Niki Groce, who grew up in Longview and has more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit world, is the new executive director of the Longview Symphony.
Groce, who served on the symphony board about 15 years ago after moving back to Longview, replaces Erin Tooley, who left because her husband accepted a job as a pastor in another state. Tooley became executive director in October 2017.
“She is going to be fantastic,” said Suzanne Cook, vice president of development of the symphony board. “She has just a lot of local connections.”
Cook said Groce has a “lot of good, local relationships that will help the symphony spread its mission.” She said the symphony board hated to lose Tooley, who did a “fabulous” job.
Groce said she applied for the job because she was ready to return to the workforce and said she brings fundraising, marketing and organizational skills “to their already amazing organization.”
She said one of her main goals is for everyone to become a season ticket holder for a season that starts in September and concludes in April.
“We are certainly excited about this upcoming season because there is something for everyone,” Groce said. “We are also increasing our educational outreach this year.”
She said she also is excited that the symphony is moving its office from the Bramlette building at 300 N. Green St. to 106 W. Methvin St., because it will enable the symphony to participate in ArtWalk.
Groce said her mother, Jo Popma, instilled the importance of volunteering in her and her sister, Pilar McLemore, when they were children.
“Mom had us volunteering since we were little girls,” she said. “We developed a love for this community.”
Groce said she graduated from Longview High School in 1986 and was a Rangerette at Kilgore College.
She studied marketing at Texas Woman’s University in Denton and began her career at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin.
“That started my fundraising abilities,” Groce said.
After returning to Longview, Groce said she joined the board of the Longview Museum of Fine Arts — where her sister now works — and served as art educational director there for six years.
She later became a volunteer at LMFA.
She also has volunteered at the Gregg County Historical Museum and with other organizations and events in Longview.
For information about the symphony, visit www.longviewsymphony.org .
HOUSTON — The U.S. government said Monday that it won’t build President Donald Trump’s border wall on the site of a historic cemetery that might have required the exhumation of graves.
In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it would “avoid” the Eli Jackson Cemetery in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley while “still meeting Border Patrol’s operational requirements for border wall.”
“It has never been CBP’s intent to disturb or relocate cemeteries that may lie within planned barrier alignment,” the agency said. “Understanding the historical and cultural resources that may lie within planned barrier alignment has always been part of CBP’s public and stakeholder outreach process.”
CBP issued the statement in response to an Associated Press story about the cemetery, one of two 19th century burial sites established by the sons of Nathaniel Jackson, who settled along the Rio Grande in 1857, nine years after the river became the U.S.-Mexico border following the Mexican American War.
Congress has already funded construction in much of the Rio Grande Valley, where the government says it needs additional barriers to stop human and drug smuggling. Due to flooding concerns and land rights, much of the wall in the region would be built well north of the river and still leave area for people crossing illegally to reach the United States.
Jackson’s descendants have sued the government and led a campaign to stop construction at the sites.
“It’s a very good day for us as it relates to the Eli Jackson cemetery,” said Sylvia Ramirez, one of Jackson’s descendants who has helped lead her family’s opposition to the wall.
Ramirez has previously met with Border Patrol agents who she said indicated they would take her family’s concerns into account, but never directly promised that the wall wouldn’t be built on the cemetery.
But Ramirez added that CBP’s statement “doesn’t answer all our questions by any means.” She said she wanted to know if the family’s other burial site, the Jackson Ranch cemetery, would also be protected. She was also concerned CBP might still seek to build a wall nearby, which could still cause flooding or environmental damage.
“There are less destructive ways for the government to meet its security goals,” she said.
Trinity School of Texas Athletic Director Jeremy Miller said he believes many people still do not know about the school, despite its 61 years in Longview.
He’s hoping that will change after the recent announcement of a new award.
Trinity placed third in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools’ Henderson Championship Cup standings for 1A schools.
“I think third out of 58 schools is pretty good,” Miller said. “Even though we didn’t get the one, we weren’t too far behind from the one. We’re still proud to be in the third spot. We’ll take that.”
According to its website, TAPPS awards the Henderson Cup, which is an overall state championship trophy, for each of its six size classifications to a school that accumulates the most points in all competitions. The competitions include art, academics, vocal and instrumental music and athletics.
The Henderson Cup is a traveling trophy. Each year it stays with the winner, and the winning school’s name is added to the trophy.
Trinity earned 43 points to finish third for 1A TAPPS schools, said Erica Fisher, director of marketing.
Most of the points came from athletics. Miller said the football team was an area finalist. Both boys and girls basketball teams were regional finalists, and both boys and girls tennis teams qualified for state. And a boys double team won second.
The school also has an individual state champion in golf, and the boys golf team placed first. In addition, the girls golf team was the runner-up team at state.
Trinity also won the state championship in girls triple jump.
The academic and fine arts teams each placed eighth overall in the state, he said. Points are awarded to schools for winning district up to state.
A district championship earns a school one point, building up at each competition level until a state championship, worth 10 points.
Since Trinity is a small school, many students compete in multiple sports and academic events. Gary Whitwell, head of school, said competitions such as the Henderson Cup help students set goals.
“They have to learn to manage their time because they are pulled in many different directions in different activities,” Whitwell said.
When school started in August, Miller said the Henderson Cup was not even on his mind. He just wanted the students to work hard toward success.
“We just go in wanting to compete and be competitive,” he said. “Everything we do, from academics to sports to the community work the kids do, it’s all the same thing.”
But now, Miller said he wants more.
“We want the first place now,” he said. “(The students) want to get better every time.”
Whitwell said placing high in a competition such as the Henderson Cup helps push the students to keep improving.
“It gives the kids a sense of validation that their work paid off,” he said. “I think we’re probably inspired to practice a little harder and see if we can go a little further. The kids do want to do well at what they do, and they have good attitudes, so that goes a long way.”
Sabine and Hallsville high schools are adding more hardware to their University Interscholastic League collections.
Sabine High School placed third in Class 3A with 95 points, and Hallsville High School placed fourth in Class 5A with 86 points after final academic sweepstakes points were totaled when speech and debate contests ended May 30.
Lee Branson, Hallsville High School UIL coordinator, said he is excited about the results his student squad produced.
“We have a very young team, and we are still rebuilding,” he said. “I think next year will be even better.”
Hallsville had two students win first place in a total of three events. Senior Garrett Bell is the state champion in accounting with a perfect score, and senior Nathan Davis brought home two gold medals in social studies and biology.
“We’re losing Garrett and Nathan, and those two are not just leaders, they’ve been kind of the backbone that guaranteed points for the team,” Branson said. “It’s hard to replace that.”
April Washburn, Sabine High School UIL coordinator, said her team also is losing an important senior in Scottie Taylor, who brought home first place in three events: number sense, calculator applications and mathematics.
“It’s big shoes to fill because Scottie has always been in the top, ever since he was a freshman,” Washburn said. “He has always helped and prepared the underclassmen to get where he’s at.”
While third place is not the result the defending state champions were expecting, Washburn said her students still performed well against tough competition. The team has placed in the top three at the state competition the past three years.
“It shows that we are now in the running and our kids are understanding what it’s all about,” she said.
Within a week after returning from competition, Washburn said her students already were getting back to work.
“They wanted to get better, like, right now,” Washburn said. “They’ve started summer readings preparing for next year.”
Hallsville will experience some coaching changes in the program next year, Branson said, but he said he’s not worried.
“I think most of the new people will be from within the district, and our legacy is so strong, that the expectations are high,” he said. “The support system here is super strong, so when a new person comes in, it makes it easy for them to be at the level the rest of us are at.”
Many students will not take a break over the summer as they prepare for math/science and speech/debate camps, Branson said. When the students return in August, they will hit the ground running, trying to capture another state title.
Sabine also is taking advantage of the summer to improve.
“We have the student conference camps the UIL offers, workshops at the school for separate events set up by the sponsor,” Washburn said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, but we’re also going to try to get more kids interested in the program.”
From staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON — The federal government for years has kept under wraps the names of hundreds of nursing homes around the country found by inspectors to have serious ongoing health, safety or sanitary problems. Those include at least four facilities in Northeast Texas.
Nearly 400 facilities nationwide had a “persistent record of poor care” as of April, but they were not included along with a shorter list of homes that get increased federal scrutiny and do have warning labels, according to a Senate report released Monday.
