Monday, September 26, 2011

Bastrop ISD superintendent offers thanks for help and support

Bastrop and neighboring Smithville ISDs continue to deal with the aftermath of wildfires that devastated their communities and left many of their students and employees without homes. Bastrop Superintendent Steve Murray sent us an open letter today, addressed to the school districts and people of Texas, thanking the many who have offered help and support.

Relief funds for district employees who lost their homes have been established at First National Bank of Bastrop. Donations can be made at any First National Bank location for the Bastrop ISD Employee Relief Fund and the Smithville ISD Employee Relief Fund.

Here's Steve's heartwarming message:

Dear Fellow Texans and Educators,

I am the very proud Superintendent of Schools for the Bastrop Independent School District in Bastrop, Texas. I have served the children and citizenry of Bastrop ISD and Bastrop County for almost two years and while I typically speak to my pride in being the Superintendent for Bastrop ISD and the pride we collectively have for our school district (this year's district theme is a simple yet strong statement of pride - "WE are BISD!"), recently both tragic and heroic events have caused that sense of pride for our school district, our community and this great state to grow exponentially. 

As most people across Texas and across the nation are aware, our county has experienced the most destructive wildfire disaster that Texas has ever experienced. We tragically lost two county residents, had over 1,500 homes and 34,000 acres of land destroyed, have hundreds of families (including many of our precious children) displaced and homeless as a result of these catastrophic fires. In a word, it has been devastating.

Yet, as will often occur out of tragedy, horrific loss and despair - we have experienced an outpouring of love, generosity and concern from thousands of people of all ages in our own community, across the State of Texas and outside our state boundaries from communities large and small nationwide. From classrooms and schools collecting pennies, stuffed animals, toys and school supplies to student councils statewide urging their classmates to give to help others in need to corporate donations; and from neighbors with rakes and sifters to thousands of fire fighters, law enforcement and other first responders and caregivers risking their own safety and lives - we have been the recipients of a tremendous display of humanitarian spirit and selfless acts of service.

Simply saying "Thank You" just doesn't seem appropriate enough - but in so many ways and in so many cases that is simply all that was given and, while not expected by those serving, was simply appreciated and seen as more than enough. 

Prior to Sunday, September 3, 2011, I had served the children of Texas for over thirty years and had witnessed  my fair share of tragic and wonderful things in that time. In the last two weeks or more I have witnessed those extremes in a completely different manner, and with a vantage point that allows one to be awestruck as well at both ends of the spectrum. On Thursday, September 15th, during the halftime of our televised varsity football game between our Bastrop Bears and our friends from San Marcos, I was indeed awestruck and humbled beyond words when over 400 first responders from all over Texas and across the country stood behind me in the middle of our field to receive the applause, cheers and overwhelming expressions of adoration from a packed home side stands filled with students, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles and Bastrop County citizens (many of whom had lost their homes, had been and were still displaced and had spent the past two weeks volunteering to help others). To say that this was an extremely emotional and uplifting experience for all involved would be quite the understatement.

For those not able to be there that special evening and to the thousands of children, parents and school folks, as well as emergency management, law enforcement personnel and first responders across the state and beyond that have touched our lives and blessed us with your kind words, your thoughts and prayers, your gifts and your service - we once again simply say "Thank You."

None of us want to experience anything of this nature during our lives or careers ever again, yet I truly believe that we are all better people for having gone through this experience. We are better because we have heard, seen or experienced the very best in others throughout this ordeal and know that we will continue to hear from and witness such going forward as we work together as a very proud community and school district to recover, restore and rebuild.

Steve Murray
Superintendent of Schools
Bastrop ISD
Bastrop County
Bastrop, Texas

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Power On Texas video captures the spirit of Visioning Network

If you haven't heard, POWER ON TEXAS is a really cool project by the Texas Education Agency that focuses on the digital learning revolution - how it's taking hold and how it needs to spread in Texas. includes videos featuring seven Texas school districts at the leading edge of the technology-fueled movement toward 21st Century Learning. The project compliments the work of TASA's Public Education Visioning Network and even includes a link to our document, "Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas". Power On Texas builds on many of the concepts and issues identified in the visioning document.

We're especially excited about this video, which we feel captures the spirit of the Public Education Visioning Network.

Check it out here....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jobs bill could send $2.2 billion to Texas for teachers

President Obama's American Jobs Bill would create a $30 billion Teacher Stabilization grant that would be awarded to each state based on population. For Texas, it could mean about $2.2 billion, if it passes Congress.

