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Posts published in July 2011

Chamber forms alliance with Hispanic Business Center

NORTHEAST– The Houston Intercontinental Chamber of Commerce announced the July 19th opening of a new satellite office in north Houston dedicated to international business and chamber members.
The new office was created in a partnership with the Hispanic Business Center (HBC) and will be in the HBC building, located at 12700 Northborough near 1-45 and Beltway 8, a few miles from Bush Intercontinental Airport and just minutes from downtown.
HBC, owned by Aiejandro Del Valle and opened in February 2011, was created to provide business opportunities for Mexican and international businesses wishing to do business in or expand to Houston and US markets. It is expected that the HBC will bring businesses and jobs to the area.
“This is one of the most significant events in the Chamber’s 25-year history,” commented Reggie Gray, President of HICC. “This new partnership will allow the Chamber to focus on our growing international membership and especially on our growing Latin American markets.” “We consider it an honor to be chosen by Mr. Del Valle and several leaders of Mexico for this partnership.”
The Chamber will open the offices on July 19th, and held a membership mixer on Thursday, July 21, at the Greenspoint Club to celebrate the new partnership. The formal ribbon cutting will be in August at the HBC building.
Del Valle and Gray recently travelled to Guadalajara, Mexico for meetings with several company owners, entrepreneurs, and public officials to announce the partnership.

Premiere Cinema holds Salute to Warrior Veterans

NORTHEAST HOUSTON– Veterans were honored at a special program that was held last Saturday inside the spacious lobby of the Premiere Cinema at Greenspoint Mall.
The program was entitled “Operation Welcome Home” and featured exhibits, information booths and tables, speakers, and entertainment to honor returning military personnel, many of whom were on hand. The program was put together by Premiere Cinema Associate Director John Edwards, who is himself a veteran of the U.S. Army Medic corps. It coincided with the opening of the patriotic film “Captain America.”

Featured speakers included Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and Sgt. John Boerstler, of the Wounded Warrior Project. He told the story of fighting in Iraq, and suffering a debilitating injury to his eye. Yet in the spirit of the Marine Corps, he discharged himself from a military hospital and returned to fight with his unit in western Iraq. A silent auction was conducted to benefit WWP.
The program included several outstanding musical performances, by the Statesmen Chorus from Conroe, a 16 man (and one woman conductor) barbershop quartet, and the National Anthem, performed brilliantly by Ms. Keely Prendergast.
Information speakers were from the VA, Harris County, and various Veterans organizations such as the VFW that offer help to returning military.

Supporters organize to save North Forest from closure

By GILBERT HOFFMAN
Northeast News
The North Forest community continues to respond to last week’s surprise announcement from the Texas Education Agency, ordering the closing of the district after the 2011-2012 school year.
Several meetings have been held to organize a petition drive, and a letter to Governor Perry seeking a reversal of the ruling from TEA Commissioner Robert Scott. Meetings on the subject include the Public Community Meeting on Saturday, July 16th called by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; the NF ISD Board Meeting the following Monday night, July 18th; and a NEEF meeting on Thursday night, July 21st. Other meetings are scheduled for July 25 at the Community Center, and Aug. 4th for the next NEEF meeting at Shadydale.
In a well attended meeting last Saturday, July 16th, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee suggested that the district and its majority African-Americans were being treated with discrimination, not like white majority districts with similar problems. She urged the public to decide whether they wanted to save the district and the community’s separate identity, and suggested they conside filing a civil rights lawsuit with the federal authorities if necessary. She also promised to help with federal agencies that may have jurisdiction, such as the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the U.S. Department of Education. Other state legislators and local officials spoke in support of the district.

