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Polk County News - Breakout

100,000th book presented locally

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By Emily Banks Wooten
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Colt Alvarado and his mother, MemoryColt Alvarado and his mother, MemoryA milestone for the Rotary Club of Livingston and the children of Polk County was reached Thursday when Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library presented the 100,000th book to a child in Polk County during the regular meeting of the Rotary Club.

Providing a brief history and timeline, Rotarian Ray Gearing explained that he became aware of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and after looking into it, wanted to provide it for the children of Polk County. Gearing said he approached then-Rotary President Ron Boyce about it and Boyce agreed to make it the club project that year.

But the program soon became too big for Rotary and evolved into R.E.A.D. Inc. (Reading Encourages Advanced Development), which is the Polk County sponsor of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. R.E.A.D. provides monthly free books mailed to children from birth to five years old. Studies show that children in the R.E.A.D. program enter kindergarten well ahead of children who are not enrolled. It is for all children and is not based on need. To register your child, go to www.readpolkcounty.com. Children must be residents of Polk County.

“It helps kids because some of these children aren’t exposed to literature in their home,” R.E.A.D. Board Member Odie Grube said. The program is free for the family and each month the book arrives in the mailbox addressed to the child.

The local program started in 2012 with 4 children in Polk County and there are now 1300 students in Polk County receiving books each month. Children are eligible for the program from birth to five years old. In other words, if you sign up a child at birth, by the time the child graduates the program at age five, they will have received a total of 60 books.

Judy Blain, president of R.E.A.D., presented the 100,000th book to Colt Alvarado who turns five in a few months.

“I’m really excited to share this moment with y’all because this is where it all began. We gave out about 1,250 books last year and that was a big deal, but this year we’ve given out 1,342 books, our new normal,” Blain said.

“Tell your neighbors. We depend on other people. We have graduated 2,300 kids. The kids we started with are in high school now and they are impacting the literacy rate,” Blain said.

George Huson, R.E.A.D. treasurer, reported that R.E.A.D. is a difficult program to maintain and reported that two grants have been received – one from Roy O Martin and one from Sam Houston Electric Cooperative. It costs about $2,800 a month to send all the books, he said. Breaking it down more specifically, Huson said $26 sends a book monthly for one year for one child and that $130 provides a five-year scholarship for one child.

Two Rotarians, Andrew Boyce and Kole Puckett, have children participating in the program. Boyce, a father of two, has one son, Carson, that has graduated from the program and a three-and-a-half-year-old who is currently participating. Carson addressed the club, thanking them, and telling them how much he enjoys reading his books. Although Puckett’s daughter, Kenna, was unable to attend due to a conflicting birthday party, he did share a video of her taken the previous evening in which she, too, said thank you and told how much she enjoys her books. Having recently turned five, she just graduated from the program. However, she has one-year-old twin siblings who are part of the program now.

To learn more about R.E.A.D. Polk County, visit www.readpolkcounty.com. Online donations may be made on the website and tax-deductible donations may be mailed to R.E.A.D. Polk County at 2810 U.S. Hwy. 190 West, Suite. 100, PMB 167, Livingston, Texas 77351.

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Budget workshop on court agenda

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Polk County LogoThe Polk County Commissioners Court will designate a second Polk County representative to serve on the rural transportation planning organization with the Deep East Texas Council of Governments during its regular meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The Court will discuss and consider any necessary action regarding the bid for the Corrigan Sub-Courthouse renovation, including remodel and disposal of construction debris, to be paid from the restoration project funds.

Another budget workshop is on the agenda. In old business, the Court will discuss and consider any necessary action regarding fiscal year 2024 employee benefits, specifically, employee health coverage – major medical. In new business, the Court will discuss the fiscal year 2024 budget development; discuss proposed salaries, expenses and allowances of elected officials for fiscal year 2024; and discuss capital purchase projections.

In personnel matters, the Court will review and consider personnel action form requests submitted by department heads since the last meeting and review any authorized emergency hires.

Fiscal year 2023 budget revisions and amendments, as presented by the county auditor’s office, will be considered.

The Court is slated to issue a proclamation declaring July 3-8 as Youth Rodeo Week in Polk County.

Items on the consent agenda include:

•Approve minutes of the June 13 meeting;

•Approve schedules of bills;

•Approve order designating surplus property;

•Receive county auditor’s monthly report, pursuant to Local Government Code Sec. 114.025;

•Receive and record personnel action forms submitted by elected officials since last meeting;

•Receive commissioners’ annual road reports pursuant to Texas Transportation Code Section 251.005;

•Receive treasurer’s monthly report for May; and

•Approve bi-annual agreements with Deep East Texas Council of Governments for emergency 9-1-1 services – public safety answering point services and automatic location maintenance service beginning Sept. 1, 2023 to Aug. 31, 2025.

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Big turnout for local Democrats’ summer celebration

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DemocraticThing

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Nearly 100 people turned out recently for the Polk County Democratic 2023 Summer Celebration at the Polk County Commerce Center in which the keynote speakers were State Rep. James Talarico and Nancy Thompson, the founder of Mothers Against Greg Abbott.