That's in addition to money the state and local districts could get through the $25 billion School Modernization grant program (See previous blog post) bringing the total Texas schools could be eligible to receive to an estimated $4.5 billion.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan estimates the teacher stabilization program could save about 280,000 teacher jobs across the country.

In his speech to Congress last week about his bill, Obama stressed the importance of funding education.

"Pass this jobs bill and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work," Obama said. "These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Texas schools could get $2.3 billion from Jobs Bill

 President Obama is crisscrossing the country trying to sell his $447 billion jobs bill to the American people. The bill, which would send an estimated $85 billion to state and local governments, went to Congress on Monday.

The American Jobs Bill includes a proposal to put workers back on the job by rebuilding and modernizing schools across the country. In Ohio Tuesday, the president talked about the need for new school infrastructure, particularly in some places where students study in 100-year-old buildings.

“Some of the schools, the ventilation is so poor it can make students sick. How do we expect our kids to do their very best in a situation like that,” he said. “Every child deserves a great school and we can give it to them, but we’ve got to pass this bill.”

The American Association of School Administrators released a report Tuesday that details the benefits of the program for each state as well as the 100 largest high-need public school districts, which will receive funds directly. Texas has the highest number of those districts of any state with 19 on the list to receive money directly. Florida has the second highest number with 14, and California is third with 11.

According to AASA, the state of Texas would be eligible for $2.3 billion to invest in K-12 infrastructure. Those 19 high-need districts would be eligible for $1.2 billion.

From the AASA: 
“The President is proposing a $25 billion investment in school infrastructure that will modernize at least 35,000 public schools.  This investment will create jobs, while improving classrooms and upgrading our schools to meet 21st century needs. It also includes a priority for rural schools and dedicated funding for Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools. Funds can be used for a range of emergency repair and renovation projects, greening and energy efficiency upgrades, asbestos abatement and removal, and modernization efforts to build new science and computer labs and to upgrade the technology infrastructure in our schools.”

 The average public school building in the United States is over 40 years old, according to AASA, and many are much older. Many of them are in desperate need of modernizing to make them more efficient and provide the necessary space and infrastructure for a 21st century education. Schools spend more than $6 billion each year on energy bills – more than they spend on computers and textbooks combined.

With schools slashing budgets across the country, the backlog of deferred maintenance and repair projects in schools is at least $270 billion, AASA estimates. 

The American Jobs Bill includes:

$25 billion in funds will be used to upgrade existing public school facilities. $10 billion will be directed toward 100 largest high-need public school districts. $15 billion will be directed to the states. Funds cannot be used for new construction. The President’s plan also proposes $5 billion of investments for facilities modernization needs at community colleges.

Safer, Healthier, and Technologically Advanced Schools of the Future. Permissible uses of funds would include a range of emergency repair and renovation projects, greening and energy efficiency upgrades, asbestos abatement and removal, and modernization efforts to build new science and computer labs and to upgrade technology infrastructure in our schools.   Local districts will also be able to put these funds to work to invest in upgrades to allow schools to continue to serve as centers of the community –including upgrades to shared spaces for adult vocational and job development centers.  These efforts will not only make our schools safer and healthier learning environments, but also ensure that our schools are fully equipped to teach 21st century skills in math, science, and other technical fields and to serve as effective centers for workforce training and development.

Maximum flexibility to the states and funding for small repairs and large-scale maintenance and upgrade projects. Funds could be used for a range of projects, including greening and energy-efficiency upgrades; asbestos abatement and removal; improvements to after-school facilities and community spaces; and modifications to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To ensure that schools in the most disrepair will be able to make necessary enhancements, almost 40 percent of the funds will be directed toward the 100 largest high-need public school districts.   Each of the 100 Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) with the largest numbers of children living in poverty would receive a formula amount proportionate to its Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title I Part A allocation within 60 days of enactment.

The remaining approximately 60 percent will be given to states to allocate, and states would have flexibility to direct those funds to additional high-need districts, including schools in rural areas.  Funding would be allocated to states on the basis of their Title I shares. States would be required to obligate those funds by September 30, 2012, and outstanding balances would be reallocated to other states. States would direct half the funding to local school districts on a formula basis, and the other half through an application process in the most high-needs districts, with a priority for rural districts. A portion of the funding would be set-aside for Bureau of Indian Education schools (0.5 percent) and for the Outlying Areas (0.5 percent).