In a meeting held last Thursday night, the superneighborhoods that are involved with NEEF- Northeast Education First, held a rally and organizational meeting at Shadydale Elementary School, where about 100 persons from the community attended. They listened to a presentation by Edna Forté, acting superintendent of the district, and statements of support from some NFISD Trustees.
Forté made a strong presentation, reviewing improvements in the management and educational achievements of the district. Forté said that the district was now solvent, with budget cuts of $4.6 million in the teaching staff, another $700,000 in additional staff cuts, that would result in a fund balance in 2012-2013 of $2.7 million.
She reminded the group that the high school was the recipient of a $5 million federal grant to make changes and improvements, which are underway. Also, with the YES Charter school existing as part of the District, the results can be used to average an improved accountability rating in the future.
She also revealed that several nationally renowned educators, specialists in reforming problem school districts, had agreed to come to North Forest in the next school year to help. These included Pedro Noguera and Ervin Knezek, and perhaps several others.
She introduced the new interim principal for North Forest High School, James Troutman. He spoke briefly, describing how he is already holding teacher training every week, improving the physical condition of the school, including cleaning, and conducting a search for new highly qualified teachers fully certified in science and math.
Forté said that she has contacted TEA asking for a meeting to discuss the letter and her plans for improvements. She said that to date, she has received NO response. However, on August 1 school ratings become official, and she thinks she will get a response after that date.
Board member Lois Edwards and Thadeus Seals also addressed the audience, with specific criticisms of the TEA and their board of managers and their superintendent. She said that in the two plus years that they controlled the district, the high school had no improvements and no new programs. Seals spoke about the history of students that had attended school at North Forest over the years, and the success that many of them have had in their careers and lives, due to their education at North Forest. His message was that there was no reason why the District could not continue to educate the children in a satisfactory way.
Edwards also said that spending by the superintendent and the managers during their two year tenure was excessive, and the budget was not brought under control until Forté was appointed.
The NEEF group took a vote to see if the audience wanted to support efforts to keep the district open, and the vote was 48 in favor, and 0 against.
The group is organizing a petition drive, to get 7500 to 15,000 signatures to send along with a letter to Governor Perry, requesting a reversal of TEA’s closure decision, and allowing the District to remain open.
Robin German Curtis, chair of NEEF, spoke about the urgency of acting to save the district. She pointed out that school will start on August 22, and that parents must soon make the decision where to send their children this year. Ivory Mayhorn said “WE are North Forest. It is up to us to voice a new attitude.”

STATE ORDERS NORTH FOREST ISD CLOSED, District will appeal; Houston ISD to annex schools; Rally held

By GILBERT HOFFMAN Northeast News
NORTH FOREST– In a letter dated July 8, 2011 the Education Commissioner for the state of Texas, Robert Scott, informed the school board’s president, Albert Coleman, and the Acting Superintendent, Edna Forté, that he was ordering the district to be closed as of July 1, 2012.
Scott said that he was forced to this action because he had determined, that after ratings are issued August 1, the district will be rated Academically Unacceptable for the third straight year, and the North Forest High School Academically Unacceptable for the sixth straight year. In addition, the financial accountability rating for the district will be substandard for the fourth consecutive year.
For these reasons, Scott said the district would be annexed to Houston ISD effective July 1, 2012. However, Scott said the district could appeal its ratings and the order of annexation.

Scott put the current TEA Conservator, Ms. Kay Karr, in charge of the transition to HISD. He said that it would be her role to facilitate the annexation process in conjunction with the Houston ISD to ensure a smooth transition and transfer for the district and its students. Karr would report to both NF ISD, and Houston ISD, he said, and have the authority to direct, approve and disapprove actions as she deems necessary to promote the transition.
Scott also said that his action would require preclearance under the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Scott concluded his letter to North Forest by saying “While it saddens me to take this action, given the expectations of state law and my concern for the long-term education of the students served by North Forest ISD, I am compelled to move forward with this process.” He continued, “It is my sincere desire that the agency, the district, and the community work together in a cooperative and productive manner to address the needs of the district’s students.”
District issues response
After a board meeting on July 11th to discuss the TEA action, the acting superintendent issued a “Public Statement” regarding the situation.
Ms. Forté said that the District was appealing the 2011-2012 accreditation status (that will be issued on August 1). She indicated that the strategic plan was taking the district in the right direction, financially and academically.
The statement indicated NFISD would work with TEA to achieve a different result, with the North Forest District “intact and able to provide the quality education our students deserve.”
Public Meeting called to Save the District
Under the leadership of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a public meeting has been called for Saturday, July 16 at 3 pm at the Forest Brook Middle School. Participating in this meeting will be Congresswoman Lee, the NF ISD Board of Trustees, Elected Officials, Ministerial Alliance members, and community leaders, according to a flyer from Lee’s office.
This leaflet states “Sometimes we have to Just Stand,” and that the meeting is an “Opportunity to be heard on behalf of our Children.”
In addition, Congresswoman Lee issued a statement strongly questioning the ruling for closure, suggesting that hypocrisy and racism were evident in the decision. She asked what difference more funding might have made to the quality of education, and noted that Governor Perry had taken federal education funds and used them for other purposes.
District has a history of problems
North Forest has seen six superintendents in the last few years, and dismissed each for cause. This instability is one of the issues that prompted the TEA action. Other issues included mismanagement of finances, continuing low academic performance by students, a low completion or graduation rate, and incorrect reporting of attendance to the state.
School population has declined over the last 10 years, with only 7,500 students now, instead of the 12,500 a decade ago. The district has closed at least two schools and delayed construction in an effort to adjust to the needs.
Adjoining districts include Sheldon, Galena Park, Houston, Aldine, and Humble, but none of these has been eager to absorb the North Forest district in the past, with its problems.
TEA installed a Conservator in 2007 in an effort to help and monitor the district, increasing this to two Conservators in 2008. In October 2008 they installed a Board of Managers to replace the Board of Trustees, and a new Superintendent, Adrain Johnson. As allowed by state law, the Managers governed for two years and then control was returned to the Trustees. Superintendent Johnson continued until April of 2011, when he was placed on leave by the Trustees, who appointed an acting superintendent, Edna Forté. It is this management team that is dealing with the current situation.

Redistricting shifts much of Aldine into Precinct Two

By LUKE HALES Northeast News
The Harris County Commissioner’s Court has made some significant changes to the district map – and that means many area residents will soon have a new commissioner.
The redistricting motion, meant to equalize the populations in each commissioner’s district according to the 2010 Census, would shift approximately 100,000 citizens currently represented by Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole in Precincts 3 and 4 to El Franco Lee’s Precinct 1 and Jack Morman’s Precinct 2.
According to the newly proposed map, Precinct 3 would remain the largest with 1.04 million residents, though slightly smaller than the 1.15 million from before. Precinct 1 would contain 1.04 million residents, a step up from 940,000.

Precinct 4 would lose a good number of constituents, dropping from 1.12 million to 1.02 million. Precinct 2 would stay the smallest, with only 991, 395 residents.
The biggest chunk of shifted territory would be seen in the county’s northeast, as Commissioner Morman – who ousted longtime position-holder Sylvia Garcia in Precinct 2 – would gain the Atascocita area and land around Lake Houston, both previously represented by Jerry Eversole. This move could benefit Morman, as the voters in his newly gained ground are traditionally more conservative and may potentially help Morman, a Republican, at the polls.
Also notable is the sizable change around Bush Intercontinental Airport. Commissioner Lee would have more roadways outside the city of Houston, which in turn would entitle his constituency to more infrastructure funding.
Hearings on the new redistricting map will be held at 6: 30 p.m. Monday, July 25 at the East Harris County Activity Center, 7340 Spencer Highway in Pasadena; at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 28 at the Harris County Cavalcade Office, located at 3815 Cavalcade Street in Houston; at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 29, at the Mangum-Howell Center, located at 2500 Frick Road in Houston; and at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 1 at the Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center, located at 1414 Wirt Road in Houston.

