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Ashby named to Texas Monthly’s best legislators list

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State Representative Trent Ashby named to Texas Monthly "Best Legislators" list. (Photo courtesy Ashby's Office)State Representative Trent Ashby named to Texas Monthly "Best Legislators" list. (Photo courtesy Ashby's Office)

By Chris Edwards

AUSTIN – Like anything else in the Lone Star State, legislative sessions are given to their own, unique traditions. One such tradition that has become a standard is Texas Monthly’s list of best and worst legislators, in the wake of the Lege’s sine die.

District 57’s own Trent Ashby, who represents the state House district that encompasses Houston, Trinity, Angelina, Leon, Madison and San Augustine counties, found himself given kudos from the magazine recently.

Ashby is one of 10 named to the best list, and he called the recognition “an honor,” but said the credit really belongs to his family and constituents.

“[They] allow me the privilege to serve in this capacity,” Ashby said. “My mother instilled in me a belief at a young age that public service was a noble calling and that those entrusted with public office must serve with integrity, humility and a strong work ethic.”

Ashby has served District 57 for five terms, beginning in 2013, and currently serve as a member of the House Committees on Appropriations and Transportation. 

The profile in the magazine, which appears in the July issue, notes Ashby’s beginnings as a farm boy as a linchpin to his longevity and resolve within the House of Representatives. “Country boys will survive,” the profile begins. 

The magazine also noted his drive to work on issues such as rural broadband instead of “fighting about wedge issues such as transgender kids and abortion.”

During the 87th Legislature, Ashby co-authored the broadband bill with Sen. Robert Nichols, which was prioritized as an emergency item and passed with near unanimous support in both the House and Senate.

Texas Monthly also noted Ashby’s priorities in the last session of creating new funding streams for drug courts and reducing regulations of water slides.

“Good-natured and civil, Ashby didn’t pout about his political misfortunes. He put his head down and got things done,” the profile notes.

In the preface to its list, Texas Monthly made note of the shift from the 2019 legislative session to this year’s session, which was marked by crises. It cited the pandemic and the exposure of a mismanaged critical infrastructure as hallmarks of the session that lawmakers were up against.

Ashby is no stranger to accolades in his public service career. He has also been named an “Exemplary & Effective Conservative” by the Conservative Roundtable of Texas in 2017.

Also of note, Ashby’s colleague in the House and district neighbor, James White (R-Hillister) was named one of the state’s best legislators in 2019.

Ashby said he intends to keep up his work in the House “as long as my family and constituents allow me to serve, I’m going to keep doing what I do and fight for what I think’s right,” he said.

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Company bringing broadband to Houston County

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High Speed Net Graphic from Pixabay 1000px

By Chris Edwards

CROCKETT – The topic of high-speed internet service in rural areas has been one of statewide, as well as national concern. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill penned by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) that will increase access to, and the adoption of, high-speed internet throughout the state.

That legislative item was prioritized as an emergency item in the 87th Legislature. Federally, President Joe Biden has made rural access to high-speed, or broadband, internet a focal point of his infrastructure package, with a proposed $100 billion allocation to expand rural internet access.

One network has been up for about five months in the Houston County region. Ruralink, a provider, whose mission statement is “connecting the unconnected,” is expanding its network to cover more aras. “Right now we’re covering from the high school to the west, outside of the loop and a little bit inside the loop,” said Dan Clapp, a marketing representative for Ruralink. It is a service he said the firm is pulling together “piece by piece” and “part by part,” but when at its full potential will rival service in any major city, he said.

Clapp said the provider is adding service to the downtown Crockett area, as well as on the south end of town, and has already gotten a few people connected, while expanding its network to cover more areas.

The service is wireless, and depending on the coverage that customers pick, is up to 100 mps. Clapp said it is a very favorable upgrade from DSL connections, which is typically what has been offered throughout the region heretofore, and averages at connection speeds of 2.6 mps, or megabytes per second. He said it also compares favorably to hotspot service, which is also typically much slower than what Ruralink offers.

Clapp called the response in the area overwhelming, thus far, to the point that it is beyond what Ruralink is able to currently provide.

The company operates its networks comprised primarily of broadband wireless broadcast facilities which allows it to reach most customers within any given community much like cellular phone coverage. 

Clapp said one learning curve in getting the network up and running in the area has been the factor of heavy forestation, which has hindered some from getting service. “I’ve had to learn the lesson of trees and the loss of signal they cause,” he said.

One partnership that will potentially bode well for the provider’s future is that of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which provides global help with people getting internet access. Although Ruralink is currently partnered with the initiative, Clapp said that “once we get a little more established with our Houston County and network here, Microsoft Airband Initiative will probably pay a little more attention to us.”

Ruralink is on the verge of being able to offer jobs in the area, Clapp said, and is excited about what it can add to the economy.

