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GISD trustees honor students and retirees

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Swearing InALTON PORTER | HCC Four Grapeland ISD trustees, from left to right, Josh Goolsby, Brad Spisak, Ryan Richie and Allen Cheatham, were administered the oath of office to begin new terms by Business Manager Julie Martin at a meeting Monday.

By Alton Porter

GRAPELAND –  Honoring several Grapeland High School (GHS) students for their outstanding scholastic and athletic accomplishments this semester and two retiring teachers for their years of service as educators were the highlights of the Grapeland Independent School District (GISD) Board of Trustees special meeting held Monday, May 17.

In recognition of GISD excellence, the trustees, high school administrators and staff members introduced and commended GHS’ 2021 graduating class valedictorian and two salutatorians, members of the boys basketball team, and the girls golf and softball teams for their outstanding performances. In addition, the two retirees were recognized.

The GHS Class of 2021 valedictorian is Cierra Espinoza, and the salutatorians are Mary Jane Watson and Stacy Perez-Maldonado, who were introduced by Katie Doughty, associate principal of instruction and guidance, as were three Pilot Program participants who made the President’s List and Dean’s List.

The Sandies basketball team won the championship runner-up trophy in the UIL Class 2A Boys State Basketball competition. Several of the team members who were present were introduced by Head Basketball Coach Blake Doughty.

Members of the Sandiettes golf team, introduced by Coach Tyler Terry, advanced all the way to the UIL Conference 2A state playoff tournament.

The Sandiettes softball team advanced to the area round (Region 4) in playoffs. Head Softball Coach Trina Pierce introduced the majority of the team members who attended the meeting.

The two longtime educators, described as “very special retirees” by GISD Superintendent Don Jackson and introduced by Doughty, are science teacher Karen Cole and history, government and economics teacher Arthur Betz.

“I would like to consider them legends here at Grapeland High School,” Principal Doughty said. “When I think of these two, the word that comes to mind is truly solid. They are reliable (and have) great relationships with kids.”

GISD Board President and Position 2 Trustee James Martin, who presented plaques and Christian devotional booklets from district officials to the two retirees, said, “You all are both so special. They taught all three of my older kids. We love you guys, and you all are going to be truly missed. We’re so thankful for you all.”

A video presentation featuring comments made by school staff members honoring, thanking, congratulating and showing appreciation to Cole and Betz, and wishing them joy and happiness in their retirement was played after they were introduced.

In addition, during the recognition part of the meeting, newly hired Athletic Director Jordan Wood, as well as two new faculty members—Heather Wood and Kelli Fletcher—were introduced.

In other business, four members of the GISD board—Josh Goolsby, Brad Spisak, Allen Cheatham and Ryan Richie—who were unopposed in their bids to continue serving on the board, as their previous terms expired this year, were declared reelected and were administered the board’s oath of office and presented a statement of public office by Business Manager Julie Martin.

In reorganizing the board for the next 12 months, Martin was reelected to continue serving as president, Position 1 Trustee Brad Spisak was newly elected to the position of vice president and Position 3 Trustee Kendra Huff was reelected as secretary.

In another matter addressed by the trustees, they heard a report on district facility improvement initiatives from Jackson and a presentation by Zane Oliver, of Lucas Roofing of Crockett.

After discussion, the trustees voted to accept—pending confirmation that the roofing materials are the ones they expect—the lowest of two bids submitted by Typhoon Roofing of Sugarland to make repairs to the roof of the junior high school building, one of the district’s oldest structures, which has water leaks.

In addition, Jackson suggested that district officials hold a strategic planning meeting and draft a two- or five-year plan for the district’s facilities “to see where we want to go and what we want to do.”

In another action, the trustees approved a retainer for the district’s attorneys.

The trustees approved a change to the district’s Policy DC(LOCAL) regarding the hiring of teachers.

“I believe that’s the policy where we’re asking that our administration office has the power to hire teachers in the next month,” Jackson said.

