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La Marque ISD

What will this school year be like?

School has finally started for most of HISD and many surrounding districts, but with the devastation and disruption of Harvey, what can we expect from this academic year?

Many students in Houston ISD lost everything – their homes, their school supplies, their clothes, their toys.

Some are staying in the mega-shelters at the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Park. Others were flown by military helicopter to Dallas and San Antonio, where they have already started school. Still more are shaken after being plucked from their flooded homes by boats and Humvees.

With more than 600,000 Houston-area students set to return to the classroom Monday, teachers and school officials wonder how many will show up – and if they’ll be ready to learn.

And at some schools, business as usual will be a distant memory.

“It’s hard to focus on the lesson of the day when you’re worried about, ‘How is my home? How is my family?” said Ezemenari Obasi, associate dean for research in the University of Houston’s College of Education. “Those questions and worries become more salient than the lesson plan at school.”

[…]

While school can help provide some sense of normalcy, Obasi said paying attention to lessons and regurgitating a year’s worth of knowledge during hours-long standardized tests could prove much more difficult for flood-affected students.

He said the brain’s ability to focus can be severely hampered after experiencing significant anxiety, especially for children and teens’ whose brains are still developing.

“It’s really difficult to assess a person’s capacity when they’re not 100 percent available to focus and attempt the task,” Obasi said. “Many things we measure in schools involve students having to focus. They have to have good spatial processing or cognitive abilities, and if you can’t focus, it’s going to be extremely difficult to do anything, let alone ace an important standardized test.”

Obasi said stress can cause a host of physical and mental ailments, from sleeplessness and an inability to concentrate in the short-term to addiction and diabetes in the long-term.

Exhaustion is a real concern, Obasi said, as many have issues falling asleep and staying asleep during times of significant stress. On top of that, anxiety can hamper the brain’s ability each morning to release cortisol, a hormone that helps people get out of bed and going, making such tasks exponentially more tiresome for students.

Then there are the constant distractions – random triggers that will remind students of the worst days of their lives, questions about where their family will live, uncertainty about where their next meal will come from.

There are so many challenges facing HISD this year, from schools that aren’t ready to open and in some cases may never be to teachers who are still dealing with their own damaged houses and cars to students who have been displaced to points unknown. Indeed, quite a few of these students are now homeless, for who knows how long.

The Texas Homeless Education Office estimates that about 35,000 to 40,000 students have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. On top of that, more than 200 school districts and charter schools statewide canceled or delayed classes, some indefinitely.

Jeanne Stamp, the office’s director, said some families have relocated to Dallas and San Antonio but Houston is sure to see their already large number of homeless children balloon.

Federal protections require schools to immediately enroll children who have lost their regular homes, including those affected by a natural disaster.

That federal law allows homeless children to either stay in the school they were attending or enroll in the school in the neighborhood where they are currently staying, with transportation costs divided equally between the two districts if there’s a funding dispute.

The Texas “Third Choice” law goes even further, allowing homeless students the choice to enroll in any school district in the state, regardless of their school of origin or the location of the place where they are staying.

But the state law doesn’t require transportation to be provided, something Michael Santos, an attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, urged schools to offer in order to comply with the over-arching federal law.

“That falls under the obligation to remove barriers for the student attending school,” Santos said. “Transportation is controversial and it’s expensive.”

For Houston, the transportation issue could be even more heightened as many displaced families are likely to have to commute across the sprawling metro area, between where they want to go to school and where they’re stuck sleeping at night.

“Sometimes public bus passes help get kids to school. Sometimes parents have a vehicle but don’t have funds for gas,” Stamp said. “It is a very costly piece of the service but it’s a necessarily piece of the service.”

Hey, you know what one of the ancillary effects of HISD going into recapture was? They lost state funding for transportation. Hell of a time for that to happen, with all these students needing to travel farther to go to school, right? Layered on top of all that is the takeover threat from the TEA if certain campuses don’t show sufficient improvement on the STAAR test. I don’t know how the state can enforce that threat in good conscience this year given the extreme exogenous circumstances HISD must deal with, but as yet there’s been no discussion, let alone decisions, to that effect.

