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  • Judge Blanchette fights COVID

    Blanchette 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette swearing in Warren ISD board members in November, 2020.

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE – Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette found himself among the 13 million Americans who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus this year.

    Blanchette received a positive result from a COVID-19 test administered on Friday, Nov. 28. He said he had begun feeling ill the day before Thanksgiving, and by Friday was very sick. He is currently staying confined at home. His wife, Leeza, had also fallen ill with the virus and is recuperating.

    An update from the Tyler County Emergency Management Facebook page noted Blanchette’s announcement and that he appreciates the prayers and support from the public in his recovery.

    As the pandemic has experienced a nationwide surge in the past month, the likelihood of infection has increased, and anyone is fair game for the virus.

    Several other elected officials in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus. According to a recent story from KJAS out of Jasper, the Jasper ISD School Board President Mark Durand and the county’s Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Raymond Hopson were both diagnosed with the virus last week.

    Hopson was elected to fill the seat held by Judge Jimmy Miller who died from coronavirus complications during the summer.

    In Tyler County, the total number of confirmed cases has surpassed 300, and at press time is at 320. This number represents the total number of positive cases in the county since reporting began in late March with the first confirmed case.

    Two recent deaths were also reported as COVID-related. Last week, Ruby Moore, of Warren, died from complications, and the week prior, Ethel McGough’s passing was linked to the virus.

    Those two deaths brings the COVID death count to nine in the county.

    In other COVID news, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe recently addressed the methodology for reporting the county’s number of cases and added reportage for the number of quick tests administered. Jobe said those cases are not listed by public health as active, but they are tracked, investigated and logged in the system as “probables.”

    In addressing questions about the seeming lapse in reporting cases, Jobe said “The public health numbers and my numbers don’t always match,” which he attributed to a timing issue.

    Additionally, the numbers from public health sources use the test date as the starting date for active cases, and then county 10 days and remove from active if they do not receive the result, Jobe said. Those cases are posted to the recovered category. “Several counties where we have residents go test are slow to get results to our public health group,” he said.

  • KISD trustees make mask wearing optional

    KISD supt img page wz0estCOURTESY PHOTO KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey

    By Alton Porter

    Like students, faculty members and staffers in other independent school districts across the state, those in Kennard now can choose whether or not to wear face coverings to school.

    Members of the Kennard Independent School District Board of Trustees approved a “mask or no mask requirement,” giving students and district personnel the options at a regular board meeting Monday, March 15.

    The trustees took the action in response to an executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott March 2 and which took effect March 10, lifting his former statewide mask mandate and a change in health guidelines by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), according to KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

    “Our board approved the no mask requirement. However, it is optional. If a student or staff member wants to continue to wear their mask, they may do so. It is optional at this time.”

    Before Abbott issued the recent executive order, “TEA required us all to wear masks, based on the governor’s orders,” including his mask mandate executive order issued during the week of June 29 last year), Lindsey said.

    “And since he changed, TEA had changed their health guidelines. And it said that the only thing that the schools could do—the board had the local authority to change the mask requirement. We still have to continue to follow TEA’s public health guidance. But the only thing that we could change was the mask requirement. The school board had the authority to make that decision.”

    Among other actions taken at the meeting, the trustees approved a “missed school day waiver” to account for days missed by school employees during last month’s severe winter storms.

    “Due to the winter freeze in February, we had to ask TEA for waivers, due to not having electricity and those types of things,” the KISD superintendent said. “And we asked for waivers from Feb. 16-19 because that Monday (Feb. 15, when the first of the two storms created electrical power outage and water service loss problems), we were already out for a holiday.”

    The waiver eliminates the requirement that the staffers make up for those missed days, Lindsey said, adding, they will be paid as usual for those days.

    In other business, the KISD trustees voted to approve the district’s school calendar for the 2021-2022 school year and approved an Instructional Materials Recommendation Proclamation for 2021.

    A copy of the calendar is posted on the district’s website and Facebook page.

    About the instructional materials recommendation proclamation, Lindsey said, “This year is time to adopt new materials for pre-k, and we recommended to adopt Frog Street (one of several pre-kindergarten curriculums provided by an approved vendor included on a list provided by TEA),” and the recommendation was approved.

    “TEA provides a list of approved vendors for us to look at that they feel are appropriate and aligned with text,” Lindsey said. “And then, it’s up to the district to evaluate those on the list to make the best recommendation for their district.

