WAELDER — Transparency as well as fairness were topics of concern during Waelder ISD Class of 2018’s salutatorian speech at graduation last Saturday, June 2.
The salutatorian, Laisha Rangel, went off script and added to her originally approved speech to bash the superintendent and the school district.
“Before I walk off this stage tonight I want to shine some light on the stone-cold truth of what the school district of Waelder ISD is,” she said. “To all present and future students of Waelder ISD, getting all A’s your entire life will not matter, staying up late at night to study will not matter, pushing yourself pass the limit in this high school will not matter… unless your parent is a part of the school board. We are not all privileged. Some of us actually have to work for what we deserve, while others have things handed to them. I stand here tonight to speak about this issue because if I, or anybody at all, continue to stay quiet, nothing will ever get done to fix this school.”
Although one audience member yelled out, “Get her off the stage!” the rest of the audience either sat in shocked silence or cheered on the soon-to-be graduate.
Before finishing her speech, Waelder High School Principal Dr. Ron Lilie went to the podium to put his hand over the microphone. Rangel stepped to the side and continued reading her speech without the use of the microphone.
Rene Rangel, Laisha’s father, spoke after the ceremony to the Inquirer about his experiences dealing with the school district.
“I came [to the administration office] to ask [Superintendent Jon] Orozco to put me on the [May 21] agenda, that way the school board can discuss it and they can compare both papers,” he said. “And you know what happened? He didn’t put me on the agenda. He didn’t do it. I came to the meeting and I asked him why he didn’t put me in the agenda and he was like ‘oh’ he didn’t give me a reason.”
When asked for a response, Orozco told the Inquirer that he spoke with Mr. Rangel and that he had the opportunity to “speak with me four times in my office.”
“He scheduled two appointments and was received by me on two other occasions without appointment,” Orozco said. “He did speak during the open forum at the regular board meeting, May 21, 2018. The Board may not take action on information presented in the Public Forum.. No formal request was made by any board member to have it placed on a future agenda. Mr. Rangel never requested or asked for a formal grievance following to board policy.”
On the issue of transparency, Orozco described the process the school district went by to validate their conclusion of naming Laisha Rangel salutatorian and Ashlynn Noyola the valedictorian.
“Transparency is important,” Orozco explained. “Per the [Rangel] family’s request, the District submitted the data to scrutiny by a professional third party chosen by the family. The independent party vetted the data and affirmed the District conclusion. Board Policy governing GPA calculations and rankings is publicly available on the District website. However, I do not believe transparency was an issue in this specific matter. I believe that any school system is extremely competitive as the top three students vie for the top spot. The lesson learned is that, everyone must understand how every decision in the course of four years of high school will impact GPA and ranking every year, every day.”
Mr. Rangel said he asked for help and was advised to get a lawyer.
“But this is my school, this is my community’s school, I don’t want to sue the school, know what I mean?”
Even so, he knows an impact was made, especially when gauging the reaction of the audience at graduation.
“You can see the audience clap for my daughter when she started that speech,” Mr. Rangel noted, “because they know. Everybody knows. Even those teachers. They know. They even told my daughter ‘don’t worry, you’re the top one,’ and after all, you’re the second. Hopefully this helps for the next generation.”
Despite all this initial trouble this may have caused, the salutatorian hopes that her speech and her story “opened the eyes of a lot of people.”
“I spoke about how I felt,” Rangel said. “I spoke about the situation as much as I could have.”
“The goal is for the teachers and the school board, all of them, to be more transparent about all of these things,” she continued. “If one thing happens, they need to address it properly. When it happened to me it made no sense. My entire life I’ve got straight As. I’ve done so much for this. In the end none of that really helped anything. It’s just really confusing with everything. So whenever my dad would ask about it, he wanted that transparency, he wanted the explanation of why and how it happened. Hopefully this helps everyone step up for what they believe in and ask about anything that the school is doing wrong and all that.”
Rangel understand that there isn’t much she can do now at this point. However, she hopes that she can be an inspiration for future graduates.
“There’s not much I can do anymore,” she said. “But whenever I do go off to college I want to prove that all this was worth it and be an inspiration to everybody here that you can do everything and anything that you put your mind to, don’t let anything hold you back because in the end it’s all on you.”
As for Waelder ISD, Orozco believes the school district will continue to improve and do everything they can to put their students into positions where they can be successful.
“I believe as many others do, that patience, kindness, humility, respectfulness, selflessness, forgiveness, honesty, and commitment are essential attributes of life that lead us all to transparency,” he said. “We will continue to improve, raise expectations, graduate students that are college and career ready and work to be as transparent as humanly possible.”