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Posts published in January 2009

Aldine State of the District

Growth, new schools, performance reviewed

Aldine Superintendent Wanda Bamberg addressed an early morning meeting of about 300 teachers, staff, board, community leaders, community partners, and others who came to hear the report on the State of the District for 2008, and projections for 2009 and beyond. The breakfast meeting was held at the Sheraton Hotel on JFK Boulevard last Friday morning.

Bamberg reviewed the current status of the District, which has grown to almost 62,000 students, on 72 campuses, with 8500 employees, and a budget of $470,000,000.

High points of the last year include finalist for the Broad Prize, which brought the district a $250,000 award for scholarships, and the 2008 HEB Excellence in Education Award, a $100,000 prize that is being used to expand the virutal campus opportunities for on-line students.

Bamberg noted that in Academic performance, Aldine ISD is equal to or exceeds state averages, However, she noted that academic achievement could be better, with the District only receiving an Academically Acceptable rating from the state.

“Science and math continue to be the most challenging courses for our students,” she noted. This rating is in spite of the fact that the district had 12 Examplary campuses and 29 Recognized campuses, she said.

Also, Aldine ISD did not Meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) a federal education standard. She said that the milestones had been raised each year, with more difficulty to achieve.

She presented charts to explain that Aldine has special challenges due to its high minority poulation, as compared with other districts nationwide. 69% of the students are in an At Risk category, and 84% are Economically Disadvantaged.

In spite of this, she pledged that the district is committed more than ever to “Produce the Nations Best”, and to prepare graduates for college, for post secondary training, and for work. To this end, she is studying “How School Boards can Improve Performance of Districts through Policy.” She also plans to put a strong emphasis on involvement of parents.

Her theme for last year was “212 degrees,” or how a little extra effort changes water to the power of steam. This year her theme is “Our Iceberg is Melting,” emphasizing that fixing fundamentals that are not obvious has an effect on the obvious performance results seen above the water line.

She noted that AISD has a strong attendance record of 95.5%, although her goal is 97%. Student population is now white 3.3%, Hispanic 65%, African-American 29%, and Asian and others 1.8%.

In other achievements, she noted that AISD now had an IB World School program, and that graduates on the International Baccalaureate program stand a higher chance at college admissions and credit for completed high school classes.

The Aldine Scholarship Foundation (ASF) awarded 65 scholarships last year, and since 1991 has awarded a total of 635 scholarships. Total scholarship, academic and athletic, in 2008 totalled about $9,000,000 for the studetns. The district also received about $9,600,000 in grants for various programs.

Houston Endowment also awarded students in the district $225,000 in the Preparing to Dream program, for scholarships over the next three years.

Bamberg noted that the budget for 2009-2010 will be about $471,000,000 but that the district is in good financial shape, due to conservative management. The state had rated AISD Superior Rank in its Financial Integrity Rating System, for the 5th consecutive year.

An unusual expense for 2008 was damage from the Hurricane Ike, which caused about $7,000,000 to AISD facilities. The district lost 9 school days, but made up 4 of them with scheduling.

She noted that the current tax rate is 1.292 cents, one of the lowest in Harris County. This includes 1.13 for M&O and .158 for I&S. She said that about 63% of this money comes from state reimbursements, but hopes that the 81st Legislature, now meeting in Austin, will devise a new formula for school funding that will be easier on the taxpayer and more beneficial to the districts. She also thinks the ratings system, or Accountability, could be improved and should be worked on by the Legislature.

She noted that last year the district was able to give employees a 2% pay raise, but that this year’s economic situation may be different.

Bamberg’s presentation included a map of new high school zoning that will be proposed when the new high school, to be located in the Gears Road area, opens in 2011. She said that they will work with the public to refine the boundary lines.

She also announced that when the new school is opened, it will allow students now in the Carver area to choose either to attend Carver, or go to Eisenhower at their choice.

Congressman Green complete series of Town Hall Meetings in Northeast area

NORTHEAST HOUSTON – Well attended Town Hall meetings held over the last two Saturdays gave the public an opportunity to exchange views with their Congressman Gene Green, and to hear a report on the issues he is working on in this 111th session of Congress, which started on January 6th.

Green scheduled the events to occur in each of the community colleges in his district. These included HCC-Northeast, San Jacinto North, Lee College, HCC-Southeast, HCC-Northline, and Lone Star College-Greenspoint.

Green’s comments focused on FEMA and Hurricane Ike Recovery, support for Veterans, Energy Independence and the Environment, Economic Recovery, Digital TV transition, and Health Care legislation.

Green also noted how popular the Inauguration of Obama was this year. Although he was alloted 200 tickets for the event, he had 800 requests from local citizens that wanted to attend.

Concern by citizens was expressed on a number of issues. On economic development and the TARP bailout money, most wanted to see some more accountability, not just a handout to the financial industry. Most would prefer the money be used for mortgage relief to individuals. Green pointed out that he had voted against the first two TARP bills, and would only vote for the next one if it had restrictions and accountability.

Many questioned what can be done to improve the air quality and environment. Green pointed out that his district in Houston has many polluting industries, but he must find ways to reduce carbon emissions but not take away jobs. He suggested that a “carbon tax” is a good solution, although it ultimately passes costs on to the consumer. Industry opposes any bill of this type in Congress. He suggested that changing power plants to fuels other than coal could make a big difference in air pollution.

On the stimulus package, Green said we need to change the tax code to encourage more savings by Americans, including their 401k plans. Also, he said the Stimulus Package now will include money for jobs, highways, drainage projects, and other infrastructure work.

On Health Care, the new Cobra legislation will let you qualify for Medicaid if you lose your job. It will cover 2-1/2 years, and pay 100% of costs.

Green has also co-sponsored a bill that would provide Medicare benefits to everyone, not just the elderly, but he thought that it did not have much chance for approval, as Congress studies many other ways to provide adequate and improved health services to everyone.

“We have the highest costs per capita, and some of the poorest health care in the world” he noted. Our employer-based health care system has not worked well, but a “single payer” Universal Health Care system is not close to adoption in this country, he thought.

Another health care bill that Green helped pass will include new FQHC, or federally funded health clinics in neighborhoods. Harris County has 4 of these now, far behind most other cities such as Chicago which has 81, and Austin 21. Houston has 10 but should have more.

On highway projects, Green said that plans are underway to complete Beltway 8 from US59 to I-10 as a Toll Road. This is necessary due to the high traffic volume now on this road.

Much discussion was on areas that experience flooding during rainstorms or hurricanes. Green said that the federal government has now taken over the Halls Bayou improvement project, which will allow faster completion of this flood project.

On the toxic waste site in the San Jacinto River, he said that although he no longer heads a subcommittee with this responsibility, he will nevertheless be on a subcommittee charged with the environment, and will continue to work to get the EPA to include this on their superfund cleanup list.

On environmental issues, the audience said they wanted more help with the recycling problem.

Green agreed, saying that the area has the worst record in the nation for recycling. He mentioned that 3 new “crushers” had opened recently on the East side of the county to help with the problem.

Residents complained about FEMA not delivering promised assistance. Green said his office reviews each case and tries to help, even with a denial, but “this FEMA is different.”

Some residents wanted more help in paying for college, since tuition has increased at most institutions. Green agreed that PELL grants need to rise.

Flooding in areas of Aldine were mentioned by several people. Green offered to help with County officials, who have the most immediate help to offer, while the federal government is working on long term flood control.

Other questions involved immigration concerns, jobs losses, competition from foreign countries, child care and foster homes, and mentally retarded care.

Green summed up by saying “I am proud to be a Democrat, but I am independent enough not to always vote the way the party wants, but what is best for the people in my district.”

Iron Chef- North Forest Style

Students from Oak Village Middle School competed in an “Iron Chef” style cooking competition on Jan. 16 at the Memorial Hermann Hospital Wellness Center. The competition, hosted by the Harris County Department of Education, was held to teach students the importance of healthy eating habits. Team members were Joseph Arceneaux, Mirca Alvarez, Shundalyn Childs, Ashton Harris, Aleah Jackson, Jatranae Napier, Traseyonna Porch, Levi Shaw, Adrianna Williams and Brianne Williams. The team prepared an Italian meal with assistance of Director Arlene Kennerson and instructors Martha Lathon and Mary McWhorter. The Oak Village team took two out of the five awards available at the competition in the areas of “Best Presentation Award” and “Best Cuisine.”

Free legal advice available by phone

The LegalLine, sponsored by the Houston Bar Association, Mexican American Bar Association and Asian legal community will be open in English Feb. 4 and Feb. 18 from 5 to 9 p.m. It will be open in Spanish Feb. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. Vietnamese speakers can contact the line Feb. 17 from 5 to 7 p.m.