So far, the costs of equipment and licenses have added up to generate interest from the public, and although it is “a very costly proposition,” it is paying off with the service Ruralink poses to offer to unserved and underserved citizens. 

The firm’s plans call for multiple tower locations, with regional coverage of 24 planned transmission sites. At present, they have two in operation, with a third under construction, and fourth coming up in Grapeland.

For those interested in Ruralink’s services, the website www.ruralinkbroadband.com offers specifics about packages and connectivity.

For Clapp, who is a veteran of working in the telecommunications industry, with decades worth of experience, the future is bright, for Houston Countians looking to utilize high-speed internet. “Nobody is doing what we’re going to do eventually once we get service to you,” he said.

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KISD officials preparing for ESSER II grant funds

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Members of the Kennard ISD board of trustees, Superintendent Belinda Lindsey and Business Manager Cari Parrish met Thursday, June 17, and addressed grant application items and other matters in preparation for upcoming school years. Alton Porter Photo.Members of the Kennard ISD board of trustees, Superintendent Belinda Lindsey and Business Manager Cari Parrish met Thursday, June 17, and addressed grant application items and other matters in preparation for upcoming school years. Alton Porter Photo.

By Alton Porter

KENNARD – Kennard ISD officials are finalizing the district’s application for its 2020-2022 federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II (ESSER II) grant funds and preparing to receive the grant, according to district Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

Lindsey informed members of the Kennard Independent School District Board of Trustees at a meeting Thursday, June 17, that “we have received our allocation for ESSER II application; we are working on that.”

“While our allotment is $555,000, a portion of that will be taken up to offset funds we will get, Lindsey explained. “So, we don’t know exactly how much we will have to spend in addition.”

During the recognition part of the meeting, the trustees and Lindsey commended the Kennard High School baseball team that advanced all the way to state finals in the University Interscholastic League Class 1A baseball tournament, winning the championship runner-up award earlier this month.

“We’re proud of our team and community support that was given to our team,” Lindsey said. “So, we’re very appreciative of our community.

Regarding the ESSER initiative, in 2020 and 2021, Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided nearly $190.5 billion to the ESSER Fund, according to the Texas Association of School Business Officials website. Those funds are for ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER III.

While the main focus of ESSER I was for preventing, preparing for and responding to COVID-19, ESSER II and ESSER III focus on school districts reopening and operating safely, as well as, addressing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students.

The ESSER II Fund, passed in December 2020 under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act. ESSER II is expected to provide $4.977 billion to Texas school districts, including the $555,000 allotment to KISD.

Texas school systems were instructed by the Texas Education Agency to use the funds to respond to the pandemic and to address student learning loss as a result of COVID-19.

In an action taken by the trustees, they passed a motion approving a board resolution regarding ESSER II and Policy CB (Local), State and Federal Revenue Sources.

Regarding this item, Lindsey told the trustees, “Any time you’re going to apply for federal funds we have to have a public notice or comment opportunity. And our policy states that we will have that public notice during a board meeting when we apply for federal funds.”

In addition, Lindsey told the trustees that the district’s 2021-2022 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated Application is being submitted. Each year, district officials have to apply for the federal ESSA grant funds.

And, in the upcoming school year, the district’s grant will be about $2,000 less than last year’s, Lindsey said. “We just have to notify the board that we had applied for the Covid monies.”

The purpose of ESSA is to provide supplemental resources to local educational agencies to help schools with high concentrations of students from low-income families provide high-quality education that will enable all children to meet the challenging state academic standards.

It exists to make sure public schools provide a quality education for all kids and gives states more of a say in how schools account for student achievement. This includes the achievement of disadvantaged students. These students fall into four key groups: students in poverty, minorities, students who receive special education and those with limited English language skills.

Under ESSA, states get to decide the education plans for their schools within a framework provided by the federal government. The law also offers parents a chance to weigh in on these plans. This is important if one’s child gets special education services. They have the opportunity to make sure their child’s needs are taken into account.

In other business, concerning repairs that need to be made to district facilities, Lindsey said officials have received a $16,500 quote to make electrical system and other facility improvements to the Ag Department building.

A motion to approve a Missed School Day Waiver for May 12 in the previous school year, carried on a majority vote of the trustees. Lindsey noted “May 11, we had significant rainfall… and we were unable to run buses to school. So, we’re asking for a Missed School Day Waiver.

“Also, last week, the people of the (commissioners) court of Houston County did declare a disaster during the timeframe from April 21 ‘til later. So, we’ll also submit that documentation as proof.”

The trustees passed another motion approving reading and math intervention instructional materials.

Since these cost a certain amount, “we have to bring them in to the board,” said Lindsey. “We will use our ESSER III funding… to purchase Fountas (& Pinnell) seven LLI—Leveled Literacy Intervention—in the amount of $27,000. And DreamBox (Learning) for our Math Intervention Program is around about $13,000. These will be used by our interventionists.”

