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Longview ISD superintendent created nonprofit to possibly take over campuses

The Longview ISD superintendent who was appointed by the board of trustees to negotiate with nonprofit organizations that applied to run district campuses as charter schools created one of the nonprofits.

The school board on Jan. 29 approved Superintendent James Wilcox to go into negotiations with applicants to take over campuses as Senate Bill 1882 charter schools.

SB 1882 is legislation that allows a school district to partner with a nonprofit entity to run public school campuses as charter schools for financial incentive.

Currently, the district has six SB 1882 campuses run by the nonprofit East Texas Advanced Academies. Those campuses are East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Ware East Texas Montessori Academy, Johnston-McQueen Elementary School, Bramlette STEAM Academy, J.L. Everhart Elementary School and Forest Park Magnet School.

The remaining seven campuses the district plans to apply to convert are Ned E. Williams Elementary School, Hudson PEP Elementary School, South Ward Elementary School, Judson STEAM Academy, Foster Middle School, Longview High School and the Early Graduation High School.

On Jan. 6, four applicants applied to run the remaining campuses. One of those partner applicants is the International Center for Academics and Technology.

According to a Certificate of Formation — Nonprofit Corporation from the Texas Secretary of State’s office, the nonprofit organization originally was filed on Aug. 26, 2019, as a Texas Domestic Nonprofit Corporation with Wilcox listed as the registered agent.

“That was just a place holder for me to file at deadline,” Wilcox said. “I was just a placeholder for (Stuart) Bird.”

On Jan. 23, the nonprofit filed a Statement of Change of Registered Office/Agent to the Secretary of State. The registered agent was changed to Stuart Bird. The change happened after the Jan. 6 application deadline for charter partners to the district.

The business address on the Aug. 26 form is 314 Red Bird Lane in Austin. That property is listed on the Travis County Appraisal District’s website as being owned by Mary Ann Spracher and Christi Martin.

The address for the registered office of iCAT was changed to 149 Dogwood Lakes Circle in Bullard on Jan. 23.

Bird is the current interim assistant superintendent of Tyler ISD. He was hired on Oct. 22. In 2018, he retired as the superintendent of Troup ISD.

Bird is listed as a director of iCAT. The other directors are Sedric Clark, who is the superintendent of Gladewater ISD and a former Longview ISD principal, and Micah Lewis, superintendent at Grand Saline ISD and a former Longview ISD deputy superintendent.

According to the Texas Education Agency SB 1882 guide, partner boards may not include any staff members of the district’s board, superintendent or staff responsible for evaluating the partnership application or overseeing the performance contract.

Martin is listed as the organizer for iCAT.

On the website LinkedIn, she is listed as the principal consultant at Martin Consulting Group from January 2012 to May 2019. She is currently listed as a Principal at Agency. The description says “agency helps develop and advance ideas that enable economic mobility.”

At the Jan. 29 Longview ISD board meeting, trustees approved paying $120,000 to Martin Consulting Group for consulting services.

Clark, who became superintendent at Gladewater ISD in May 2017, had been a principal at Foster Middle School and left in 2010 to become principal at Mansfield High School in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana.

He said he is not leaving Gladewater and his involvement as a board member of iCAT is completely separate and unpaid.

In December, Clark said while he submitted a letter of intent to apply for charter partnerships for Gladewater ISD, he will not pursue it any further. He wanted to show his board he was looking at all funding options for the district.

Clark said Wilcox contacted him last year to “gauge his interest” in being on the board of the nonprofit. He said Wilcox contacted the other board members, too.

Clark said Wilcox is still is involved with iCAT.

The nonprofit wants to replicate programs that already are successful and introduce them to other schools in the district, Clark said. They are looking at using Montessori programs.

Because iCAT still is putting together a plan, Clark said he did not want to say what schools it might take over.

Lewis left Longview ISD in 2014 to become superintendent at Frankston ISD and has since become the leader of Grand Saline ISD schools.

Lewis also was a Primerica representative with Wilcox. Wilcox operated as a representative of the retirement investment company, but in 2015, the school board told Wilcox he was not allowed to have any other meetings related to Primerica on any district property.

Water experts visit Foster Middle School for campus lesson

Students at Foster Middle School visited with local water experts as part of a campuswide project Monday morning.

The gifted and talented students spoke with experts from the city of Longview, Tryon Road Special Utility District, Eastman Chemical Co.-Texas Operations, Longview ISD and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

After general introductions, the students were divided into smaller groups, and panelists rotated to the classrooms for about 20 minutes of discussion as part of project-based learning assignments happening across the district.

James Hardin, water quality supervisor for the city of Longview, spoke with an eighth-grade class about how his department makes sure water is clean.

He told the students water is pulled from the Sabine River, Lake Cherokee and Lake O’ the Pines for the area.

Hardin’s department works to detach items such as carbon, dirt and bacteria from water, he said.

Gabbi Nguyen, 14, said the students were assigned a project about water, and they had to do in-depth research to find their specific topic.

Gabbi’s group chose water infrastructure.

“While we were doing research, we found there is poor infrastructure all over Texas,” she said. “Certain areas like northwest of Texas are almost out of water.”

Her group is working on figuring out more stable water sources and transportation, she said.

Celeste Johnston, 14, said her groups is researching oil fields.

“They use a lot of fresh water and mix it with other chemicals to get their oil pumping,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how we can get distilled salt water so they can use distilled salt water so they don’t use all of our fresh water, because it’s going to run out.”

Celeste said part of her group’s problem-solving is figuring out how to distill the salt water for oil companies, because regular salt water will rust the drills.

The panelists allowed the students to obtain better sources and direct answers, Gabbi said. While researching, they found some of the websites were outdated. The panelists helped the students get current information to use in their projects, they said.

