective. Dual-credit English was a guaranteed English college credit course; therefore, I began work on a master’s degree in English so I could teach dual-credit English. This extra degree work required nightly drives each week to UTSA after teaching all day (no virtual classes in the 1990s or early 2000s); the highlight of my M.A. English work was my summer study abroad at Oxford University in England. I was able to bring dual-credit English to DHS and the wonderful students met the challenge and excelled! I loved the classroom, the students, and the content! The classroom was always a joy for me despite the long hours of grading compositions and research papers, and I believe that God called me to my teaching career and into education.
Teaching was not all that I loved at DHS; Mr. Bendele praised our students and celebrated our staff for successes! UIL Academics became a huge focus with Mr. Bendele’s leadership and with Mrs. Gardner as UIL Director. I loved working with Brenda on UIL Academic events for 18 years; we rode countless miles on unairconditioned buses and spent many Saturdays at UIL tournaments from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM. We usually traveled about 12-15 Saturdays each year to UIL tournaments; all that practice paid dividends as our students excelled in their events, winning district year after year! DHS students were winners at district, regional, and state competitions. I call these years the “golden years”, and it was grand to take my UIL Poetry and Lit Crit teams to these competitions. A number of poetry readers made appearances at state UIL, but only one of my students, Edie Bramhall, placed at state. A state UIL appearance allowed students to apply for a UIL scholarship for college whether they placed at state or not. There are so many wonderful memories of these poetry readers-mostly girls-including two whom we’ve lost: Rachel Ramirez and Kim Hamilton. Both were in many UIL events, and both were very successful. Brenda and I both coached them in different UIL events, and they were extremely talented young women!
UIL was not the only thrill of working at DHS. In the mid-1990s, Marion Randow, Joyce Bendele and I began to take DHS girls and some of their mothers to England on summer tours. These trips allowed me to share my love of all things British and help prepare these girls for English IV the next year. These trips were a great adventure for girls and adults alike. The teenage girls tolerated being lectured to about British literature/history from me, art from Mrs. Bendele, and drama from Mrs. Randow. These trips were a wonderful experience for the girls and the adults. These are still great memories for me to this day as I hope we enriched these young ladies’ lives with these trips.
In 1998, Bob retired, and I was heartbroken to lose his leadership at DHS. I considered leaving DHS and applied for jobs in the area as well as in San Antonio districts. I had very favorable interviews at Northside with two different directors; I attribute my successful interviews to being from Devine. Both directors knew Louis Stroud from officiating; I will never know if I interviewed well, or if knowing Louis got me the job offer. Both directors recommended me for the position, and I was offered a final interview for a Reading Coordinator. I didn’t take the position even though I knew that I’d make more money in Northside ISD, but my commute would be over two hours per day. The money wasn’t worth my leaving all the Devine friends who cared for us throughout our careers in DISD. I remained at DHS in English IV, and then I had a call from Devine Central Office.
Superintendent Jim Davis offered me some administrative work while I remained the English IV teacher. I served as the DISD District Testing Coordinator for the state testing (TAKS at that time) grades 3-8 and high school EOC tests; and I also coordinated all dual-credit courses during my last two years at DHS. Then Mr. Davis offered me the curriculum director position, which I accepted. It was very difficult to leave DHS; I knew that I’d miss my DHS family and my students! However, I truly felt that I could contribute in the area of curriculum, so I started a new chapter in my educational career.
At central office, I was blessed to work with Jim Davis, Dora Fernandez, Marie Talamantes, Debbie McCormick, Mamie Navarro, and Pat Brown in those early days, and I knew all of them well. I had been blessed to teach at least one child or more of every central office person! Three other great ladies, Glenda Allen, Elaine Hoog, and Kelly DuBose, joined the central office team a year or so later after I moved into CO. It was a great group of caring people! The quality people in DISD have been the key to years of student and district success through many changes and new requirements.
There have always been mandates and programs with which Texas school districts are to comply, but no matter the challenge in DISD, people stepped up and helped solve the issue! The DISD staff has always been wonderful and so supportive through the many challenges we faced in curriculum, finances, testing, or each new mandate. I loved working with the DISD staff to solve problems, which they always faced with optimism and hard work. I don’t believe that there are better people than those in Devine ISD and the Devine community. To serve the students and people in Devine is a great reward in itself, but little did I know the new service area that awaited me.
In February 2008, I received a call from Board President Cindy Morales to consider serving as interim superintendent. At that time, I was the assistant superintendent and quite satisfied with my position in a back office. I was unsure that I wanted the front office with the superintendent’s stress and knew that position would require longer hours with many difficult issues to resolve. I agreed to the interim position temporarily with the caveat that I could return to my assistant superintendent’s position if either the board or I wanted to terminate the agreement. I continued with my duties as assistant as well as assuming the duties of the interim superintendent from February until August.
In August 2008, I began a new challenging chapter in my career as I agreed to take the superintendent’s job. The Devine Board of Trustees, the DISD staff, and Devine community all contributed to making those rewarding years for the district and for me. My first board was comprised of a great group of people all of whom were either DHS graduates or a parent of a DHS graduate; this led to a greatly invested group of people, focused on students not politics. My first board consisted of: President Cindy Morales, Vice-President Wayde Anderson, Secretary Nancy Pepper, Trustee Carl Brown, Trustee Dwayne Gardner, Trustee Eva Marquis, and Trustee Henry Moreno. Other board members who followed included: Rhonda Korczynski, Paula Samudio, Robert Morales, Gina Champion, and Wes Herring. With these dedicated board of trustees, the Devine community members passed two bond elections in four years, providing funds to renovate every campus, add the new DMS west wing, and build the DSAC complex.
Despite some very difficult financial years and the many challenges that a school superintendent faces each year, my eight years as DISD Superintendent were a wonderful time in my life. My greatest hope is that I treated all people fairly and kindly, that DISD made some lasting improvements, and that student achievement improved. Thank you, Devine, for being a wonderful community in which to live and work; I was so blessed to have a career serving in Devine ISD!