The point is that this was going to be a tough year for HISD no matter what, but before Harvey hit you could see a path to holding off the TEA from doing anything undesirable. It’s a lot harder to see such a path now. And as bad as HISD has it, some others have it worse. This is why some folks are petitioning for a halt to STAAR testing for the ISDs affected by Harvey. I don’t think that will get anywhere, and to be honest I’m not sure that it should. But I do know that the TEA and the Lege need to take a far more measured approach to accountability this year. No one – no student, no school, no district – should be penalized for having to go through all this.

La Marque ISD lawsuit tossed

The end of the line for La Marque ISD.

A Texas appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to halt the annexation of the La Marque school district by Texas City ISD.

The 3rd Texas Court of Appeals on Friday dismissed the lawsuit, saying that it lacked jurisdiction and that the lower court erred in accepting the case.

“This is the end. It’s done,” said Terry Pettijohn, a member of the deposed La Marque school board that sued to prevent the Texas Education Agency from dissolving the district.

“It’s just hard to understand how a school district that had met TEA standards and was financially solvent could have been closed,” Pettijohn said.

Former Education Commissioner Michael Williams, replaced Jan. 1 by former Dallas ISD trustee Mike Morath, last year ordered La Marque ISD to merge with the Texas City Independent School District as of July 1. State officials said the district had failed to meet its financial marks.

Morath issued a statement saying, “Our primary focus at the Texas Education Agency is ensuring that students in La Marque have access to a high quality education. We continue our work as the transition to Texas City ISD moves forward.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I didn’t expect La Marque to prevail here, and we did need a resolution one way or the other to be prepared for the next school year. I just hope this works out as planned. I’d feel a lot better about it if there had ever been any statistics published about the effect of HISD taking over North Forest, but if there are it was done in a very low key fashion. We’ll see how this goes.

New La Marque ISD trustees want to stop lawsuit against the TEA

Not sure about this.

Last month, the La Marque Independent School District’s board of trustees voted to mount a legal challenge to the state’s decision to close the troubled Galveston County district after years of academic and financial problems.

Now, a new controversy has added to tensions over the state’s plans to have the district annexed by the nearby Texas City ISD: the new board of managers appointed by the state to replace the La Marque ISD’s elected board of trustees is seeking to recoup $300,000 that the original trustees paid to attorneys to fight the closure.

The lead attorney says the fees are non-refundable, and vows to carry on the legal fight against the annexation.

Meanwhile the state education commissioner has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on the conflict over the fee.

“They’re not going to get paid,” said Jack Christiana, the president of the new board of managers, of the attorneys suing the state. “We don’t want them to do anything on our behalf.”

Christiana said the board of managers will hire new attorneys at a meeting next week to find ways to recover the $300,000 in district funds.

[…]

Then-state Commissioner of Education Michael Williams sent a letter Dec. 31 asking Paxton whether the elected trustees’ move to pay $300,000 to the Houston-based law firm Tritico Rainey was an “unconstitutional gift of public funds,” in part because the board of trustees could not “direct the litigation” after the board of managers was put in place last month and that the attorney’s services would benefit the “individual board member plaintiffs rather than the district.”

In the letter, Williams also questioned whether the fee was unconstitutional because “there is no demonstrable public benefit to challenging closure of the district.”

Chris Tritico, who is representing four elected trustees and the school district in a lawsuit against Williams and the new state education commissioner Mike Morath, said the moves together represented an attempt by the state to muffle opposition to the district’s closure.