Julie Martin added that “it gives people notice that we can hire them on without having us call a special, called meeting to get that approved. It would bring them to you (trustees) at the next meeting. I think we have a few positions open. And so, it would give the authority before the cutoff date in July because there’s a certain day that people have to have resignations turned in.”

In his monthly report to the trustees, Jackson said, in reference to repairs and upgrades that are being made to the district’s Lorena Shultz Auditorium, “We’re moving really good. I think we’re ahead of schedule.”

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Fiddling champ to appear at Camp Street

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Ridge Fiddler 052021COURTESY PHOTO Ridge Roberts

By Chris Edwards

CROCKETT – With the availability of live music returning to the hungry ears of the public as the threat of COVID wanes, Camp Street Café has a couple of shows lined up for the remainder of May, and this weekend the venue will host a world-class fiddler.

Ridge Roberts, a 17-year-old North Texas native who won the World Champion Fiddler title in 2018 in Crockett, will play his album release show at Camp Street on Saturday. The show begins at 8 p.m. The album he is promoting is titled Lone Star Fiddler and was recorded last year in Nashville.

According to Roberts’s bio on his official website, the album “pays homage to his deep Texas roots….and gives a big tip of the hat to the musical pioneers and legends of the past.” Roberts has been fiddling since he was seven years old, when his father, John, taught him the basics.

Along the way, he soaked up and researched fiddle tunes and the styles of the old masters of Texas fiddling.

Roberts will be joined on Saturday’s show by two special guests, Matthew Mefford and Joey McKenzie. McKenzie, a guitarist, appears on the album, and helped mentor the young fiddler.

McKenzie spoke about Roberts’ musical growth as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, to add to his virtuoso fiddle work. “With all he’s been up to, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 17 and is just getting started in his musical life,” McKenzie said. “Ridge is also becoming a fine guitar player, singer and songwriter.”

The instrumental album features many old-time Texas fiddle standards, like “Sally Goodin” and was produced by McKenzie.

Although he is, as McKenzie stated, “getting started” on a new phase of his musical development with having an album available, Roberts is no stranger to playing live. He has been performing for audiences since he was nine-years-old, when civic organizations in Granbury asked him to play at their meetings. In 2013, when he was 10, he won his first contest, and has won many since then, including the National Twin Fiddle Championship and Junior World Champion. He has also filled the fiddle role in the band the Western Flyers, a Western swing/traditional country band.

According to his bio, the young Granbury-based musician continues to hone his musical gifts and plans to

continue his musical career after graduating high school.

In an interview for a feature story published last year, Roberts said he does not think of himself as a “big thing,” but attributes his talents as “a huge blessing from God, for sure.”

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More concerns arise over daycare center

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NEWS Graphic for Treehouse Daycare storyFILE PHOTO

By Chris Edwards

CROCKETT – A series of videos shared to social media alleging incidents of abuse at a Crockett daycare facility have parents and residents voicing opinions and concerns.

Paola Mendez, a former employee of Treehouse Academy, who also had children under the facility’s care,

has shared video that she obtained, which was taken by surveillance cameras at the facility. Mendez said that her two-year-old son had been crying and behaving strangely at home, which began an investigation into the facility last year, and resulted in criminal charges against three past employees, which ultimately was no-billed by a Houston County grand jury in early December.

The former employees – Shaquill Johnson, Sekelthia Jackson and Sabrina Griffin – were charged in April and May last year with abandoning or endangering children.

Mendez said that the videos she posted to Facebook were not among the evidence presented to the grand jury last year. The surveillance footage Mendez recovered originally, and which was used in the investigation last year, was different than the videos she obtained from an attorney and shared to social media.

Until recently, Mendez, along with seven other parents, were hoping to have the cases reopened under a different charge, but the attorney they were talking to did not take the case. According to Mendez, the attorney said the prospective plaintiffs had no case, but the parents are talking to other attorneys at present.

Initially, Mendez said she did not wish to be part of a lawsuit, but decided to join in and pursue it after she was fired from the facility.

Mendez said she began noticing scratches on her son’s chin when he was a baby, but did not think anything of it. She said she also ignored bruises and bumps, assuming it was from rough play. On the videos, in which all of the individuals’ faces have been obscured by emoticons to protect privacy, alleged incidents of dragging children and hitting subjects are depicted.

