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Posts published in July 2008

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

By Angie Liang

To balance the severity of my course load this past semester, I enrolled in a ballroom dancing class. Now, I’ve danced before, but never like this. Throughout the course I learned to two-step, waltz, jitterbug, foxtrot, and even tango a little. (Let me tell you, what they say is true: it is all about the attitude.) I even found a great dance partner, who I will call AP.

As part of the ongoing dance experience, AP and I decided to take a “Dips and Tricks” class. Unfortunately, we were the least experienced dancers there. Nonetheless, we trudged along as gracefully as we could, leaping and landing, sometimes correctly. We even tried to master a leg wrap that involved a quick weight change, and we giggled like middle-schoolers at our lack of elegance. But after a few attempts, we pulled it off!

So we thought we were doing pretty well, until it came time for the Death Drop. Yes, Death D-r-o-p. Even though he could hold my weight and our hands were locked correctly, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t d-r-o-p all the way down, despite AP’s assurance that he wasn’t going to let me go.

The truth is, AP isn’t the problem. Our connection is solid. The problem is me. I’m afraid to fall. I’m afraid to fail.

Throughout my years of schooling, getting anything below an A was painful. It meant that I wasn’t smart and I needed to study harder. I spent the majority of my life being compared to my peers and never feeling good enough. They were always earning prestigious scholarships, winning awards for math and writing, or running faster than me in track. When we were all applying for colleges, I didn’t even feel adequate enough to try for a certain Ivy League school. Meanwhile they were all discussing which Ivies they would accept or reject.

It wasn’t until I was actually in college that I became comfortable with my intellect. After all those years of worrying about my grades and writing, I began to understand that I am much more than any of that. I have mentored elementary-school children, raised funding for a local hospital, and worked to help make the UT campus more environmentally conscious. And on top of all that, my professors praised the very skills I used to be concerned about.

College was a gradual learning experience that helped me discover and define myself, even if I’m more confused now than I have ever been about what I would like to do. It’s only because I’ve learned that I now have more opportunities than I could have ever imagined. I’ve also realized, I like me. I’m comfortable with who I am. I just need to remember that it’s okay to take risks and make mistakes. Because I will bounce back.

So in that “Dips and Tricks” class, when AP reassured me one more time that he wasn’t going to drop me, I looked at him with a childish smile and let go of my fear, falling towards the floor.

And I came right back up, as good as ever.

Grama’s restaurant reopens with old Tex-Mex flavors

NORTHEAST– You may remember the building as Irma’s, or even 59 Diner, but now that traditional Tex-Mex flavor is coming from a new chef, Oscar Reyes, owner.
Reyes reopened the restaurant about two months ago, and is serving a full menu of Tex-Mex cuisine from 6 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, Monday through Saturday.

Although Reyes is a drywall contractor by trade, having worked for Marek Brothers, the city’s largest, in fact he has always had the food industry in his blood, and looks forward to a successful run with Grama’s.
Reyes has been chef at Bonita Gardents, Hotel Sofitel, and Anchor’s Marina Seafood. He also studied as a chef at the Culinary School at San Jacinto College. A native of Alvin, Reyes says that cooking has always been a tradition in his family. Now he serves dishes such as “Gramauh” brought him up on, on a farm just outside of Houston, including meatloaf, chicken fried steak, enchiladas, tacos and homemade soups such as Caldo De Res, and Caldo De Pollio. And of course the specialty, Menudo. Breakfast and lunch have many other special dishes, or ask for your favorite.
Grama’s is also available for catering, parties, family and business functions where a special location and good food is available.

Discussion reveals possible tax increase; Attendance enforcement by DA; and Closure proponents in legislature

By Gilbert Hoffman North Forest Publisher
North Forest’s new Multi-Service Center was the site of a public meeting last Saturday, June 28, to hear an update on the current status of the North Forest ISD from leaders of the educational community.
The featured speaker was Ron Rowell of the Texas Education Agency, but also present to speak and answer questions from a large audience of parents and citizens were NFISD superintendent William Jones, NFISD Board Vice President Alan Provost, and officers of the NEEF (Northeast Education First) advocacy group, including Robin German Curtis.
Additionally, although not present, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee issued a strong statement calling for a new “Board of Managers” and the reassignment of special education children to other districts.
The meeting was moderated by NEEF’s Paula Settles, who also ran a question and answer session later with Albert Coleman.
The main speaker, TEA’s Ron Rowell, who has led the team that is trying to correct problems at NFISD, made a four part presentation, reviewing the problems, situations, and outlook for the future.
He broke his talk down into the history of TEA’s involvement with North Forest’s problems, the academic failures, the financial problems, and the interaction with the community.

