|Vol. 31, No.4/November 2021
The Spring ISD Board of Trustees met at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 9 in person, and streamed via video conferencing, to address items on the agenda. President Rhonda Newhouse called the meeting to order and the Spring High School Navy JROTC led the presentation of colors with Cadet Lieutenant Carolina Viney leading the pledges to the flags. Carrying the U.S. Flag was Cadet Lieutenant Commander Halie Burrough. Carrying the Texas Flag was Cadet Chief Terrance McHellon. The left rifle was Cadet Captain Kayla McKay, and the right rifle was Cadet Master Chief Kristen Gonzalez. The Spring High School Navy JROTC is under the direction of Master Chief Mark Clarke.
Following the color guard presentation and pledges, current and former members of the Bammel Percussion Ensemble, which had been honored by the Board with a Point of Pride during the October meeting, returned to the boardroom at the invitation of the trustees to perform together as an ensemble, under the direction of Percussion Instructor Cam Simpson.
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.
Board marks Spring ISD’s third-annual ‘District of Distinction’ award from Texas Art Education Association
The Board celebrated the district’s 2021 District of Distinction award from the Texas Art Education Association (TAEA). This year, TAEA named Spring ISD among recipients of the award for the third year in a row. The award, given to just 20 recipients for the first time in 2019, recognizes districts committed to providing a well-rounded curriculum that supports strong visual arts education across all schools and grade levels.
“The award would not be possible without our Spring ISD Performing and Visual Arts Department and our district’s amazing campus art teachers, who bring the arts to life with students every day in the classroom,” said Executive Chief of District Operations Mark Miranda during his introductory remarks.
A leading advocate for visual arts education, TAEA has long honored outstanding individual teachers for their work in the classroom. This is the third year the organization has honored school districts that meet the rigorous District of Distinction criteria. Each participating district submitted documentation showing how they performed across various aspects of the program’s 14-point rubric during the 2020-21 school year.
Out of more than 1,100 districts eligible in 2021, only 40 met the standard. In addition, the district’s director of performing and visual arts Dr. Joe Clark told trustees that Spring ISD was one of only 17 Texas school districts to earn the award all three years, putting the district in the top 1.5% for art education statewide.
“We would like to once again thank the Board of Trustees for their vision, their direction and their dedication to our students,” Clark said. “You have allowed us to aggressively support our teachers in our classrooms so they can support the opportunities and choices for our students.”
The award recognizes excellence in the classroom, but also districtwide efforts to engage students in meaningful encounters with the visual arts, both on campus and in the community. Examples include districts where students actively participate in regional and state art events and competitions. TAEA also looks at field experiences, community service and community exhibitions, along with other elements, as part of the rigorous criteria for the award.
Ana Rodriguez and Tzu Springer
To celebrate, Clark and the district’s visual arts coordinator Amanda Byers were joined at the meeting by campus art teachers, plus two high school seniors who spoke to the Board about how their art studies had impacted their lives.
“Thanks to the Westfield art program and its wonderful teachers, I'm able to do many things I never imagined myself doing,” said Westfield senior Ana Rodriguez, who specializes in ceramics, but also enjoys sculpture and painting. “They have given me so much freedom throughout the years, while at the same time teaching me and never limiting my creativity.”
Rodriguez thanked the trustees for supporting arts programs in Spring ISD, adding that the benefits to students are wide-ranging.
“Being in art has not only helped me grow my art skills,” Rodriguez said, “it's also helped me grow as a person.”
Fellow Westfield senior Tzu Springer agreed, adding his thanks for all that studying art in high school had done for him.
“I feel that this art program changed the way I think and approach real-world situations, as well as my ability to create and express myself through art,” said Springer, who has centered his own art studies in mixed media and architectural design.
“Art showed me what and who it was I was missing,” Springer told the trustees. “It helped me become a better and higher version of myself, and I'm sure it will continue to do so. The experiences I have gained are priceless, so to me it's become more than a program. It's a community, and a family. Thank you for your time and support. It has made all of this possible.”
Board members in turn congratulated the teachers and district administrators whose work helped make the District of Distinction award possible, while also thanking the students for their testimony.
“We always say the work we do is all about the students, all about our kids, and it is so pleasing to see how it is paying off,” Board President Rhonda Newhouse said after the students’ remarks. “We truly appreciate that presentation.”
Trustee Winford Adams Jr. recalled Spring ISD music students who had addressed the Board earlier in 2021, and remarked on the positive benefits of arts integration and arts education for students.
“This is the second time students from the arts programs have come before the Board and read beautifully written testimonies about their experience, and I just think this speaks to the value of art in support of all the other academic areas,” Adams said. “There's been some knowledge poured into these young people, and I really appreciate it.”
