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Hudson PEP sees influx of first-graders after testing policy change

This story has been corrected.

Hudson PEP Elementary School in Longview needs to add three more first-grade classrooms before school starts in August.

After Longview ISD switched to just the Iowa Assessment, a national standardized test, for all students in kindergarten through seventh grade, 234 kindergarten students qualified for Hudson PEP, said District Testing Coordinator Catina Love.

Of those, the district has room to accept 102 students, Love said, and that means expanding from six classrooms to nine. The three new classrooms will accommodate 66 of the students, she said.

To make space, Hudson PEP Principal Sue Wilson said workers are cleaning out rooms that had been used for other purposes on the campus, waxing the floors and moving in desks and chairs.

To decide which of the students who qualified actually get admitted to Hudson PEP, Wilson said a school committee starts at the top with the highest scorers and calls parents to let them know their children qualified. Parents can accept or decline.

In the past, to get into Hudson PEP, students had to be nominated or parents chose to test for admission, Love said. Students would then take multiple tests to determine eligibility, she said.

In the 2018-19 school year, all students were tested for that opportunity and will be from now on, she said.

Because Hudson PEP covers first through fifth grades, determining eligibility through testing affects only kindergartners through fourth-graders.

And because testing will continue for all students in eligible grades, Wilson said she has been assured the district has a plan for future growth.

“Hudson PEP is an accelerated campus,” Wilson said. “It’s for students average to above, and PEP stands for Planned Enrichment Program. We just take students who have the ability to learn and have the motivation to learn, and we take them where they are and take them as far as they can go up that scale.”

Wilson said usually in first grade about 5% of those students are identified as gifted and talented. By the time they’re in fifth grade, that number jumps to about 50%.

“They have been exposed to a higher-level thinking,” she said. “Their teachers have pushed them as far as they can go, so each year they sharpen the saw until they are showing the ability to be a gifted student.”

Of all the kindergarten students who qualified for Hudson PEP, 172 were Montessori students, said Director of Montessori Jacqueline Burnett.

“It’s because of our materials and the opportunity to be met where they are and expose them to higher levels of material,” she said. “We’ve never tested all students before; parents made the decision if they wanted their child tested, and not knowing, understanding the testing process — some just didn’t have their child tested.”

Love said the data from the testing is not only used to see if students qualify for Hudson PEP, but it also will be used help teachers fill gaps in instruction.

Because of the increase in testing, costs increased for the district.

In the 2017-18 school year, the district spent $23,392.55 on gifted and talented assessments, spokeswoman Elizabeth Ross said.

In 2018-19, that amount jumped to $186,982.80.

“That is to ensure no child gets excluded, no child gets left behind, and no child gets profiled,” Ross said.

'Everybody was feeling the loss': NASA emergency chief, East Texans reflect on Columbia explosion

Ronald Lee was told initially that NASA likely would recover less than 5% of space shuttle Columbia debris.

Lee, chief of NASA’s Office of Emergency Management who worked with the recovery effort in 2003, said federal agents recovered 36% of the spacecraft — thanks largely to the more than 290 federal, state and local agencies, volunteer groups and private organizations who supported or physically searched through East Texas and western Louisiana.

Lee keynoted an event Thursday at Longview Community Center titled “Where were you on Feb. 1, 2003, at 7:59 a.m.?” — the moment that Columbia exploded as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members.

Preservation Longview hosted the event as part of its speaker series.

The presentation comes days before Saturday’s 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, but Lee and Preservation Longview leadership said the timing of Thursday’s Columbia reflection — which was scheduled by NASA — still was perfect.

“This is really an interesting time for NASA,” Lee said, adding that he relished the chance to show gratitude to the people who helped NASA recover nearly 67,000 pieces of Columbia debris but also shared in the sorrow of the tragedy.

“It was therapeutic for me because I knew the crew,” Lee said, “and then to see that the people were just as impacted. There were tears. They were giving us hugs, and I could tell that it was not just us that lost the crew. Everybody was feeling the loss that happened.”

About three dozen people appeared at the community center. Among them was Judy Bandaries of the Longview company Total Packaging, which was lauded in 2004 for its involvement in shipping recovered debris to NASA.

Bandaries and Total Packaging owner Mary Ann Martin had spent decades working with the U.S. military, so she was ready when Kennedy Space Center asked Bandaries to meet staff at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana two days after the explosion, she said.