Rowell pointed out that all his presentation material was public information, available on the TEA website.
He stated that in 1996 TEA was involved in an onsite audit of finances, and possible misuse of state and federal funds. This matter was eventually sent to the Harris County District Attorney in 1997 for investigation and action, he noted.
In 1999, PINGS reports (attendance) were audited for irregularities in reports sent to TEA. In 2000 this data was checked again, and rated as unacceptable to the state.
In 2001 a monitor was assigned by TEA, to review financial reporting and expenditures. That monitor was removed in 2002, but in 2004 a Review Audit was ordered of the district’s cash flow. In 2006 it was determined that Expenditures reported on FEMA funds was inaccurate, and funds were withheld, leading to a $17 million deficit for the District.
In Academic matters, Rowell said the record had not been good, but that some improvement had been noted.
He noted that in the 05-06 school year, of eleven campuses, 8 had been rated Unacceptable based on TAKS test results. In 06-07, this had improved to 5 Unacceptable, and one was even Recognized. In 07-08, there were only 2 Unacceptable campuses, but both of these were the high schools.
He noted that Oak Forest Middle School, which looked like it would close after test results this winter, now may be on track to have an Acceptable rating on their test scores, and if this is true, which will be determined in the next month, then the school will not be forced to close as originally thought.
The problem at the high schools is serious, he noted, and cited graduation statistics. Of a total of 650 seniors at the two schools, only 216 graduated this spring, approximately 400 did not graduate. He stated that at the new North Forest High School (consolidated for the fall), there will be more discipline, more homework, and more accountability by the staff and students.
He noted that TEA currently sends an adviser to help with teacher training, and another to help with financial matters. In addition, two conservators are permanently assigned to govern financial and academic matters. With their assistance, the District has reduced its indebtedness from $17 to $11 million, but indicated that this effort is not enough, and the district may be faced with a “rollback” tax election in the fall to raise additional money to keep the district financially sound. The current tax rate is $1.04 per $100 assessed valuation, he said, and this might need to be raised to a maximum of $1.17 per.
Rowell said “North Forest MUST start to pay back its debt.” However, he said a call for a Tax Rollback Election in November would be a matter for the NFISD Board of Trustees to decide and vote upon.
Rowell pointed out that one of the factors leading to the financial problems is too large a staff for a decreasing student body. In 1993-94, for example, he said there were 13,132 students and 1538 staff. In 2006-06 there were only 8957 students, but almost as much staff at 1420 persons.
On community involvement, Rowell said it is imperative that parents help get the kids off the street and back into school. Average attendance at the high schools was only 88%, well below the state average. The increased attendance rate is important because “North Forest needs in income, and the kids need the education,” Rowell commented.
Rowell vowed that TEA has not had any discussion about Consolidation with another district, and the district will be open for the 2008-09 school year.
He said that “TEA wants to make NFISD the best we can for the 2008-09 school year.”
Superintendent Jones reveals new plans
Speaking next, Interim Superintendent William Jones spoke about several plans he will implement for 08-09 to solve some current problems.
He noted that graduation problems include low TAKS scores, attendance problems, students taking wrong courses for graduation, and some students that didn’t pass required classes for graduation.
He said that new initiatives will include Home Visits by teachers, administrative staff, and the Mayor of Houston Bill White, to invite students back into school that have dropped out;
Increased discipline at the High Schools;
and working with the District Attorney’s office and a special prosecutor, to enforce attendance requirements. This will include reopening a courtroom at Smiley to hear these cases.
Jones said this attendance enforcement has been used successfully at Cy-Fair, Katy, Pasadena, and will be shared with Galena Park.
Jones noted that a new computer reporting system needs more time and training to work properly. He also reviewed in detail the current results of TAKS scores in all grade levels, with very notable improvement in almost all categories and all grade levels.
In summary, he called for more collaboration to solve the District’s problems, and said he anticipated a total school population of 7600 students, with 1500-1800 in North Forest High School.
NEEF presentation
Robin Curtis made a slide presentation of the state of the NF District, and NEEF’s attempts to work with the district to bring improvements in the quality of education.
After reviewing a litany of problems, including turnover of superintendents, she called attention to the ongoing transfer of students out of the district, problems in the special education department, and possible consolidation or closure.
At this point, audience comments pointedly asked for intervention in governance, and improvement in the quality of food served in the schools.
Provost reveals complaints, constraints
In his comments directed to the audience, Assistant Board President Alan Provost complained about irresponsible reporting by the media, and interference by TEA with the board’s work. He said that without the TEA, the District would have the right superintendents and staff at this time.
Provost also revealed that in spite of what TEA said about keeping the district open, direct comments had been made to him by several legislators, including State Senators John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis, who indicated they wanted to close the District to save the state money and problems.
The audience asked questions of all the speakers by submitting cards. Among the comments, were the problems with getting up-to-date information from the Administration, including academic goals and time lines to accomplish these.
Jones said that information was always available, and invited the public to call him at 713-491-1050.

