Breakfast with Supt. Kim
Feb. 1 was University Interscholastic League’s (UIL) 2018-2020 realignment day.
While the reclassification, which is based on school enrollment, didn’t impact Canyon Lake High School’s volleyball, basketball and football district assignments, it did bring Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim to his next point.
Speaking at “Breakfast with Comal ISD Superintendent Kim” on Thursday morning, he told moms at Startzville Elementary that involved kids do better than kids who aren’t “part of something.”
This makes sports the perfect venue for the development of both middle- and high-school students.
“We would like to drill down to even some elementaries as well,” he said.
The district is looking for teachers who also are certified coaches to support schools’ burgeoning athletic programs, which include the addition of girls’ and boys’ lacrosse at Canyon Lake High School.
Another hot sport which could soon be added to Comal ISD’s athletic roster is water polo. Already on board is a new wrestling program.
“We offer more sports at 4A than other school districts,” Kim said.
But trying to find teachers who also are coaches — especially in a school district that doesn’t pay teachers as well as their counterparts in nearby areas — isn’t easy.
“Trying to find a combination is hard,” Kim said. “We draw a lot of good candidates. Comal ISD is the place to be. We treat people well, but not salary-wise. Other big districts pay a lot better.”
The district prides itself on fiscal responsibility, granting homeowners an additional 20-percent homestead exemption on top of the normal $25,000 homestead exemption granted by the state.
The current tax rate, set by Comal ISD, is $1.39 per $100 in home value. However, with the combination of the state exemption and Comal ISD’s 20-percent discount, taxpayers are getting an effective rate of around $1.11. This makes Canyon Lake and the surrounding area very attractive to homebuyers as well as to developers, who increasingly forego custom homes in favor of tract housing in sprawling developments.
“We’re low spenders, and our academic performance is high,” he said. “It’s how you spend the money that’s important.”
However, Comal ISD now faces a daunting new challenge: funding special education.
The district used to add 35 special-ed students per year. That number is now 150.
“We have a growing need,” Kim said. “We don’t question why, we just need to provide.”
To meet that demand, the district will continue to rely on a system that identifies students by need and buses them to schools specializing in specific programs.
This spares Comal ISD the expense of replicating services at each elementary school.
School financing formulas are complicated, but when you keep adding special education programs, “something has to give,” he said.
Kim also fielded questions about a variety of parental hot topics, including uses of technology in the classroom, cursive writing, copious copying of worksheets, and educating students for life after high school.
Employers, he said, are looking for candidates who can write, tell stories, shake hands and look others in the eyes. Technology and software come and go. The ability to think doesn’t.
“We sent people to the moon with a slide rule.”
Students, by the way, prefer books, despite what their parents might assume based on their predilection for social media, games and YouTube.
Kim said kids find books easier to transport and prefer them to online learning, which is actually cheaper for the district to provide.
So why, one parent asked, do volunteers spend so much time copying worksheets for teachers?
Because teachers view books and workbooks as resources, Kim replied. Books are consumable and there’s a cost factor associated with them. Teachers safeguard them by copying pages.
Comal ISD’s closely tracking employment trends, which point to an increasing demand for workers in construction fields like masonry, HVAC, plumbing, drywall and welding.
“But we want kids to be ready so they can still go back to college later,” he said. “There’s a baseline of preparation that we want to have.”
To get there, the district works with students at the fifth-grade level to help them better understand how they learn and who they are as individuals.
During middle school, students are taught to identify their passions, so the district can help them “back load careers associated with that passion.”
But deciding what training to provide for students’ differing passions can be difficult and costly at the high-school level.
For example, educating students to work in trades seems like a safe bet, but providing cosmetology classes isn’t. Salons don’t hire students right out of high school. They need young adults who’ve completed training and received certification from accredited programs.
Academic programs the district also considers useful for future graduates include Canyon Lake High School’s successful robotics program and CyBer Patriot, created by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.
Kim said another program on his wish list is Future Teachers of America.
Comal ISD students learn to write in cursive while they’re in third grade — but that’s where it stops.
“How often do you use cursive?” he asked. Although it helps with brain development and in writing projects that involve, for example, keeping journals, cursive is made redundant by keyboarding and newer technologies that eliminate the need for signatures.