North Forest Board ends contract with superintendent

By GILBERT HOFFMAN North Forest News
NORTH FOREST– The North Forest ISD Board of Trustees last Thursday evening voted to end the services of Superintendent Adrain Johnson. This was accomplished by accepting Johnson’s resignation as of July 31, which no doubt had been requested. Then the board moved to keep Johnson on leave until that date, and denying him back pay since his suspension in April. The vote came after an hour of discussion in a closed meeting of the board. The vote was unanimous, six Yes and no No votes. Board member Horace Williams, Jr. was not present or voting.
In the official action, the board agenda stated that the reason for dismissal was “for good cause” but no further information was available. The board had held three called meetings with this business on the agenda, but delayed the final vote as negotiations with Johnson and his attorney continued.
Johnson had been the superintendent of the District since his appointment in October 2008, when the State of Texas Education Commission took control of the troubled district, and replaced the Board of Trustees with a new Board of Managers. However, the new law under which this action was taken, only allowed the state two years to manage the district. In November 2010 the old Board of Trustees was reseated and regained control of the district.
The state assumed control of the district in 2008 due to its weak financial condition, irregularities in student attendance reporting and financial accounting, and poor standing academically on most of its campuses.
Johnson, who was an associate administrator at TEA at the time, and previously a superintendent at LaMarque ISD, had worked to improve these conditions. The district is now on better financial footing, and seven of the eight campuses are rated “acceptable” or better now by the state. However, the drop-out and graduation rate at the high school has not improved, and in fact has caused the district to receive an “unacceptable” rating and the probation rating on its accreditation. Johnson has made a number of changes at the high school, and says that more time is required to realize the results of these. North Forest is the recipient of a federal/state grant of $5.26 million, over 3 years, to make these changes at the high school, including a new principal, new staff, and better procedural methods. Johnson and Edna Forté worked together on this Title I improvement grant.
In addition to raising the ratings of most of the campuses, Johnson has instituted many other innovative changes in the district, including bringing a YES Prep charter school into one of the unused buildings, giving serious academic students another choice and theoretically attracting out-of-district students. He has also been instrumental in setting up an Education Foundation, independent of the School District, that would raise funds for student, teacher, staff, and campus enhancements that would otherwise not be available. The Education Foundation was set to start a major fund drive in April, but now has been put “on halt” according to officials.
When the Board put Johnson on leave on March 28, the board said to the Northeast News, “In light of ongoing fiscal deficiencies, graduation rate concerns at North Forest High School, accreditation issues, and time sensitive staff reduction priorities, in the best interest of the district, the Board of Trustees felt it necessary to move in a different direction by placing the Superintendent on paid administrative leave.
“Educating the students of NFISD continues to be the number one priority of the district. The Board is confident that the district has capable and competent individuals who can continue day-to-day operations. Effective immediately, Edna Forté, Executive Director of Federal and State Programs, will serve as Acting Superintendent.”
The NFISD board, with different members, has a history of firing superintendents, and in at least one case rehiring him. And now five of the last six superintendents have left due to firing or pressure from the board.
At present, Forté continues as Acting Superintendent, and the Board has asked TEA and SBEC for an “Emergency Certificate” for her, so that some time in the future they may appoint her as Superintendent, even though she has not completed all requirements for the position.

HCC North Forest campus expands to full day services

NORTHEAST – The Houston Community College Board of Trustees recently approved a proposal that will allow the expansion of services to the North Forest community in fall 2011. Temporarily located at the Forest Brook Middle School at 7525 Tidwell Road, 77016, the HCC North Forest Vocational Technical Campus began serving the community with academic and workforce training in spring 2010 with evening and weekend classes.
With the expansion, HCC North Forest will now utilize 39,000 sq. ft. of space on the school’s 3rd floor that will allow for services to include full-day hours of operation for students interested in taking both day and evening classes. The expanded hours of operation will provide students with an opportunity to enroll in classes Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Completely separated from the middle school students who will remain on the first and second floors of the facility and isolated from the college students, the third floor expansion will allow for more classrooms, offices, and student services. In the fall, a Small Business Incubator will also be added to the expanded space. Developed largely based on integral input from North Forest community leaders that serve on the HCC North Forest Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, the Small Business Incubator will comprehensively serve as a resource center for the community and business leaders desiring to increase economic growth in the community.
Additional amenities and services will include an open computer lab; a student lounge; an expanded library; job placement services; additional parking spaces; specialized certificates; continuing education classes; and more core classes for university transfer, AA and AAS degrees. High school juniors and seniors who are currently enrolled or looking to enroll in dual credit courses will also be able to take advantage of the additional operation hours and course offerings. Students who take advantage of this benefit to the North Forest community will experience smaller class sizes with more one-on-one instruction and new training programs in high-tech and in-demand career fields like Wind & Solar Energy Technology training, Nursing, and Business.
To learn more about HCC North Forest’s new expansion of services to the community and to register for classes, join us at the HCC North Forest “Each One, Bring One” Registration Fest on Saturday, August 20, 2011 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the HCC North Forest Vocational/Technical Campus. Students who enroll and encourage others to enroll at the North Forest Campus must show proof of both enrollments in order to enter a drawing for a chance to win an iPad 2 at the registration fest. For more information, call 713.635.0427 or visit northeast.hccs.edu.

Restaurant fire on Airline heavily damages business

NORTHEAST– The Salistas Mexican Restaurant at 11106 Airline Drive near West Road was heavily damaged by a fire Thursday morning, around 12 am, according to Houston fire officials.
The fire, in an old KFC restaurant converted recently to a Mexican theme, apparently started in a storage area at the rear, and spread to the kitchen before being quelled by firefighters.
The cause of the fire is under investigation at this time, but fire officials said they think electrical problems may be at fault.