Another parent, Jennifer Carroll Kulms, posted two videos to Facebook and various Houston County-related pages within the site, which show alleged abuse at Treehouse. Kulms stated in her post that her son “regressed on potty training” and began having nightmares “and acting out,” which she alleges is a result of experiences he encountered at the daycare. In one video, Kulms states that an individual hit her child and commands him to roll over and go to sleep. In the other, an individual is heard saying “Stop all that whining.”

In the videos viewed by the Courier from Kulms, the footage appears to be a cellphone capture of a surveillance feed, with music playing, however, a slapping sound can be heard in the first video.

According to the facility’s handbook given to parents for the year 2020-21, on page 17, Treehouse’s overriding philosophy as to behavior guidance is that “children are important,” and as such the facility’s staff is to protect the safety of the children.

Among the actions forbidden by Treehouse staff members, according to the document are physical or mechanical restraint, subjection of a child to emotional or physical abuse and under the header “Discipline,” it states that corporal punishment will not be used as a form of punishment at the center.

Mendez worked at the facility for six years and had two children there. She said she began working there after enrolling her daughter. Mendez was fired from Treehouse by Lyndsey Rice, the facility’s administrator.

Following the grand jury’s no bills, Rice said she had no comment on the matter. “I’m not going to comment on anything, because I have not been told anything yet. I don’t want to make any comments right now, because that has not even been told to me yet. I just would like to not make any comments at this time,” she said.

Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar said at the time that the reason for the no bills was that the jury did not feel there was enough probably cause for arrests or charges to move forward, and will not proceed to trial unless another grand jury finds probably cause with additional evidence.

“I don’t find it right that they dropped the charges,” Mendez said. Mendez added that the DA had said that any injuries and evidence such as bruises were not documented, a factor that complicated any legal action moving forward in the case last year.

With the video postings and a series of replies on social media regarding them, the hashtag “#shutdowntreehouseacademy” has emerged. Mendez said for the parents who are expressing their concerns and experiences with the facility, “we either want it shut down, or want some type of justice.”

Mendez said that her son was scared of two of the workers who were charged last year, and said she feels guilt for not recognizing what was happening to her son. “A daycare is supposed to be a safe place for your kids, not their worst nightmare,” she said.

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Prayer warriors met for Crockett prayer day event

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NEWS Prayer Day photoALTON PORTER | HCC Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher led in prayer at the observance of the National Day of Prayer.

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Local Christian leaders and church members, supported by governmental officials and business representatives, hosted a prayer gathering on the Houston County Courthouse lawn Thursday, May 6.

It was “the seventieth observance of National Day of Prayer,” said Minister Charlana Kelly, who served as emcee and welcomed attendees to the event. “Can you believe that? Seventy years. That’s awesome.

“I won’t be around actually if it goes this far, but wouldn’t it be great, 170 years? And the only way that can happen is passing this gift that we’ve been given to pray onto our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.

“And that’s the thing … the Lord said: ‘If you will teach these things to your children and your children’s children, then you’re going to be blessed. And so, let’s continue our commitment to pray every day for our leaders and our nation, our neighbors, our community, our churches and all of the things that concern us because when we call upon the name of the Lord, he answers. He hears and he answers.

“And the Word says he’ll show us great and mighty things that we do not know. So, we need to know what God knows. Right? Because he has the answers to everything that we need.”

Kelly is a part of the Houston County Ministerial Association and a minister at Crockett’s Good Shepherd Fellowship Church.

The theme of the prayer day gathering locally, as well as nationally, was based on 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

“And our freedoms and liberty can only come from God,” said Kelly. “And I thank God for that because we don’t need to look to anyone else for freedom. We look to God. And when we have Christ as Savior, we have liberty. Amen.

“And so, the theme’s called ‘LORD pour out Your LOVE, LIFE, and LIBERTY.’

“And so, all across the nation today, beginning early in the morning, there’ve been gatherings already.” The national gathering was held that night (Thursday, May 6), and was accessible online and on smart phones via Facebook, Kelly said.

