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New Life for North Forest ISD
New Board, Successes Provide Beacon of Hope for Black Districts
Houston-Could TEA removal of conservators from North Forest ISD prove to be the first positive signs on how to bring back predominantly African-American School districts like Wilmer Hutchins Independent School District in Dallas and the historic G. L.WileyMiddle School in Waco?
TEA Commissioner Robert Scott suspended financial and academic conservators assigned to the district on Dec. 3 opening the way for the district to operate under local control and leadership.
According to a letter, Commissioner Scott cited recent appointments of the Board of Managers and Superintendent as reasons for his decision noting that the new leadership made significant progress and is taking positive steps in supporting students of the North Forest ISD and the NFISD community.
North Forest ISD is a predominantly African-American district with over 7,000 students and 1,000 teachers, administrators, and staff. The district spans over about 33 miles, encompassing 6 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 1 high school.
Recent financial news released revealed that under the new board the district operated under budget for the last three months.
A total of about $14.9 million was budgeted for maintenance and operation expenses for September, October and November, but the North Forest ISD has only spent about $14 million, says NFISD Assistant Superintendent for Finance Carl Williams.
The 2008-2009 budget is about $59.6 million and already includes a $3.64 million surplus that North Forest ISD will use to repay its own bond fund, from which the District borrowed money in previous years to meet maintenance and operation expenditures.
Rebuilding that bond fund will help provide the District with the revenue it needs to renovate and refurbish District schools and other facilities, according to district reports
North Forest ISD was at the center of on-going financial issues that landed official and hot water and put the district’s future in jeopardy.
The district had a budget deficit of about $13 million in August at the end of its fiscal year. Its bond ratings had been downgraded and continued financial, academic and program problems led to TEA involvement and the district receiving academic probation status last June.
Commissioner Scott still reserves the right to reinstate the conservators if regular reports fail to meet state standards, but remains confident that the team in place will provide the knowledge and leadership necessary to correct any issues identified by the agency.
The district is now being led by Dr. Adrain Johnson and three-member board made up of George H. McShan of Harlingen; and North Forest ISD residents Willie Jones and Carolyn B. Williams.
Johnson served as superintendent in the La Marque and AransasCounty school districts and has experience as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent and worked at both a regional education service center and TEA.
McShan, Jones and Williams will hold office until 2010 when local elections will be held for new board members.
This new blood on the board and newly garnered nod of confidence by Scott could be the blue print needed to turn around ailing African-American run districts or those facing closure because of financial or academic shortcomings.
Change and a cooperative effort have proven effective at the NFID and change could mean the difference in the reopening of other predominantly historic Black districts across the state.
Positive communications with TEA and leadership changes could breathe new life into the move to reopen G.L.WileyMiddle School and Wilmer-Hutchins ISD.
In Waco, Black leaders continue their push after successfully getting TEA to spare closure only to have its own board official betray the trust and voices of the people.
Now, replacing the board could bring a new outlook and new life to plans to bring back the school.
Last August, the Waco Independent School Board heard nearly four hours of pleas from the community to keep the school open before deliberating, but finally voted 4-3 in favor of a proposal to close the school.
They closed the school and dispersed the Wiley students to Brazos and Cesar Chavez middle schools and G.W.CarverAcademy.
A temporary restraining order granted Aug. 21 by 170th District Court Judge Jim Meyer forced the school to open. However, the school board voted again — on the day about 100 students returned to Wiley — to close the school in a 4-3 vote.
What the board did not know was that its decision to go ahead and close the school sparked pastors, political leaders and East Waco citizens to come alive and stand together with a plan – To organize and change the political landscape and work to elect real citizens who represent the voice of the people.
Wilmer-Hutchins ISD faced some of the same challenges as North Forest ISD.
Academic and administrative challenges, problems with finances and facilities all combined to shine the spotlight on the district. It was closed and absorbed by the Dallas Independent School District because of media pressures, community clashes, board communication conflicts and financial deficits.
With its closure, students lost their individual community pride and spirit, desire to achieve and faced the challenge of learning in a new urban environment not really suited to them.
NorthForest overcame its problems and a district once headed down the path of closure is now open with new life and a brighter future.
Reopening Wilmer-Hutchins is a must to save the future of education for children living in Wilmer and Hutchins.
It will take the same kind of grit, never say die spirit as Black leaders in East Waco and the willingness to change and communicate with Commissioner Scott to find ways to make improvements and bring back the historic school district loved and remembered by many.