“I met them. I realized what their needs were. We sat down. We talked about everything, and I just got it going quick, quick, quick,” Bandaries remembered, “and I got my suppliers and vendors to work with me to where we were never late on any order that we did.”

After nearly six months of daily trips, finding the right packaging and materials and meeting federal demands, Total Packaging received a letter informing the company that it was among 2,500 companies nominated for NASA’s Supplier Award of Distinction.

One week later, Total Packaging was announced as the winner, beating out space shuttle parts manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, she said.

“Here we are, a woman-owned business in Longview, Texas, but we knew the military,” Bandaries said. “We studied (and) we were prepared to take it over, because they asked, ‘Can you take it over?’ and I said, ‘No doubt about it,’ and so we did it.”

Another Longview resident, Natalie Rabicoff, found any way she could to help support the volunteers and groups who had come from every U.S. state to drive workers and searchers to sites throughout Deep East Texas, she said.

Rabicoff remembers being at the East Texas Regional Airport and seeing, “All of these planes with all of these people, and on their backs they had their backpacks with their clothes and whatever else they needed and a little tent, and they set up their tents at Maude Cobb (Activity Center complex) and ... all of these white mounds all over Maude Cobb. It looked like a jamboree.”

Many of the volunteers spent their hours of downtime drawing illustrations depicting Columbia and patriotic themes. Rabicoff photocopied many of them and got the artists’ signatures.

More than a dozen of the illustrations were among photos and other items for guests to view Thursday.

“Those drivers that came over from all parts of the United States, they would sit there while they were looking, and they would draw things like this,” Rabicoff said.

Jean Neely was brought to the presentation Thursday by her daughter. Neely, who has been a space enthusiast since age 17 when she watched the Russians lift off Sputnik, was visiting her sister in Florida on Jan. 16, 2003, when she watched Columbia lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“I had all of this information about the flight,” she said. “My sister had been saving it for me, and so I followed the entire flight.”

Neely, a retired respiratory therapist, had returned to her Hallsville home two weeks later. On Feb. 1, 2003, she woke up early to watch the NASA Channel’s coverage of Columbia’s reentry.

“I had gone into the restroom to shower,” Neely remembered, “and there was like this huge sonic boom and all of the windows in my home shook. ... I found out what was happening, and it was horribly sad — terribly, terribly sad.”

Neely said coverage of the recovery effort was too sad for her to watch.

“I think I had every emotion I could have during that time for them and their families and the scientists that we lost in that explosion,” she said.

Gary Borders, who introduced Lee on Thursday, shared his memories of the day of the explosion. He was publisher at the time of the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, whose coverage of the tragedy and recovery garnered Pulitzer Prize nominations.

Borders was walking out of his door headed to the newspaper office when he heard the sonic boom followed by a series of rumbles, he said.

“Minutes later, pieces of the shuttle began raining down over Nacogdoches and much of East Texas,” he remembered. “I rushed to work and began frantically calling my staff — and this is a Saturday morning and these are young people, so I was waking people up right and left. It was quickly clear that our small crew would be covering the biggest story of their careers. Within a few hours, our town had filled with satellite trucks and journalists, National Guardsmen, sightseers and hundreds of volunteer recovery workers.”

NFL greats help ET football coaches understand science behind creating safer game

TYLER — Tyler football greats Earl Campbell and Gary Baxter brought high school coaches and athletics trainers from across the region together this week to learn about their new Project Rose Research Institute for Sports Science.

Attendees at a presentation Wednesday at Baylor Scott & White Texas Spine & Joint Hospital in Tyler heard from experts in injury prevention, sports medicine, traumatic brain injuries and nutrition while learning about the institute.

One of the services it will offer through the hospital is helping athletes establish a baseline for their performance, so that in the event of an injury, their doctors, coaches and families can better understand the recovery process.

“If I could have done this or had this in high school, it could have helped me when I got into the pros,” Baxter said. “I would have had a benchmark (for recovery).”

After four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and two with the Cleveland Browns, Baxter’s career in the NFL came to an end when he injured both knees. He said that had he been able to establish a benchmark, he might have been able to prevent or minimize the eventual injury.

“There’s more that we can do before we get hurt,” he said. “An ounce of prevention can save a pound of problems.”

Baxter said that while a very small percent of players will go pro, every player can benefit from a better approach to training and recovery.