Trustee Justine Durant, meanwhile, said that, while trustees are not paid for the work they do on behalf of the district, moments like Tuesday’s student presentations provide a deeper kind of compensation than money could offer.
“We're here because we love and we care about our students and we want to see you succeed,” Durant said. “It was a reward, and refreshing, for me to hear both of you speak.”
“I got a little misty,” she added, “because to me that's what it's all about, and I just want to say thank you.”
At the beginning of his remarks, Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson announced that online applications for School Choice Programs were open for the 2022-23 school year. He mentioned the longstanding programs at Roberson Middle School, Spring Leadership Academy, Wunsche High School, and Spring Early College Academy.
He went on to highlight the innovative programs that launched over the past year, like the P-TECH program at Dekaney High School and the opening of the School for International Studies at Bammel.
“This past year has been an exciting time for the expansion of school choice and specialty programs throughout the district, and we’re especially proud of the way that work has progressed despite the challenges of the pandemic,” Watson said. “We’ve long known from talking to our families that they value educational options and choice for their students.”
He went on to mention the daily campus tours that will take place the week of Nov. 15-19, as well as help sessions for parents wishing to apply. Families who want to learn more about these schools and the application process can visit SpringISD.org/choice.
Watson followed up by recounting that morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at Westfield High School for the school’s brand-new barbering lab. The Barbering Program is a first-of-its-kind offering in Spring ISD, with 25 spots per year available for Westfield students.
The CTE program is fully comprehensive, combining high school academics with career-focused coursework and professional training, preparing students to become fully licensed barbers by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The district’s professional partner is Eros Shaw, a Spring ISD graduate as well as owner and entrepreneur behind Mystros Barber Academy.
“The Barbering Academy at Westfield is another example of Spring ISD’s drive to provide innovative options for our students that connect learning to life and prepare students for success,” Watson said.
He ended his remarks by offering an update on COVID-19 vaccinations, in the wake of the CDC and the FDA authorizing vaccinations for the virus for all children ages 5 and older last week.
“We will be sending out information to all of our parents with some resources on when and where they can access vaccines for their children, should they choose,” Watson said. “As always, we urge parents to consult their pediatrician with any questions regarding the vaccine.”
More information on vaccination sites throughout the district can be found on the district website.
At each regular board meeting, during Opening Remarks, each board member is given the opportunity to share information with those present.
Trustee Winford Adams Jr. commented on the district’s high school marching bands and their recent performances during the UIL Area F 6A Marching Contest, which saw both Spring High School and Westfield High School ranking in the top 10 in the area finals.
“I think they did a fantastic job. I'm really proud of the students,” said Adams, whose daughter is currently a member of the Westfield band. He went on to praise the efforts of music teachers and the many parents whose efforts support music groups and music education in Spring ISD.
“I want to congratulate the band directors, all the music teachers, and all the parents,” Adams said. “The booster parents and the parents that are supporting those kids as chaperones deserve a round of applause."
Trustee Dr. Deborah Jensen discussed the fall holiday season as a time when the district celebrates the work of various groups and departments, and described a recent experience she had volunteering at one such celebration.
“I had the privilege to serve barbecue to the Transportation Department,” Jensen said, “and it is just so much fun to see these hard-working people who transport our kids every day safely – and just do an amazing job – and I want to thank them.”
President Rhonda Newhouse thanked her fellow trustees for regularly attending and taking part in events throughout the district. She also related her own experience attending a dinner hosted by the culinary arts students at Carl Wunsche Sr. High School.
“This was the first ‘first-class’ restaurant presentation that they made to the public,” Newhouse said. “Parents were invited, we had table linen, tablecloths and linen napkins. The students were dressed appropriately, and the menu was fantastic!”
Newhouse thanked the Wunsche Culinary Arts Program, and also praised the district’s broader Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings that connect students with skills and certifications to give them a head start in their chosen professions.
“It just goes to show that our students are reaching out, and they are doing fantastic in the various programs that they are involved in, so hats off to CTE as well.”
Trustee Justine Durant echoed comments made during the Superintendent’s Report about the opening of the annual School Choice application period. She encouraged families to consider the many choices available to students in the district, whether through specialty schools or their neighborhood campus.
“I just wanted to comment that all of our comments tonight have spoken to the choices that we have available to our students in Spring ISD,” Durant said. “I know a lot of people feel like charter schools bring choices, but I don't think they have anything on Spring ISD.”
Board Governance Committee Provides Update on Legislative Priorities
Trustee Dr. Deborah Jensen provided an update on the six major priorities for the district, which include addressing COVID-19, charter schools, diversity and cultural awareness, public school finance, governance, and school board member eligibility.
Jensen called on the Texas Legislature to address the needs of school districts as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. “I'm so pleased to see fewer staff and student cases in our district, but the ramifications of the last two years continue,” she said. “I feel like this is a very important priority for our district — that we can have help from the Texas Legislature.”