    “It’s the curriculum that our teachers will use that are based on the pre-k guidelines. We currently use the program, but now it’s time to adopt our instructional coach. And our teachers did and evaluation process of three vendors and found that Frog Street they felt would be the best to meet the needs of our kids.”

    In another action, the trustees approved contracting with the Axley & Rode, LLP, certified public accounting firm, to serve as the district’s auditor for the 2021-2022 school and fiscal year.

    During reports by Principal Oscar Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Robin Stowe, it was noted that “we gave benchmarks last week,” said Lindsey. “And we just had a summary of our data to look at where we need to do some intervention prior to giving STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness).”

    Lindsey said Encarnacion and Stowe were to meet with teachers Thursday or Friday, March 18 or 19, “to go over that data and make individual student plans” for administering the test. She said the district is required by TEA to administer the test this school year, adding, “we have chosen this year to go all online 100% for testing.” Most of the test will be administered to students in late May, she said.

    Students in grades three through eight, will be given the tests, Lindsey said. “And then, you have your Algebra I, Biology, US History, English I and English II” high school classes that will be administered tests.

    During the meeting, student participants in this year’s Kennard High School one-act play cast and staff were recognized for their success in advancing to bi-district competition, which took place Monday, March 22.

    “We also recognized our basketball all-district students,” Lindsey said, adding, “and our coach, Cory Carden, was named district coach of the year. So, we were very proud of him.”

    After reconvening the open, public part of the meeting, following a closed, executive session, the trustees approved annual contracts for Principal Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Stowe; the resignation of former school nurse Diann Deckard; and routine requests for personnel employment, teacher contract renewal and proposed renewal, renewals for professional employees in non-certified positions and approval of at-will employees for 2021-2022, Lindsey said.

  • Nursing home makes event out of COVID vaccinations

    011421 vaccine 1COURTESY PHOTO Claudia Brown, a resident of Trinity Rehabilitation Center, helps “Tackle COVID” by receiving the first of two vaccines.

    By Tony Farkas

    TRINITY — Mary Poppins did it with song and sugar; Trinity Rehabilitation Center did it with football and cupcakes.

    Folks at the senior citizen center on Thursday rolled out a COVID-19 immunization plan with the theme of Tackle COVID, according to center CEO and Owner Darcy Whatley.

    “We had our vaccines today for staff and patients,” she said. “CVS Pharmacy, through the federal Operation Warp Speed, and they administered the vaccine to the employees and all the residents.”

    011421 vaccine 3COURTESY PHOTO April Ross-Lester, activity director for Trinity Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, signs the field showing she has helped “Tackle COVID” by being immunized.

    The promotion was to get the employees behind receiving the vaccine, and those that did were able to sign a commemorative football field.

    The promotion was part of educating both the staff and the residents to the need for the vaccine, and listed all the benefits of being treated, so that they would volunteer. Whatley said that pretty much all residents signed up.

    Additionally, Dr. James Crawford, one of the facility’s medical directors, talked with the staff about the importance of the vaccine, which helped convince employees.

    In 21 days, the second required vaccine will be administered, possibly to a baseball theme, Whatley said.

  • OEM, health officials host Covid vaccine clinic

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE A patient rolls up her sleeve prior to receiving the Covid-19 vaccine Tuesday morning.

    JUST A LITTLE PINCH

    By Jason Chlapek

    When it comes to combating illness such as viruses, influenza or a pandemic as Covid-19, most health officials would say that it’s better to be proactive than reactive.

    On Tuesday, the Polk County Office of Emergency Management teamed up with Dr. Raymond Luna, CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial Hospital, Brookshire Brothers, Angelina County & Cities Health District, Texas Department of State Health Services and various volunteers to administer the first round of Covid vaccines for area residents. The vaccine clinic took place at the Polk County Commerce Center in Livingston, where 200 proactive residents received their first dose of the two-dose vaccine.

    “The vaccine was administered to front-line workers, who are in Phase 1A of the Texas Vaccination Plan, and Phase 1B, who are persons over the age of 65 or 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition,” Polk County OEM Coordinator Courtney Comstock said. “We have been directing people to go to the Brookshire Brothers website to get on the vaccine list. That’s where these persons were pulled from (Tuesday).”

    The OEM is implementing its health district’s mass vaccination plan to vaccinate residents in larger numbers. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have already been vaccinated by federal pharmacy partners.

    To date, more than 1,600 Polk County residents have received their first dose of the vaccine, with 49 of those being fully vaccinated and other residents in the process to receive the second dose. The OEM has reached out to the state to request larger future vaccine allocations.