For free legal advice call the English and Spanish line at 713-759-1133. For help in Vietnamese call 713-654-8881.

The public is invited to call the number where volunteer attorneys will answer simple legal questions, give advice and direct people to social service agencies as needed.

Bush hopes history is kind to his legacy

After George W. Bush witnessed the swearing in of America’s first African-American president Tuesday, he headed for Texas for a brief ceremonial stop in his former hometown of Midland.

Then he and wife Laura reboarded the presidential plane sent to carry him back to Texas, and headed on to his first night as a former president at his ranch near Crawford.

The stop in Midland was somewhat ceremonial. Not only was it his last stop before heading off to the White House after he was confirmed as president eight years ago; it’s also a place where he could face a welcoming and appreciative crowd.

As he demonstrated at a final press conference recently, he will also be reflecting on his legacy. Perhaps he’ll be wondering: will his tenure be judged primarily by the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he authorized and leaves behind? Or by his administration’s bungled response in 2005 to Hurricane Katrina? Or by the direst economic collapse since the Great Depression of the 1930s?

He can’t help but hope that he is treated more kindly by historians in coming decades than he is by the public, where polls showed his approval rating had reached historic lows.

He well remembers that Democratic President Harry S Truman suffered from high disapproval when he left office in 1953, but over the years came to be judged much more positively.

The Austin American-Statesman recently noted in an editorial that even though it had endorsed him both times he ran for president, “we don’t deny the obvious: Bush as president failed, and that failure has hurt the nation.”

Bush’s White House website has sought to stress what he considers his achievements, listing dozens of them. Even some critics, like The New York Times’ editorial page, while panning his overall performance as president, nonetheless praised him for efforts in health care, including:

— Stressing the nation’s interest in the global effort to control AIDS and fight malaria and tuberculosis around the world;

— Pushing through a costly new prescription drug benefit under Medicare despite opposition from Republicans;

— More than doubling federal financing for community health centers in areas where medical care otherwise is in short supply.

Bush credited his dramatic tax cuts with helping push an economic growth that saw jobs increase for 52 straight months. But critics contend his fiscal policies and relaxation of regulatory standards helped lead to the economic crisis.

Bush also pushed faith-based initiatives.

He takes credit for no additional successful assaults on the United States since the terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.

“After the attacks of 9/11, my mission was to protect the homeland and to put tools in place to enable future presidents to protect the homeland,” Bush told Texas reporters in a Jan. 9 Oval Office conversation. “And that has been accomplished. There hasn’t been another attack.”

The 9/11 attack boosted Bush’s popularity, and his making the 2002 elections a referendum on him, even though he wasn’t on the ballot, helped the GOP gain congressional seats.

But after Bush pushed for war in Iraq, that bloody, costly effort eventually soured for the public after the weapons of mass destruction cited to justify the invasion never materialized, and no connection was ever proven between the 9/11 attacks and the Saddam Hussein regime.

Bush, who had been a popular Texas governor, and teamed up with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and House Speaker Pete Laney, talked of taking bipartisanship to Washington. But despite initial partisan cooperation on the No Child Left Behind education act, Bush found there was no love-fest in the nation’s capitol like the one he’d experienced in Texas.

Bush admitted failures on trying to privatize Social Security, and to get an immigration bill that was fought largely by Republicans in Congress.

But he has gotten high marks for his cooperation with the incoming Barack Obama administration on the transition, and from environmentalists for declaring several hundred square miles of territory around the Marianas Trench in the Pacific ocean, the deepest part of the ocean, a Marine National Monument.

Bush told the Texas reporters he’ll “let history be the judge” of his administration. “I will tell you this. I have a great sense of accomplishment, and I am going home with my head held high.”

After a few days on their Crawford ranch, the Bushes plan to move into another home they have purchased in Dallas. He indicated he’ll spend some time making speeches, and be a presence at his presidential library and institute to be built at Southern Methodist University.

Otherwise, he said at a Jan. 12 final press conference, “I’m getting off the stage. I’ve had my time in the klieg lights.”

Steelers out for 6th Lombardi Trophy: Cardinals want streak to continue

By Mike Keeney

One team has been there numerous times before, while another is making its first trip to the climactic game of the NFL season.