Search continues for Keith-Wiess Park Ranger shooter

Crime Stoppers and Investigators with the Houston Police Department are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying a male suspect wanted for Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon.
On Sunday, June 19, 2011, at approximately 9:00 pm, the victim, a Park Ranger was completing his duties of securing the park by closing and locking the gates located at 12000 Aldine Westfield. A Hispanic male approached the Park Ranger and demanded that he turn his headlights off. The Park Ranger advised the suspect that they were on to notify anyone in the park that the park was now closing.
The male suspect began yelling and cursing at the Park Ranger to turn off his headlights.

When the Park Ranger did not comply with the suspects’ request, the suspect turned and walked to a gold color Camry where he got a gun and started shooting at the Park Ranger’s vehicle. The Park Ranger was struck by a possible bullet fragment causing injury to his right leg. The victim was treated for his injuries at a nearby location and released.
The suspect is described as a Hispanic male, 18-25 years of age, 5’09”, and weighing160 lbs. The suspect had a crew cut hair cut and was wearing black shorts with a black shirt.
The suspect vehicle is described as a 1997-1999 gold colored Toyota Camry
Attached is a sketch drawing of the suspect.
Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for any information called in to the 713-222-8477 tips hotline or submitted online at www.crime-stoppers.org that leads to the identification, charging or arrest of the suspect in this case. Tips can also be sent by text message – Text TIP610 plus your tip to CRIMES (274637). All tipsters remain anonymous.

District announces expansion of area, new jobs

By GILBERT HOFFMAN
Northeast News

EAST ALDINE– The quarterly report of the East Aldine Economic Development committee, presented at last Thursday’s District luncheon, included stunning news on the rapid changes and improvements that are happening in the District and around the area.
Reports were heard from EAMD Executive Director David Hawes, staff members Ray Lawrence, Scott Bean and Gretchen Larson, State Representative Armando Walle, and HICC Chamber president Reggie Gray.
Hawes reported that the legislature had approved the expansion of the district north and west, and a sales tax election in an existing area east of US59. Governor Perry has signed the bill. This will provide an additional 1 cent sales tax to be collected in that area, similar to sales tax now collected in most of the District. The overall rate will remain 8.25 percent, even after approval. The additional revenue will be used for water and sewer projects in the affected area, Hawes said.

Scott Bean reported that progress has been made on water and sewer in the Zone 11 area north of Little York. The project totals $7 million and ground will be broken July 17. A 12” water line will be laid on the east side of US59, and a 21” sewer trunk line in the middle of the area. Individual taps will be negotiated later. Water and sewer for Sherwood Place have been designed, and should start next year. However, the district and county are waiting for a construction grant of over $3.5 million in the EDAP program, which has not yet been authorized.
Both Hawes and Walle said that the legislature has redrawn Precinct boundaries, and Pct. 1 and Pct. 2 will have new dividing lines in the near future.
The District is working with an attorney, Jim Boyle, who was present at the meeting, to fight rate increases from the new water company in the area, Aqua Texas, which has bought American water. Some customers have reported increases in their bills of as much as 3 times.
Ray Lawrence reported on new businesses and jobs that have located within the district, or nearby. These include Cummins Engine, Woodgrain Millwork, Alliance Supply management, Precision Drilling, and InterFlow. These are expected to bring in about 1000 new jobs. Many of these are located on JFK Boulevard, in the Kennedy Greens Business Park, which is a very successful 186 acre project of Clay Development. Also on JFK, Noble Drilling has built a new 54,000 sq. ft. building, and Burcher Welding has expanded on US59, Lawrence said.
Other projects that are coming next year include a 100 acre development on JFK between Lauder and Greens Bayou, for light manufacturing, and development along the east side of US59. Lawrence said there are at least 17 properties in that area, ranging in size from .4 acre to 15 acres, that are available for commercial development when utilities are available, in the near future.
Lawrence also noted that even at a time when the general economy is slow, the Aldine area with the airport nearby can count on growth of 2 to 3 percent in freight loadings at the airport, which affects the immediate area. Also forecast is an expansion of activity at the Bayport Terminal when the Panama Canal work is completed in 2014.
What all of this means to East Aldine, Lawrence said, is better home values and increased retail sales in the very close future.