|Vol. 30, No. 11/June 2021
|The Spring ISD Board of Trustees met at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 8 at the Gordon M. Anderson Leadership Center, as well as via video conferencing, to address items on the agenda. President Rhonda Newhouse called the meeting to order and led the United States and Texas pledges of allegiance.
Since January 1984, the Board has recognized students and staff for major accomplishments beyond the District with Points of Pride awards. ABCD awards are presented to individuals or groups that go Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.
Points of Pride and Other Recognitions
Trustees Recognize Spring High School’s Second-Ever National Speech & Debate Association ‘Academic All-American’
Trustees opened the evening’s recognitions by honoring Spring High School 2021 graduate Zoë Taylor, who was recently named an Academic All-American by the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA). Taylor met the requirements to earn the award over the spring semester, and now joins classmate and fellow alumna Toneelea Shaftner as only the second Spring High School student ever to receive the Academic All-American distinction, one of the highest honors in speech and debate.
“The award recognizes a commitment to active, consistent participation in speech and debate, as well as to high academic achievement in general,” said Chief Communications Officer Sylvia Wood during her remarks to the trustees. “It’s a rare honor, making it especially impressive that Spring High School this year has produced not one but two Academic All-Americans.”
The NSDA Academic All-American award recognizes high school students who have achieved the degree of “Superior Distinction” by earning at least 750 points in their NSDA profile through their speech and debate-related activities and accomplishments. In addition, Academic All-American winners must have completed at least five semesters of high school, demonstrate outstanding character and leadership, and must have earned a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. According to promotional materials from NSDA, only the top two percent of member students ever receive the Academic All-American award.
Taylor first got involved in speech and debate while she was a student at Dueitt Middle School, and has been an active participant in theater as well as speech and debate ever since, including serving as president of Spring High School’s Mighty Lion Speech & Debate Team for the 2020-21 school year, in addition to other offices she held previously.
“She has been an officer in our speech program for two years, a national qualifier in both theater and speech, and a role model to middle school students as a judge and a junior coach,” said Marilyn Ocker, Spring High School’s speech and debate coach and theater department head, who has worked with Taylor since the latter was a student at Dueitt. “Finally, after four years of participation, she has attained the All-American status, and we are so very proud.”
Taylor, who is headed to Atlanta this fall to begin undergraduate studies at the School of Film, Media & Theatre at Georgia State University, said she was happy to have earned the All-American designation before graduating, and thanked her teacher and Spring High School classmates.
“I just want to say it’s such an honor to be here in front of you accepting this award,” Taylor told the trustees. “I would like to thank my family, my speech and debate coach Mrs. Ocker, and my teammates for trusting and supporting me throughout my high school career. I wouldn’t be here without them, without their support. Thank you.”
Assistant Director of Performing and Visual Arts David Landgrebe praised Taylor’s accomplishment, also noting the strong correlation between top students’ participation in arts programs and higher academic engagement and overall performance in school.
“Zoë, we are so proud of you,” Landgrebe said. “Thank you for being such a wonderful representative of Spring ISD. We can't wait to see the great things that are going to happen in your future career.”
Board Honors SkillsUSA National Qualifier from Carl Wunsche Sr. High School
Board members continued by recognizing Carl Wunsche Sr. High School 2021 graduate Evan Barnes. Barnes earned a Gold Medal ranking for his performance in the Information Technology Services competition at the SkillsUSA Texas Leadership and Skills Conference earlier this spring, also qualifying for nationals in the same event. Following on his win at the state tournament, Barnes will represent Wunsche and Spring ISD at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference this summer.
“During his junior year, Evan placed at the Silver level in Computer Technical Applications and IT Quiz Bowl, advancing to state, but the competition was cancelled due to COVID,” said Spring ISD Director of Career and Technical Education Cynthia Williams during her remarks. “This year, Evan competed in Cybersecurity and Information Technology Services, placing Gold in both competitions, advancing to the national level. Evan will be participating in the national virtual competition for Information Technology on June 15.”
