|Vol. 31, No.1/August 2021
|The Spring ISD Board of Trustees met at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 10, in person and streamed via video conferencing, to address items on the agenda. President Rhonda Newhouse called the meeting to order.
Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson began his remarks by sharing details about the Class of 2021 Summer Graduation ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 7, in which more than 80 seniors received their diplomas. The ceremony was held in the Dekaney High School auditorium for students from Spring High School, Westfield High School, Dekaney High School, and Spring Early College Academy.
“We're extremely proud of our students,” Watson said. “As we know, it was a very challenging time with Covid. They are definitely pursuing their goals to be more college and career ready, and so we're really excited for them, and we know they're going to be ready to tackle the next experience.”
Watson went on to note that with school beginning on Wednesday, Aug. 11, for the vast majority of the district, he was excited to embark on a daylong tour of the district, beginning with an early morning at the Transportation Center to visit with bus drivers who, “are the first students our students see, so we are going to go out tomorrow and wish them well.”
He said he was especially pleased to have all students learning in person on campuses this year, and shared some of the new things being unveiled in Spring ISD this year, including ZPass – a bus tracking system that allows parents to track their students in real time. He said the district also was launching even more options for students – from the new P-TECH program at Dekaney High School, where students will be able to earn associate degrees, to the new School for International Studies at Bammel. He also said all students will be offered free breakfast and lunch this year.
“More than anything, we're going to be super focused on ensuring that our students are growing academically,” Watson said, noting that he and the board would later be providing an update on the district’s new strategic plan.
Watson continued with an update on safety protocols for the new school year, acknowledging questions and concerns that have been received from parents and constituents about the health and safety of students, especially in light of the pandemic.
He went on to explain that based on the current data, the district will be making some adjustments to protocols – including the mandating of masks for all students and staff inside any Spring ISD facility starting on Monday, Aug. 16. Additionally, he said, contact tracing measures in place last school year will continue as well as general notifications regarding positive cases. He also highlighted the district’s COVID tracker for positive cases, which will be updated daily and available via the district’s website.
“We're incredibly focused on creating the safest possible environment for our students and our staff and we've been constantly monitoring what's happening across the state in our area in regards to COVID-19. As we said last year, we pledged from the beginning that we will be flexible and ready to pivot on the latest guidance and recommendations.”
As another measure, Watson said the district is looking at ways to expand its virtual learning program to include more students beyond those seeking alternative ways to earn credits in high school.
“As everyone knows, the state is not funding a full-time remote learning option, so our expanded virtual academy will not be able to accommodate every student who wants it,” Watson said. “However, we're looking at ways to increase the number of students served to include more grade levels and to prioritize those students with documented medical needs.”
He concluded his remarks by noting that the district’s homebound program will continue for students too medically fragile to be in a school setting, and the administration anticipates that more students will need to be served – so Spring ISD will be finalizing its application admissions criteria for expanded virtual learning. And the district will be sending out communications to families to provide further information.
At each regular board meeting, during Opening Remarks, each board member is given the opportunity to share information with those present.
Winford Adams Jr. remarked on his own personal back-to-school experience as the parent of a Dekaney High School freshman, a member of the first full class of students to begin their studies in the Dekaney Ninth-Grade Center, which first opened its doors in the fall of 2020 during the pandemic.
“So I had the opportunity last night to attend the freshman orientation at Dekaney – my son will be attending there – and the turnout was phenomenal,” Adams said. “I think they're really well prepared to receive their inaugural class in that building, and so I wanted to extend my gratitude toward (Ninth Grade Campus Principal) Brandi Rodney and (Dekaney Principal) Alonzo Reynolds III for the great work they're doing there.”
Justine Durant commented on the opportunity she had had to attend the 2021 Summer Graduation ceremony, held Saturday, Aug. 7 at Dekaney High School’s Star Theater, and to address the students and their guests gathered that morning for the celebration.
“There was a lot of excitement, there was a lot of family and participation there,” Durant said, “and so it was just a wonderful experience to be able to shake their hands and see them obtain their diploma.”
Board appoints two new members to fill trustee vacancies
The Board of Trustees voted to confirm the appointment of two new board members – Carmen Correa and Natasha McDaniel – to fill the two positions left vacant by the retirement from the Board in July of Donald Davis and Jana Gonzales.
Both Correa, who was named to Position 6, and McDaniel, named to Position 7, will serve as appointees on the board through the Nov. 2 election, when both trustee positions will be on the ballot for a vote by district residents.
Correa is a 22-year resident of the district and longtime Spring ISD volunteer. Her volunteer work in the district includes serving as parent co-chair of the Spring ISD Student Health Advisory Committee; serving as a member of the Spring ISD Parent Advisory Council and the Ponderosa Elementary School Parent Advisory Council; and serving as vice president and membership chair of the Ponderosa Elementary School PTA.