She read an excerpt from President Joe Biden’s National Day of Prayer proclamation: “On this National Day of Prayer, we unite with purpose and resolve, and recommit ourselves to the core freedoms that helped define and guide our Nation from its earliest days.

“We celebrate our incredible good fortune that, as Americans, we can exercise our convictions freely—no matter our faith or beliefs. Let us find in our prayers, however they are delivered, the determination to overcome adversity, rise above our differences, and come together as one Nation to meet this moment in history.”

“And today is a moment in history,” Kelly said. “And I know that God has good things for our future regardless of our government. Amen. Can we all agree on that?”

Kelly said she was honored when Pastor Tim Allen, of First Christian Church in Crockett, selected her to emcee the prayer day event, because the late Pastor Steve Meadows, of Westside Baptist Church, “was the one who often organized the National Day of Prayer events” in Crockett.

“And one of the things that I really loved and appreciated most about him was that he loved to pray, and he loved our nation,” Kelly said. “And oftentimes, he was committed to do that right here at this courthouse on a weekly basis during seasons of time that it was necessary.”

Kelly then had the late pastor’s wife, Terri Meadows, the Houston County Clerk, pray the first prayer, which focused on love and life.

Ten other individuals, including Kelly, followed Meadows in praying specific prayers targeting various focuses.

Those prayer warriors included Allen, who also is president of the Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards, who prayed for children and families; Pastor Michael Bedevian, of First United Methodist Church, who prayed for the elderly; and Pastor Leon Wallace, of Good Shepherd Fellowship Church, who prayed for churches.

In addition, Maria Mathis, a First Baptist Church Crockett member and an educator, prayed for the education system, students and educators; Tiffany Wiggins-Blackmon, owner of Crockett Printing, prayed for businesses and their customers; and Houston County Sheriff Randy Hargrove prayed for freedom and government.

Also praying at the event were Crockett Mayor and Minister Dr. Ianthia Fisher, who focused on all levels of government; Pastor Reggie Gregory, of Calvary Baptist Church, who prayed for local, state and national unity and the elimination of prejudice; Kelly, who made additional comments and prayed a general prayer; and Houston County Judge Jim Lovell, who prayed the closing prayer.

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Kennard ISD election results canvassed, accepted

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NEWS KISD TrusteesALTON PORTER | HCC Kennard ISD trustees being sworn-in at Thursday’s meeting, pictured from left-to-right, are continuing Board President Rebecca Parker, Jo Smith and Kenneth Dowdy.

By Alton Porter

KENNARD – Members of the Kennard ISD board of trustees canvassed the district’s May 1 election results and approved and accepted them at a regular meeting of the board Thursday, May 6.

After the canvass was completed, the board’s reelected and newly elected trustees were administered the oath of office and the six trustees present elected officers to lead the board during the next 12 months. Trustee Brijesh Patel was absent.

Board President Rebecca Parker, who received 67 votes, was reelected to continue serving on the board, and Kenneth Dowdy, who received 66 votes, and Jo Smith, who received 58 votes, were newly elected. All three were administered the oath by Carolyn Harrison, administrative assistant to Kennard Independent School District Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

Harrison also administered the district’s statement of office to the electees and passed out certificates of election to them.

The two unsuccessful candidates in the election were Austin Gladden, who received 56 votes, and Tracy Sowell, who received 15 votes.

“There were 102 people that came up to the school and casted votes,” Board Vice President Keith Cole said.

Kennard ISD trustees serve in at-large positions on the board.

The trustees reelected Parker to continue serving as board president, Cole to continue serving as board vice president and Brittani Womack to continue serving as board secretary.

During the recognition part of the meeting, Lindsey congratulated and welcomed new trustees Dowdy and Smith to the board and commended the district’s softball and baseball teams’ coaches and student athletes who “are doing very well,” she said.

“We had all-district honors for softball,” winning offensive player of the year; defensive player of the year, pitcher of the year, coach of the year, and first and second team awards.