As Williams explained, the SkillsUSA program and its various regional and national-level competition events serve as a valuable complement to the district’s own diverse range of CTE offerings, which help students connect their studies in school directly to their future career interests.
“SkillsUSA provides educational programs, events, and competitions that support career and technical education in the classroom,” said Williams. “The skills championships are career competition events showcasing the best CTE students in the nation. The contests begin locally and then they continue to the state and the national levels.”
In addition to his participation in SkillsUSA, Barnes has also been active as a member of the Texas Technology Student Association, and has made good use of his time and the resources available to him at Wunsche to earn a number of industry-recognized certifications, including TestOut Security Pro, PC Pro and Network Pro; OSHA 30; CPR; and NRF Customer Service.
“Thank you all for inviting me here and giving me the honor to speak to all of you, and thank you for appreciating my accomplishment,” Barnes told the trustees. “It means a lot to me.” He went on to thank Wunsche staff members, the school’s leadership, and all those who had supported him in the competition.
Asked by Trustee Dr. Deborah Jensen what inspired him to get involved in the SkillsUSA competitions, Barnes said he had been encouraged by his teachers and CTE pathway advisors at Wunsche, who told him that signing up and participating would benefit his knowledge, skills and career readiness.
“And I'm very glad I did,” Barnes said, “because they were very helpful opportunities and I wouldn't have traded them for anything in the world.”
Also joining in for the virtual presentation was Wunsche Principal Dr. Alfred James, who congratulated Barnes and thanked him for representing the campus and the district so well.
“You're one of the reasons why we continue to be a school of choice,” James said, “and we want our district to be a district of choice, so keep doing great things and keep moving forward. Congratulations.”
During her presentation, Williams also emphasized the important role of campus teachers and administrators in supporting students enrolled in the district’s CTE programs.
“I would like to acknowledge his Computer Technology Pathway teacher, Ms. Lisa Evans; his SkillsUSA sponsor, Ms. Bonnie Lovett; and of course Dr. James, the Wunsche principal,” Williams said.
Once the national SkillsUSA competition wraps up later in June, the focus will shift to college for Barnes, who will continue his STEM studies this fall as a freshman at Houston Baptist University, majoring in electrical engineering.
Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson began his remarks by talking about the Spring ISD high school graduation ceremonies held over the weekend of June 4-6, where nearly 2,000 seniors graduated over the course of three days of morning and evening ceremonies at the district’s Planet Ford Stadium. Despite some interference from the weather – including an hour-long rain delay on Saturday evening for Carl Wunsche Sr. High School’s graduation event, Watson reiterated how the ceremonies had served as a fitting tribute and send-off to the Class of 2021.
“I just want to reiterate how proud I am of all of our graduates,” Watson said. “They are incredibly well prepared to tackle whatever life throws them, especially after overcoming the pandemic, a winter storm and torrential rains. We can look forward to their great futures, and we can't wait to see what they accomplish.”
Watson noted that plans were already in progress for the district’s Aug. 7 summer graduation, which will celebrate those members of the Class of 2021 with a few requirements still left to complete during summer school.
The Superintendent went on to mention the district’s proposed 2021-22 budget, which trustees and administrators discussed in depth during the June 3 board work session, and which the trustees will vote on at a special budget session on June 22. In addition to a one-time employee retention stipend already approved by the Board during the June 3 meeting, the proposed 2021-22 budget will also include a 2% raise for all employees, which Watson said would strengthen Spring ISD’s retention and recruitment efforts.
“This proposal will further enhance our competitiveness as we look to recruit and retain the very best employees throughout the area,” Watson said. “I want everyone to know that Spring ISD is committed to being an employer of choice for educators and our staff, and we’re constantly looking at ways to ensure that we offer competitive salaries.”
Watson took the opportunity of his remarks to remind community members to participate in the online survey – sent to staff and district families via email and available on the Spring ISD website – seeking feedback on the Spring ISD Recovery Plan. Watson said the community’s response will help the district make informed decisions about how best to serve students in the wake of the pandemic and utilize federal funds allocated to Spring ISD to help overcome learning losses.
