Changes in state law leave classes in doubt
by PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Jun 23, 2013 | 1620 views | 0 0 comments | 85 85 recommendations | email to a friend | print
New state legislation which has changed high school graduation standards is more than “complex,” and has left Gilmer ISD officials “very distraught” at how many changes are forthcoming, School Supt. Rick Albritton told the School Board Monday night.

House Bill 5—which has been described as a comprehensive education reform bill and was signed into law only last week by Gov. Rick Perry—“has put us in a real bind with staffing,” as school officials are uncertain what type of teacher (such as history or science) the district needs to hire at the high school, Albritton complained.

He said he and Gilmer High School Principal Greg Watson would attend a seminar in Austin in the near future to gain more information. Albritton also said he, Curriculum Director Sigrid Yates and Watson have been conferring on what to do about certain English and mathematics courses.

“Everything’s just in a state of flux,” the superintendent said.

Among the changes in the bill, Albritton said, are that the number of “end-of-course assessments” required for a student to graduate has been reduced from 15 to five. Those five are English I and II, U.S. History, Algebra I and Biology.

“The interesting thing is, we’re making a decision based on a test—not what’s best for kids,” the superintendent told the board.

On Thursday, he clarified that remark for The Mirror by noting that schools are changing their teaching methods, based on whatever standardized test the state is giving.

As an example, Albritton added, the Algebra II program at Gilmer High was “very successful” because the district doubled the time students spent in it, and hired extra teachers for it.

Now, the state no longer tests in that subject, so the question is whether GISD still needs to spend that much money on that course—which it will as long as the district can afford it because it is “good for kids,” he argued.

In other business Monday night, the board heard Albritton report that the district’s recently-appointed long-range planning committee has visited all school campuses and “listed concerns that they saw in all the buildings.” The information was given to Longview Architect Phil Thacker, who will make a presentation to the board, the superintendent said.

Committee members, who are meeting every two weeks, are “trying to think of every kind of need and writing them down,” Albritton added.

Also Monday night, the board discussed what to do about the possibility that the Upshur County Commissioners Court may start charging GISD more for providing school resource officers (SROs) through the Sheriff’s Office.

Albritton said the district pays 5/6th of two officers’ salaries, and all of a third officer’s, while the county pays for the vehicle. GISD also pays for officers’ training costs and uses certified police officers, he said.

Rather than use SROs, he said, the district has “a lot of options” that would be “worth looking at” if the county begins charging $45,000 per officer. (The County Commissioners Court recently voted 3-2 to offer SROs to New Diana ISD at that price.)

GISD could either create its own police force, arm teachers with firearms or have a “school marshal” who can only be armed in cases of imminent danger, the superintendent said. “Personally, I like the idea of certified police officers” who have been trained, he said

Earlier in the meeting, when some board members reported on the workshops they attended at a recent Summer Leadership Institute, trustee Gloria King said she was advised at one of them to “be cautious about arming people.”

Board Member Mark Skinner said that at one workshop he attended, someone “started a big fight about pregnant cheerleaders.”

In other business Monday night, the board:

• In separate votes, approved paying $280,100 to Thomas Bus Gulf Coast, of Lufkin, for two 72-passenger school buses and a 47-passenger bus for special needs students; renewed its unemployment coverage with the Texas Association of School Boards risk management plan at a savings from last year, and approved upgrading the air conditioning unit in the high school cafeteria.

• After a closed session on personnel, hired some teachers.
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