See here and here for the background. My personal opinion is that the new board should let the existing court case run its course. Most likely, as was the case with North Forest, they will lose and that will be that. Fighting over the fees could take longer than the fight to not close La Marque ISD in the first place, which would diminish the potential return if the new board prevailed. Letting it play out also mutes any future criticism that the dissenters were silenced. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the dissenters could win in court. I think it’s unlikely, but if they do win then it’s a good thing they fought. There will be a hearing on January 19 in Travis County, so we may get some indication of how this may play out at that time. Don;t short-circuit the process, that’s what I say.

New school board for La Marque selected

Another step in the process.

The Texas education commissioner on Friday announced the appointments of a new superintendent and a board of managers for the troubled La Marque school district, replacing a board that is legally challenging an order for the district to be annexed next year by the Texas City ISD.

The appointments were followed by an order essentially disbanding the La Marque school board and transferring authority to the Texas City school board, although the board of managers will handle affairs until Texas City takes over July 1. The order formalized Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ decision in November to dissolve La Marque ISD.

Although the school met its academic goals, the old school board had signed an agreement stating it would lose is accreditation if it also failed to meet financial standards. Members of that board argue that the rules were changed after the district submitted its financial report to the Education Agency. The agency says that the district knew about the rule change.

The deposed but defiant La Marque school board members vowed to pursue a lawsuit challenging William’s authority to disband the school district.

“The short of it is that the Texas City folks … they wanted our tax base and they are in cahoots with the commissioner,” said Richard Hooker, a member of the school board dissolved Friday who taught education at the University of Houston for 30 years and handled state school reform under former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, in the 1970s.

“We were doing everything they asked us to do,” said Hooker, who accused Williams of being anti-public education.

See here and here for the background. The names of the folks appointed to head up La marque ISD in the interim are listed later in the story. The locals have already promised to fight the order, though the track record of school districts that have been given this sentence is not encouraging. I can’t comment on the allegation about Texas City, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. Can anyone in the area or who knows more about this history weigh in?

La Marque ISD to fight closure

Good luck.

The La Marque school board Monday voted to wage a legal battle to keep the state from dissolving the school district, the Texas Education Agency said.

La Marque officials could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman for the Education Agency said that the board voted to hire an attorney to contest the decision by Commissioner of Education Michael Williams to disband the school district.

“La Marque ISD has chosen a costly course of action,” the agency said in a statement. “The hundreds of thousands of dollars committed to this effort is funding that will not go into any LMISD classroom or toward educating one student.”

See here and here for the background. North Forest also fought against being shut down, but in the end they lost. I honestly don’t know if any ISD that has been targeted for closure by the TEA has managed to stave it off and retain its independence. My guess is that by the start of the 2017 school year, if not the 2016 school year, the students who today are in La Marque ISD will be in another district. And now we know which one: Texas City ISD:

“We respect the Commissioner’s decision and we are prepared to move forward with the annexation process in a way that benefits both communities and all students,” Texas City Superintendent Cynthia Lusignolo said in a statement posted on the school district web site.

Texas City ISD spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said that it was too early to know what kind of impact the absorption of La Marque schools would have on her neighboring district.

Tortorici said it was unlikely that students would be moved to new schools. “We want to assure both communities that it’s important for kids to go to school where they live,” she said.

Texas City ISD was the 565th ranked district out of 950 total last year. By comparison, La Marque was ranked #840. HISD was #683, in case you were wondering, but it’s a big district with a lot of good schools as well as some underperforming ones. La Marque has 2,528 students, compared to 6,133 for TCISD. That’s quite a bit different than HISD absorbing North Forest. I wish TCISD and the students of the soon-to-be-former La Marque ISD all the best with this transition.

State to close La Marque ISD

They don’t know what they’re going to do with it, and that’s a problem.

Galveston County’s La Marque ISD will officially be no more as of July 1, 2016, state education officials confirmed.

On Thursday, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams notified La Marque ISD officials of the decision to revoke their accreditation.

“The district will be merged with another school district in the area,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the education agency.

[…]

The typical practice when a district loses its accreditation is for it to be wholly absorbed into another district rather than being broken up among multiple districts.