    “All area COVID-19 provider partners are coordinating together to plan for future vaccination clinics,” Comstock said. “We’ll continue to coordinate with our Covid vaccine partners to schedule future clinics like this and we’ll schedule appointments with residents who have signed up on the Brookshire Brothers website. We have requested that the state expedite the approval of additional providers of the vaccine. The state health department has released instructions on how persons can register to receive the vaccine. If they’re able to travel to a nearby county. We’re asking the community to be aware that other providers will be added to the Polk County list.”

    Although the Brookshire Brothers waitlist has been temporarily suspended due to vaccine shortages, partner agencies are working together to find solutions that incorporate those on the current list, and residents are encouraged to check back often as the county anticipates the waitlist will reopen when additional vaccine is allocated.

    Luna, a longtime family medicine practitioner, could easily be nicknamed, “Dr. Emergency.” Since coming to Livingston in 1985 to join Dr. Jerry Wood’s practice, the bicycle-riding physician and Livingston city council alderman has worked with multiple emergency situations.

    “I volunteered to be a county medical officer a long time ago,” Luna said. “I’ve worked closely with the OEM and the health department during tornadoes, hurricanes, Zika virus and anything that involves emergency or medical aspect to it.”

    For additional information on the vaccine, people are encouraged to contact the Angelina County & Cities Health District hotline at 936-630-8500.

  • Office of Emergency Management urging vaccinations

    virus logoFILE PHOTO - Coronavirus

    By PCNS Staff

    President Joe Biden set a goal Tuesday for 70% of the country’s adult population to receive at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot by July 4.

    Polk County is well on track for that mark when considering those who are 65 years of age and older. Of that age group, 67.80% in Polk County have been vaccinated with at least one dose, and 57.63% have been fully vaccinated.

    The totals aren’t as impressive amongst younger adults.

    According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 14,540 people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of COVID vaccine, and 10,612 people in Polk County have been fully vaccinated. There have been 24,102 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the county.

    The Polk County Office of Emergency Management has a total case count of 3,282 locally, with 1,493 of those confirmed positive, 1,789 probable and 136 cases that are active.

    They are still encouraging residents in Polk County to get vaccinated and remind all that COVID-19 is a vaccine-preventable disease.

    The virus and its impact are not diminishing. According to the health district, numbers in COVID-19 cases and COVID hospitalizations each day have slightly increased. There have been 112 fatalities and an estimated 3,034 recoveries.

    A pause was placed on the administration of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine April 13, but lifted April 23. The Texas Department of State Health Services recommends vaccine providers in Texas resume administering the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine following the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    The pause was recommended after reports of six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals following administration of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. During the pause, medical and scientific teams at the FDA and CDC examined available data to assess the risk of thrombosis involving the cerebral venous sinuses, or CVST (large blood vessels in the brain), and other sites in the body (including but not limited to the large blood vessels of the abdomen and the veins of the legs) along with thrombocytopenia, or low blood platelet counts.

    The teams at FDA and CDC also conducted extensive outreach to providers and clinicians to ensure they were made aware of the potential for these adverse events and could properly manage and recognize these events due to the unique treatment required for these blood clots and low platelets, also known as thrombosis-thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).

    The two agencies have determined the following:

    · Use of the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine should be resumed in the United States.

    · The FDA and CDC have confidence that this vaccine is safe and effective in preventing COVID-19.

    · The FDA has determined that the available data show that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older.

    · At this time, the available data suggest that the chance of TTS occurring is very low, but the FDA and CDC will remain vigilant in continuing to investigate this risk.

    VACCINE INFORMATION (POLK):

    PROVIDERS:

    Brookshire Brothers Pharmacies:

    936-327-4354 in Livingston, 936-398-9227 in Corrigan, 936-646-2488 in Onalaska

     

    CVS:

    936-327-2561

    Address: 1500 W. Church St., Livingston, TX 77351

    Vaccine: Phizer

    Vaccine Days: 7 days a week

    Administration Fee: No Charge Appointments: Online at https://www.cvs.com/content/coronavirus

     

    Wal-Mart Pharmacy:

    936-327-1294

    Address: 1620 W. Church St., Livingston, TX 77351

    Vaccine: Check availability online

    Vaccination Days: Check availability online

    Administration Fee: No charge Appointment Scheduling Information: https://corporate.walmart.com/covid-vaccine To Schedule an Appointment: Online at https://www.walmart.com/cp/1228302

     

    Walgreens:

    936-327-1086

    Address: 1501 W. Church St., Ste. 500, Livingston, TX 77351

    Vaccine: Pfizer

    Vaccine Days: Daily While Supplies Last (check availability online)