Other guests included Sherry Matula, the founder and president of Sisters United Alliance, a data-driven women’s voter turnout campaign in Texas; Sharon Berry, the Senate District 3 committee woman; and Laura Jones, candidate for the 8th U.S. Congressional District.

“We have a little work to do and that is to get the message of the Polk County Democratic Party throughout the county,” Willie White, chairman of the Democratic Club of Polk County, said.

“Ann and I are determined to get more people to run for public office in Polk County,” White said, referring to Ann Turney, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party.

Nancy Thompson, the founder of Mothers Against Greg Abbott, is the mother of a son who had health issues that were compromised by the threat of COVID-19. On Aug. 6, 2021, she took a stand that launched a movement against Abbott and his position on COVID restrictions. After standing outside the state capitol holding a sign for two and a half hours, the movement very quickly grew to 50,000 Facebook members.

“There’s only one thing worse than fighting with allies. It’s fighting without them. We need to work together with our allies. We know the party has some issues – women, LGBTQ, teachers, gun control – but let’s all become allies in this fight for democracy,” Thompson said.

“From precinct level seats to national level seats, these seats eventually turn into a pipeline. We need to come up with action plans and strategies on getting people to the polls. You are the cavalry. I am the cavalry. By working together side by side, we can stay steadfast, fight for Texas and fight for each other,” Thompson said.

Talarico is a former schoolteacher who was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2018. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and a master’s degree from Harvard University. He was named one of the top 10 state legislators by Texas Monthly.

“I’m impressed with the turnout. Five years ago, I was elected as the youngest member of the Texas Legislature. I won a district that hadn’t voted for a Democrat since before I was born. I won that seat and flipped Williamson County from red to blue,” he said.

Talarico said he wants to reduce prescription drug costs, improve public education and improve health care.

“People vote with their hearts, with their guts. People are a lot more than their material needs. Greg Abbott says he’s for freedom, family and faith. Freedom, family and faith are not the values of the Republican Party. They’ll string those three words together, but they don’t live by them,” Talarico said.

He spoke of his former students on the west side of San Antonio, calling them survivors, fighters, dreamers.

“Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.’ Education is freedom. The Republican Party is anti-freedom and as long as they are in power, we have no freedom,” he said.

Sharing his background of being the son of a single mother who left an abusive relationship, Talarico said, “You cannot be pro-family and rip children from their mothers at the southern border.

“And as for faith, there is no love of God without love of neighbor. Every single person counts. You can’t be pro-faith and persecute our Muslim neighbors or reject a stranger seeking asylum or endorse policies that destroy God’s creation. Democrats stand for freedom, faith and family and the other guys don’t,” he said.

Talarico answered numerous questions, predominantly regarding the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, vouchers and gun violence.

“In my three terms, the most consequential vote I’ve cast is the vote to impeach Ken Paxton. He was corrupt and abusing the public trust. In the Texas House, ethics still count for something.”

Talarico said he supports parental rights and parental choice. He said he believes in leading by example instead of leading by mandate.

“We have a moral responsibility to speak out against Christian Nationalism,” he said.

Regarding what he calls voucher scams, he said, “On the surface it may look good, but you dig into the details and realize they’re ripping you off.

“This has a deeply racist history,” he added, comparing it to 1957 when white students were allowed to leave integrated school districts. “Vouchers are just another form of taxation without representation. The whole thing is a scam from top to bottom. Their whole goal is to dismantle public education. In the richest country in the world, we’re nickeling and diming our teachers.”

Talarico spoke of his concerns regarding juvenile justice, foster care and the grids. “Representatives are banning books and drag queens but they’re not doing anything about foster care or gun violence,” he said.

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LISD students excel at National History Day

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Eddie Turk, Luisa Perez-Montes and Harper Armstrong (left to right) finished in the top 10 at National History Day for their group website. COURTESY PHOTOEddie Turk, Luisa Perez-Montes and Harper Armstrong (left to right) finished in the top 10 at National History Day for their group website. COURTESY PHOTO

A group of Livingston ISD students, teachers and chaperones traveled to College Park, Maryland, last week to compete in the 2023 National History Day contest. The event was held in person for the first time in four years. Over 2,600 students and 600 teachers attended the national contest, which took place on the University of Maryland campus.

During the 2022–2023 school year, over half a million students globally completed projects centered around the theme, Frontiers in History: People, Ideas, and Events, in one of five categories: documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website.

Livingston Junior High eighth graders Eddie Turk, Luisa Perez-Montes and Harper Armstrong were sponsored by Kristina Miller and named as finalists for their group website “The Light in the Darkness: The Frontier of Electrifying Rural America.” Their project finished in the top 10 out of approximately 100 entries.

“This is a big deal, we’ve only had one other junior division website advance to nationals in the past,” Miller said. “I’m proud of the success these students had, and they represented Livingston ISD, our community, and Texas very well.” 