Funds will be put to work quickly.  For formula grants, states would be required to get funds to districts within three to six months of enactment and the districts would have to expend the funds within 24 months of enactment.  The selection criteria would prioritize projects that would be completed quickly, while affording grantees more time flexibility for their bigger projects.  To reduce the risk that districts will allow projects to stall, the American Jobs Act requires the funds be spent by September 30, 2012. 

The 19 high-need Texas districts and the amounts they’re eligible to receive are:

Houston ISD $233.6 million
Dallas ISD $191.6 million
Fort Worth ISD $84.9 million
Austin ISD $69.3 million
San Antonio ISD $69.1 million
El Paso ISD $66.2 million
Brownsville ISD $60 million
Aldine ISD $50.4 million
Alief ISD $44.8 million
Arlington ISD $39.1 million
Ysleta ISD $39.3 million
Laredo ISD $37.3 million
Pasadena ISD $33 million
Northside ISD $35.1 million
Edinburg CISD $32.8 million
Garland ISD $30.8
La Joya ISD $34.8 million
Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD $31.6 million
Corpus Christi ISD $28.2 million

Note: Estimated allocations are preliminary projections.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama's plan includes renovating schools, hiring more teachers

President Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress tonight, issuing a blunt call to pass his bill: a $447 billion package of tax cuts and government spending aimed at resuscitating America's economy.

His proposals included an expansion of a cut in payroll taxes and new spending in public works, including money to renovate as many as 35,000 schools and put teachers back to work. Obama also said his plan would not add to the deficit.

"Here’s the other thing I want the American people to know:  The American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit.  It will be paid for," the president said. 
This summer, Congress came to an agreement to cut about $1 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years and Congress must also come up with another $1.5 trillion in savings by the end of the year. In his speech, Obama asked Congress to increase that amount so that it covers the cost of the jobs bill.
"And a week from Monday, I’ll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan -- a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run," he said.
The speech, of course, gave no details on how the money would benefit schools, but education was a frequent theme.

"There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work….And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating.  How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart?  This is America.  Every child deserves a great school -- and we can give it to them, if we act now."
"The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools.  It will put people to work right now fixing roofs and windows, installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across this country."
And on the subject of teachers:
"Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work.  These are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher.  But while they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves.  It’s unfair to our kids.  It undermines their future and ours.  And it has to stop.  Pass this bill, and put our teachers back in the classroom where they belong."

The president said he hits the road Friday selling his plan in every corner of America. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Central Texas fires force some school districts to close

Several Central Texas school districts are closing schools Tuesday as wildfires continue to threaten their communities. Schools are being used as evacuation centers for local residents.
All schools in the Bastrop Independent School District will be closed today and all extracurricular actives have been canceled.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Bastrop Superintendent Steve Murray and district leaders are assessing the situation every 12 hours to determine how long schools will remain closed.
“We’re just playing it by ear like everybody else,” Murray told the Statesman. “I anticipate that if things proceed like they are, that we’ll have to close school again.”
Murray said Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott called him on Monday to see how the state can assist and to let him know that the Texas Education Agency will work with the district on school waivers for the missed days of school. 
“If we have to be out of school for a few days and we miss a little instruction, it pales in comparison to the basic needs that these folks have,” Murray said. “Right now, we’re in the mode of just taking care of each other and making sure everyone is safe.”
Smithville ISD schools and six schools in Leander ISD will also be closed today. Leander's Vandegrift High School is being used as a Red Cross shelter. Superintendent Bret Champion told the Statesman the school has been a hub for people in search of information or in need of a place to stay. Four schools in the Steiner Ranch area — Canyon Ridge Middle School and Bush, Steiner and River Ridge elementaries — will be closed until school officials can determine any damage. Until the fires are out and electricity is restored to the area, district leaders will daily reassess whether the schools will reopen, according to the Statesman.
As of 9:30 p.m. Monday, several wildfires continued to burn. Gov. Rick Perry said he will seek a major disaster declaration from the federal government to help in recovery efforts from the Texas wildfires.
Five hundred people have been evacuated and at least 13 homes destroyed by a fire in Leander, officials said.
The 300-acre fire, which began about 4:40 p.m., is burning in an area that stretches from Bagdad Road to U.S. 183, and from Crystal Falls Parkway to South Street. Officials said at 9 p.m. that the blaze was 70 percent contained.
In Bastrop, about 25,000 acres had burned and 476 homes have been destroyed in the county as of 3:45 p.m. Monday, according to the Texas Forest Service.