Another legislative priority for Spring ISD focuses on charter schools, which Jensen mentioned could fall under the public school finance priority. “I know that we have lost students to charter schools, but we've also lost students to the pandemic,” said Jensen.
Diversity and Cultural Awareness
Spring ISD continues to hold equity as a main priority in the district by highlighting diversity and cultural awareness initiatives through staff and student education, and restorative teaching disciplinary practices that treat all students with equality. “This is a major priority in our district right now, and I think we need to stick with this one,” said Jensen.
Public School Finance
Jensen called upon the Texas Legislature to aggressively commit to maintain the promises and dedication of funding made in the new school finance system implemented under House Bill 3 (86th Session), and to equitably share the costs of education with local school districts. “There are an amazing number of interesting bills that are proposed for all kinds of odd things in school finance, so I think we really need to be keeping a watch on that one,” said Jensen.
Another legislative priority for Spring ISD focuses on governance, which Jensen mentioned has continued to improve each year during her tenure as a board member. “Hopefully, we will keep that process going until we can better listen to our community, our students, and serve them well,” said Jensen.
School Board Member Eligibility
The newest legislative priority, school board member eligibility, calls on the Texas Legislature to modify the eligibility requirements for school board trustees. Jensen did mention that she believes the current eligibility requirements in Spring ISD are working, but should be addressed.
Board Equity Committee Update
The recently formed Board Equity Committee provided an update on their first meetings, including a discussion on literacy initiatives and at-risk counselors, and social work positions.
“There's a broader Community Equity Committee,” Equity Committee Lead Winford Adams Jr. explained, “but the Board Equity Committee is more about figuring out the budget priorities that we should develop coming from our Cambridge Education equity audit.”
Over the course of its two meetings in the past month, the committee has focused on a few key areas where the Board can leverage its budget-oversight capabilities to better support actions being taken throughout the district to address issues raised in the equity audit.
Adams mentioned two areas in particular that the committee had focused its early discussion on.
The Cambridge Education equity audit recommended several interventions and programs to support literacy, including the following:
- Provide curriculum across all grades that is academically appropriate, culturally inclusive, and engaging, then monitor implementation and results for at least three years to determine effectiveness. In addition, provide literacy training for teachers in grades K-3, ensure every school has a literacy coach and a reading teacher or specialist to address learning differences, language barriers, struggling readers and other issues that limit proficiency in reading and writing.
“I want to say that since this report came out, the administration has already done significant work in meeting this goal,” Adams said.
He explained how the state-approved Amplify literacy curriculum – now in a full-year pilot in place for all Spring ISD K-8 students – was helping to bring a more equitable approach to literacy education for district students. Adams said the committee was in conversation with Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks to determine how the Board could prioritize funds to further support those efforts.
Increased Counseling Support on Spring ISD campuses
The equity audit also recommended actions to support students with a broader range of counseling support on campus, including the following:
- Redirect district fiscal resources to fund at least one at-risk counselor in each school, as well as college counselors for every high school to ensure all students have opportunities to explore college and careers and postsecondary options. These counselors would also facilitate professional learning sessions with teachers and students regarding strategies to address trauma, depression, and build coping skills.
Adams explained that, upon further analysis, not every school may need an on-campus at-risk counselor, but that data for students in the district would help identify the specific needs.
“What we did, as a committee,” Adams said, “is looked at the economically disadvantaged percentage in certain schools, the number of students at risk, and the mobility of those students.”
As with the literacy proposals, Adams said the administration was already implementing many of the recommendations, and the committee would continue looking at ways the Board can support that work moving forward.
Trustees Approve One-Time Supplemental Employee Payment
The Spring ISD Board of Trustees approved a one-time supplemental payment for employees, which is scheduled to be disbursed in December 17 paychecks. All eligible full-time Spring ISD employees will receive $500 and all half-time employees will receive $250.
“[This item] is a result of, as we mentioned earlier, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the tremendous amount of additional work that is still being required of all of our staff,” said Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks. “[There is also a] need to continue to retain the staff that we have as we've heard and discussed many times, the challenges that we're continuing to have with staff retention.”
The payment is in recognition of work completed during the 2021-22 school year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge all aspects of the district’s operations. The supplemental payment would also lay the foundation for the continued high expectations of all employees returning to work in Spring ISD in the 2021-22 school year.
Currently, the nation is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of available workers, which has significantly impacted Texas school districts, including Spring ISD.
Board approves Annual Comprehensive Financial Report for the Year Ended June 30, 2021 and the Independent Auditor’s Report
Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks welcomed Celina Cereceres, the district’s engagement partner from the independent auditing firm Whitley Penn, who walked the Board through the audit results for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021. Overall, the audit team at Whitley Penn gave Spring ISD the highest possible result – “Unmodified,” also referred to as a Clean Opinion.
