Community Insider

Fall 2019

Superintendent's Spotlight, by Mike Kuhrt

Hello Parents and WFISD Staff,

So, I have been a believer in early childhood readiness programs for years. Anything that gets our kids ready for kindergarten helps the child immeasurably and saves us time and money later on. It is a big win in my book.

Right now, WFISD has one of the best kindergarten readiness programs I’ve ever seen – and you may not even know about it. It’s called Parents as Teachers, or PAT, and is directed by Yolanda Lewis. Her team of five educators works directly with parents of any income level who have a child with some sort of risk factor. They start with a home visit and do whatever they can think of to help them parent that child so he or she will be healthy and prepared when they come to our doors for kindergarten.

Mrs. Lewis and her team are building relationships between home and school that begin when the children are ages 2, 3, or 4. Even prenatally. When they sit down with families, they ask, “What do you need?” And then they help them get it.

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What Mr. Rogers Means to Me, by Ward Roberts

Ward Roberts, WFISD’s director of innovation, has been a fan of children’s television host Fred Rogers for a long time – long before he borrowed the Fred Rogers persona as “Mr. Roberts” in WFISD’s Back-to-School rally in August.

Ward has admired Mr. Rogers for his perspective on valuing children that is as timely today as it was in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. That sentiment has blossomed nationally in two recent films on Fred Rogers’ career. One, a documentary titled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” can be viewed on Netflix. Another film, titled “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” debuts in theaters Nov. 22.

So what might Fred Rogers’ message be to WFISD educators if he were still alive today? Three things, said Mr. Roberts in an interview with WFISD Communications Specialist Ann Work Goodrich. And as a bonus, Mr. Roberts shares the loving approach he believes Mr. Rogers would take to even the most divisive of issues: building new school facilities.

WFISD: How does Mr. Rogers’ message affect us?

Ward: A big push across the nation – and in our district – is the need for social and emotional learning. That’s all of what Mr. Rogers was about. Look at No. 4 on our Strategic Plan: “We will develop systems to identify and meet the physical, emotional and social needs of students.” As a district, we’re trying to address students’ emotional needs more than ever before.

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Why Every Teacher Should Participate on a STAAR Item Review Committee, by Harley James

...and what I learned from my two days as a committee member

I represented Fain Elementary and WFISD on a Texas Education Agency Item Review Committee. I rank this experience as something everyone should do at least once. It helped me understand how decisions on the STAAR tests are made and gave me a chance to speak up for my kiddos.

Logistics-wise, it was pretty simple. The committee met in Austin. TEA provided breakfast and lunch for us both days and reimbursed us for dinner, for gas, and for plane flights if necessary. The TEA and ETS representatives were so appreciative of all the teachers who participated. We were encouraged to tell others about all the committees available so others would participate and they would continue to hear from teachers.

We reviewed STAAR items that were being prepared for future STAAR tests. We worked through 230 problems in two days. The process was eye-opening!

First, we worked individually through a group of problems that related to certain standards. Then we took each problem one by one and discussed it as a group. Our ETS representative, Trish, would ask if we had any comments on the item we were reviewing. If we didn’t, she asked, “May we field test this item?” We would say yes and move on.

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The Lessons I Learned in Kenya, by Debbie Pepper

Wichita Falls High School ESL teacher Debbie Pepper has visited other countries before. She helped build an orphanage in Haiti, cleaned wells in Sri Lanka after a tsunami, and taught English in Thailand. This past summer, she visited Nairobi, Kenya. She did what she always does: She combined her love for helping others with the opportunity to travel and learn about a new culture. This summer, Nairobi had several lessons to teach her. Here, she tells what she learned in her own words.

Summer time for teachers means relaxation, freedom, and not having to hold our bladders until lunch. It also means professional development. This year I actually got to the opportunity to learn from an educator on another continent. I know what you’re thinking, and no, the district did not pay for it.