The Fountas & Pinnell LLI System is an intensive, small-group, supplementary literacy intervention system for students who find reading and writing difficult, according to the Fountas & Pinnell website. LLI’s goal “is to lift the literacy achievement of students who are not achieving grade-level expectations in reading.

“It is a powerful, short-term intervention, that provides daily, intensive, small-group instruction, which supplements classroom literacy teaching. LLI turns struggling readers into successful readers with engaging leveled books and fast-paced, systematically designed lessons.”

After reconvening the meeting’s open session following a closed session, the trustees approved the hiring of seven new employees, the resignation of six employees and one-time incentive payments to employees.

Those hired are baseball coach and teacher Blake Wallace; dyslexia and gifted & talented teacher Jessica Stafford; life skills teacher Katie Davis; first grade teacher Katie Conner; special education teacher Abigail Burfire; culinary, theater and art staffer Emily Carder; and third & fifth grade mathematics teacher Candace Carroll.

Those who recently resigned are Amanda Farmer, Courtney Trapp, Craig Deckard, Lissa Wade, Mylinda Cole and Heather Mooneyham.

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Crockett hosts annual Juneteenth celebration

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Tania Davis, 14, a Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church attendee and Crockett High School ninth grader, was named 2021 Miss Juneteenth Queen June 12 at a Juneteenth pageant in Crockett - ALTON PORTER | HCCTania Davis, 14, a Greater St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church attendee and Crockett High School ninth grader, was named 2021 Miss Juneteenth Queen June 12 at a Juneteenth pageant in Crockett - ALTON PORTER | HCC

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Crockett’s 35th annual Juneteenth Celebration, themed “Justice for All,” was held, with events being held beginning Thursday, June 10, and rising to a high point with a parade, an official ceremony and a Fun Day Activity taking place Saturday, June 19.

The Crockett celebration “is a cultural awareness project, sponsored by the Groves Educational Foundation,” according to Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher, the Juneteenth coordinator, and Groves Educational Foundation chief operating officer.

Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the day in 1865, June 19, when union soldiers arrived in Galveston and spread the word to Texans that President Abraham Lincoln had issued an Emancipation Proclamation calling for the end of the enslavement of Black Americans in the two and a half years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863.

Although June 19 has been recognized and celebrated as a holiday by residents in several states for many years, it was officially made the 11th holiday recognized by the federal government on June 17 upon the signing by President Joseph Biden of a bill passed by the US Senate and House of Representatives last week.

On June 15, the Senate passed a bill recognizing the day, and the House approved the measure the next day. Biden signed the bill into law Thursday, June 17, establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, immediately giving federal employees the day off work on June 18.

Opening the Crockett ceremony on June 19, giving greetings and offering expressions, and welcoming attendees, Fisher said the event’s theme is “going to be the focal point for the next year that we’re going to work toward, that we’re going to identify and that we’re going to make sure that it happens.”

“But it can only happen if you’re involved.” Fisher told the attendees. “And so, we’re looking forward.”

Fisher added, “Today, the significance of having it (the celebration) here on these grounds (the Groves Educational Foundation property) is not so much about the age of the building, but this was actually the African American school—the Crockett Colored High, elementary, all the way through.

“So, we chose this not accidentally or coincidentally; it is because it has significance to this community and to us as a people. We want to remember our roots; we never want to forget them.”

Invocations were prayed by Minister Reginald Marshall of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and Pastor Audice Leon Wallace of Good Shepherd Fellowship Church before the attendees sang in unison the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was led by JoAnn Beasley.

Elected officials present were recognized. They are Crockett City Councilmember Marquita Beasley; Crockett Independent School District Trustee Gerald Colter; Houston County Tax Assessor-Collector Laronica Wooten Smith; Houston County Attorney Daphne Session; and Rusk City Council Mayor Pro-Tem Walter Session.

Speaking words in Juneteenth Reflections was event Assistant Coordinator Lynda Warfield, who said the Juneteenth celebration is a serious matter and young people should be taught the history of the occasion and why it is held.

The Emancipation Proclamation “declared ‘that all persons held as slaves’ within the rebellious states ‘are, and henceforth shall be free,’” Warfield said. “Texas did not hear of Lincoln’s proclamation, which he gave on Jan. 1, 1863, until more than two years after it was issued.

“Although Juneteenth has been informally celebrated each year since 1865, it wasn’t until June 3, 1979, that Texas became the first state to proclaim Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) as an official state holiday. This year, 2021, Juneteenth was celebrated federally June 18. We salute President Biden, who officially signed the bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday effective immediately.”

