By Brian Besch
July’s edition of the Livingston ISD school board meeting heard reports on STAAR testing, teacher turnover and the district’s use of social media.
LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins addressed teacher hiring, where he said the district experienced three years of state-average turnover.
“When you look at where we are as a district, there isn’t more success for quite a distance. Our school district staff were heavily recruited in the spring by various districts. Our mission is to keep kids safe and accelerate learning. During Covid, there was a need for constant communication because of panic and fear associated with the impact of the medical health conditions across the nation. We had to update the number of positive cases of Covid continually and keep our community informed.”
Hawkins said Facebook Live was used as a communication tool for parents. Over the past year, parent and staff emails have served as a main source of communication. The goal is to ensure that social media information has communication components, but it is used to showcase student and staff success. A tab on the district website will allow all to find answers to frequently asked questions, as well as address rumors for transparency and communication.
“Another post that a different community member called me about was a post on social media that described a police report from 2017, reflecting theft of funds and personal items from my vehicle while it was parked in my driveway. My vehicle was broken into, and there was money that was stolen, but this money was replaced from my personal funds at no cost to the school or district insurance policy.
The post stated that the amount of funds was up to $50,000 and that the money was derived from athletic funds and deposited into the Ag department accounts. The true fact of this was that, in fact, money was stolen from my truck and was a few hundred dollars. We do not take in that amount of money at the athletic gate, and booster clubs handle concession funds. I’m not sure that I have even handled gate money during my eight years in the district. The money was, in fact, brought to me one night by an employee who had discovered a former employee had been negligent in depositing money from an Ag fundraiser. Again, it was a few hundred dollars and several checks that dated back over several years, and also included some signed blank checks from the booster club. I do not have access to the district safe after hours, so the money was secured in my vehicle. The post makes little sense in that athletic departments across the state lose money, but Ag departments receive weighted funding from the state. It is just a simple case of a lack of understanding of the facts that we hope we can clear up before it turns into defamation-type behavior.”
The superintendent said he has also been asked to explain facility use by the Little Dribbler program.
“I start by saying that I’m a huge basketball fan. I coached basketball previously in my career, and my kid played, and I coach in this Little Dribbler program. I see the importance of the Little Dribblers for our students. We used the same policies and formulas to arrive at the cost as has been done for years in this district. The difference is in the increase in use by the organization and the increased cost of labor and supplies. These points were covered with the organization prior to use. There was $29,250 worth of facility use that was waived for Little Dribblers this past year and $15,525 in 2018-2019, which shows an increase of usage. A balance of $11,240 is currently owed at the end of their season for custodial labor and cleaning supplies; $3,960 of that total was for Covid fogging, which was a requirement by the district protocols for Covid, and $7,280 was custodial labor and supplies. This is an increase from $4,120 that Little Dribblers paid in November of 2020, but you can clearly see that increase in usage and supplies affects all of us. When we buy a tank of gas or groceries at the store, we all feel the impact of increases in cost. We cannot staff a custodial department paying $7.25 per hour in wages. Labor is a major driver of cost for our district and society. Little Dribblers is not a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization, it is a for-profit organization. We have made numerous attempts to contact the organization, even via registered mail; they have not been successful. I actually had a person that was going to donate the cost of Covid fogging they incurred, but because of lack of communication back from the organization, the person has withdrawn that offer. The district is on a fixed income, we do not have the taxing authority to raise taxes beyond our current level. We have continued to prioritize staff salaries throughout these times. I mean, we have the capacity for teachers to earn approximately $100,000 per year through the state-funded teacher incentive allotment. If we do not stay with market-driven salaries, our ability to staff the district would be impacted.”
LISD Director of Student Services Lana Smith gave the district an update that her department was compiling a district report and holding a safety meeting July 25.
“We are preparing an exterior door audit, which includes inspecting door locks for the Texas Education Agency before the first day of school. We have a very detailed and specific plan for the prevention and mitigation of active threats, active attackers, and active shooters. Principals are auditing campuses and helping to assemble a district report, which is distributed to the safety team.”
Smith said key audits are held across the district, and all campuses have one master key. During the summer months, audits cover the interior and exterior of campuses. Fire drills take place each month, and all camera systems are checked. TEA has required audits at each campus, but the district already had a rotation at each campus.
“All threat assessment teams have training,” Smith said. “They review each threat and complete a profile on each incident, and it is tracked from campus-to-campus. All campus staff will be training on safety procedures and trauma with specific training for new teachers.”
The meeting opened with LISD principals reporting on student success based on the Texas Education Agency’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results. “We built on the culture of students first,” Creekside Elementary Principal Elisha Bell shared. “We will do whatever it takes to serve our students. When I joined the campus, we had a D rating. Today, we are at a solid B, thanks to the dedication and commitment of the CSE staff. We worked hard on lesson plans and aligning the curriculum. The focus will continue to be on the growth of each student. Our future plans are to help our students and parents to learn how to track their progress so they can understand their growth and performance. Every student must grow at a minimum of one year. Working together with students, parents, and CSE staff will ensure this growth.”
Timber Creek Elementary Principal Sheri Murphy told the board of her “very smart group of students who are headed to the junior high campus.”
“Our science scores improved from 69% to 78%,” Murphy said. “We were proud of the results of all grades and are focusing on students meeting grade level and making one year’s growth. Our plans for the new school year are closing the achievement gaps and focus on special education. I am super proud of our teachers and students.”
Cedar Grove Elementary Principal Erin Barnes was proud of the “really good year” on her campus.
“Our previous campus score was an 83, and we now have an anticipated score of 87, so we are definitely a high B. Our third graders went from 24% to 47% masters in reading. Our scores rose from 78% to 91% in 5th (grade) math. Fourth grade meets and masters were the only areas we did not see growth. Our plans to increase our growth in math are for our response to intervention (RTI) reading aide will now be assigned to work with our students in math. We have 11 new teachers starting in August, so our focus for next year will be teacher retention.”
Pine Ridge Primary Principal Sarah Hans said her school group is reviewing data, focusing on student growth in reading groups, and working on early literacy skills to ensure success in first grade.
Livingston Junior High Principal Jared Nettles reviewed how in his first year as principal the campus received TEA accolades in five out of seven areas. In 2019, the following year, the junior high campus received a D rating. The staff worked hard, met student growth, and has received a preliminary C rating.
“Response to intervention (RTI), instructional coaches, and programs helped us make improvements,” Nettles said. “We have hired an A-team of incoming teachers. We hired lead teachers and coaches, and Dr. Snyder has put together an instructional plan with a focus on seventh grade math. We will be sharing videos and photos of classroom activities on school social media to keep our parents informed.”
High school principal Dr. Derrick James shared student achievement data that reflected approaches at 69%, meets at 47%, and masters at 16%.
“We plan to increase both areas of meets and masters,” James said. “More effective Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) on campus guidelines were set during the spring semester. We spent a lot of time sharing knowledge and looking at data. English I and II reflected a decrease in masters, but improvements in the PLCs will result in an increase in masters. In the spring, we were very consistent with the rules, treating everyone fairly, where all students and teachers were focused on learning.
There are assistant principal meetings every Monday to make sure everyone is on the same page. We have created an environment of data reviewing and sharing. We are waiting on the TEA college, career, and military readiness score, but anticipate a B rating.”
In the lone action item, board members approved the 2022-2023 Student Code of Conduct.