Hearne students working to meet STARR standards: Wells’ future still under investigation

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The Hearne ISD Board of Trustees met in regular session Tuesday night to get some good news and some bad. First, Erick Kacha of First Southwest Securities informed the panel that Hearne’s bond debt could be refinanced at a lower interest rate, saving the District anywhere from $35,000 to $70,000 a year, depending on the rate Southwest is able to acquire. Kacha said he would have a solid proposal by the next board meeting and from that point on, would be ready to jump at the best re-finance opportunity—the lowest rate.

In the “bad news” category, the panel learned that, even though Hearne 5 graders had show significant improvement over the past year’s scores in math and reading, only 47% had met the standard in math, 42% in reading. Eight grade faired a little better with 53% passing math, 57% passing the reading standard. Students must pass these tests to move to the next grade. Tutoring is on-going; re-testing is coming.

English as a second language students also did poorly overall. Though students in K-2 progressed toward English proficiency at an acceptable or even superior rate, the students in grades 3 through 12 were progressing at less than acceptable rates. Curriculum Director Diane Sexton said that staff would look at every aspect of the District’s English as a second language program to find solutions.

Sexton also reported that, with the high teacher turnover the District had experienced, the District would not try to develop its own curriculum for the 2014-15 school year but would try to find a packaged curriculum that would better fit the needs of Hearne students. Then the District would have curriculum trainers/instructors come to prepare Hearne teachers to teach the curriculum.

In the public hearing portion of the meeting, four speakers—a teacher, two students, and a parent addressed the Board. The first three urged the Board to return the high school principal to his position. They stressed his habit of encouraging students daily in all their efforts including band, athletics, UIL, and academics. They also mentioned his leadership and past successes. The fourth, a parent, addressed a number of problems she was seeing on visits to the school including noise in the halls between periods and teachers’ failure to inform parents of students’ difficulties before they failed.

Robertson County Election Administrator Trudy Hancock was on hand to help the panel canvass the vote. She explained the challenge of 10 remaining provisional ballots but said 10 votes would not change any of the HISD election results. Those results were canvassed and two new board members will be added to the Board next month: Lollie Adams will assume the late Donald Adam’s place and Samantha Salazar will replace Rev. James Crawford. The Board presented Crawford with a plague and a “thank you” for his years of dedicated service to HISD.

Toney also briefly discussed House Bill 5 which altered the nature of Texas public education considerably. It reduced the number of end-of-course tests students must pass in order to graduate from 15 to five and also offered support to Texas vocational education.

Toney said that by next year, HISD would be offering programs in a number of occupations, programs that would allow students to be certified for an entry-level position in several fields when they graduated. Trustee Judy Werlinger asked why there were no programs in medicine, law, or cosmetology. Toney said the District was looking into a medical option, that cosmetology was too initially expensive to get into, and that they had not looked to law (legal secretary, paralegal) but would like to do so. Cosmetology may be an option in the future as well.

The panel went into executive session to discuss the hiring of several applicants and the resignation of five others: Kennan Burgin, Christie Hafley, Celina Lawson, Kylie Novak, and Rebekah Ouellette. Noticeably absent from the list was the name of Johnathan Wells, the high school principal who is currently on administrative leave.

In a subsequent interview, Superintendent Toney said that Mr. Wells’ situation was still under investigation and that the Board believed it best to wait until its two new members were seated before it made a final decision.

On its return, the Board hired the applicants and accepted the five resignations.

Melissa Freeman | Robertson County News

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