He also discussed ongoing plans to offer a Virtual Academy – to serve students in grades 3 through 12 – starting in time for the 2021-22 school year. Although the 87th Legislature adjourned without taking any action on state legislation related to virtual learning programs, the Superintendent said the district hoped that the Texas Education Agency will institute a waiver process allowing districts to keep a virtual classroom option in place for select students.
Watson concluded his remarks by sharing the news that Springwoods Village Middle School had received official notification that it is now an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School for the IB Middle Years Programme.
“As an IB World School, Springwoods Village is now part of an international community of schools committed to developing global leaders who are ready to tackle whatever challenges that they may face,” Watson said, thanking Principal Kimberly Culley and her campus team for their work in achieving the distinction, which comes as the culmination of a multi-year application and review process through the International Baccalaureate organization.
At each regular board meeting, during Opening Remarks, each board member is given the opportunity to share information with those present.
Trustee Jana Gonzales opened up remarks by recognizing district educators and employees who were recognized during the recent Employee Recognition Ceremony on June 2.
“It was nice getting to celebrate a lot of the teachers, principals and also those individuals receiving service awards and those who are retiring,” Gonzales said. “You guys did a great job in honoring those employees. It was a nice celebration, so well done.”
Trustee Dr. Deborah Jensen expressed her excitement over the district’s 2021 high school graduation ceremonies, calling graduation the best day ever in Spring ISD.
“What a day for celebration and it is just such a joy to see the accomplishment of all the kids,” Jensen said. “Everything from scholarships to the schools they are attending. Having done the graduation walk, I really want to compliment the kids who I know are working sometimes more than one job to help their family, and they still got that diploma. I think that that is a real feat, and I compliment those kids as well.”
Trustee Winford Adams Jr. said that, in addition to the main high school graduations, he also had the opportunity to attend end-of-year ceremonies at Roberson Middle School and Meyer Elementary School. He extended his thanks to those throughout the district helping students celebrate milestones in their academic advancement.
“I want to acknowledge and say how much I appreciate the teachers and staffs at Roberson and Meyer Elementary for standing out in the rain – pouring rain – and celebrating their students,” Adams said, “and I'm sure that happened all over the district. And so, for all the middle schools and all of the elementary schools, again, thank you for supporting our kids.”
President Rhonda Newhouse echoed other trustees’ remarks about the general excitement for graduation day, saying, “It was truly the best day of the year for our district and for our students.”
She also commented on her happiness at seeing so many excited family members gathered together at Planet Ford Stadium to celebrate and support their students – including the many fathers, uncles, grandfathers and even great-grandfathers she had seen after the ceremonies posing proudly for family pictures with their graduates outside the stadium. She praised the strong family culture of Spring ISD, and concluded her remarks by sending out early Father’s Day wishes to all those living and working in the district.
“So I'd like to wish and say ‘Happy, Happy Father's Day!’ to our district employees and, of course, our community fathers in Spring ISD,” Newhouse said. “You really support us and make our kids just an awesome group. You've done a fantastic job with our students.”
Presentations and Action Items
CenterPoint Energy Presents $137,000 in Savings to Spring ISD
CenterPoint Energy presented the district with a check for just over $137,000 on Tuesday as a result of Spring ISD’s participation in its SCORE program, which is designed to provide incentives for renovation, new construction and maintenance projects resulting in reduced energy consumption.
Spring ISD first joined the program in April 2019 as it neared completion of its 2016 bond program, which funded the renovation and construction of new energy-efficient facilities, including two new middle schools, three ninth-grade centers and the new Planet Ford Stadium.
Austin Pooley, an energy efficiency specialist with CenterPoint, cited those projects as saving 367 kilowatts of peak demand and more than 1 million kilowatts annually. For 2020-21, that resulted in a check of $137,000 back to the district. Since first joining the program, the total savings has been more than $220,000.
Executive Chief of District Operations Mark Miranda applauded his operations team for their work with SCORE, including General Manager Gary Hutton and Saheed Imoru, the district’s energy manager.
District administrators have noted in the past that savings on utility bills helps redirect funds to the classroom to be used for the benefit of students.