“As you know, each year we are required to have an audit conducted by an outside external CPA firm, and the audit was conducted this year, as always, and completed around the end of September, early October,” Westbrooks said. “And then that's when we commenced to creating our financial report that we’ll go over with you this evening.”
During her presentation, Cereceres went over the steps in the months-long process and discussed the major pieces taken into consideration in conducting the audit. The Whitley Penn auditors considered elements such as the district’s planning and risk assessment process, as well as internal controls over critical areas such as human resources, payroll, the tax office, procurement, accounts payable and information technology, along with others.
“I am pleased to report that you are earning an Unmodified opinion,” Cereceres said, “so this indicates that any user of the financial statements can rely on the figures, and the numbers are fairly stated in all material respects.”
The audit also took into account the district’s management of major federal funding, including funding related to Child Nutrition and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), as well as other coronavirus-related relief funding.
Cereceres also noted that Spring ISD had managed to maintain an optimal total balance within the General Fund, putting the district in a good position to weather any challenges, especially with continued uncertainty around the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following Cereceres’ presentation and a detailed overview from Westbrooks on the district’s 2020-21 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR), the Board voted to approve both the Independent Auditor’s Report for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2021 and the district’s 2020-21 ACFR.
As in past years, the finalized 2020-21 ACFR will be posted on the Financial Transparency page of the district’s Financial Services website.
Trustees Hold Discussion on Spring ISD Preferred Medical Plan
The Board of Trustees welcomed Spring ISD Chief Financial Officer Ann Westbrooks for a presentation and discussion of the district’s preferred medical plan, the Spring ISD Preferred Medical Plan, under development since 2015. Earlier this year, the Board of Trustees approved the addition of the plan through Aetna, which was then offered to employees during the open enrollment period at the beginning of this fiscal year.
The medical plan is currently an alternative to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas plan, which Spring ISD has utilized since 2011. The Spring ISD Preferred Medical Plan includes a healthcare clinic that is available free of cost to Spring ISD employees, as well as access to clinics and physicians throughout the Aetna network.
According to Westbrooks, just over half of eligible district employees are on the new plan, with 55% choosing the Spring ISD Preferred Plan. Out of that total, 34% of those on the preferred plan chose the Basic Plan. If this type of participation continues, Westbrooks said it would be likely that operating the preferred plan would break even and have no net loss for Spring ISD in the future.
Currently, the district is able to offer employees both the TRS-ActiveCare plan as well as the Spring ISD Preferred Plan. However, with Senate Bill 1444 approved by the 87th Texas Legislature, which became effective Sept. 1, an employer that participates in the TRS-ActiveCare plan cannot offer any alternative group health coverage.
As a result of this new law, the Spring ISD Board of Trustees must inform the state before Dec. 31, 2021 whether it chooses to leave the TRS-ActiveCare plan or not. This would take effect for the 2022-23 school year and the district would not be able to rejoin the plan for five years.
Westbrooks informed the Board of Trustees that in the coming weeks, data will be available to compare the first three months of the preferred plan with the past year of the original offered plan. Board members then asked for some clarification on each plan’s offerings from Westbrooks, including overall costs and future planned increases to each plan.
“We just want to make sure we do our due diligence,” Trustee Justine Durant said. “I just want to caution us to make sure we do that [before December’s meeting].”
The Board of Trustees requested that Westbrooks present a few more items in the upcoming December meeting. These requested items include an estimate of the long-term costs of the preferred plan, a side-by-side comparison of each plan’s costs and coverage, and a recommendation from the administration.
After reviewing that information at the December meeting, the Board will vote on a decision to continue participation in the TRS-ActiveCare plan or continue with the district’s self-funded plan.
In Other Action the Board Approved:
- The minutes from the Oct. 7, 2021 board work session; the Oct. 12, 2021 regular meeting; and the Oct. 18, 2021 special called session;
- Approval of the Remote Homebound Instruction Waiver;
- Acceptance of grant funds awarded by Houston Endowment, Inc. for a total of $270,000;
- Acceptance of grant funds awarded by Communities Foundation of Texas for a total of $100,000;
- Approval of High-Dosage Tutoring Contract with Intervene K-12;
- Approval of the 2021-22 First Budget Review;
- A contract for Career and Technical Education (CTE) Services to the providers recommended by the administration;
- A contract for for Vending Pre-Packaged Snacks to the providers recommended by the Administration; and
- Taxpayer Refunds.
Rhonda Newhouse, M.Ed.
Winford Adams Jr.
Kelly P. Hodges
Natasha McDaniel, M.Ed.
Deborah Jensen, Ph.D.
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The next regular Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at the Gordon M. Anderson Leadership Center, 16717 Ella Blvd.