Health official: No confirmed cases of coronavirus in Gregg County

Test results from a recent patient at a Longview emergency room came back negative for the coronavirus, Gregg County officials said Monday.

Despite rumors to the contrary over the weekend, Gregg County remains free of the virus, authorities said, and state and local health authorities said no confirmed cases of coronavirus have been found anywhere in Texas.

“There are no confirmed cases in Texas or Gregg County at this time,” said A.J. Harris with the Gregg County Health Department. “It was looked into, but it’s been nonconfirmed at this time.”

The case was from a patient at Hospitality Health ER, county officials confirmed Monday.

Staff at Hospitality Health ER referred questions to its owner, Jill Shipp, who did not answer a request for comment.

Other Longview health providers reported neither confirmed nor suspected cases of coronavirus Monday.

“Our hospital has not seen any patients with risk factors for novel coronavirus,” said Libby Bryson, marketing director and spokesperson for Longview Regional Medical Center.

William Knous, marketing director for Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center, said the same for his facility, adding, “I’ve not heard anything about that.”

Excel ER also has not had anyone come to its facility with signs or symptoms of the illness, Facility Administrator Latricia Malone said. Malone met recently with state health department authorities in Tyler and was briefed with “strict instructions” on what to do if Excel receives a patient showing the symptoms.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

A new coronavirus was recently detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, and is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in monitoring the developing outbreak.

Symptoms can include fever, cough or shortness of breath and may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure.

By Monday, the virus had infected more than 40,000 people globally and killed more than 900, with the vast majority of cases in China.

So far, 12 cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus have been confirmed in the U.S., according to the CDC. Another 68 cases are under investigation, while 318 cases tested negative for the illness.

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said county health authorities are staying in touch with local health facilities.

“Our health authorities have a close relationship with all of our health care providers regarding the hospitals and emergency rooms,” Stoudt said, “and we’ll continue to monitor, but at this time, there has been no confirmed case.”

The Department of State Health Services also reports no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state.

“All (tests) have come back negative at this point,” State Health Services Director of Media Relations Chris Van Deusen said.

The agency is not releasing other information about suspected cases, he said.

“If there is a confirmed case, we’ll put something out,” Van Deusen said.

Three Longview ISD trustees to host community meeting about charter schools tonight

Three Longview ISD trustees will hold a community meeting about proposed charter expansions for the district at 6:30 tonight at Broughton Recreation Center, 801 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Longview.

Place 5 trustee Shan Bauer, Place 6 trustee Ted Beard and Place 7 trustee Troy Simmons plan the question-and-answer meeting that is open to the public.

Six of Longview ISD’s 13 campuses are now Senate Bill 1882 charter schools, and the district has proposed turning the remaining seven campuses into charter schools.

Feburary 11

Feb. 11, 1939: A Works Progress Administration sanitary sewer project was to be suspended so crews could focus on a new $75,000 water works project, said City Manager Bill N. Taylor. The sanitary and storm sewer projects employed about 65 men.

Feb. 11, 1956: The Longview Lobo band, 75 members strong, appeared in the Mystic Knights of Adonis parade of the New Orleans Mardi Gras. The trip was made possible by the Longview Band Boosters club, which had raised money through various projects throughout the year.

Document: Suspect went to Longview apartments to 'shoot the victim and other victims'

The suspect in a recent fatal shooting in Longview went to Ware Meadows Apartments that day to “shoot the victim and other victims” in retaliation for a previous arrest, documents show.

Brandon Keith Harris, 37, was arrested Jan. 30 after witnesses told police a suspect went into the office of the apartment complex and shot Valerie Hackett, 24, according to an affidavit for a search warrant in the case.

Officers responded just before 11:30 a.m. to a reported shooting in the 900 block of South High Street in Longview. Police were told a suspect had gone into the front office of the apartments and shot someone, the document shows. The suspect then ran from the office.

An officer found Hackett on the floor of the office with injuries consistent with gunshot wounds. She was taken to a local hospital where she later died.

Officers set up a perimeter and took Harris, who had a black rifle, into custody, the document shows. Police found several spent casings consistent with .223-caliber ammunition. The rifle Harris had when he was arrested was a .223-caliber rifle.

During an interview after he was taken into custody, Harris admitted shooting Hackett with the rifle, the document shows. He said the shooting was in retaliation for a Jan. 6, 2019, incident at the apartments after which he was arrested on charges of assault causing bodily injury family violence and deadly conduct.

Online court records show Harris was scheduled the day after Hackett was fatally shot for a status hearing on the 2019 charges.

During the investigation into Hackett’s shooting, Harris’ wife and aunt told police he had been using drugs, the document shows. His wife told a detective that Harris had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been self-medicating with illegal drugs and alcohol. His aunt told a detective Harris had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was taking pills not prescribed to him.

On Jan. 7, 2019, Harris told staff from Community Healthcore that he abuses marijuana, alcohol and pills almost daily, according to the affidavit. He also said he takes opiates and other prescription pills.

The search warrant in the most recent cause sought DNA and blood from Harris to check it against evidence found during the investigation and to test his blood for substances.

Harris remains in the Gregg County Jail on a $1 million bond on a charge of capital murder for retaliation judge/justice.

Speaking the week after her daughter’s death, Andrea Rodgers said Hackett had come to Longview about a year ago to work for her aunt at the apartments.

Les Hassell/News-Journal File Photo  

Longview police officers work the scene of a shooting Thursday at Ware Meadows Apartments. Brandon Keith Harris, 36, of Longview was being held Tuesday in Gregg County Jail on a $1 million bond on a capital murder charge in connection with the death of Valerie Hackett, 24, of Longview.