With a bachelor’s degree in global business management from the University of Phoenix, Correa also brings private-sector experience from previous jobs in the mortgage, financial services and business consulting industries. She has also been active in recent years as a volunteer math and English tutor and as an area youth sports league coach.
McDaniel, meanwhile, has lived in the district for almost 10 years, having moved to the Spring area in 2011 after graduating from college.
An experienced educator, with her bachelor of science in early childhood education from Bowling Green State University as well as a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Sam Houston State University, McDaniel has worked as an elementary school teacher, a language arts specialist and a district literacy coach in Aldine ISD. More recently, she served as a classroom management coach with a local educational nonprofit and worked with area teachers as a cohort leader for HB3 Reading Academies offered through the Region 4 Education Service Center.
As a dedicated advocate for educational equity – especially for those from marginalized communities – McDaniel also took part in a 2020-21 fellowship program with Leadership ISD, a Dallas-based nonprofit that works to equip educators and other community members to advocate on behalf of academic excellence and equity at both the local and state level.
After Davis and Gonzales announced their retirements earlier in the summer, the district put out an official call for applications from qualified candidates to fill the two unexpired terms. With applications due to the Spring ISD Office of the General Counsel on July 12, the district and the board then proceeded to review applications and meet with potential candidates before voting on the appointments.
In addition to basic age and U.S. citizenship requirements, all candidates for the vacant positions had to have resided continuously in the state of Texas for 12 months and within Spring ISD district boundaries for no less than six months prior to the date of appointment to the board. In addition, eligibility requirements also mandate that candidates be qualified voters who are currently registered to vote in the territory from which the office is elected.
Team of Eight shares details about Spring ISD’s new strategic direction, Every Student—Every Teacher—Every Day
Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson and the Board of Trustees – collectively referred to as Spring ISD’s Team of Eight – joined together to unveil the district’s new strategic direction, called Every Student—Every Teacher—Every Day, just a day before the district welcomed back all of its 33,000 students to campus for the 2021-22 school year.
The new plan was designed to build upon the work already accomplished and underway as part of the district’s EveryChild 2020 strategic plan, released in 2015, less than a year after Watson became the district’s superintendent.
“Spring has a rich history and an engaged community. Back in 2015, we saw the need to develop a five-year strategic plan in which every aspect of the plan would be student-centered, that would be about every child,” said Board President Rhonda Newhouse, going on to describe a few of the challenges the district had faced since then – including the pandemic and natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey – and how the vision and mission set forth at that time had guided Spring ISD’s work to serve students and the community.
“Now those years are behind us, and it is time that we build a new plan designed to build upon the work already accomplished in the district’s EveryChild 2020 plan.”
In introducing Every Student—Every Teacher—Every Day, the superintendent said that the decision to release the plan on the eve of the start of the 2021-22 school year was intentional, considering the district’s goal of focusing on student outcomes in spite of the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we continue to move forward with the work here in Spring ISD,” Watson said, “we are confident that the plan that we're putting forth will definitely guide us as we make the needed growth and gains.”
As explained during the presentation by the superintendent and members of the board, Every Student—Every Teacher—Every Day lays out six key priorities: Student Outcomes, Equity, Opportunities, Leadership, Well-Being and Engagement. Within each priority, there are also key imperatives and commitments that establish the district’s focus.
In discussing the various priorities of the plan, trustees connected its high-level strategic elements to the day-to-day work done with students, including at the district’s specialty schools and programs, which are helping to make additional opportunities and choices accessible for students across the district.
“So, the prong of our priorities dealing with opportunities is really about expanding academic offerings so students can explore, learn and excel,” said Trustee Winford Adams Jr., going on to discuss the district’s growing number of schools of choice as well as new specialty programs being offered within zoned neighborhood campuses, such as the International Baccalaureate program at Springwoods Village Middle School, the Bailey School for the Performing and Visual Arts at Bailey Middle School, the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) at Dekaney High School, and the district’s newly launched School for International Studies at Bammel, which will eventually be Spring ISD’s first pre-K–8 campus.
Describing the System of Great Schools (SGS) strategy that was helping inform the district’s current development of these types of programs, Adams said, “It's a district-level problem solving approach that we are using to analyze and understand school performance and community demand, and deliver the schools families want and need in their communities.”
Touching on the topic of leadership within the district – another of the plan’s six priorities – Trustee Justine Durant explained how the district’s leadership definition was encouraging the development of leadership pipelines and pathways to identify high potential everywhere within the organization.
“In Spring ISD, we believe that everyone is a leader,” Durant said. “We identify and support leaders across every level within the district.”
She went on to explain that the district’s emphasis on strong leaders and ongoing leadership development – including ensuring excellent principals and administrators at each campus – also encompasses an emphasis on making sure current and emerging district leaders are outcome-driven, service-oriented, and relationship-centered.