When the 2008 NFL season began, many believed the Pittsburgh Steelers had a legitimate shot at playing for a sixth Super Bowl title, but few gave the Arizona Cardinals a chance to be playing for their first. But that’s today’s NFL, just when you think you have things figured out, crazy things happen.

Prior to the start of the season, most so-called “experts” believed the Dallas Cowboys would stroll into Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium to take on San Diego, New England or some other capable team from the AFC.

But a funny things happened on the way to the big dance, the Cowboys collapsed, and as for the AFC contenders, the Chargers made a remarkable run to end the season to qualify for the playoffs, where their season ended in the second round of the playoffs to the Steelers, while the Patriots were on the inside looking out in the AFC playoffs.

But that’s history and this column is to discuss the two teams who are left and who yours truly thinks will win on Sunday in Tampa Bay.

Both teams carry a lot of momentum into this game, especially the Cardinals who were left for dead after suffering a 47-7 trouncing at New England in Week 16. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s team picked itself up and won their finale against Seattle and then won three straight playoff games in impressive fashion thanks to a rejuvenated Kurt Warner. They dominated Atlanta at home in the Wild Card round, then ran roughshod over the Carolina Panthers at Carolina in the divisional round before rallying for a 32-25 victory over Philadelphia in the NFC title game.

The Steelers, on the other hand, had an easy time of it with San Diego (35-24) in the divisional round before earning a hard-fought, 23-14 win over Baltimore in a hard-hitting and bruising AFC title matchup.

It’s a good thing the Steelers had two weeks to recover from that one! But things won’t get any easier against an Arizona team that will bring a swagger and confidence, along with the game’s hottest wide receiver, into Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Many will expect the Steelers to ease to victory, but not so fast! Arizona has a hot quarterback in the 37-year-old Warner and the game’s best wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. That duo has connected for five touchdowns in three playoff games and add to the fact that the Cards have also rediscovered their running game thanks to Edgrin James and his fresh legs, the Pittsburgh defense now has a lot with which to contend.

Things could be made all the more difficult if fellow wide receiver Anquin Boldin has gotten over his pouting after being replaced late in the NFC title game. FOX’s cameras captured Boldin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley engaged in a heated exchange when Boldin was removed late in the Philly game. Boldin did not help his cause by quickly exiting the Arizona locker room after the game as he passed on celebrating the franchises’ biggest win to date with his teammates. Arizona fans have to hope Boldin has grown up some in the last two weeks, and is poised to contribute against the Steelers on Sunday.

While the Cardinals are playing solid offense, their defense has also stepped up its game in the post season. The run defense has been outstanding and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendgrast has shown he’s not afraid to bring pressure via the blitz during the playoffs.

The Steelers are well aware of all of this and know they must get running back Willie Parker untracked early to force Arizona to respect the run and open up the field for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben has performed adequately in the playoffs and his ability to move around in the pocket should benefit the Steelers come Sunday. In the Baltimore win, his ability to withstand the pass rush allowed him to hook up with wide receiver Santonio Holmes on a 65-yard touchdown pass that provided Pittsburgh with some much-needed breathing room against the hard-hitting Ravens.

Speaking of Holmes, he has turned into a solid weapon in the playoffs for the Steelers. He returned a punt for a touchdown against San Diego and has come up with some clutch receptions during post-season play. He may need to step up his game again on Sunday if the dependable Hines Ward is slowed by the knee injury he sustained in the Baltimore game. Ward is the heart and soul of the Steelers, and it might take a broken leg to keep him out of this game. Expect No. 86 to be ready to go come sundown on Sunday. Remember, he was the MVP four years ago when the Steelers won their fifth title against Seattle in Detroit.

Also look for tight end Heath Miller to have a significant role in the passing game on Sunday.

Defensively, the Cardinals will be facing the NFL’s best defense and you had better believe James Harrison and mates will bring the pressure early and often to the 37-year-old Warner. Look for them to attack Warner early to gum up his timing with his talented receiving corps.

As stated earlier, this should be a better game than most expect. The Cardinals aren’t going to lie down for the Steelers. They’ve invested too much in the last month to quit now, but then again, the Steelers know history beckons and they’ve been here before and recently as well.

In the end, Big Ben makes the plays down the stretch and the Pittsburgh defense does its part as the Rooney family takes home its sixth Lombardi Trophy, making it the first NFL franchise to accomplish that feat. Sorry Dallas and San Francisco fans, but deal with it!

My pick, Pittsburgh 33, Arizona 27