Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath speaks during a luncheon hosted by the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, Temple Chamber of Commerce and Workforce Solutions of Central Texas at the McLane Great Hall on the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor campus in Belton on Wednesday.

BELTON — Temple College administrators liked what they heard from Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency commissioner.

Morath spoke Wednesday at the Central Texas Education Summit at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.

“I felt Commissioner Morath did an excellent job discussing the landscape of public education in Texas and identifying areas where we need to add more support as a state,” said Christy Ponce, president of Temple College. “His presentation was very relevant to Temple College because public education is a pipeline into higher education, and we are all partnering to serve the students in our community.”

High school graduation is not the end of the learning experience, Morath said.

Immediately after high school, only half of Texas high school graduates make it into a post secondary institution, he said. Six years after high school graduation, only one in four of those Texas students will have obtained an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree or trade credential.

“If we want to fulfill our obligation to students and positively impact our Texas economy, we must find ways to connect students to their chance at achieving the American dream,” said Susan Guzman-Trevino, vice president of academic affairs at TC.

“One way is to increase opportunities for high school students to earn their associate degree before graduating from high school as is possible with our Texas Bioscience Institute program, Legacy Early College High School, and other new creative concepts currently being explored,” Guzman-Trevino said.

The Texas Education Agency has a goal of 60 percent college completion by Texas students. The actual percentage is 25 percent and that’s a record.

The agency wants every child to be prepared for success at high school graduation, Morath said. Success would be the students successfully completing college and into a job that will pay a meaningful wage.

“This is our collective vision for public education, where all of our children are prepared for participation in modern America,” he said.

The teacher in the classroom affects the most change in student outcomes, Morath said. Yet, the opinion of the profession continues to decline.

“It’s very difficult work and so our mindset about the profession has got to change,” he said.

Only 4 percent of students who take the ACT and SAT want to become teachers and the parents of these students don’t want their children to take up the profession.

“It all comes down to pay and teaching conditions,” Morath said. “Help is on the way.”

The Legislature established teacher incentives with a stated goal of a six-figure salary for high-performing teachers who teach where they are needed most.

“The Legislature’s infusion of funding to elevate the teaching profession by providing additional salary stipends for exceptional teachers who meet and exceed student achievement outcomes gives me hope that this industry will be able to attract and retain the best and the brightest college graduates,” said Jennifer Graham, executive director of the Temple College Foundation and a former public school teacher and administrator.

A glance at the salary schedule at the typical Texas school district illustrates very well that the only way to get ahead professionally is get as far away from the classroom as possible, Morath said. Now, teachers who get significant positive results will be compensated well to stay in the classroom.

About 1 percent of high school seniors in Texas graduate with an associate degree, he said.

“In certain high schools with innovative academies, things like you see in Temple, that number has begun to increase to roughly 6 percent of our kids getting associate degrees,” Morath said. “Nothing says you’re college ready like you’ve already graduated before you’ve finished high school.”

The Legislature created funding incentives to help school districts adopt those innovative models.

“Our school district partners are doing an incredible job with student’s academic success in math, reading and writing, which is going to help them in their preparation and success in college and into the future,” Ponce said. “I was happy to see Commissioner Morath commend the incredible work going on in public education.”

Morath’s presentation highlights the need for strengthening and expanding partnerships between school districts and higher education, Guzman Trevino said.

“We already have partnerships in place, but so much more can be done,” she said.

Ponce said she was particularly struck by Morath’s call to action to help enrich students’ senior years in high school. Even more so it is helping them plan for their future.

“I have seen the success of a 12th Grade Redesign Program with Jobs for the Future. Goose Creek Memorial High School and Lee College specifically targeted in rethinking the classes, training, support and experiences students get during their senior year to help students transition to their next milestone,” she said.

“In Central Texas we are fortunate to have a very active P-20 Council where all of the regional partners come together regularly to help address many of the topics Commissioner Morath discussed,” Ponce said.