By Brian Besch
July’s meeting of the Livingston ISD Board of Trustees opened with student recognition. Molly Black attended the FCCLA National Leadership Conference in Denver, Colorado, July 1-6. She was a national qualifier named one of the Top 10 in Public Policy Advocacy, Level 2. While in Denver, she attended the Texas Award Ceremony and was presented a gold medal for her achievement.
Four LISD students participated in the 2023 National History Day contest held June 10-15 in College Park, Maryland. Suzonna McFarlain sponsored LHS 2023 graduate Maci Hill. Hill competed in National History Day from sixth through twelfth grade and advanced to the national level six times. Last year, she was named a National Endowment for Humanities Scholar (first place). This year, she competed with her individual documentary titled “Image Is Everything: Richard Nixon’s New Political Frontier.” Placing second in her contest room, Hill was among the top 20 entries and was recognized for “Chronicling America” during her research. Also advancing to the National History Day competition were Livingston Junior High eighth graders Eddie Turk, Luisa Perez-Montes and Harper Armstrong. They were sponsored by Kristina Miller and named finalists for their group website, “The Light in the Darkness: The Frontier of Electrifying Rural America.” The project placed in the top 10 out of approximately 100 national-level entries. The achievement of this group is the second time a junior division website has advanced to national competition from Livingston Junior High.
Class of 2023 Livingston High School graduate Chrislyn Whiteside is the recipient of the UIL Texas State Solo-Ensemble Contest Outstanding Performer Award. Approximately 100,000 students participate in regional UIL music contests, and roughly 25,000 musicians are selected to perform at Texas State Solo-Ensemble Contest. Students earn selection to the state contest by receiving a first division-superior rating on a class one chorale solo performed from memory or an ensemble. Only 2-3% of the solo performances earn the honor of outstanding performer out of approximately 100,000 students participating. Whiteside was awarded the gold draped medallion identical to state champions in all UIL events.
LISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins presented administrative reports on dual credit, personnel data, curriculum audit, and accountability.
“Because we are uncertain if we will be able to use the commerce center this fall, we are moving all dual credit classes to the Livingston High School campus for the fall semester,” he said. “This past year, we had 225 students enrolled in academic dual credit courses, but we expect to double this number for the fall semester. We are expecting that 500 students will be engaging in college classes. We have a group of staff members that will be visiting Pharr-San Juan-Alamo to review their “College for All” program that we are adopting at Livingston High School. Our new PTECH partnership with Lamar (University in Beaumont) involves 114 incoming freshman students taking courses in welding, health science, and criminal justice through a career tech pathway. We will continue to try to align our program to help our students. We plan to offer education-type courses to our LHS students for those interested in this pathway.”
CTE Coordinator Blake Thornton shared information about the PTECH Bridge Camp that will be held Tuesday, July 18, at LHS.
“This camp is an opportunity for the students to transition to high school,” Thornton said. “They can learn the campus layout. They will prepare for the TSIA test, learn the parameters, and will be offered help to prepare and study for the test. They will also have teambuilding activities and break out into the three groups to learn more about their areas of welding, health science, or criminal justice.”
Hawkins then gave the LISD personnel update.
“A special thank you goes to the school board for the decisions that they have made over the last six months. We are very fortunate to be fully staffed, and I’m grateful that we will not be experiencing empty classrooms at the start of school. Everyone working together, administrators, HR staff, and principals, all had an active role in filling the positions and bringing people to our district. “This summer, we had 40 teaching positions open, which is 14.24%, and it’s just phenomenal. Everybody played a part in the recruitment process, and our kids get to reap the benefits. Beyond that, the contracted professional staff, including diagnosticians, curriculum, coaches, assistant principals, principals, and directors, had a 10% turnover. When we don’t staff the district, it affects all of us. It is a stressful time for our principals. If we were not able to hire enough teachers, the result could be larger class sizes with higher teacher-to-student ratios. We are so fortunate to be fully staffed ahead at this point. I’m very excited to get to July 31 and the district convocation that kicks off the new school year.”
The LISD board goals include a curriculum audit, and the district has been assigned Dr. Roseann Stripling, who has conducted the LISD audit in the past. It is a deficit audit designed only to show improvements needed. The process looks at things very objectively.
Stripling has held a conference call with Hawkins and Lisa Cagle, outlining the documents and items that they will need in the fall to complete the audit. The audit team has a number of items needed before they visit the district. Their onsite visit will be between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15. The results will help the district make things better for staff, students, and the community.
Hawkins reviewed the accountability of the end-of-course results from Livingston High School. The tested areas compare the state average to the district average.
The state average for the Algebra I exam is 78, while the LISD average is 70. The Biology exam state average is 89, whereas LISD’s average is 89. The English I & II exam state averages are 71 and 74. The LISD English I & II average is 63 and 69, which is an increase of last year’s average from 61 to a current average of 69.
The U.S. History state average is 95, and the LISD average is 94, compared to last year’s LISD U.S. History average of 88.
Hawkins reminded the board that TEA made new cut scores after the test was given.
“The state changed the scoring after the fact. Even though we have students outperforming where we were a year ago, the students took the test a year ago, and the state changed the scoring. In fairness, we still improved.”
Kindergarten through eighth grade scores have an anticipated release during the first week of August.
“As a district, we are already beginning to work on the curriculum audit to make improvements in the district, Hawkins said.”
Hawkins later introduced Creekside Elementary principal Deanna Willmann to the board.
The board approved the “Grow Your Own Masters Pilot Program,” which will increase the number of teachers at Livingston High School to be adjunct professors in their content area. The “college for all” aspect encourages teachers with bachelor’s degrees to go back to college to earn a master’s degree. This program would share the expense with the teachers. Half of the cost would be paid by LISD, and the teacher would pay the rest. Teachers would agree to stay with LISD for two years after their master’s certification is completed.
“We can pay for this program because of LISD’s agreement with Lamar,” Hawkins said. “The charge is $45 per credit hour for every non-socioeconomically disadvantaged student, approximately 25% of our LHS students. There is no charge for any enrolled student who is socioeconomically disadvantaged. We have been paying $370 per course for dual-credit courses. We have been budgeting $300,000 annually to pay for dual-credit courses for our high school students, so now we can invest in our teachers and offer the master’s degree pilot program.
LISD Director of Student Services Lana Smith presented changes in the Student Code of Conduct that the board then approved.
“The biggest thing is HB 567 passage of the Crown Act. A new requirement by the state is a mandatory DAEP placement for first-time violations of students in possession of a vape,” she said. “Last year, two-thirds of the DAEP population were students violating vape possession. As a prevention, the district has vape detectors in all secondary school restrooms. We also implemented vape education for offenders. Last year, the first-time offenders of vape possession received a 10-day ISS placement. We also offered a 15-day review after the student completed vape education during their first 15 days in DAEP. The state has taken away these options for LISD. This law requires all first-time offenders in possession of vapes to receive an automatic 30-day placement in DAEP. Any student in possession of a vape containing THC receives a longer placement.”