Stephanie Powelson-Garza (1)

The Donna Independent School District is in the forefront of helping improve the Social Studies curriculum in Texas thanks to the appointment of a DISD school district administrator.

DISD Social Studies Director Stephanie Powelson was selected to serve on one of two State Board of Education (SBOE) Social Studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Streamlining Work Groups. She is the only school district employee from the Rio Grande Valley appointed to represent the South Texas region and surrounding counties.

Powelson, who has always been a vocal advocate for Social Studies, said she submitted an application for consideration when she saw it on the TEA website.

“I was ecstatic when I heard about this process because I have been wanting the TEKS streamlined since they were implemented in 2011. It’s a great honor to be the first person selected to serve from an area that encompasses so many counties. At the same time, I feel a tremendous amount of pressure to be a strong voice for our teachers and students.”

Powelson has lived in South Texas all her life and devoted 15 years to Social Studies. She said it is important to have South Texas representation.

“I live and work in one of the most impoverished counties in the state. Donna ISD has more English language learners than any other school district in the Valley. It’s our students who are most negatively impacted by the high stakes testing of standards that Social Studies teachers do not have time to teach in their entirety. Our teachers have to work with students on language development and teaching content. This is something unique to South Texas and this is why it’s important for our voice to be heard.”

Powelson said it is clear to her that serious changes need to be made in the Social Studies curriculum. “After the last full TEKS review in 2009, multiple standards were added and the amount of content teachers were expected to teach and students to master was astronomical. On average, Social Studies has more than double the amount of content standards than the other subject areas and, in some cases, triple the amount.”

Powelson explained that the multiple standards and amount of content have placed a great deal of pressure on teachers and students. She is hopeful that the streamlining process will help alleviate some of that pressure. “The streamlining work groups are looking at survey data collected by TEA and local Education Service Centers on the amount of time teachers need to teach each of the standards. We will use that data, as well as our own expertise, to determine if certain student expectations can be trimmed down or eliminated entirely.”

The process is expected to take time, but Powelson hopes the working groups will recommend changes to the SBOE that will benefit Social Studies teachers and students, not only in Donna but across the state of Texas.