Warfield added, “Juneteenth is much more than a holiday; it is a day for African Americans to celebrate their freedom, culture and achievements. It is a day for all Americans to celebrate African American history and rejoice in their freedom. Juneteenth is a day on which honor and respect is paid for the sufferings of slavery. It is a day on which we acknowledge the evils of slavery and its aftermath. Juneteenth is a day that we pray for peace and liberty for all.”

Wooten Smith, the first African American to be elected Houston County tax assessor-collector and who was grand marshal of this year’s Juneteenth parade, which was held earlier last Saturday morning, was given the opportunity to speak to the attendees during the ceremony, as was Maxine Session, of Rusk, a founder and owner of Texas Informer News, who was honored as a Woman of Wisdom. Wooten Smith was presented a plaque for her service.

Maxine Session said “This event is so important to our culture” and urged mothers and fathers to “be sure to talk to your children about your ancestors—talk to them about it; write it down.” She told the attendees to “please write down your family history; please talk to your children about it.”

During the celebration, the winner of this year’s Miss Juneteenth Pageant and other girls and boys who participated in the pageant and its induction ceremony held June 10 & 12 were introduced.

Tania Davis is 2021 Miss Juneteenth Queen and Stasia Parker is runner-up. A’Rihanna Good is 2021 Junior Miss Juneteenth Queen and Ayriel Parker is Junior Miss runner-up. Kiva Knox and Taniah Johnson both were named Miss Congeniality in the Junior Miss Juneteenth contest. Jordin White and Wayne White are Juneteenth escorts.

Senior Little Miss participants are Jadin James, Kiah Amons, Erial Reifsteck, Dra’cionna Richardson, De’Asia Walker and Nefertitian Wooten.

Little Miss participants are Paisley Anderson, Elizabeth Baker, Kendreya Burton, Taniah Colter, Ty’tiana Easterling, Phoenix Shedd, Anastasia Wade and Kaisee Martinez.

Little Mister Juneteenth escorts are A’Mari Easterling, Elijah Reifsteck and Kelan White.

Veronica Wheeler, daughter of Lela P. Wheeler, joined by other Wheeler family members, spoke briefly in recognition of her mom, who was a founding member of the Crockett Juneteenth Celebration, along with Fisher and others and Billy “Hollywood” Groves, Groves Educational Foundation vice president offered comments about the event.

In bringing the Juneteenth event to a close, James Gentry, executive director of Crockett Economic & Industrial Development Corporation, led attendees in singing “We Shall Overcome” and prayed the closing prayer.

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Salmon Lake Park rebuilding after storm

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Salmon NowSalmon Lake on Monday ready to re-open (Photo courtesy of Carly Foster)

By Chris Edwards

GRAPELAND – When the rains came down overnight on the first of the month, they came and came to Grapeland and the surrounding area and washed-out roads and caused creeks to overflow.

One of the parts of the area that sustained serious damage was the Salmon Lake Park, which is the home of the popular Salmon Lake Park Bluegrass Festival and an attraction for out-of-towners and locals looking to get away and seek some rest and relaxation in the summer months. The Salmon Lake dam burst during the period of heavy rain, and according to the National Weather Service, an estimated 11 inches of rain fell during the storm.

Many features of the park sustained damage, including the stage, and the water wheel and mill were destroyed, as they were washed up against the stage, according to the park’s owners. The damage also necessitated a temporary closure to non-resident guests. It was re-opened on Monday, however.

Most of the park’s attractions harken back to founder Floyd Salmon’s vision and talents. The park was developed in the 1960s and opened to the public. Salmon and his family turned the plot of land into a unique spread, populated with old buildings and machines. One attraction, the “Lemon shine” stand was destroyed along with the bridge and the mill.

Salmon BeforeSalmon Lake Park after the storm (Photo courtesy of Salmon Lake Park)

According to the Salmon Lake Park Facebook page, the owners and staff are working to make all of the necessary repairs, and a GoFundMe page was set up to crowd-source funds for the project, with a goal set at $15,500. For those wishing to contribute, the link is found at:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/Salmon-Lake-Park-Rebuild. Those wishing to donate can do so by using major credit/debit cards or secure PayPal transactions through the site.

At present, work has commenced on repairing the dam, and there are plans to rebuild the wheelhouse, but no timetable. The work has been handled by Bartee Construction, whom the owners said have committed a “professional and fast job” on the project.

“They took great care to leave the roads and park just as good or better than before they arrived…and they can build a beautiful dam,” the owners stated on the park’s Facebook page.

The owners, David and Leah Powers, had just hosted the park’s 24th annual Bluegrass Gospel Festival on May 27-30 and dodged the coming storm. They plan to have the park back up and running with the repairs to it and the campground for the scheduled Salmon Lake Bluegrass Festival in September. That long-running event is slated for Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-5, and has such acts as Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time and Spillwater Drive on the lineup.

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