|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
Robertson stepping down at GISD
BY BRIAN BESCH
GOODRICH -- To say that Goodrich Superintendent Guylene Robertson was destined to work in education would be a bit of an understatement. Robertson's mother was a teacher for 36 years in West Texas. Her grandmother was one of the first women superintendents in the state of Texas, serving in schools around Gainesville for 49 years. Robertson was a teacher for 15 years and chosen as a Christa McAuliffe award winner. The award is given to teachers who not only demonstrate effectiveness in producing learning outcomes, but also demonstrate and explain how they have redesigned their programs as a result of these learning outcomes. She has taught dyslexia, gifted and talented, and at the elementary level. She has been a bus driver and a migrant recruiter. She has taught at Dimmit, McCamey and was an administrator at Fabens, Ysleta the Region 19 Educational Service Center, Willis and Cleveland. She serves on the Polk County Chamber of Commerce Board, is the vice president of the Livingston Rotary Club and is on the Texas Association of School Administrators as a superintendent mentor. As her previous stops would suggest, Robertson is a native West Texan out of the Panhandle, graduating from Paducah High School. Paducah, as Robertson explains it, is a lot like Goodrich. It is a small school that wears the same colors and has a reputation for excellence in basketball. She received a bachelor's and masters degree from West Texas State, which is now West Texas A&M. Her doctorate was obtained closer to East Texas, at Sam Houston State. Robertson has notified the school board of her retirement, which will happen midway through 2014. She will leave for reasons outside of anyone's control. Her husband, Terry, is waiting for a liver transplant after being diagnosed with Nonalcoholic Cirrhosis of the liver. "Get him healthy, that is our primary goal," Robertson said. "We need to concentrate on his health." Before taking the position in Goodrich, she was an assistant superintendent just down Highway 59 in Cleveland. Her wait for a superintendent job was put on hold for a desire to not move the family while her children were in school. "Our kids were very active in sports, so as soon as our last child graduated from high school, I took a job as a superintendent," Robertson said. Robertson accepted the position in December 2006 and began in January of 2007. She admits to not having an overabundance of knowledge of Goodrich before the position became available, but began to research the job and city when it did. "The community, the traditions of the school and I liked the school board," Robertson said of the positives that lured her to Polk County. "The school board exhibited a commitment to students and that students come first. That has held true the entire time I've been here. They are so dedicated to the children." Robertson said one of the ways education has changed in her seven years on the job is that larger schools have become more prevalent. "I would say the education has changed, because our state has become more urban," she said. "The rural school districts have lost some of their voice, because our legislators are mostly urban. In the 82nd legislative session, we took such a hit whether we were urban or rural, that was a game-changer for education. Of course, our legislators would love to see more charter schools rather than public schools." The 82nd Legislature in 2011 chopped $4 billion from public schools, $1 billion from higher education, including financial aid to some 41,000 students and eliminated 5,700 state agency jobs. "It was when we had the deficit and we all received cuts," Robertson said. "We were cut $200,000 in the 82nd Legislature and in the 83rd, we received $80,000 back, so we were still not back to where we were. At that time, the state economy was down and it hurt smaller schools the most, because they had the least to lose. Even the bigger school districts, like Cy-Fair, cut 742 positions. At that same time, we did not cut any and the board has always supported that. We presented three different options and the Goodrich board decided to tighten their belts and not add any additional costs in order to keep jobs within the district. It shows their commitment. We also have an excellent business manager, Sherry Mitchell. She is a gem. I cannot say enough good about the board, they have been supportive and they have the attitude that if it is good for the kids, we can get it done." Another reason Robertson said Goodrich has succeeded is grants. All of the technology at Goodrich has been updated through grants. Robertson believes Goodrich is just leveling the playing field by receiving computers and upto- date assistance that larger schools in the state receive to help Goodrich students. "There are many that help me with grants, that is not a job that you do alone," Robertson said. "We have gotten millions of dollars in grants. We replaced our whole kitchen at one time. We have gotten an air conditioner grant and an emergency preparedness grant. This is a servant leadership position. The higher you go, the more you become a servant leader, because all the action takes place with the teachers, they make it happen." One of the more important decisions Robertson has helped to make was whether the school district should attempt to pass this year's tax ratification. "This year on July 18, I got the letter from the state that said we would be a Chapter 41 school district — which the first year they kind of give you a bye — then after that, you have to send money back to the state," Robertson said. "The reason we became a Chapter 41 is because of higher local property values. Our enrollment for new students was not high. In fact, we had lost some. At that time, I thought, 'it has to be done, I can't hold off any longer.' We had always prided ourselves on a $1.04, the lowest (tax) in the county, but wanted to retain the district and the community wanted to retain the district. There was no other way. We had to do it and thankfully, the community supported it. The community really supports the school district, that's the thing." Robertson also began a program that allows all students in Goodrich ISD to eat breakfast and lunch for free, a rarity amongst schools and something she established upon arriving in Goodrich. "I feel very strongly our community is one where everyone works," Robertson said. "They have to go out someplace else to work. Anything we can do to help the students help the families, we want to do. Initially about three years ago, I said, 'let's do it just for breakfast.' It was something that I had done out in West Texas in the El Paso area. We tried that out and some of the staff members weren't too sure about it. It worked well and then we went to the lunch, so everyone ate their lunch for free. There's a lot of paperwork and grants through the federal food program, so you go through those things. I want to remove every barrier possible that anybody might have." Goodrich also has a good attendance rate, with 98 percent attending classes. An average school in Texas has around 93 percent. The school received national recognition in December of 2008 by making the U.S. News and World Report list of "America's Best High Schools," by ranking among the top 10 percent of schools in the nation. Goodrich was also state finalists in basketball in 2008, keeping with its tradition of a strong sports program. "Another thing we've done is we have a soccer club," Robertson said. "We do not play UIL soccer, because you have to be a 3A or above. We had a grant from DETCOG (Deep East Texas Council of Governments) in the first year I was here. We started a soccer club in the summertime. We started with eight kids and now we have 40-something. It is about a month from April to mid-May where we do soccer and play some games. It's just like any other club that we have, like the Spanish Club or the FFA." With around 120 students in junior high and high school, approximately onethird of them are kicking around the soccer ball in the popular club. Robertson said she enjoys the area and plans to remain in the community, as she owns an RV camp, Woodsy Hollow, not far from the Goodrich city limits. The superintendent is hopeful for the future of Goodrich for several reasons. One thing the district has tried to impress upon the students is having a university culture. "Every Wednesday everyone wears university shirts and I asked the campuses to have the teachers adopt a university and adopt one that the kids may not have heard about," Robertson said. "We are all proud of the local and state schools, but we are preparing our kids for the future and there can be a future beyond Texas. That is one of the things that I have really stressed — a university culture — during my time here. "I think another thing that will help our district and the local surrounding districts is the new Angelina College here. It will change so many things, because so many of our students and the county's students have not been able continue their education five miles away." The former teacher said small classrooms at Goodrich allow for a great deal individual help and insures that no one falls through the cracks. It helps each to remain competitive with other students across the nation. A few years back, Robertson and her husband donated the two playgrounds students now enjoy on campus. "I have always been told that you leave a place better than what you found it and you try to treat people the way you want to be treated," she said. "That has been what I have lived by, whether it has been here or wherever I have been. What I have told the teachers in the classroom and principals was, if you are not teaching those students in your classroom as if they were your own children, then we need to do some self-reflection, because every child in that classroom should be taught like they are our own. When that happens, you do not have any issues."