    Administration Fee: No Charge Appointments: Online at https://www.walgreens.com/findcare/vaccination/covid-19/location-screening

     

    Health Center of Southeast Texas:

    936-327-4660

    Address: 204 West Park Drive #200, Livingston, TX 77351

    Vaccine: Call to check availability

    Appointments: Call 936-327-4660

     

    West Park Primary Care:

    936-328-5820

    Address: 210 West Park Drive, Ste. 104, Livingston, TX 77351

    Vaccine: Call to check availability

    Appointments: Call 936-328-5820

     

    Livingston (HealthMart) Pharmacy:

    936-327-5510

    Address: 714 W. Church St., Livingston, TX 77351

    Vaccine: Call to check availability

    Vaccine Days: Daily While Supplies Last (check availability online)

    Administration Fee: No Charge

    Appointments: Call 936-327-5510

     

    Polk County Emergency Management:

    Clinic Location Address: Given upon Appointment

    Vaccine: Moderna

    Vaccination Days: Fridays

    Administration Fee: No Charge Appointments: Online at http://www.etxcovidvaccine.com

     

    Angelina County & Cities Health District:

    Sign up at: www.etxcovidvaccine.com. Those without internet access, can call the Coronavirus hotline at 936-630-8500 to register for a vaccine.

  • Remembering Groveton Mayor Byron Richards

    011421 obit richardsCOURTESY PHOTO Byron Allen Richards

    June 12, 1941 - Jan. 5, 2021

    Byron Allen Richards died and went to his eternal home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus, on Jan. 5, 2021, in Lufkin, at the age of 79 years. He was born in Houston on June 12, 1941, to Ransom Allen Richards and Marjorie Nell Singletary Richards.

    Byron was a loving husband, father, brother and grandfather. He worked and retired from banking after more than 40 years of service, ending his career at First Bank of Groveton when he retired in 2006. Afterwards, he was appointed as Mayor of Groveton, where he served for 10 years until his death. He loved Groveton and the surrounding communities. During his term as Mayor, he oversaw multiple projects for the city, including improvements to the community water and sewer system, positioning the City of Groveton for long-term viability. He was most proud of the project he worked on for more than six years — restoring downtown Groveton. He worked diligently in applying for numerous grants to fund the renovation. Under his leadership, the city has been able to invest more than $50 million into its infrastructure. He loved to help people and recently answered the call to become a volunteer chaplain. Byron served as the assistant chaplain of CHI St. Luke’s Health Care for two years and enjoyed visiting with patients twice a week every week. He never missed a day. Byron was a past member of Lion’s Club and was voted citizen of the year during 2019-2020. He also enjoyed motorcycles, especially Harley Davidsons. He liked going on motorcycle trips and when he wasn’t tinkering with that then his other “pride and joy” was his classic Ford truck.

    Byron is preceded in death by his parents, Ransom Richards and Marjorie Richards; and his brother, Gary Neil Richards. His survivors include his loving wife of 38 years, Sandra Richards; of Groveton; his sons, Gregory A. Richards and wife, Kimberly Richards, of Kerrville, and Ty Wenglar, and wife, Cathy, of Austin; daughters, Gina Diane Hollis and husband, Ron Hollis, of Austin, and Tia McLaughlin and husband, Grant McLaughlin, of Lovelady; his grandchildren, Macy, Alex, Emily, Mikinna, Micheala, Jonah, Brook Elizabeth, Jaxson, John Paul, Zohe Marie, Vivian, Reagan, and Liam; and a host of other relatives and friends.

    Celebration of life services will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, at Pennington Baptist Church in Pennington, with the Rev. Bud Magee officiating and the Rev. Drew Scott assisting. The family understands that friends may not want to attend the celebration of life due to concerns over the spread of COVID. Friends are welcome to send their fondest memories, stories or prayers by emailing them to Bryon's son, Greg, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    In lieu of flowers, the family invites friends to purchase a commemorative paver for the Groveton downtown sidewalk. Please contact City Secretary Donna Dial for details.

    Please share your memories with the family and sign our online guestbook by visiting www.grovetonfuneralhome.com

  • Save Our Seniors initiative starts in San Jacinto County

    031121 SOS 2EMILY KUBISCH-SABRSULA | SJNT Sergeant Rachelle Thomas and her team of medics and administrators teamed up with the San Jacinto County’s Office of Emergency Management to keep the clinic running smoothly, with 105 doses administered in the first day.