Board Governance Committee Provides Updates on Legislative Priorities
Trustees Dr. Deborah Jensen and Winford Adams Jr. provided a final update on the Texas Senate and House Bills of Interest, noting that although the legislative session has officially ended, there is a possibility that there will be a special session this year.
In a bit of “good news,” Jensen explained that many of the bills the district observers were concerned over have stalled. “Our concern now is that they may be brought up again in the special sessions, so we’ve got to keep watch on that,” she said.
Two top legislative priorities for Spring ISD — Senate Bill 2, which provides full state funding of House Bill 3, and House Bill 1525, known as House Bill 3’s “clean up” bill to fix multiple issues — have both been sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, according to Jensen. She also shared that one piece of legislation, Senate Bill 746, did not come across the Board Governance Committee’s radar until recently.
“[Senate Bill 746] requires the parent of a student enrolled in a school district to provide an update of the student's contact information,” Jensen said. “We're just not sure how you actually enforce that law, but we're going to find out.”
Trustee Justine Durant ended the Board Governance Committee update by expressing her appreciation to Dr. Jensen and the committee for their hard work keeping the district informed and engaged since January.
“We had a couple of wins, but not losses like we were anticipating,” said Durant. “I think the biggest one that hurt us the most was [House Bill 1468] for virtual learning, and not getting that funding and support.”
Trustees Approve a New Employee Medical Plan Option With Lower Monthly Premiums
The Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved an agreement with Education Service Center (ESC) Region 12 that will give district employees an additional medical plan option with lower monthly premiums and access to a wellness center.
The vote on Tuesday followed a lengthy discussion at the Board’s work session on June 3, when Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks detailed the plan option, which will serve as an alternative to TRS Active Care.
The new option follows the trustees actively looking at ways to mitigate the rising costs of health insurance for district employees in recent years. The new medical plan option will be offered by Universal Benefits Consortium (UBC), which already covers more than 25,000 employees and their dependents across Texas.
As Chief Westbrooks noted during her work session presentation, having UBC as a medical plan option has helped save employees in other places up to 12% on premiums and up to 25% on prescription drug costs. More specifically, in Spring ISD, among employees earning $25,000 or less, the annual savings in opting for the UBC plan compared to TRS Active Care would be about $864 annually, or $72 monthly.
In addition, UBC will also create an on-site wellness clinic for Spring ISD employees and their dependents who are enrolled in the plan, adding to cost savings and convenience. That clinic could open later this year. Employees will be able to enroll in the UBC option during the next open enrollment period for benefits, which will span the last part of July into August.
In Other Action the Board Approved:
- A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Sam Houston State University and Spring Independent School District;
- Proposed revisions to Board Policy CB(LOCAL) on first reading to address how the district will provide required public notice regarding federal grants and awards for consistency;
- The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Harris County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP) for the 2021-22 academic year;
- Minutes from the May 6, 2021 Board Work Session and from the May 11, 2021 Regular Meeting;
- The district’s administration to complete and submit the applications for the ESSER III funds;
- The Internal Audit Year-End Progress Report FY 2020/2021 and Internal Audit Plan FY 2021/2022;
- The renewal of the contract for Harris County Community Youth Services;
- The Summer 2021 Projects, Second GMP in the amount of $124,827;
- The awarded grant funds of $18,000 to help support the district's pre-K recruitment for the 2021-22 school year;
- Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between AVANCE-Houston and Spring Independent School District;
- The contract between Naviance by PowerSchool and Spring Independent School District;
- The renewal contract for College Board;
- The 2020-21 Third Budget Review;
- Ratifying the actual expenditures presented;
- The proposed Low Attendance Waiver for January 11, 2021 for the following schools: Bammel ES, Heritage ES, Hoyland ES, Major ES, Salyers ES, Clark Primary, Claughton MS and Richey Academy;
- The proposed CPR waiver;
- Taxpayer refunds.
Rhonda Newhouse, M.Ed.
Winford Adams Jr.
Kelly P. Hodges
Donald Davis D.D.
Deborah Jensen, Ph.D.
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The next regular Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the Gordon M. Anderson Leadership Center, 16717 Ella Blvd.