The fire in Steiner Ranch was only 25 percent contained, officials said at a press conference about 4:30 p.m. Monday Twenty-four homes have been destroyed, 30 homes have been damaged, and 125 acres have burned, officials said.

Strong winds and heavy flare-ups have combined to help the Pedernales Bend fire escape containment, officials said Monday afternoon. The fire, which started near Haynie Flat Road about noon Saturday, was about 50 percent contained late Monday. The fire has gone south of Texas 71 and split into a new fire.
Crews were still fighting the fire, which has gone south of Texas 71 and has split into a new fire, late Monday night. The fire has burned about 6,400 acres and was about 2 miles wide 5 miles long at its peak, officials said.
All of the 67 structures that were damaged, including at least 44 homes or businesses, were west of the Pedernales River, according to officials. No word on how many homes were destroyed. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

TASA announces 2011 Honor School Boards

Five school boards from across the state were selected today as Honor School Boards in the Texas Association of School Administrators’ annual School Board Awards Program. The program has recognized outstanding Texas school boards for their commitment to schoolchildren and their communities since 1971.

The statewide Honor School Boards, listed with their superintendents and nominating education service center regions are:
  • Barbers Hill ISD, Superintendent Greg Poole, Region 4
  • Copperas Cove ISD, Superintendent Rose Cameron, Region 12
  • Denton ISD, Superintendent Ray Braswell, Region 11
  • Lubbock ISD, Superintendent Karen Garza, Region 17
  • Ysleta ISD, Superintendent Michael Zolkoski, Region 19
The Honor Boards were selected by a committee of nine Texas school superintendents from a field of regional finalists based on specific criteria including: support for educational performance; support for educational improvement projects; commitment to a code of ethics; and maintenance of harmonious and supportive relationships among board members.

Gonzalo Salazar, superintendent of Los Fresnos CISD and chair of this year’s selection committee, said narrowing the finalists down to five Honor Boards was difficult.

“Looking at these school boards, it’s clear that there are a lot of good things happening in our public schools,” Salazar said. “There is a lot of innovation going on and everyone has student achievement at the forefront.”

The selection committee praised the Barbers Hill school board for its commitment to excellence, demonstrated through dedication to initiatives like the National Teacher Certification Program and multiple instructional supports for academic programs. The committee also noted that Barbers Hill’s 100 percent senior graduation rate is “phenomenal.”

Copperas Cove’s board drew kudos for its use of social media to communicate with the public and a commitment to training, which in turn demonstrates a commitment to academic excellence. The committee also commended Copperas Cove for fiscal management, including building a new school out of general funds.

Denton’s school board impressed the committee with their involvement and dedication. Five of the seven board members are graduates of the Texas Association of School Board’s program Leadership TASB, and all board members are active advocates for public schools, both in the community and among lawmakers. The board also demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence with 85 percent of Denton’s graduates pursuing post-secondary education.

Lubbock ISD’s board stood out for it’s laser focus on improvement, including its resolve to carry out a strategic plan that sets high standards and delivers a road map to achieve those standards. The committee was also impressed with the board’s willingness to make tough but necessary decisions, even if they aren’t popular ones, and a commitment to innovation in the classroom.

The committee called Ysleta’s academic performance “outstanding” and noted that student achievement was particularly remarkable when considering Ysleta’s population of 82 percent economically disadvantaged and 95 percent minority. Committee members said there is clear evidence of a cohesive board and praised the relationship between board members and the superintendent.

Salazar said its clear that the Honor School Boards are working hard even in the face of shrinking resources.

“I’m so impressed with the commitment from these school boards,” he said. 

The selection committee will interview all five Honor Boards in person on Sept. 30 at the TASA/TASB Convention in Austin. The Texas Outstanding School Board will be announced at the convention’s First General Session at 4 p.m., Sept. 30.

All five Honor Boards and the regional finalists will be recognized at the General Session. The remaining regional finalists are:
  • Point Isabel ISD, Superintendent Estella R. Pineda, ESC 1
  • Carthage ISD, Superintendent J. Glenn Hambrick, ESC 7
  • Hutto ISD, Superintendent Douglas Killian, ESC 13
  • Lytle ISD, Superintendent Michelle Carroll Smith, ESC 20