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT Staff Writer

    COLDSPRING — Last week, San Jacinto County was the first of 26 counties in Texas to implement the Save Our Seniors vaccination program, meant to get the first round of the vaccine into the arms of the county’s older citizens.

    Volunteers, who have already been working to assist with distribution at the Brookshire Brothers, along with Army medics, worked side by side to administer the allotted 200 vaccines, with 105 doses of the Moderna vaccine being used in the first day at the Coldspring Emergency Shelter.

    Medics also drove around the county to give the first dose to those who are homebound, with officials in the Operations and Emergency Management office calling residents in the county to make sure they were aware of the free program.

    The initiative was originally intended for those 75 and older with an appointment, but volunteers moved to contact those 65 and older on the second day as to not waste any of the vaccines, which must be kept refrigerated.

    Among those assisting the San Jacinto County OEM office in distribution was Sgt. Rashelle Thomas and her team of certified medics and administrators, who are based out of Lufkin and will continue moving around East Texas to assist in distribution, including in Shelby and Panola county.

    “The volunteers and the town are awesome, and we just enjoy all the people we’ve gotten to work with,” she said.

    The county, which has been holding vaccination clinics through several outlets prior to last week’s event, claims luck had a small part to do with why the county was chosen as the first to pilot the program, which was put together in less than a week.

    “The first day was a little hectic, but we’ve had a steady flow of participants and it’s gone smooth,” SJ County Judge Fritz Faulkner, equipped with a mask, said. “This has really been a blessing.”

    Other factors, as stated on the governor’s website, include vaccination rates among seniors and total vaccine allocations over the past three months.

    Participants will need to return approximately three weeks after the first shot, as indicated on their form. Those who have received the vaccine are encouraged to continue wearing masks in public and practicing social distancing, as indicated on the CDC website.

    While the vaccine has been proven effective in reducing symptoms, specifically those that lead to hospitalization, it’s ability to reduce spread is still being monitored.

  • Smallwood updates Rotarians on SPCA

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE SPCA of Polk County communications lead Jessica Smallwood speaks at Rotary Club of Livingston last month.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Covid-19 slowed a lot of things down in 2020.

    SPCA continued to work as usual. The animal shelter took in 2,000 dogs and cats in 2020.

    SPCA of Polk County communications lead Jessica Smallwood gave members of the Rotary Club of Livingston a rundown on what her shelter has done and what it is doing during a Rotary Club meeting last month. She also gave Rotarians a glimpse into what’s different between her shelter and shelters in other counties.

    “We are a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter,” Smallwood said. “We primarily serve Polk County, but we are also one of the few shelters that takes animals from outside the county. We get a lot animals brought in from San Jacinto and Montgomery counties, and even some from Lufkin. That is one of the things that makes us unique. Most other animal shelters refuse animals from outside their own county.”

    In 2020 alone, SPCA of Polk County took in 1,579 dogs and 420 cats. Of those animals, approximately 69 percent of them were adopted – 1,159 dogs, 219 cats.

    The months with the highest number of intakes were April for dogs (183) and June for cats (79). The months with the highest number of adoptions were May for dogs (222) and February for cats (58).

    “We have a good number of transport rescues that we do work with,” Smallwood said. “Just this past year, we took in more than 1,300 animals from Polk County and surrounding counties. We were able to place or transport 80 percent of them.”

    Smallwood said that her shelter has a “revolving door” of animals. She also said that things can be unpredictable at times.

    “We might have a great day of adoptions and get seven animals into a new home, then just as we’re about to close for the day, we get a call that someone has picked up a litter of puppies in a trash can,” Smallwood said. “Things like that happen all the time. About a week after Christmas, we took in no less than seven full litters of puppies, which contained 8-13 per litter.”

    Smallwood pointed out that in December 2020, 79 out of 126 dogs brought in were strays (homeless, abandoned, etc.). She also said that although SPCA gets plenty of calls about stray animals being found, the shelter gets more calls from people looking to volunteer.

    One of the biggest programs that SPCA offers is the TNR (trap, neuter, release) or "Fix A Feral" program. This program works with local veterinarians and the public to help curb the feral cat population through spaying and neutering.

    Some of the participating veterinarians do vaccinate against rabies and feline leukemia as funding allows, but none for FIV/FIP (testing and vaccinating for that in particular is more expensive than the TNR program can currently afford). The average cost to spay/neuter these feral cats is $60 per cat.

    “It is breeding season here year-round,” Smallwood said. “We also offer low-income spay and neuter programs as well as a mobile clinic.”

    Both the SPCA and its TNR program operate entirely on donations, and neither receives any funding from local or federal government. Smallwood also pointed out that SPCA wants to be involved in the community.

    “We have a number of community event ideas such as a Holiday Pet Photo Day,” she said. “We want to expand outreach in the community.”

  • Spurger ISD ends in-person instruction for a week

    Morgan WrightCALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Spurger ISD Superintendant Morgan Wright speaks at a monthly board meeting in September 2020.

    By Chris Edwards

    SPURGER – A spike in COVID-19 numbers resulted in a closure for in-person learning at Spurger ISD this week.

    The district’s superintendent Morgan Wright said that administrators and faculty have been actively monitoring the numbers of positive cases, and there has been a steady increase in those numbers among both SISD staff and students as well as in the community.

    “After a few days of discussion we believe it is in the best interest of the students, staff and our Spurger community that we exercise a five-day remote option the week of Nov. 30 - Dec. 4.,” Wright stated in a letter he released on Friday, Nov. 27.

    Wright said that going solely remote for a week will help control the exposure numbers. “Our desire to be remote for a week is that it will prevent the district from having a major outbreak,” he said.

    Spurger began the school year in an entirely remote mode for its first four weeks of the current school year. Wright said the move allowed faculty to focus on how to operate with asynchronous learning, as well as the ability to troubleshoot for both parents and teachers.

    Up until last week, Wright said, the district’s numbers have been fairly low. “The potential for increased exposure has become evident in the growing numbers being reported. We want to do our part to protect everyone that is a part of Spurger ISD,” he said.

    The district will resume in-person instruction on Monday, Dec. 7. For any parents or guardians who need a Verizon Hotspot or a Wi-Fi device for connection, the district has some available. Andrea Wilson is the point of contact for the district’s technology, and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule a time to pick up a device.

  • TEA suspends letter-grading system

    TEA GraphicFILE PHOTO TEA Graphic

    STAAR test will still commence, according to agency

    By Chris Edwards

    AUSTIN – The Texas Education Agency announced on Thursday, Dec. 10, that it will pause its A-F accountability ratings for the current school year.

    The ratings system, which has been in place since 2018, is being paused due to the ongoing disruptions associated with COVID-19, according to a news release from the agency. On the other hand, the STARR test will proceed for the school year “In order to provide critically important information about individual student learning that teachers and parents can use to help students grow,” according to TEA.

    The letter grade accountability system, which was adopted statewide after being passed into law by the 85th Texas Legislature, gives each school district a letter grade based on a number of criteria. The practice came with controversy from many educators and officials, but proponents argued that the system makes for a simple, transparent way for the public to understand how effective schools are.

    “The issuance of A-F ratings for schools has proven to be a valuable tool to support continuous improvement for our students,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

    Morath said that the past nine months have been “some of the most disruptive of our lives,” as educators and administrators have struggled to find ways to keep students learning while continuing to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus. “The challenges have been especially pronounced for our parents, teachers and students. We continue to prioritize the health and safety of students, teachers and staff in our schools this year, while working to ensure students grow academically,” Morath said.

    Although the letter grades will be paused this year and the STAAR testing will continue, Morath said the STAAR will not be used toward accountability purposes for this school year.

    Morath said the test will serve as a comprehensive picture to demonstrate what might be sweeping impacts of the pandemic upon student learning, and to help policymakers craft solutions for the coming years ahead.

    Morath said in the news release that the test will be administered on school campuses statewide, or at other secure alternative testing sites.

    During the summer, a large group of state lawmakers asked Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA to suspend STAAR testing to some degree. One of the lawmakers who spoke out was State Rep. James White (R-Hillister.)

    White, a former educator, said that the first concern for educators should be for the students’ safety and health, and that any rating based on STAAR testing during the current school year would provide questionable results.

    “The Legislature did not devise the current accountability system in the paradigm of a pandemic that has created a bifurcated instructional delivery system…with vast swathes of rural Texas disconnected from the 21st century means of global connectivity,” White wrote in a letter to Morath dated July 16, 2020.

  • Trinity Schools affected by COVID

    trinity isd logoFILE PHOTO - Trinity ISD logo

    TCNS Staff

    TRINITY — The High School and Junior High in Trinity are now going through the state required procedures of quarantine and contract tracing as one student and one employee have tested positive for COVID-19.

    Letters were sent out Thursday to parents.

    Superintendent John Kaufman said these are the first positive cases in the district this year.

    “We have completed our contact tracing on the two individuals and notified the appropriate parents,” Kaufman said. “A deep cleaning was conducted on all classrooms and common areas associated with the two positives.”

    Kaufman said TISD will continue to follow the protocol established in its reopening plan and CDC guidance.  

    “Trinity ISD is committed in providing a safe environment for all our students,” he said.

    Due to privacy requirements, the district did not release the names of the individuals or any identifying details.

    According to the letter sent out to the district, based on the information that was gathered, it has been determined the end of the 14-day incubation period for anyone possibly exposed on campus to the student/staff member is Nov. 25.

    The release also states that while the district does not have reason to believe that those who were not in close contact with the infected individual have reason to be concerned, residents are admonished to watch for symptoms of COVID-19, and to follow district guidelines regarding contact with any positive-testing person.

    Anyone within the Trinity ISD community that begins experiencing any symptoms in a way that is not typical is encouraged to contact a physician. Anyone who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19 is requested to notify the school nurse at (936) 594-2090.

    The release states the district continues to monitor the situation and will provide additional information as needed. Questions or concerns can be directed to (936) 594-2090, or information will be available at Trinityisd.net.

  • Two seek mayor’s post

    bennetandwaltonFILE PHOTO Ralph Bennett and Tommy Walton

    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — Two current members of the Groveton City Council are looking to become mayor.

    The position is up for election, as the incumbent Byron Richards passed away from COVID unexpectedly.

    Early voting ended Tuesday, and the regular election will be from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday. Polling will be done at the Groveton High School Auditorium

    Ralph Bennett

    Currently the mayor pro tem, Ralph Bennett said he wants to continue to bring about improvement in the community.

    “I want to complete the projects we had started, such the downtown renovation and the water well, something me and Byron Richards had started on,” he said.

    Bennett has served 14 years on the council, and currently is the Trinity County minority rep on the DETCOG board. He worked for 35 years at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, having retired from security in the Windham School District.

    Additionally, he is treasurer and secretary of the Parker Ridge Cemetery Board in Groveton, and has more than 100 hours of continuing education from the Texas Municipal League.

    “I’m experienced, and that is key for someone being mayor,” he said.

    Aside from infrastructure, Bennett said the city needs to bring in new businesses, and especially needs to improve our road systems. He also intends to work with the state to make sure there is adequate broadband coverage in the area.

    “My top priority right now is securing a water well to have a reliable water source for the city,” he said. “This will become a fight down the road, but it is important to the growth of our community.”

    Tommy Walton

    Grant funds are the key to moving the city forward, and Council Member Tommy Walton said his main focus will be the continuation of numerous projects that are in process.

    A few of those include water meter replacement, wastewater retention pond renovation, purchase of a water well, downtown renovation and water line replacement — in all about $7.1 million.

    “Most of these projects are not something that the residents see every day, but are necessary to the running of an efficient city,” he said. “This is the result of lots of planning and lots of searching for grants. My goal is to qualify and obtain as many grants as we possibly can. It will make our projects move slower than what I would like, but we have to live within our means and I think the voters of Groveton will expect no less.”

    Walton said Groveton is a small town with a limited tax base, and if the city tried to do these projects with raising property taxes, taxes would be so high that no one could afford to live here.

    Other areas of focus include making City Hall and the Mayor more accessible, and involving residents in special projects, making use of any professionals in the area for their advice and knowledge. Additionally, the beautification of the city of Groveton is also high on Walton’s list of priorities, and all of it needs to be dealt with in a five-year plan.

    “Running the City is not a one man show; it involves the Mayor, the City Council, the office staff, the road and bridge staff, the Police Department, animal control, etc.,” he said. “The Mayor is there to help guide the direction and plan for the future. I will always be focused on our future.”

  • Vaccine Saturday

    021121 covidTONY FARKAS | TCNS Health professionals from HealthPoint provide COVID-19 immunizations at a clinic held at Trinity High School on Saturday. More than 700 vaccinations were provided through a combined effort of the Trinity Memorial Hospital Board, HealthPoint, the city, the county and the school district, as well as numerous volunteers.

    HealthPoint, hospital board hold COVID vaccine clinic

    TCNS staff

    TRINITY — Seven hundred residents received the first round of COVID vaccines at an immunization event at Trinity High School on Saturday.

    The event was a joint effort between the Trinity Memorial Hospital Board and HealthPoint.

    Marjory Pulvino, vice president of the TMHB, said HealthPoint received 925 vaccinations from the state very recently, and when the event was announced online, 600 people had registered for the vaccinations within hours.

    On Feb. 1 and 2, 120 people who did not have online access were registered through the Trinity Community Health Resource Center.

    On Saturday, 45 health professionals from HealthPoint, along with help from TMHB, Trinity schools, Trinity Police Department, and County Judge Doug Page and the county’s Emergency Management Operations Center, as well as volunteers, held the drive-through clinic at Trinity High School.

    Pulvino said there were no problems with people receiving shots because of the work of everyone involved.

    TMHB President Randy Karnes called the event incredibly successful.

    “We would like to express our deep gratitude to HealthPoint for their generous support,” he said. “We are fortunate to have HealthPoint in the community. I also would like to recognize the community for supporting this event.”

  • Waitlist for Phase 1B of Covid vaccine

    Polk County OEM PSA COVID 19 Vaccine Temporary WaitlistFILE PHOTO Polk County OEM

    From the Polk County Office of Emergency Management

    On Tuesday, Polk County launched a temporary waitlist for the COVID-19 vaccine for Phase 1B.

    Phase 1B includes persons who are 65 and older, or persons 16 years and older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk for severe illness from the virus. See the Texas Department of State Health Service’s definition of Phase 1B for more details.

    Persons who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccination may sign up on Polk County’s temporary waitlist by clicking the following link: https://arcg.is/11ePGb. Persons without internet access who do not have someone able to help them sign-up online may contact Emergency Management at (936) 327-6826.

    This temporary waitlist will be used by county staff and our partner vaccine providers to distribute the vaccine to the public for a limited time. Please note, this is a waitlist only and not a registration list.

    The Angelina County & Cities Health District (ACCHD) is preparing a more sophisticated self-registration and appointment program that we hope will be launched soon. When ACCHD launches their new program, it will be linked to our Facebook page and website so you can sign up.

    The temporary waitlist will then be discontinued.

    Please stay tuned to the Emergency Management Facebook page and website for the announcement of the ACCHD COVID-19 vaccine registration and appointment program. The OEM will also share this information with other local media outlets such as the Polk County Enterprise, PolkCountyToday.com, Piney Woods Express online newspaper, and local radio stations.

    Vaccine supplies are limited and wait times will be dependent upon vaccine availability and distribution phase. As the vaccine becomes more available, eligibility will expand.

    Again, for further updates from Emergency Management, visit our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/PolkCountyEmergencyManagement) or our website at www.PolkCountyOEM.com.

  • Will you get the Covid vaccine when it's available?

    Will you get the Covid-19 vaccine once it becomes available? Do you think there will be any push back from all communities or just a few? According to NPR from some surveys taken, the communities that need it the most are most neglectful of the vaccine. Should the vaccine be mandatory? Let's discuss this, pros and cons.

  • WISD recipient of Temple grant

    student 5520411COURTESTY OF PIXIBAY student

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE – The continuing pandemic has been especially tough on how schools carry on with the business of education. As part of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s efforts to address the issues East Texas school districts have faced, it awarded grants totaling $377K to 12 school districts, with each district getting $30K of the amount. Woodville ISD was one of the districts and district superintendent Lisa Meysembourg said she and the faculty, staff and administration are extremely excited to recceive the grant money.

    Meysembourg said WISD will utilize the funds to address instruction and achievement at all grade levels, from Pre-K through grade 12 “to ensure that all students have equitable access and opportunity to learn, progress and master learning expectations needed for future success,” she said.

    T.L.L. Temple Foundation President and CEO Dr. Wynn Rosser said that although educational inequities existed prior to the pandemic, “the most vulnerable students are bearing the heaviest burdens.”

    Recent studies have posited that the learning disruptions brought about through COVID-19 will only continue to widen underlying achievement gaps, and could ultimately prove detrimental economically, due to increases in dropout rates and reduced postsecondary education completion.

    “Research has shown that without an intentional targeted response to accelerate learning in reading and math in our schools, this event could impact the educational achievement and future of students for generations to come,” Meysembourg said.

    Meysembourg added that the grant funding will help give the district financial resources to provide additional focused instruction and intervention support services to meet the individual needs of the district’s student population in order to increase potential success in school as well as life after school.

    Specifically, she said that on the district’s elementary, intermediate and middle school campuses, master reading and math instructors will be hired as interventionists in order to provide targeted small group instruction to students who are identified as being at-risk, and to help fill learning gaps.

    Also, a summer credit recover program will be offered for WHS students, and the district’s teachers and staff will be provided ongoing professional development in order to strengthen their curriculum knowledge and to build skills toward helping students to recover from the pandemic’s impact upon their learning.