Vacationing in our own Great Northwest

Truly enjoyed our vacation to the Blue Sky Country of Montana; we are referred to as flatlanders by the folks up there.
Old cousin says the state is being over populated with people moving up there, says lots of them are from California. She didn’t seem too fond of these people for some reason; at least they ain’t Yankees or are they?
It was interesting to sit on the porch and talk with her husband. He’s a retired cowboy who worked on a big ranch; my cousin-in-law said an owner of one of the NFL teams owned the ranch; said the owner had more money than he had sense.
For some reason or other, Ted Turner was not a very popular person either.
I asked my cousin-in-law, ‘You actually did the branding and all that on the calves?”

Said they don’t burn them anymore, they freeze brand the stock. Mix alcohol and dry ice to get a super cold product or use liquid nitrogen to get good results. They also clip the hair from the area that is to be branded.
The ole boy has since had heart problems and was split open thus limiting his climbing the mountains to go berry picking. Huckleberry, that is but we still managed to get two pints to bring back to Texas.
Cousin says the huckleberries grow up high in elevations between 3500 and 7200 feet. You have to watch for bears too.
While in Wyoming, we took a side road to see a lake. On the way up the mountain on this dirt road, we saw a sign that said GRIZZLIES USE THIS AREA. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long.
Later on, we stopped by a fast flowing creek for some pictures. As I was going to get a few pictures, I noticed a pile of what bears do in the woods. I told the girls that we need to get on back to the car and quick. That has to be a nice size bear.
Stopping at a McDonalds in Wyoming one morning, after getting our food, we went to find a table and there were a dozen stools made with saddles for the kids. A neat idea indeed and another photo opportunity.
The folks in that part of the country have their events and festivals but with a different flair indeed. While having breakfast at the McDonalds, I glanced at the newspaper and a photo of the upcoming Eighth Annual Testicle Festival in Woodruff, Utah.
They fry 250 pounds of bull fries during the event, something similar to what the Shriner’s do with the fried oysters but a much smaller scale. They raised $30,000.00 for charity.
That part of the country is something to see and a nice way to visit, especially if you want something different. Don’t think I could handle those harsh below zero winters coupled with that white mud all over the place.

Apartment fire displaces 50 residents

Approximately 50 people were left homeless last week when a fire broke out at the Rockwood Landing Apartments on John K. Kennedy Blvd. near Aldine Mail Route.
Tommy Searcy, with the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department, said that the fire started about 1:15 p.m. Although the fire was contained to one building in the complex, eight apartments were destroyed by fire and 4 damaged.
Also responding to the three-alarm blaze were the Houston Fire Dept., Aldine Fire & Rescue, Little York VFD, Atascocita VFD, Northwest VFD and Ponderosa VFD.
Officials say that due to a quick evacuation of residents there were no injuries. The cause of the fire is unknown.