“We have to set clear direction, clear opportunities, and support where the leadership is functioning and where we need to add additional education or additional training,” Durant said. “Whatever we need to invest to ensure that every individual has what they need to be successful.”
Introducing well-being as another of the plan’s priorities, Trustee Dr. Deborah Jensen stressed the importance of ensuring that schools are welcoming, safe environments where students’ social and emotional needs are met, which she explained was a critical foundation for learning to take place.
“This is why well-being is one of our strategic priorities,” Jensen said, “so that we can build the child up and they can achieve all they can do.”
Trustee Kelly P. Hodges, meanwhile, discussed the role of quality engagement with stakeholders and community members and how this engagement – which she described as a two-way street between the district and those it serves – was important to successful schools and successful students.
“Engagement is an integral part of the success of Spring ISD,” Hodges said. “So we encourage our parents, business owners, and all who have a vested interest in the community to get involved and to stay engaged.”
In introducing the theme of equity, Adams related Spring ISD’s decision last year to commission an equity audit of the district in order to identify areas where the district might be falling short in its efforts to serve the unique needs of every student on every campus.
“What we want to do going forward is eliminate any inequities in access to opportunities for our children, and continuously raise the level of achievement for all of our children,” he said. “So that means we're going to be working to eliminate academic outcome disparities across the groups, and ensuring that personal characteristics – whether real or perceived – don't predict any individual’s educational outcomes.”
Adams explained that staff, students, parents and guardians, and the entire community would work together to promote a culture of equity and high expectations for all students – a theme that the superintendent returned to again during his own summary at the end of the presentation.
“We believe that if we set the goals high enough that we will reach our goal of having a Spring ISD graduate who is a lifelong learner, a critical thinker, and a responsible citizen who displays good character, ready to contribute, compete and lead in today's global society,” Watson said.
“Next month, we’ll be coming back to our community to talk about specific metrics that we will be using to measure each of these actions,” he said. “With that, we thank you for supporting us through EveryChild 2020, and we transition to Every Student—Every Teacher—Every Day. Thank you.”
Two trustees appointed to 2021 TASB Delegate Assembly
The Spring ISD Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Dr. Deborah Jensen as its delegate and Natasha McDaniel as its alternate to the 2021 Texas Association of School Boards Delegate Assembly.
The event will be held on Sept. 25 in Dallas.
In addition, trustees also endorsed candidates for the TASB Board of Directors, including Georgian Reitmeier for Position 4A , Dr. Darlene Breaux for Position 4B, and Tony Hopkins for Position 4C.
The board’s Governance Committee, chaired byTrustee Justine Durant, then provided a brief update that included a summary on the recent legislative session by Trustee Jensen, which she noted had been described recently as the “most messed up, weird legislative session.”
“Furthermore, we’re waiting right now on really critical legislation where we need virtual school support from the state of Texas, and that was not achieved in our last session,” she said,
Durant concluded by reminding everyone that the trustees updated the criteria for the Employee Excellence Award given each month to a deserving staff member by aligning it with the district’s Leadership Definition.
The nomination form is available on the Spring ISD website and can be submitted on behalf of any employee who embodies the behaviors outlined by the Leadership Definition, including Service-Oriented, Outcome-Driven and Relationship-Centered.
“The board is excited about launching this year’s new criteria and looking forward to the candidates we will receive,” Durant said.
Board approves leave days for employees who test positive for COVID-19
The Trustees unanimously approved a resolution providing employees with up to five additional leave days in the event of a positive PCR COVID test.
For example, if an employee is absent from work and uses six days of leave, the employee will have five days deducted from their leave banks and the district will return one day back to the employee’s leave banks.
As a second example, if 10 days of leave are used by an employee, the district will return five days back to the leave banks. As a third example, if 15 days of leave are used by an employee, the district will return five days back to the employee’s leave banks.
Jeremy Binkley, the district’s General Counsel, said the additional days will provide employees with the benefit of COVID leave even though the district’s participation in the Families First Coronavirus Act has expired.
In other action, the Board approved:
- Minutes from the June 3,2021 Board Work Session, the June 8, 2021 Regular Board Meeting, the June 22, 2021 Special Called Session, the July 13, 2021 Special Called Session and the July 20, 2021 Special Called Session;
- Order for and Notice of Trustee Election for Positions 6 and 7 on Nov. 2, 2021;
- The 2021-22 Student Code of Conduct;
- Taxpayer refunds;
- Disposition of worn and out-of-adoption textbooks;
- An additional renewal term, up to one year, for the previously awarded contract with York Risk Services Group, Inc., now Sedgwick;
- A contract for Guidance & Counseling Mental Health Support and Intervention Services to the providers recommended by the administration.
Rhonda Newhouse, M.Ed.
Winford Adams Jr.
Kelly P. Hodges
Deborah Jensen, Ph.D.
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The next regular Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 7 at the Gordon M. Anderson Leadership Center, 16717 Ella Blvd.