Category Archives: Character Education

An Open Letter: Tyler ISD School Board (and Citizens)

Dear School Board Members:

I was glad to see the news that a vote on the school name change is on the agenda for the school board meeting on Monday, August 6. I realize this has been a very difficult and divisive issue for our community and to some extent the school board.  I agree, it is time for the board to vote on the issue and for our community to commit to respectfully abide by the board’s decision.

Unfortunately, this is one of those situations fraught with highly charged emotions and opinions with folks unlikely to come to any general consensus even in the process of an extended civil discourse and dialogue. It truly saddens me that our community’s discourse on this issue was not always civil or respectful. Thus, you seven, as members of the school board, are tasked with making a decision which will have a significant and lasting impact on our students, both current and future, and on our community as a whole. I respect your leadership and your courage as you do this, knowing that whatever decision you make, there will be those who will not be pleased.

As you consider your individual decisions, I sincerely hope that you come to the conclusion that a name change, particularly the Robert E. Lee name, is in the overall best interest of our students and community. I believe a name change would:

  • assure a school that the students could be proud of and want to attend, and  ultimately have a positive effect on student achievement. This is our ultimate goal—student achievement.
  • promote a positive, progressive image for our community, a community committed to the well being of all our students and excellence in their education.
  • be an enticement for families and businesses considering moving into the Tyler area.

In all honesty with you, I think it is unfortunate that General Lee’s name has become such a lightning rod for issues of race in our country, but it has and that is the reality in which we must live and make our decisions. In light of this reality I think it would be unwise to carry the Lee name forward into our new school. Let’s take advantage of our new school situation and move forward with “a brand new thing.” (Isaiah 43:18-19) 

I ask each of you to vote in favor of the name change. As leaders in our community, your making a unanimous vote would be a model of unity for our community and influential in promoting community healing and reconciliation. After a vote to change the name, it would be my hope that a diverse group of stakeholders—community members, school representatives, students, parents—would be tasked to come together and begin the process of new name selection and determining an appropriate means to remember and recognize the school’s history. . Perhaps this process can be the mechanism for community reconciliation—a coming together and discussing shared hopes and visions for our students, schools, and community. We have spent a year focusing on our disagreement, which never brings forth a solution. With your leadership, our community can turn its focus to the future and all the possibilities of this brand new thing. 

Thank you for your service and dedication to excellence in education for all our Tyler students. I want you to know that I will respectfully abide by whatever decision the board makes on this issue and encourage others to do so. During my 38 years in education and counseling I always told my students that it was okay, and sometimes even understandable, if they did not like the rules or decisions made by their parents or teachers, and they were expected to respect the authority represented by their parents and teachers by abiding by the rules and decisions. I see this situation as somewhat similar. You, as the board, are the current elected leaders of our district and vested with the authority to make rules and decisions for the district. I hope and pray that once your decision is made Monday evening that all the good folks of Tyler ISD will respectfully accept your decision, come together, and continue to work toward providing our students with the excellent educational opportunities they deserve.


Brenda McWillaims

“We will honor creation and human life together, across religions, nations, and cultures, or we will perish together.  Treat life as Sacred!  This is God’s command—to all humanity.  The response is up to all of us.”

From: The Sacredness of Human Life by David P. Gushee


Incredible – or Not? Maybe I’m Just Getting Old and Grumpy?

UnknownI had an experience yesterday, and I am still not quite sure how to describe it. I know that in the midst of it my feelings ranged from disbelief, disgust, and aggravation to sorrow, plain and simple. In passing our large front window, I noticed a little convertible sports car parked at the curb in front of the house. There were three young people, probably late teens or early twenty’s, sitting in the car and one standing in the street leaning into the car. We live in a quiet neighborhood not prone to sports cars, so my initial thought, “What are they doing?” At that point I watched, incredulously, as the young woman sitting in the back seat, curbside, dropped what appeared to be a cigarette butt in the street between the car and the curb. Not what I want to pick up when I blow and sweep our street curb and gutter!

I normally don’t make a beg deal or create a scene with the small stuff, yet somewhere inside me this felt huge. I experienced it as mindless carelessness with a cigarette butt, and we know where that can lead in this dry summer heat. I also saw thoughtless littering and disrespect for property. What I did next surprised me! I stepped out onto the front porch and asked, “Did I see you just throw a cigarette butt on the curb?” At that, a young man, sitting in the back with the aforementioned young woman responded, “No,” while waving his hand with his cigarette still between his fingers. I replied, “I’m referring to the young lady,” and nodded toward his companion. She did not respond—not even a turn to look at me, but she apparently fessed up to her companions.

The young woman, standing in the street and leaning into the car, came around the back of the car, looked at the ground, and picked up the cigarette butt. What she did next was equally incredulous as the first young woman’s actions and fueled my disgust and aggravation. She walked back around the rear of the car, and as she did, she threw the cigarette butt to the middle of the street. Did the sports car not have an ashtray?



I came back in the house ranting to myself a bit and threatening to take their picture and put it on Facebook! I quickly decided against that and thought the wiser move was to simply go pick up the cigarette butt. I grabbed a paper towel, went to the street, stepped on the butt (to make sure it was out), and picked it up with the towel. Only the young man, who was now out of the car acknowledged my presence with a mumbled, “Thank you,” which came only after I had made the general comment, “It’s just about respect for property. You all have a good day.” I did not linger to give a lecture. I came right back into the house. In a very few minutes they said their “goodbyes” with hugs all around. The two girls left in the sports car, and the guys were gone.

All the other feelings aside, I just felt sad. Sad for these four young adults who seemed, at least in this instance, to have no sense of the right thing to do, personal responsibility, or respect for property, and perhaps, for other persons. After all, they were in front of my house, littering my space, space that I take responsibility for and keep clean, and I was not terribly confrontational and certainly not belligerent or combative with them. What I saw from them was insolence and defiance. If they behave this way in the small things, I wonder how they deal with the larger issues. As a retired school counselor whose primary message to youngsters was and is to respect yourself, respect others, and respect property, I am saddened. I hope that as they mature they will encounter people and experiences that will strengthen their character and teach them the value of respect and good choices.

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