All-district baseball awards won by district athletes were most valuable player, offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, first and second team honors, and coach of the year, Lindsey said. “So, we were well represented in softball and baseball.”

On an agenda item requiring other action, the trustees approved an ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) III funds and plan proposal. Concerning ESSER III, Lindsey said, “Last week, the governor finally released that $11.8 million from the federal government to the school districts. There’s two phases. Right now, we’ll get two-thirds of our money. Our allocation is $1.2 million.”

“This plan will utilize $835,000 of it, which is what our two-thirds is. There are specific program guidelines. The purpose of it is really to overcome the money loss of our kids from Covid. So, our plan here is to hire two interventionists—math and reading interventionists—for grades K (kindergarten) through five to support those kids with evidence-based and research interventions to help close those gaps.

Under the ESSER Fund, established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, state educational agencies will award subgrants to local educational agencies to address the impact that the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation, according to the US Department of Education’s Office of Elementary & Secondary Education website.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, the CARES Act, which passed March 27, 2020, provided $13.5 billion to the ESSER Fund. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA), which passed Dec. 27, 2020, provided $54.3 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, known as the ESSER II fund.

The American Rescue Plan Act, which passed March 11 this year, provided $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, which is known as the ESSER III fund.

State educational agencies are required to reserve their allocations to carry out activities: 5% to address learning loss, 1% for afterschool activities, and 1% for summer learning programs. Local educational agencies must reserve at least 20% of the funding they receive to address learning loss. Two-thirds of ESSER funds are immediately available to states, while remaining funds will be made available after states submit ESSER implementation plans.

Concerning communications received by district officials, Parker said, “Some of the boys (in the district’s schools) provided a request” in a letter sent to the officials. “They would like to have a policy change, stating (in the letter), ‘We believe that boys should be allowed to wear earrings. Why should girls be able to and boys not? There should be no difference. Please consider this policy change (request).’”

No item was on the agenda to address the matter at the meeting, so it will be placed on an agenda and considered at a future meeting, the board president said.

In a discussion about district facilities, Lindsey and Parker noted that a house the district owns and is located on its property is dilapidated and needs to be gotten rid of.

“Last month, we discussed several facility items,” Lindsey said. “One of the things we did talk about was the state of the house on our property.” Lindsey said officials requested that a potential contractor “come and give us a quote on demolition of the house and the tree; so, we’re just bringing that to you. The cost to demo the house and clean up and haul off would be $16,800. If we include all the … trees south of the power lines—this would not include the trees between the power lines and the highway—that would be an additional $4,200,” Lindsey said.

“It’s just not really serving us any purpose, but we don’t want to lose the property because we don’t have a lot of land to work with,” Parker said. “We’ve discussed the possibility of just tearing it down and opening that up to have more space for something for the future or more parking … or whatever.”

The trustees deferred taking action on the matter and will address it at a future meeting.

Among other items requiring that action be taken, the trustees appointed Parker to be the district’s delegate and board member Terry Pilkington to be its alternate delegate at the Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards 2021 convention which will be held in Dallas Sept. 24-26.

In other business, the trustees approved the district’s students’ insurance policy with Health Special Risk, Inc. for the 2021-2022 school year and its 2021-2022 Allotment and TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) certification form. TEKS are the state standards for what students should know and be able to do in each subject and grade level.

In another action, the trustees approved an amendment to the District of Innovation program. “We are a District of Innovation; and currently, the only thing we use District of Innovation for is to start school earlier than the fourth Monday in August that the law requires,” said Lindsey.

“However, it’s time for us to redo our depository contract. This provides us because we only have a depository here and we need to do it every two years. By gaining this exemption, we’d be able to choose our existing bank here as our contract and we don’t have to … use it for six or more years instead of having to come to you every year.

“One of the reasons also is because it is very costly to the district. If we go out every two years, we have to do an RFP—request for proposal—put it in the newspaper, and our current commercial bank gives us the best rates. Our people would have to go somewhere else. If we chose something in Crockett, they’d have to go to Crockett every day or every other day to deposit our money. So, we feel like this amendment is in the best fiscal responsibility to our district.”

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