Friday Focus – 12-6-2019

Dear Team,

Welcome back! I hope you all had a restful break and took some time to enjoy your friends and families and count your blessings. Now, just two more weeks before the long winter break. This time of year is both joyful and frenetic—there is much to be done before we leave for the holidays, our students can be especially energetic (to put it mildly!) and many of us have a host of extra commitments and activities to attend. Take a deep breath, accomplish the task in front of you, and don’t forget to take time to enjoy what this season should be about: peace, joy and love.

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting with 28 of Round Rock ISD’s best and brightest. One of the greatest honors of being superintendent is interacting with our Student Advisory Board each month. Why? Our students are truly amazing and each of us has a part in developing their leadership capacity. I launched this group when I became Superintendent in 2013 in an effort to be sure we are consistently hearing from our most important stakeholders. The group is made up of student council presidents of each middle and high school in the District, as well as junior and senior class presidents. If you ever despair for the future, I promise you spending some time with these young people will give you hope. They are articulate, thoughtful, brilliant, compassionate and eager to create change for good. 

Each year, the group chooses a topic to focus on as a community project. For the past few years, as we’ve discussed options, the subject of vaping has come up. Long before this was an ever-present news story, our students have been sounding the alarm that e-cigarettes and vaping were becoming an epidemic among young people. This year, with mounting evidence on the serious dangers related to vaping, the Student Advisory Board has decided that it is time for them to concentrate their focus on the issue. 

As luck would have it, it has become front and center on my radar as well, in part because of my involvement with the American Heart Association’s new initiative to tackle the teen vaping crisis. I spent Nov. 14-15 as one of 11 superintendents from across the nation invited to participate on a National Superintendent Forum on the epidemic of e-cigarette use at the American Heart Association’s premier annual cardiovascular meeting, Scientific Sessions, in Philadelphia.

We need more research in this critical area, but we know the outlook is dire. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, state and local health departments and other clinical and public health partners are investigating a multistate outbreak of lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products. As of October of this year, 1,604 cases of e-cigarette or vaping product use associated with lung injury have been reported to CDC from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory. Thirty-four deaths have been confirmed in 24 states as of October 22, 2019.

At the end of the conference, the American Heart Association announced it’s End the Lies Youth Vaping and Nicotine Research Initiative, with $20 million of funding for groundbreaking projects that focus on understanding how nicotine impacts young people.

The pillars of the work include school strategy; youth engagement; local campaigns; national, regional and community dialogue; and, of course, science and research. But before I even returned from Philadelphia to share this news, our own students here in Round Rock were brainstorming similar strategies. They are still at the beginning of their work, but already they are planning awareness campaigns for students, teachers and parents – all with targeted messages and mediums for the diverse audiences. They want to organize a town hall specifically for parents and to look at policies in our District, including enforcement and discipline as well as the possibilities of cessation programs and other avenues that offer help and assistance rather than just punitive responses.

This is a national crisis that we still do not fully understand and the American Heart Association has recognized that our schools are Ground Zero in this battle. But, more than that, our students recognized it long ago. One of my favorite singers, Bono of U2, once said: “There is a time for bold measures. This is the country and you are the generation.”

As I watched our fearless, tireless students at work, deep in discussion and debate, I couldn’t help but think of those words and know that our students are ready for bold action on this and many other important issues facing our community, our nation and our world.

Nothing makes me more proud or more hopeful in our future than watching these young minds at work. This is why we serve. This is who we serve. Stay tuned for more information on the important work to come and the changes in how we address this issue. But, for now, know that, in Round Rock ISD, our future is in good hands. And, it makes me proud to know each of your hands have had something to do with that! We are always better together! 

I’m glad your back!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.

Respectfully,

Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools