Jan. 26, 2005, 6:12AM
Singing schools' praises
Group plans to advertise the positive side of public education
By JASON SPENCER
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
News reporters have been so busy chasing negative stories about Texas
public schools that the positive stories have gone unheard, a group of
Houston business leaders was told Tuesday night.
Scott Milder's newly formed Friends of Texas Public Schools plans to
"I've seen firsthand all the good things that happen in the public
schools and they never get coverage," Milder said.
He was raising money for his nonprofit organization Tuesday night with
the help of Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley, who sits on the
organization's advisory board.
"There's this negative perception out there that public schools are
failing or in a crisis," Milder said. "We're saying, let's celebrate
successes and help them improve."
Milder's crusade comes at a time of allegations of widespread cheating
on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and a state judge's
ruling that Texas' school funding levels are inadequate and
"We are doing a good job in Texas public schools, but we're not
perfect," Neeley said.
Neeley said the cheating allegations were "blown out of proportion," but
acknowledged that wrongdoing occurred.
"We're not going to bury our head in the sand. ... We're going to deal
with it very aggressively," she said.
Milder's friendship with Neeley dates back to 1996 when she hired him as
her spokesman in the Galena Park Independent School District. Today,
Milder is in charge of public relations for a Dallas architectural firm
that specializes in school design. The company, SHW Group Architects,
has annual revenues of $40 million, according to Milder's résumé.
Before Tuesday night, the nonprofit group had collected about $5,000
from donors, Milder said. He hopes to haul in much more to pay for a
pro-public-schools advertising blitz that will include billboard,
television and radio advertising.
"The public schools are an easy target," Milder said. "We want to change
that. We want people feeling better about public schools."
On the group's Web site, Neeley describes herself as a "cheerleader" for
Texas public education, calling on business and community groups to
"circle the wagons" to promote the school system.
"I can lead and I can cheer but every school in Texas needs the strong
support of our public and the business community," Neeley wrote.
Although his company makes its money from school building projects that
often depend on voter-approved financing, Milder said that had nothing
to do with his decision to form the organization.
"Our motives are pure and to be perfectly honest, the reason behind
doing this is, it's the right thing to do for kids in Texas," Milder
said. "Everybody is going to benefit."
He said his boss, SHW Group CEO Gary Keep, told him he could spend half
of each work day running the nonprofit. Keep also sits on the advisory
board, as do representatives from Houston Habitat for Humanity and Texas
Milder called the organization a grass-roots operation. He said he
invited business leaders, particularly those from the construction
industry, to attend Tuesday night's fund-raiser.
"Everybody has an interest in the public perceiving the schools
accurately and that's what we're about," Milder said.
Texas' Asian American fourth-graders, for example, outscored all peers
nationally on a standardized test, according to the group's Web site,
Parent and teacher groups applauded the effort by Milder and his
schoolteacher wife, Leslie, who helped him form Friends of Texas Public
"There are more things going on that are positive than are negative,"
said Mercedes Alejandro, president of the Houston chapter of Parents for
Public Schools. "The stories that don't get reported are the ones where
students are excelling."
The ads could convince more people to pursue teaching careers, said
Richard Kouri, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association.
"Education in general has an image problem," Kouri said.
Staff writer Rosanna Ruiz contributed to this report.
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