Written by Phil Cerroni
By Sissy Courtney
Friends of Texas Public Schools honored Principal Matt Warnock of Barbara Bush Middle School as its Ambassador of the year at its eighth annual fundraising dinner on Dec. 5 at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. Bush is part of the Carrollton/Farmers Branch ISD.
“Matt Warnock is an incredible ambassador not only for his campus, but for all Texas public schools,” said Scott Milder, President and CEO of Friends of Texas Public Schools, which he and his wife Leslie started in 2004. “Matt has figured out that the self-appointed critics and malcontents are intentionally undermining public confidence in their schools with misinformation and half-truths. People are not aware and have no reason to be aware that our public schools are actually performing better today than ever in history. Few are telling the story.”
Friend of the Year, ice cream businessman and author of Schools Cannot Do It Alone Jamie Vollmer of Ohio, was also honored at the dinner.
“Educators today must understand their role as ambassadors for their profession and the necessity of sharing what’s really going on in the public schools,” Vollmer said.
Warnock echoes that sentiment.
“We’re getting killed in this war over public opinion,” Warnock said. “We’ve got to step up and defend our honor. Our students are incredibly gifted and are achieving extraordinary results in our schools. It’s truly a shame that Texans don’t know their public schools are effective and efficient.”
The U.S. Department of Education recently confirmed that Texas public schools are outperforming other states with their release of state-by-state high school graduation rates. African-American students in the Class of 2011 tied for first in the nation with Montana for the highest graduation rate among their peers at 81 percent. Hispanic students finished second nationally among their peers behind only Maine with a graduation rate of 82 percent. White students ranked first in the nation with a graduation rate of 92 percent.
“Any honor I receive is because of the people that I’m surrounded by,” Warnock said. “I’m honored to represent public education in this way, but I also recognize there are a lot of people working just as hard as I am.
“Our district is partnered with Friends of Texas Public Schools, and I represent the Ambassador Program where this organization started by Scott and Leslie Milder, who are just amazing people, is training community members and arming them with information about public schools to combat the misinformation and negativity out there about public schools and to get the word out about all the good things that we’re doing. We’re doing a lot of really good things – a lot of magic, a lot of miracles are going on in every classroom in public education.”
Barbara Bush MS has a group of parents, teachers, administrators and community members going through Friends of Texas Public Schools ambassador training led by the Milders. It is three, two-hour trainings where community members learn talking points so that they can in turn talk about the good things that our public schools are doing.
“It’s the old fashioned word of mouth,” Warnock said. “We know a lot of conversations occur about public schools, teachers, students, and what’s going on, and we just want to make sure that people are armed with the truth. Our charge is to engage anyone and everyone in any way that we can: social media, Facebook, sitting in the stands at a little league soccer game; the opportunities are everywhere.
“We started (Friends of Texas Public Schools) because we were tired of the public beating public school educators were taking every day in media and politics, and it was disrespectful and mean-spirited,” Scott Milder said. “There really wasn’t anybody stepping up and getting the backs of our educators. There are a lot of really great people working in public education on the behalf of our children, and if we’re going to have conversations about how we’re going to continue to improve, let’s step back and celebrate the achievements that they’ve made and wrap our arms around them and work with them in areas where they need to improve.
“Historically, it’s been ‘We’ll beat them up, and then we’ll demand improvement,’ and that’s no way to relate to people.”
Milder’s wife Leslie was a Texas classroom teacher for 10 years before the demands of their organization required she quit teaching to devote her time fully to their mission. Nine of her family members, including her mom, are teachers.
“I grew up listening to those ladies tell all their awesome, fun stories that they had and how they talked about education. Once I got in the business, I became very aware of how people outside my family talk about education, and it’s not the same,” Leslie Milder said. “I wanted everybody to have that inside glimpse of just how amazing it is in public schools and what all we’re doing. We’re not taught as educators how to do those things.
“Our mission is twofold,” she said. “We want to change Texas and get out some of the good things about our public schools. In addition, we work inside our public schools training our educators in how to get those things out and heard.
“I am so honored to represent public education in this way; it’s not what I do, it’s who I am,” Warnock said. “The teachers and staff at Barbara Bush Middle School in Farmers/Branch ISD work tirelessly for the good of our students. In no way would I be here if not for your dedication and tireless efforts.
“Raise your hands if you can read.”
Every hand in the audience, except for Warnock’s four-year-old son’s, went up.
“Halleluiah for public education, if not only for the magic of reading, because that is what happens in our public schools – magic and miracles,” Warnock said. “It happens every day in schools everywhere. Magic and miracles – we need to celebrate. I know I am preaching to the choir, but Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to sing louder and figure out how to get more voices in this choir of ours. We’re not blind; we know we make mistakes and have room to grow, but our good far outweighs our bad. Come to our schools; come and see for yourselves. Life is so much more enjoyable when we look at the good rather than the bad.”
Warnock has been principal at Barbara Bush Middle School since 2009. He started his career in C-FB ISD teaching science at Creekview High School in 1998. He served as an assistant principal and then associate principal at Ranchview High School before taking over at Barbara Bush Middle School. He is married to Georgeanne Warnock, principal at RL Turner High School in C-FB ISD. They have four boys ages 11 through 4. Warnock earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and geology from Stephen F. Austin State University and his master’s degree in education from University of North Texas.