I went to Nairobi, Kenya, for one week with a team of 11 people, including a doctor and a nurse, to provide free medical care for people living in its slums. As a part of Jacaranda Ministries, we set up clinics in churches and schools where we saw hundreds of the most beautiful children, most of whom came with their classes led by their teachers. Each child received an exam. Then my team, who worked in the pharmacy, put medicines in bags for all the students.

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How Mental Illness Has Touched My Life, by Britney Prickett

Unfortunately, Fowler Elementary teacher Britney Prickett knows all too well the havoc that mental illness can create in a family. Here, she divulges her family’s battle with mental illness and explains how she has learned to use her role as a teacher to create a safe environment for all students.

I have been personally affected by mental illness from an early age. I was 10 when I was informed of my Aunt Rita’s suicide. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was a child, but she never received treatment.

Fast forward to when I was a junior in high school. I was our Sophomore Class Princess and had the honor of being recognized at our Homecoming football game. Later that night, I was awakened to learn the news of my Uncle Randall’s suicide. He, too, had been diagnosed with depression at a young age.

But that’s not all. In 2015, during the summer after my first year of teaching, I awoke to a text from Lance, my younger brother who was 25. The text was a screenshot of a text his girlfriend sent him, encouraging Lance to kill himself.

He did.

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Patriotism on the Class Schedule: Q&A with Bill Lockwood

Denver Alternative Center teacher Bill Lockwood is an unashamed patriot – and he makes his voice heard throughout the community and around the state through a weekly radio show, a blog, and 35 years in the pulpit.

So what’s he telling students these days? Communication Specialist Ann Work Goodrich talked to him to find out.

Bill, you are very well-read and outspoken about the state of our country with your blog and radio show. What issues do you press with the students?

I do try to get the kids here to see the greatness of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other documents. I hope it helps them.

My mother had me study the Constitution when I was in high school, and I have continued to pursue that. I am able to share that with students, some of it, because, sadly, they are pretty far behind the curve. I tell them that when they get to college, they are going to hear all kinds of other stuff, and they better be ready. I don’t know if it sinks in or not.

When are you able to talk about current events with students?

In the last hour of the day during Personal Management time here at Denver, I try to get some Constitutional stuff in them. I make the point that either you manage yourself with principles of right and wrong, such as those we find in The Declaration of Independence, or someone else will manage your life for you.

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Here's How a Rider High School Student is Helping America Go to the Moon...and Beyond

If anyone in WFISD is thinking “outside the box,” it’s Rider High School senior Katherine Parham. Employed by NASA (yes, even while still a student) at the age of 18, she’s working on projects for NASA’s Artemis program that have got her thinking all the way to the Moon…and Mars

First, a little current events lesson: NASA’s Artemis program is the first step in NASA’s next era of exploration. The goal: NASA wants to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon with the goal of using everything it learns to send humans on to Mars – 34 million miles away.

And there’s a timeline. NASA’s focus is landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. They’ll explore more of the lunar surface than has ever been explored before. By collaborating with commercial and international partners, NASA wants to establish “sustainable exploration by 2028.” Or, as the NASA website puts it, “We are going to the Moon…to prepare for Mars.”

So how does a high school senior from Wichita Falls get employed by NASA to take part in this other-worldly program?

Artemis sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it is real-life for Rider senior Katherine Parham.

It began with a special program for students, NASA’s Texas High School Aerospace Scholars Online Program, that was full of online research projects about the Mars mission. For the stand-out students, it culminated in an all-expenses-paid trip to Johnson Space Center in Houston in July 2019. There, students prepared a presentation on their research about various aspects of the Mars spaceflight to NASA board members.

NASA officials hired Katherine shortly afterward, in August 2019, as she headed into her senior year at Rider. Today she uses her laptop to stay tuned into Artemis research, specifically now on the Mars rover, while she completes her senior year of high school.

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The WFISD Community Insider is a publication developed by the WFISD Community Relations department. If you would like to submit story ideas for future publications, please email Ashley Thomas at or Ann Work Goodrich at