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Posts published in March 2013

Charter group proposes PHILO as NF solution

NORTH FOREST – Efforts to save the North Forest school district from closure and forced merger with Houston ISD continued on several fronts last week.

A group of Charter Schools propose to take over and run the district, through a non-profit entity known as PHILO.

Philo has been in existence for a number of years, long before the North Forest crisis, according to Rod Paige, former HISD supintendent, PHILO board member, and former U.S. Secretary of Education. PHILO would be the manager of a 3 charter consortium that would take over and run the North Forest district, responsible for academic achievement, completion rate, and financial accountability.

In a news conference on Monday of last week, Paige and KIPP founder Mike Feinberg, also a board member of PHILO, outlined somewhat more specific plans for running the district.

Superintendent’s Report

Later that evening, at a North Forest Board meeting, NF Superintendent Edna Forté reported to the community on these PHILO plans. She also reported on the second initiative, which was a meeting with the TEA on Friday, March 15 to discuss and protest the decision to close the district.

Attending the TEA hearing were Forté, North Forest attorney, Chris Tritico, administrator James Troutman, and others. This meeting lasted over 4 hours, and was conducted in a state hearing room. The group told the TEA that of the 10 items that the district had to meet as a condition of their continued operation, they had clearly met 8 of them, and 2 others were under appeal or substantial progress had been made. She said the evidence they present was a solid case, worthy of reconsideration. She said that the district missed the completion rate, one of the important criteria, by only 2 students, which meant a 66% rate when the state was requiring 75%.

The group made the point to TEA that they sought Innovative Alternatives to closure, and therefore had investigated a partnership with Texas A & M, and more recently a partnership with PHILO and 3 charter schools that offered to help run the district.

As Forté said, “We are not conceding, we are trying to innovate.”

Forté made the point, that the district was now classified by the U.S. Dept. of Education as a “Choice” district, due to failure to meet requirements, and a letter had been sent to parents informing them that they now have a choice of which school to send their children, at the district’s expense.

Attorney Chris Tritico said that the problem with the Closure order was that the initial hearing was in front of the same person who ordered the annexation, thus could not be impartial as required. If the district does not get another reprieve, this would be one point to be appealed in court. The next hearing would be in front of an Administrative Law Judge in the judicial system, not the TEA, Tritico said. After that, there are still two appelate courts available to hear the pleadings.

Nichols Park dedicated in Airline District

Arlene Nichols, District 140 advocate, remembered

NORTHEAST – Four years after her death, friends and family of community advocate Arlene Nichols gathered to open a new 10 acre park in the Airline District, that will memoralize her work and is named for her. Airline District Executive Director Teri Koerth presided over the dedication ceremony Friday morning, which included Nichols family, Aldine High School Band, agency representatives that helped pay for the park, community leaders, and government officials.

Nichols was a tireless activist for the welfare and quality of life of those in Legislative District 140, where she was employed as an aide to State Representative Kevin Bailey.

Bailey was instrumental in setting up the legislation that formed improvement districts in Aldine and Airline, and Nichols was involved in this important work.

Community groups such as the Bellmar, Northline Terrace, and Colonial Hills Civic Clubs worked closely with her to continually improve conditions in their neighborhoods.

After her retirement and subsequent death in 2008, those that knew her in East Aldine, Greenspoint, and Airline Districts wished to remember her work by establishing a memorial such as this park.

The 10 acre site became available, and the Airline Improvement District working with the Texas Parks & Wildlife and the Harris County Community Services Department, raised $951,437 to acquire and build this park. Of that amount, TPWD funded $200,000 with a grant, US HUD contributed $626,437 through Harris County, and the Airline District contributed $125,000.

The park has been developed with two multi-use playing fields, a walking/jogging path, playground equipment, picnic areas, parking and landscaping. Design of the park was donated by McDonough Engineering Inc. and construction was by Cooley Construction, LLC.

Speaking at the dedication were AID’s Teri Koerth, Zera Presley of the Bellmar CC and AID board, Armando Walle, State Representative District #140, Roxane Eley, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Cindy Gabriel, Harris County Community Services Department, Nick Nichols, husband of Arlene, Brian Rego of Harris County Pct. 1 and the AID board. John Martin, chairman of the AID board, presented each with an appropriate memorial plaque and artwork from the park.

In her remarks regarding Arlene, Teri Koerth recalled her history:

“Arlene grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island and moved to Houston in 1968. Her inspiration for public service began in her youth where she worked as a candy striper and volunteered in Catholic Nursing Homes. She began getting involved in Public Service with the school PTA and local political campaigns. Arlene’s first public service job was for Representative Bailey at District #140 where she worked for 18 years.

“Arlene was one of the most dedicated public servants I have ever known. She worked tirelessly with the community on issues such as water and sewer, public safety and education. Arlene was instrumental in laying the foundation for this (park) project by helping to obtain one of the initial grants that was used to building this very park.

“It is with great admiration that we acknowledge her service and accomplishments. What a great honor it is to have our park named after such a wonderful role model.

“As some of you may be aware, this site was the original Carroll Elementary location where children used to learn and play. With the construction of this park, the site has come full circle and I know that Arline would be proud that once again children will play here.”

North Forest ISD continues fight with TEA to avoid closure

NORTH FOREST – Representatives of the North Forest school district have continued last week at an Austin meeting with TEA, their fight to keep the district open, in spite of an order from the Texas Education Agency to merge with the Houston ISD after June 30 of this year.

Led by their well known Houston attorney, Chris Tritico, and with the encouragement and help of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the district has taken two approaches to thwart the closure order.

First, they have received the support of 3 local charter schools, KIPP, YES Prep, and Harmony, to form a management group that would run the district in lieu of the present administration.

Second, they have asked TEA Commissioner Michael Williams to set aside the closure order, claiming it was biased by the fact that the TEA official in charge of the decision, Lizzette Reynolds, was not impartial and did not have standing to rule on the decision.

Tritico and a North Forest delegation including superintendent Edna Forté and James Troutman met in Austin last Friday with TEA officials for over 4 hours, arguing that the district has made substantial progress to improve their academic and financial ratings. They are operating on a one year reprieve from TEA, but in that year they are required to meet certain stated criteria for graduation rates, financial stability, and test scores. TEA claims they have not met the requirements, and North Forest says they have met all 10 requirements, if recent data is taken into account. Some of the disagreement centers on the time period used for the evaluation of the district.

Prior to Friday’s meeting, the district through its attorney had requested from TEA a new appeal hearing, based on the fact that the official conducting the hearing, Deputy TEA Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds, was not impartial due to the fact that she was involved in earlier procedural meetings regarding the district.

Tritico has indicated that if they fail to get a new appeal hearing, or if their meeting Friday fails to result in a favorable ruling as to the closure order, then his next step would be to file a lawsuit and have the courts decide the matter.

These decisions to not deal with the other proposal, for the three charter schools to take over the management of the district. This would be the basis of a separate ruling, it can be assumed. TEA Commissioner Williams has stated that he has not had time to review this proposal, but that he currently expects both NF ISD and Houston ISD to proceed on the basis that they will merge on July 1st.

TEA says the main problem in North Forest is accountability at the high school. They want students to attend HISD schools, namely Kashmere and Wheatley, but which have better test scores at the 10th and 11th grad levels. But North Forest argues that their 9th grade score are better than HISD, and indicate district-wide improvement.

TEA has indicated they will issue a final decision by April 1st, but it seems that this maynot be the final word on the controversy.

North Forest ISD seeks help from 3 Charter Schools

NORTH FOREST – In its latest plan to avoid the order from the Texas Education Agency to close and merge with Houston ISD, leaders of the opposition to closure, including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, have put forth a plan to turn the district over to a consortium of 3 well known Houston area Charter schools who would run the district and be responsible for financial decisions, personnel and education achievements.

The plan was announced on Friday at a news conference held at Shadydale Elementary school, with students present as well as many leaders of the North Forest community.

Also present for a ceremonial signing of an agreement were representatives of the three charter schools, the school board president Pastor Charles Taylor, the North Forest Superintendent Edna Forté, parents’ representative Ernestine Jones, former U. S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, and Attorney Chris Tritico. Paige indicated that he would be a member of a management team, representing the three charter schools, that would take over running the district. Paige is also a KIPP board member, and a former superintendent of Houston ISD.

Paige was quoted as saying he thinks the “project has national significance,” and could set an example for other distressed and underperforming districts throughout the nation.

This is not the first time that a charter school has been asked to help a failing district. In fact, North Forest partnered with YES Pres three years ago, and has a successful middle and senior high school operating in one of their buildings. YES is a supplement to North Forest, however, not a manager. KIPP also has a presence in the area, with separate schools for boys and girls on Mesa Drive.

The three charter schools that have agreed to form a coalition to run North Forest are KIPP, Harmony, and YES Prep charter schools. KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg was quoted as saying “we recognize how difficult this work is” but that “If we didn’t believe we could do it, we wouldn’t be trying.”

Attorney Tritico indicated that a letter had been sent to TEA Commissioner Michael Williams, outlining the plan but not the details. Williams issued a statement saying he was waiting for details, to evaluate whether the plan “will in fact meet the needs of all students in the NFISD.”

In the meantime, the order to close and merge North Forest with HISD still stands, and both TEA and HISD have indicated they are proceeding with the merger plans, which are to take effect after the end of the school year on June 30th.

Critics of the district continue to urge merger, including the Houston Chronicle, in an editorial last month saying North Forest has had too many opportunities without success, and it was past time to offer the students a better education.

CONGRESSWOMAN SHEILA JACKSON LEE held a press conference on Friday, in a classroom at North Forest’s Shadydale Elementary, to announce the arrangement with the 3 Charter Schools, and to sign a symbolic agreement.

Generation Park will spur growth in Northeast area

New 4000 acre Enterprise Park on Beltway 8 East

In a presentation to the North Channel Chamber last week, McCord Development’s Land Development Director, Rick Yarbrough, described the fea tures of the new 4000 acre “Enterprise Park” that is being built on Beltway 8 East, near the current Summerwood neighborhood. McCord’s CEO Rick McCord, has spent the last 20 years assembling the land and planning this project.

The concept is to build a top level business park for top corporations that will feature energy efficiency, in the buildings, land development, and design amenities.

McCord and many other city planning officials believe that there is great potential for development in the Northeast sector of the county, and that this project could be the prototype for community planning and economic development.

The project will be a beautifully landscaped “mixed use” with offices, commercial, industrial, research, and multi-family buildings in segregated zones.

Yarbrough cited the location as being ideal, with easy access to the airport to the north, and the Port of Houston to the south. In addition, it is surrounded by quality housing, parks, good schools, and water features including Lake Houston.

McCord is just beginning the development of this property, Yarbrough said, and they expect it to be a 20 year long project until completed.

McCord announced the first major prime tenant just last month, FMC technologies bought 173 acres for offices and manufacturing. Their property will face Beltway 8/Sam Houston Parkway East.

Ryan McCord, president of the company, said “it’s important for companies to have state-of-the-art facilities to attract and retain the best and brightest talent.”

Greenspoint District names Jerry Lowry as new President

Greenspoint District named Jerry Lowry as president following the retirement of former President Jack Drake.

A 13-year employee of the Greenspoint District, Lowry served as executive vice president and chief operating officer prior to accepting appointment as president. Lowry joined the District in 2000 as director of Public Safety.

Chairman of the Greenspoint District Board of Directors, James Curry of Hines stated that, “The change in leadership of Greenspoint District comes at an exciting time in its history. Jerry Lowry is the right person to keep it moving forward and thriving.”

While carrying out his Greenspoint District duties, Lowry created and served as the first executive director for the District’s foundation, Greenspoint Community Partners. Established in 2004, GCP is a nonprofit focused on gaining support to increase and expand District programs related to public safety, beautification, and recreational development.

Lowry is an appointee of Governor Rick Perry to the Texas State Jail Standards Commission. Actively involved in the community, Lowry serves on many boards and councils including the Amegy Bank Advisory Board, Lone Star College System Chancellor’s Global Advisory Council, Aldine Independent School District Superintendent’s Business Advisory Council, and North Houston Association Board. He is past chairman of the North Houston Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce (now named the Houston Intercontinental Chamber of Commerce).

Sylvia Garcia wins Senate District 6 seat in run-off

HARRIS COUNTY – The run-off election for Mario Gallego’s vacated seat representing State Senate District 6 ended with the election last Saturday of former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

Unofficial results show that Garcia had 53% of the votes, or 9582 votes, while her opponent State Representative Carol Alvarado received 47% of the vote, or 8514 votes.

The election was considered a close race, and many thought that Alvarado would win, due to endorsements that included the Houston Chronicle and the Gallegos family, with a deathbed wish from Gallegos himself endorsing Alvarado.

However, Garcia worked hard and spent quite a bit of money to win over voters, and she had a much broader name recognition from her terms at County Commissioner for Precinct 2.

Garcia’s strongest campaign promise was to stand up to Governor Perry on education and healthcare matters. She portrayed herself as a fighter on behalf of the average citizen.

Alvarado on the other hand said she was able to accomplish more in the legislature because she could work “across party lines” and knew from her experience as a state legislator how to file bills and “be effective and get something done.” She pointed out that she had a close relationship with her district, and had spent much time in her 10 years in office developing relationships with citizens, and promoting issues they care about, such as senior citizens, and education.

The campaign also turned negative in the latter weeks, with both candidates running TV ads criticizing the other. Alvarado insinuated that Garcia benefitted herself and her associates with favored contracts. In turn, Garcia criticized her opponent for siding too often with Perry’s conservative policies, cutting budgets for healthcare and education.

After certifying the results and being sworn in to office in Austin, Garcia will join Harris County delegates in the current legislative session. She has criticized the governor for delaying this election to a late date, making her participation less effective.