American Legion celebrates 20th year in Aldine area

NORTHEAST HOUSTON– Over one hundred persons were on hand last Sunday afternoon, as the American Legion Post 578, on Aldine Mail Route, and Fort Bend County’s Vaqueros Trail Riders, combined their efforts to recognize and award scholarships to deserving college bound students from both of their service areas.
A total of 13 students received the scholarships of $1000 each for their college expenses. This included students from MacArthur, Aldine, and Nimitz High Schools in the Aldine District, and other schools in the greater Houston and Fort Bend areas.
The ceremony and luncheon were also a celebration for the local American Legion Post of their 20th year serving veterans in the Aldine/Greenspoint district. It was April 1988 that the post was founded, with several locations between then and now. According to Post Commander Rudy Barelas, the group has recently completed a remodelling and update to their buildings and facilities on Aldine Mail Route, and this was an opportunity to show them to the public.
The program also included talks for the benefit of the scholarship recipients. Speakers included Tatcho Mandolia, Jr., a professor at the University of Houston; Brittany Rivas, the 2007 Scholarship recipient; and Rudy Cano, a vice president of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Four of the scholarships were from funds raised by the American Legion post, with the help of the VFW Post 9187, and the balance from the Vaqueros, who said they expect to be able to raise even more next year.

State puts North Forest ISD on Probation

Citing “serious and persistent deficiencies in both the academic and financial performance of the district,” the Texas Education Agency has placed the North Forest ISD on probation.
In a letter to William Jones, interim superintendent of North Forest dated June 13, 2008 TEA Commissioner Robert Scott told the district it was assigned “Accredited-Probation” status following a special accreditation investigation.
Under state guidelines, the district must notify parents and taxpayers of the problems in the district and how those problems will be addressed. North Forest has until June 30 to submit the notification to the state for their approval.
The “probation” status is not subject to another record review or appeal.

During the 2007-08 school year, data was compiled by a “TEA-assigned management team” as part of the investigation. The 14-page summery report found troubles in the “integrity of financial data,” how the district reported disciplinary action to the state, multiple areas of “financial deficiencies” as well as “program deficiencies” and problems with attendance reporting and student records.
Investigators noted that for three straight years the district had failed to meet the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas standards. Among the problems were improperly coded financial transactions and staff training. Investigators were told that staff would be trained by the end of February 2008. As of May 6, they had not received the training.
Investigators also learned that from September 2006 through February 2008, the school district did not report its monthly staff counts.
Since July 2007 the school district has been borrowing money from its Capital Project Fund to meet cash shortfalls in the General Fund. According to the report “the chief financial officer indicated that he was not made aware of the borrowing of bond monies until after the fact.” The report also said that the district could be in “violation of state law and its bond covenants in using these monies for purposes which are not allowable under state regulations.”
In the area of academics, the report noted that in 2007 the district had five of its 11 campuses rated “Academically Unacceptable”, five were “Academically Acceptable” and one was “Recognized.” Of the five “unacceptable” one had earned that rating for the past four consecutive years. Smiley High School had been rated “unacceptable” four out of the last five years.
The investigators also found trouble with how student records were kept at both high schools.
According to the report, “the TEA-assigned conservator was unable to determine whether graduating seniors received the correct number of credits because there are no documents in the cumulative folders at either campus that reflects this information.”

Commons of Grace Senior Housing to hold Open House June 27-28

The public is invited to a two day “Life’s A Beach” Extravaganza, planned by the Commons of Grace, a senior apartment homes development at 9110 Tidwell, to see the spacious one and two bedroom apartment homes that are available for adults 55 years old and “better”.
The theme is meant to emphasize the leisure quality of life that can be expected at the Commons, and will occur around the pool.
Those attending will be entered in a Grand Prize Drawing for a $500 dollar Visa Gift Card.
Features of the Commons of Grace include handicap accessible units, fully-equipped modern kitchens, washer and dryer connections, extra storage space designed into the plans, a private patio or balcony for each unit, a clubhouse with a multi-purpose room, a swimming pool, computer room and fitness center, and picnic areas with barbecue grills.
The development features a gated entrance for security, and unlike some apartment complexes, your pet is welcome here at the Commons!
Living at the commons includes planned activities and social events.
Everyone is invited to the Extravaganza, 10am to 5pm on Friday June 27 and Saturday June 28, with Door prizes, free food and games. Please call 713-635-3500 for more information, and see the ad on page 8 of this North Forest News.