Culbertson said the details about the merger were still being worked out.

See here, here, and here for the background. I get the reasoning behind this – La Marque has been at the bottom of state academic rankings for several years, and in August it failed the state fiscal accountability rating. That’s plenty of justification to shutter a district. The problem, as I detailed in that last link, is that there’s no obvious place for La Marque ISD to go. None of its neighbors seem like good candidates to absorb it. This is likely why nine months after the first announcement that La Marque was on the chopping block the TEA still has no confirmed plan for what to do with it. Everyone knew that North Forest would be absorbed by HISD. Nobody knows what will happen to La Marque. That seems to me to be at least as big a problem as the one the TEA is trying to solve by dissolving La Marque ISD.

One more chance for LaMarque ISD

I hope they can take advantage of it.

Headed into the new school year with La Marque Independent School District still facing an uncertain future, Superintendent Terri Watkins pledged to continue upward momentum in student achievement, keep a handle on the district’s finances and rebuild community trust.

The district has introduced a new math curriculum this year, and teachers will use teaching and classroom management strategies learned under a program call “Fundamental Fives.” The district will continue assessing students every three weeks instead of every six weeks and offer customized tutoring for students at risk of failing standardized tests.

Meanwhile, the district, with help from the Harris County Department of Education, has put its finances in order, leaving enough leeway to give a much-needed pay raise to district staff.

Watkins hopes the new strategies, improved test scores and healthier finances will be enough to sway the Texas Education Agency to allow the district to remain open under the current administration after this school year.

“Everyone is pleased with the fact that we did meet standards, and they’re pulling for us to do more and do better and be more stable,” said Edna Courville, the district board’s vice president. “We’ve got everything in order.”

Under threat from the TEA of closure this summer, the district launched an appeal and entered into an abatement agreement with the TEA, buying another year.

TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said in a written statement that the abatement remains in full effect and that no decision regarding the future of the district beyond this school year has been made. She said Commissioner Michael Williams continues to review the information regarding the district’s overall academic and financial performance and that a decision will be forthcoming.

In July, Williams held off on an order to close the district to await TEA accountability ratings. The district earned the state’s lowest academic rating in three of the last four years (the state did not issue ratings in 2012). It received a substandard financial rating for the 2011-12 year.

Culbertson said the commissioner could install new management, impose further sanctions or leave the district under the abatement agreement. The agreement stipulates the district would waive its right to challenge the TEA’s final decision.

See here and here for the background. My concern with this remains the same – which district would absorb La Marque ISD if it gets dissolved? It was easy enough for HISD to take in North Forest. Looking at the TEA School District Finder map, the neighboring districts to La Marque are Santa Fe, Dickinson, Tiki Island, Texas City, and Hitchcock. Do any of them seem like good candidates to take on the students and schools of La Marque if it gets dissolved? I just don’t see how that ends well. Maybe I’m wrong, but in the absence of any other information, the best answer to me is for La Marque to turn it around.

La Marque ISD gets a stay

Not so fast.

Galveston County’s La Marque ISD received a lifeline Wednesday when state Education Commissioner Michael Williams agreed to put the district’s closure on hold.

Williams said he would not shut down the district in July, as he had previously ordered, but would wait to make a final decision until the Texas Education Agency issues the new round of academic and financial accountability ratings later this year.

“The commissioner felt this would be a good way to give the district a chance to try to improve and address those issues that they’re substandard in,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the education agency.

[…]

The district’s new academic accountability rating will be based on mandatory state exams that students will complete in coming weeks. Williams has ordered that monitoring take place at all campuses to “ensure the security and preserve the integrity of the testing instruments,” according to a memo he sent Wednesday.

See here for the background. As I said last time, my main concern here is that it’s not at all clear where these students would go if la marge ISD gets closed down. LMISD had asked for an extension, claiming that they were headed in the right direction. This may give them the chance to demonstrate that. I wish them the best of luck.

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.