Editor’s note: During a tour of Henrietta ISD, Commissioner of Texas Education Michael Williams met with the staff of The Catawampus, Henrietta High School’s student newspaper.By Justin Riddle and Katelyn Parrish The Catawampus
Commissioner of Texas Education Michael Williams visited the campuses of Henrietta ISD on Tuesday, Oct. 22. While touring the schools, he spoke to the high school newspaper staff and discussed several issues affecting students across the state of Texas. Some of the topics Commissioner Williams addressed were his observations while visiting Texas schools, what the role of the Commissioner of Education entails, what he has learned about the state of Texas education and what he feels are areas of concern, and the advantages and disadvantages of the revised graduation standards.
Born in May 31, 1953, Williams is a 1971 graduate of Robert E. Lee High School in Midland. Born to two educators, Williams earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of California, as well as a law degree from the University Of Southern California in Los Angeles. He has served three major administrations, including the Texas Railroad Commission, Texas Education Agency and the Civil Rights Commission under the second President Bush, as well as being a college professor and lawyer.
When asked about what his role as Commissioner of Education, he stated “The Commissioner has the responsibility of taking care of more than 5 million youngsters in Texas public schools, 1,200 districts and 8,600 campuses. The responsibility goes to enforcing the state’s laws, channeling the dollars that come through the state, whether they be those be the state’s dollars or federal dollars, to be directed to local school districts.”
Remarking on his school visits, Williams noted how pleased he was to see how much teaching and learning was going on in each school and praised the strides Texas has made in increasing graduation rates over the past 15 years, particularly within ethnic subgroups. Currently, Texas is third in the nation in terms of graduation rates.
The students questioned Commissioner Williams about his feelings on the changes made to high school graduation requirements and the affect the decreased amount of testing would have on graduating seniors as they prepare to enter the work force. While Commissioner Williams stated that he had worried that the reduction from 15 end-of-course tests to five may reduce student motivation to take more advanced classes, he did like the idea of teachers being able to teach their students with more depth, flexibility, and a wide variety of choices, based on what they would like to teach.
Despite not being a professional educator, Commissioner Williams told students that he felt his training as a lawyer helped him know how to ask the right questions to the right people. He referred to how he was in charge of about 1200 people for 12 years while working for the U.S Department of Education, and the experience gained in managing large numbers of employees was a big asset to his current job.