TEXARKANA, Texas -- Two Texarkana Independent School District principals journeyed to Austin, Texas to meet with state representatives and their chiefs of staff.
Nash Elementary Principal Liliana Luna and Westlawn Elementary Principal Elodia Witterstaetter are members of Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, and they traveled with the organization to speak about education and how certain legislative decisions would affect their communities.
Luna is the president-elect for Region 8's branch of TEPSA and said she chose to get involved in advocacy due to the stress within education.
"I wanted to kind of be a voice to be able to share what the concerns are, what our needs are as educators. A lot of state-mandated initiatives that are often started are by people who are not on the ground, per se, at schools," Luna said.
Luna said some of the challenges that schools face are teacher shortages, helping students with social and emotional issues, and inadequate teacher pay. Luna said she also learned during her trip how accessible representatives were.
"A lot of them were already heading home the day we were there, so we didn't get a chance to speak with the actual representatives. But we did get to speak with their chief of staff and their office personnel. They were very responsive and ready and willing to hear us, which was a surprise," Luna said.
Luna said she learned there's a greater need to reach out and share concerns so they can be addressed.
"The more of us that do that, the more likely we are to be heard and then have those issues be addressed," Luna said.
Witterstaetter said she was focused on equitable funding, safe schools and student success, along with the right to advocate and the high-stakes comprehensive exams students take.
"How can we increase the educator pipeline? Because educators are leaving the profession, and retirement benefits are another priority," Witterstaetter said.
Witterstaetter said the safe schools initiative was about ensuring that schools and the surrounding communities are safe and supportive for all students.
"One of the key priorities was investing in mental health resources -- which does include the ongoing mental and behavioral support for students and educators -- and then talking about fully school-funded safety and health initiatives for flexibility, especially on how the districts utilize these funds to meet our local needs," Witterstaetter said.
Witterstaetter said another facet of the Safe Schools Initiative is providing flexibility for teachers and principals in how to appropriately manage disruptive students while still meeting their educational needs.
Witterstaetter said she said she had a positive experience when in Austin doing advocacy work and met with local Texas House Rep. Gary VanDeaver's chief of staff.
"They were very receptive in asking questions, like: 'What does that look like in your campus? What does that look like in your district?' It was very informational," Witterstaetter said.
Witterstaetter said the trip showed the importance of getting involved, getting to know legislators and knowing the bills that are coming before the Legislature.
"That was another takeaway for me, knowing who your legislators are and how those specific bills are coming down the pipeline, specifically in education. How that could affect your child or your future grandchild and what effects that could be in the local community," Witterstaetter said.
Both principals said they encourage community members to get involved in helping at local schools.
"We have a wonderful culture, and for anyone interested in providing support, reach out! We're all about community involvement," Luna said.