“What we can do is (ensure) quality of life,” he said.

Baxter said that as youths train at higher levels than ever before, the game will keep pace.

“Kids are training at a higher level, and what are you seeing?” he asked. “Higher levels of injuries.“

Campbell spoke about the impact coaches can have on students, and the importance of them leading the way. Their goal with the Rose Institute is to reduce or prevent the long-term effects of playing.

“We were elite athletes, but now we’re just elite people who have to deal with an elite athlete’s problems,” Baxter said. “We want to make sure our game is safe, but more importantly, our kids are safe.”

Longview ISD Athletic Trainer Dierdre Scotter said she appreciated the fact the clinic was aimed at high school athletes and the problems they face. She especially liked the panel on diet and nutrition, noting that athletes in school rarely have control over their diet.

The baseline also will help coaches and trainers demonstrate proper technique from a scientific viewpoint and give families an opportunity to better understand how an injury is progressing she said.

“I think it’s just one more (tool),” Scotter said. “If you don’t take advantage of it, you’re playing without a helmet.”

Texas leaders: Hemp law did not decriminalize marijuana

Weeks after Texas prosecutors began dropping hundreds of marijuana cases and stopped actively pursuing criminal charges because of complications that arose from legalizing hemp, the state’s leaders have stepped into the fray.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, all Republicans, sent a letter Thursday to Texas district and county attorneys, emphasizing that a new hemp law does not decriminalize marijuana. They wrote that the prosecutors who have stepped back from marijuana charges after stating they cannot legally distinguish between legal hemp and marijuana without further testing — almost all of those in the state’s most 10 populous counties — misunderstand the new law.

“Failing to enforce marijuana laws cannot be blamed on legislation that did not decriminalize marijuana in Texas,” stated the letter.

House Bill 1325, which legalized hemp and hemp-derived products like CBD oil, soared through the Texas Legislature this year and was signed into law June 10 by Abbott. Since then, numerous Republican and Democratic district attorneys have said they can no longer actively pursue misdemeanor marijuana cases because the new law changed the definition of marijuana. Before, marijuana was defined as parts of the cannabis plant, but now it is only those parts that contain more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces a high. Cannabis below that level is now hemp.

The attorneys and forensic experts have said equipment they have in public crime labs can’t accurately prove how much THC is in cannabis. Circumstantial evidence, like the smell of marijuana, no longer gives them enough credibility in court, where defendants could claim the substance they possessed was instead hemp.

“The plant is the plant, so the stuff smells the same no matter the THC concentration,” Lynn Garcia, general counsel with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, told The Texas Tribune earlier this week.

But the letter to prosecutors says lab reports aren’t necessary in every marijuana case.

“Criminal cases may be prosecuted with lab tests or with the tried-and-true use of circumstantial evidence, a point some of you have already made clear in this context,” the letter states, pointing to a Tribune article on El Paso’s district attorney saying he will move forward on marijuana prosecution without lab reports.

The letter also points out that companies and labs were already developing equipment to test THC concentration before HB 1325 was enacted, and competition will lead to declining costs — initial estimates of which were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. No funds for additional marijuana testing were included in the passage of the hemp law.

Still, there is little action state leaders can take when they disagree with locally elected prosecutors. In Texas, the Attorney General’s Office can typically only get involved with prosecutions at the invitation of local leadership. And local prosecutors’ offices don’t rely on the state for the bulk of their budgets.

Responding to the letter, the district attorneys in the two most populous counties, both Democrats, made clear they will continue to require lab reports for low-level marijuana cases. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who said earlier this month her office will not prosecute low-level marijuana cases without a lab report, responded to the letter and said that it is up to the courts to interpret this law.

“Prosecutors have an ethical duty to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and laboratory confirmation in drug cases has long been required,” she said in a statement. “When a person’s liberty is at stake, juries demand nothing less.”

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot assured the governor that he was not confused by the law, but that the THC concentration is needed to establish a person’s guilt under the law.

“I have the responsibility to protect the rights of our citizens and ensure that people are not prosecuted for possessing substances that are legal,” he said in a statement.

The state’s hemp law was enacted to match the federal Farm Bill passed last year, which allowed for states to develop their own plans to regulate the production and sale of hemp. The Texas Department of Agriculture, under the state law, will regulate hemp, but the plan on how to do that has not yet been established.