By Emily Banks Wooten
Goodrich ISD Superintendent Daniel Barton and Livingston ISD Superintendent Dr. Brent E. Hawkins were the guest speakers at the recent quarterly membership luncheon hosted by the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce, presenting an overview of the state of education in their respective districts.
Barton began by introducing his guests, Goodrich School Board members Tim Harrell and Rosalie Blackstock, before stating that school safety is “probably our biggest topic.” He addressed the strides that have been made, including implementation of a guardian program in addition to security training provided by Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons.
“Our staff is armed, of course it’s voluntary, but when asked, 17 of 21 said yes,” Barton said. “(Precinct 1 Constable) Scott Hughes provides a school resource officer and we have someone there every morning and every evening and throughout the day. If you drive through Goodrich, you will see a constable car.
“I want to say thanks to both of these men (Lyons and Hughes). I think we’ve made a lot of accomplishments in a short amount of time,” Barton said.
Citing teachers as another important topic, Barton said GISD is fully staffed and that they moved their compensation. “We gave across-the-board about an 8-14% raise last year. Our starting teachers got an 18% raise. We’re trying to move the bottom up. Our teachers are highly qualified. We’re after the great ones.”
In that area, Barton said the district just started a teacher incentive allotment, started a grow your own program, resumed their art program and added a health science program in which an RN was hired to teach two classes of health science a day prior to the students attending Angelina College to pursue certification in health science careers.
“Facilities. The only good thing that came out of COVID is we were able to work on our facilities with our ESSER funds. We replaced the windows in all the old buildings. We replaced the bathrooms,” Barton said. ESSER stands for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, a federal program administered by the Department of Education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides emergency financial assistance to public school districts across the country.
Barton addressed the student growth at Goodrich ISD, commenting that he ended the last school year with 119 students and then started the current school year with 223.
“There have been a few challenges. Our COVID learning gaps still exist. Our students in 4th grade are having their first normal school year. To not have that normal school day, we can’t just fix that in a year,” he said.
“Y’all do a good job of teacher appreciation and we want you to continue. We appreciate that. When it affects our kids, it affects our teachers,” he said.
“Support public education. Support public education at the polls. Texas public education is the best. I won’t put it up against anybody anywhere,” Barton said in closing. “Talk to your legislators. Whether you fully understand or not, there is a push to privatize public education in this nation. Public education is something we should protect. This is not a business to privatize.”
Hawkins spoke next, commenting that Barton was a hard act to follow because he had covered everything. Hawkins said he has been in education for 36 years and in Livingston for nine years and is presently tied for the longest stint of a superintendent in the district’s over 100-year history.
“We thought the pandemic was tough but, in my eyes, the aftereffects are worse than the pandemic. Public educators are uniters. We’re not dividers. We want to love on people. We want to leave legacies of making something better than we found it,” he said.
“Right now, in every level of society, we see a sight of heightened agitation. Conflict is in vogue and anger is very common throughout our society which is the collateral damage from this pandemic. From a mental health aspect, we all have to take a deep breath and focus on being kind to our fellow classmates, coworkers, and community members. It is very difficult navigating in these times and that state of agitation spills over into our school systems,” Hawkins said.
“That’s something that is relevant that our teachers have to deal with, as well as our parents and our administration. From that standpoint, we need to be kind. We need to show a little grace. None of us are perfect and none of our school districts are perfect. There’s people I know in every district that are rolling up their sleeves and going to work to make a difference,” Hawkins said.
As for the local school districts in the county, he said, “We’re all different but all of us are very special to our communities and the county. They take personal what our students are doing. Schools aren’t failing in Polk County. In Polk County, our school districts are thriving – alive and well.”
Hawkins said Livingston ISD has a plan to close the learning gap between 2024 and 2026 but only has about two-thirds of the funding needed to do it.
“Advocating to your legislators is very important. We get $40,000 for school safety. This year we’re spending a half million dollars on school safety. We have to advocate for an increase in basic allotment. We desperately need an infusion of money,” he said, adding, “The biggest thing is grace. We’re not going to fire ourselves to excellence.”
Hawkins expressed how proud the district is of the Class of 2022. From that single class alone, 350 academic dual credit classes were completed; 1050 college hours were earned; there was an economic savings of $875,000 to the parents and community in relief of tuition and fees; and 380 certifications earned with 200 of them in welding.
“We want to turn out students that can impact our community as HVAC, plumbers and LVNs,” Hawkins concluded.
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