Among the facilities on the list are Briarcliff Skilled Nursing in Carthage; Gardendale Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Jacksonville; Inspire New Boston in New Boston; and Heritage Healthcare Residence in Quitman.
Budget cuts appear to be contributing to the problem by reducing money available for the focused inspections that are required for nursing homes on the shorter list, according to documents and interviews.
The secrecy undermines the federal commitment to ensure transparency for families struggling to find nursing homes for loved ones and raises questions about why the names of some homes are not disclosed while others are publicly identified, according to two senators who released the report on Monday.
“We’ve got to make sure any family member or any potential resident of a nursing home can get this information, not only ahead of time but on an ongoing basis,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who along with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., issued the report .
“When a family makes the hard decision to seek nursing home services for a loved one, they deserve to know if a facility under consideration suffers from systemic shortcomings,” said Toomey.
The senators released a list provided them by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, of nursing homes with documented problems whose names were not publicly disclosed by the government.
The report and list were provided exclusively to The Associated Press and to PennLive.com .
About 1.3 million Americans are nursing home residents, cared for in more than 15,700 facilities. The senators’ report noted that problem nursing homes on both lists account for about 3 percent.
CMS does publicly disclose names of a smaller group of about 80 nursing homes that are getting special scrutiny to help them resolve documented quality problems. They’re in what’s called the Special Focus Facility program. Nursing homes that don’t improve can be cut off by Medicare and Medicaid.
Consumers can identify special focus facilities on the government’s Nursing Home Compare website by looking for an icon shaped like a small yellow triangle that resembles a traffic “caution” sign. The website does not display starred quality ratings for the special focus facilities. Usually, nursing homes receive from a low of one star to the highest score of five stars.
The nearly 400 facilities that are candidates for the shorter list “qualify for the program because they are identified as having a ‘persistent record of poor care’ but are not selected for participation as a result of limited resources at (CMS),” said the report from Casey and Toomey.
“Despite being indistinguishable from (special focus nursing homes) in terms of their qualifications, candidates are not publicly disclosed,” the report added.
In a letter last month to Casey, CMS Administrator Seema Verma singled out federal budget problems as a factor.
“The total number of (special focus) slots and total number of (special focus) candidates nationally are based on the availability of federal resources,” Verma wrote. She added that as recently as 2010, there was room for 167 nursing homes in the special focus program and 835 candidates. That’s now down to as many as 88 special focus slots and up to 440 candidates.
She said federal budget cuts in 2014 reduced the number of available slots.
Verma said her agency is evaluating whether it can publicly release the list of “candidate” nursing homes. The Trump administration has asked Congress for more money for health care inspections, but the final amount and how it will distributed remain unclear.
In a statement, CMS said its starred ratings on the Nursing Home Compare website are already the best yardstick “for consumers to understand and use.” About 2,900 nursing homes have the lowest one-star overall rating.
But consumer groups say such ratings are not enough, and greater disclosure is overdue.
“It might help (consumers) avoid facilities that the government is acknowledging are very, very troubled,” said Toby Edelman, a senior policy lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Medicare Advocacy.
A nursing home industry group says it generally supports transparency and takes no position on release of the list. David Gifford, vice president for quality with the American Health Care Association, said the inspection reports on which the CMS lists are based are only one measure, and people should also consider other factors such as staffing levels and clinical outcomes.
Monday’s report from Sens. Casey and Toomey identified several nursing homes from the list of special focus candidates. Among the details:
■ In Quitman, the Heritage Healthcare Residence did not prevent the septic system from backing up, causing a foul-smelling black substance to come through the drains and seep into the kitchen floor near food-preparation areas. In an interview, officials of the company that owns the nursing home said they had corrected all the problems after purchasing the facility in February. Suzanne Koenig, president of the company that now runs the nursing home, renamed the Heritage House Healthcare Centre, said she’d be concerned about releasing the list since “it doesn’t really focus on what is going on in the facility.”
■ In Ormond Beach, Florida, inspectors found that staff at Avante at Ormond Beach, were not cleaning and disinfecting blood sugar measuring devices between tests of different patients, putting the residents at risk of infection. The same inspection report noted the nursing home quickly started to address the issue.
John Hornack, a vice president of the nursing home’s management company, said in an interview the old devices were replaced with new ones and the staff was retrained. Hornack said the problem has now been completely resolved.