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State moves to close La Marque ISD

I hadn’t realized this was in the works.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has ordered the closure of Galveston County’s La Marque ISD in July unless the school district successfully appeals.

Williams notified leaders of the 2,500-student district this week that he intended to take the rare step of revoking its accreditation after consecutive years of poor academic and financial performance.

The Texas Education Agency has not announced what would happen to the students, but most likely a neighboring school district or districts would be asked to take over, said spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

“It is my sincere desire that the agency, the district, and the community work together in a cooperative and productive manner to address the needs of the district’s students,” Commissioner Williams wrote in a Feb. 3 letter to La Marque Independent School District Superintendent Terri Watkins and school board president Nakisha Paul.

[…]

La Marque ISD received warning from the state last year that it was on probation. At the time, Paul said she was hopeful about the district’s future.

“I don’t think we’re in the same boat as North Forest. I refuse to think we’re in the same boat,” Paul told the Houston Chronicle in March 2014. “We are trying very hard to get it right. The community is still fighting for this district.”

Last year, four of La Marque’s six schools failed to meet the state’s academic standards. The passing rate on state exams was 54 percent, 23 points below the state average.

The district overall earned the lowest academic rating in 2014, 2013 and 2011 (the state did not issue ratings in 2012).It earned a substandard financial rating for the 2011-12 year.

Enrollment has dropped by about 25 percent over five years. Most of the children are black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

Doesn’t sound good. The main thing that concerns me about this is the lack of an announcement about what would become of the current students. At least with North Forest ISD there was an obvious place for them to go, and so far so good with that. I don’t know what the neighboring districts are or how good a fit they might be.

There’s also still a chance that La Marque ISD may get a reprieve. They are fighting to stay open, as you might imagine.

At the special town hall meeting Sunday, board president Nakisha Paul said La Marque inherited issues accumulated under years of former leadership, and that the district’s once-strong foundation was gone. The new board and superintendent had plans to rebuild La Marque, she said, and champion its legacy. Watkins, who was named superintendent 16 months ago, said the district needs more time.

“This is the start of the process, not the end of the process,” Watkins said. “Research shows that a steady, systemic turnaround is the best way forward.”

Already, the district has shown improvement, she said, and the board worked through the weekend to prepare an appeal updating their progress on major goals.

The district’s financial balance increased to $5.6 million as of January, up from just $47,000 in 2013, she said.

Programs have been added to help students assigned to disciplinary alternative education programs, including a partnership with the La Marque police and another with the Gulf Coast Center Mental Health Authority to provide counseling, behavioral support and family training.

The district has hired new principals, deans and an assistant for elementary and secondary campuses to realign administration and pursue higher graduation and attendance rates. It came into compliance on several special education issues and posted test score gains in multiple subjects.

Of interest is that they have the support of State Rep. Wayne Faircloth. Having political allies didn’t help North Forest, but Faircloth is a Republican, so it’s a little different. There are two other small ISDs on the chopping block as well. I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out.

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