The group was also recognized for their use of “chronicling America” during the research process of their project.

The students shared that they have enjoyed the NHD process and competing the last three years, and they plan to compete during high school.  

LHS graduate, Maci Hill, was sponsored by Suzonna McFarlain. Hill competed in NHD in the sixth through 12th grade, and during that time, she 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 also recognized for her use of “chronicling America” during her research.

“It has been a blessing to teach Maci through her junior high years and mentor her through her high school years,” McFarlain said. “She pours her heart and soul into every project she completes, and it shows. I am so proud of her, and I can’t wait to see what comes next as she starts a new journey at A&M in the fall.”

In addition to competing, the students were able to tour and explore several national monuments and historical landmarks throughout the week. The junior high students also learned how to navigate the Metro system and successfully planned the last day sightseeing travel route. The group said the night tour of D.C., as well as the Holocaust Museum, were their favorites.  

Hill had a unique opportunity during the week, as she traveled to C-SPAN on June 11 to meet with Brian Lamb, former CEO and founder of C-SPAN.

“I interviewed Mr. Lamb as an oral history interview for my documentary,” Hill said. “Mr. Lamb worked for the Nixon Administration in the Office of Telecommunications Policy and later went on to found C-SPAN. He was kind enough to give me a personal tour of their headquarters in Washington, D.C., which is located directly across from our nation’s capital. Mr. Lamb gifted me C-SPAN merchandise and historical books from C-SPAN to add to my personal library of history books. I was able to see the way C-SPAN operates its network, as well as engage in meaningful conversations with Mr. Lamb about history and my future. I am very grateful for Mr. Lamb’s kindness and generosity and will forever cherish my trip to C-SPAN.” 

The sponsors would like to thank the LISD Administration and school board for their support, encouragement and opportunities they provide for Gifted and Talented students.

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Board hears accountability, facility report

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By Brian Besch
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Will Clayton Claycomb AssociatesWill Clayton Claycomb AssociatesThe LISD Board of Trustees heard the accountability report and an update on the Cochran Complex at the regular meeting Monday in the Livingston High School Library. 

LISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brent Hawkins gave a report on the A-F Accountability Refresh Summer report. The Texas Education Agency will release accountability scores in August. 

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath explained in a video to Texas School Boards that last year’s test scores will be compared to new criteria. He shared that TEA provides A-F ratings that are to be used to gauge whether schools are getting better or worse from year to year. 

Morath said TEA would tweak accountability scores every year in the past, but the results were confusing when he served as a school board member of Dallas ISD. “It would be a way for the community to compare from year to year,” he said.

Hawkins reminded board members that the test changed this year, so when the new test is compared to last year’s scores using new criteria, it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. 

“Last year’s scores were used to compare the 2021-2022 school year to the previous year, but some schools did not return to campus in the spring of 2021 after being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawkins said. “The result of that was some districts showed large increases in their accountability ratings based on student progress”

Will Clayton with Claycomb Associates Architects presented a phased completion overview for the Corky Cochran Athletic Complex. The report focused on scope and phasing, and the first phase would include a capacity of 4,175 seats in the home grandstand. It would also include a 1,400-square-foot pressbox with a lift, and a new restroom concession stand positioned below the grandstands, and a new detention pond. 

Phase 2 would expand the visitor grandstands from an 800-person capacity to 1,370. Phase 3 would include a new visitor’s concession stand and plaza, and Phase 4 would add 1,475 parking spaces.  

The estimated construction cost per square foot in 2023 would be in the range of $310-$365 based on recent cost trends for high school facilities. If Phase 1 and 2 would bid at the beginning of 2024, Phase 1 is estimated at $9.3 million - $14.5 million, with Phase 2 ranging from $280,000 to $520,000.

Under Action Items, the board approved:

• LISD 2023-2024 Salary and Stipend Instrument, which gives a 3% raise from the midpoint to all LISD faculty and staff

• Depository Contract with First State Bank

• Additional Full-Time School Based Officer with the City of Livingston

Under the consent agenda, the board approved:

• Minutes from previous board meetings, the financial statement, payment of bills, personal property donations, and overnight trips.

• The board code of conduct, board operating procedures, board meeting calendar, and planning calendar. 

• 2023-2024 Service Center Contracts

• Safety & Security Audit

• Quarterly Investment Report

• Ratification of TEKS certifications 2023-2024

Purchases over $50,000 include:

(1) Amplify  $56,1153 for ELAR Curriculum 

(2) Istation $62,403.39 for computer-adaptive intervention and instruction for reading, math and Spanish literacy 

(3) Curriculum Associates  $148,728.00 for math, reading and science resources grades PK-12, 

(4) Security Control Systems - $79,344.60 for wiring and materials for installing emergency alert notification systems for door entrances,

(5)TCLAS - $60,075- training for teachers and leadership team

(6) Double S Welding - $69,914.24 for Miller-Millermatic welding machines. 

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