Lake Highlands High School’s Casey Boland on teaching in turbulant times

(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

When Casey Boland isn’t teaching United States History she’s likely writing, tutoring, coaching the academic decathlon team or otherwise enlightening her growing fandom. The spirited educator with a head of blonde curls and a 1,000-wyatt smile has garnered the spotlight of late with her outspokenness on issues related to public education.

It is her clever delivery as much as her message that sparks interest from her students and audiences at large. Here’s how she recently described Lake Highlands in a guest column for the national website Brit + Co:

“… a spot on the globe that is an endearing mix of old-school and progressive, sinners and saints, innovative pragmatism and absurd clusterf***ery. We have Daughters of the American Revolution members and refugees, McMansions and shantytowns, religious zealots and hard-core atheists. And my respect for the people who make up this mini-UN borders on reverence.”

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Boland’s latest writing is related to President Donald Trump’s pick earlier this year for United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and, subsequently,  state-funded vouchers for private education. Boland argues that vouchers directly take desperately needed money from public schools.

In February, her Facebook post entitled “Why people are upset about Betsy DeVos” garnered tens of thousands of comments, shares and reactions, sparked discussions around the nation and brought news reporters to Boland’s door.

Texas lawmakers voted in April to prohibit using taxpayer funding for private schools, expressly forbidding vouchers, a victory for public schools in Boland’s eyes.

The passion, on both sides of the issue, is something anyone can understand, Boland says.

“It stems from fact that we’re talking about kids — most people are impassioned about kids, theirs or otherwise.”

The day of a student protest, I pulled aside several who walked out and talked to them, heard their stories. The ‘We love immigrants, just legal ones’ is a fine argument until you start hearing these heart-wrecking tales about why they left and why they can’t go back.

Boland’s pastor, Mark Wingfield of Wilshire Baptist, points out (as he publicly shared Boland’s column on Facebook) that the DeVos/voucher frustration resonates with Republicans and Democrats alike in this part of Dallas, “because we value our public schools not only for our kids but for all kids.”

For many years, Boland has been a respected voice from the Lake Highlands community and high school; she’s written several opinion columns for the Dallas Morning News, covering topics including racism in the classroom, standardized testing and the art of engaging teenagers in conversation, to name a few.

Political leanings nonwithstanding, students say they appreciate a teacher who is well-informed about subjects that can be confusing.

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“Amidst the chaos that is the current political climate, I am making it practice to learn as much as I can from people who know more than me about important issues,” notes former student Cecelia Cox. “That is why I am so grateful for my high school U.S. history teacher, Ms. Boland.”

Administrators at the high school say Boland’s enthusiasm and compassion make her unique among teachers.

“She is passionate with everything she does, and her students love her because of her enthusiasm and passion for history. Plus, she really cares for her students,” says Karen Clardy, who, until last year, served  25 years as the school’s executive secretary. Clardy still regularly breaks bread with Boland and a few other teachers, where the dinner conversation is reliably “stimulating and enlightening.”

“Casey’s excitement is contagious for subjects that she feels strongly about. She is the underdog’s hero, which comes through in her Facebook writings. Whether you agree with her or not, you know she speaks from the heart, and that makes it OK.”

Boland’s readiness to speak out is rooted in early childhood experience, she says. “The shaping of ideas stemmed from my unbelievably cool parents.”

The Texas A&M alumnus was born in Bangkok, where her folks worked as teachers following her father’s military service in Vietnam. The family soon moved to Texas, bringing home two Vietnamese refugees. Her dad leaned conservative, while Mom was more liberal, and from the time she was 4, she participated in lively dinner-table discussions, often in far eastern languages, about current events, religion and politics.

“From the outset I had the small Texas town and the world, Buddhist influence as well.”

Teaching wasn’t her first choice.

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“I knew what teachers went through. It was hard work that often didn’t pay off.” But one day she walked out of a job she hated and realized, like it or not, her call to education. She’s been at Lake Highlands High School since winter 1998.

Imparting history lessons and facilitating political discussions comes naturally to Boland, though this year has been a little “weird,” she says. Immigration and refugee issues are highly personal to a large portion of LHHS students.

“The day of a student protest [related to immigration/refugee programs], I pulled aside several who walked out and talked to them, heard their stories,” she says. “The ‘We love immigrants, just legal ones’ is a fine argument until you start hearing these heart-wrecking tales about why they left and why they can’t go back.”

She says those with differing opinions need not worry. “I tell parents, my politics, my faith, won’t have a bearing on your kid. I’m not teaching them what to think. I’m teaching how to think.”

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