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TEA report: Most East Texas schools beating state graduation, dropout, attendance rates

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

East Texas school districts are mostly at the state and regional averages for graduation, attendance and dropout rates, though some districts are performing better than state and regional rates.

The Texas Academic Performance Reports from the Texas Education Agency annually pull together a range of information on how students perform in each school and district in Texas. The reports also give information on staff, programs and demographics for each school and district, according to the TEA.

The reports for the 2018-19 school year are now available, with information on 2017-18 graduation, attendance and dropout rates.

Graduation rates

Most high schools in the area had graduation rates at or above the state average, which was 90% for four-year graduates in the class of 2018. The four-year rate for districts within the Region 7 Education Service Center was higher at 93.3%.

Both the four-year and five-year graduation rates are listed in the TAPR.

Pine Tree ISD Superintendent Steve Clugston said the four-year rates reflect students who complete high school in the usual four years, while the five-year rates pertain to students who need an extra year to complete credits.

Clugston said he believes the five-year rate is a better representation of graduation rates for districts.

“When we’re really trying to get data on kids that are potential dropouts, quite often those kids, we can get to graduate, but they may not necessarily be on time,” he said. “There’s quite a few that come in and don’t get enough credits and don’t graduate on time, but graduate the next year.”

With a rate of 99%, White Oak High School led the area in graduation rates — also beating the regional and state averages.

Spring Hill High School came in a close second with a 98.2% rate.

Longview High School’s rate was 95.4%, and Pine Tree High School came in at 94.1%.

Other Gregg County schools also remained above the state and regional rates. Kilgore High School had a 95.2% rate, Gladewater 93.7% and Sabine 97.9%.

Hallsville High School was below the regional and state rate at 83.3%.

Hallsville ISD Superintendent Jeff Collum said in a written statement that the high school has a 98.2% graduation rate and the Texas Virtual Academy at Hallsville had a 68.4% rate. The rates combined gave the district the 83.3% rate reported by TEA.

"It is amazing that in one year we have added approximately 7,500 students online and that we are now educating over 12,000 students across the great state of Texas," Collum said. "It is equally amazing that our traditional brick-and-mortar students continue to lead the region and state in this area."

The five-year graduation rates were higher for the state and region. The state rate was 92%, while Region 7’s was 94.7%.

Spring Hill High School had the highest five-year rate at 97.4%, and Hallsville High School followed closely behind at 97.1%.

Longview High School’s rate was 96.1%. Pine Tree High School was 94.9%, and White Oak High School was 96.9%.

In other Gregg County schools, Kilgore High School’s rate was 96.8%, and Gladewater High School’s was 94.6%.

Sabine High School was below the state and regional rate at 91.5%.

Dropout rates

The state’s dropout rate was 1.9%, and all local schools were below the state rate. Region 7’s rate was 0.9%.

The only local school above the regional rate was Gladewater High School at 1%.

Spring Hill High School posted a 0% dropout rate.

Principal Rusty Robinette said he believes the district’s great students and community contribute to its 0% dropout rate in 2017-18, among other factors.

“We do have a small percentage we have to intentionally work with,” he said. “We believe if a student is engaged in class, they want to come to school. We pride ourselves in making engaging lessons so students want to come to school.”

Two years ago, the schools added a response to intervention coordinator position, Robinette said. Sharlette Kincy works in that job by meeting daily with students who need interventions.

Kincy ensures students are completing their work and meets with their families, Robinette said. The school also has an online learning lab at which students can make up credits they failed at the semester.

White Oak High School also had a 0% dropout rate. The next lowest was Sabine High School at 0.2%.

Longview High School’s rate was 0.6%; Pine Tree High School’s was 0.4%; Hallsville High School’s was 0.3%; and Kilgore High School’s was 0.8%.

Attendance rates

Attendance rates for 2017-18 in the area were all within 1 percentage point of each other.

The state’s rate was at 95.4%, and Region 7’s was slightly higher at 95.7%.

Longview ISD’s 96.9% was the area’s highest attendance rate. Spring Hill ISD’s rate was 96.5%; Sabine ISD’s was 96.2%; and Hallsville ISD was right at 96%.

White Oak ISD’s rate was 95.9%; Kilgore ISD was at 95.7%; and Pine Tree ISD’s rate was 95.4%. Gladewater ISD had the lowest rate in the area at 95%.

Clugston said Pine Tree’s attendance target is 96%. He said districts are struggling with attendance rates because about four years ago, the state made some changes in how districts can file truancy.

He said the changes have made it more difficult to file truancy, and districts have seen attendance rates slip.

He also said a bad flu season can have a big impact on attendance.

Stalemate lingers between regions over proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir

SULPHUR SPRINGS — The ongoing stalemate between Northeast Texas and North Texas over a proposed lake has frozen solid.

In their third meeting in about two months, representatives from both regions failed again to resolve their differences about the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir, which would inundate 63,000 acres of land and send thousands more acres into mitigation along the Sulphur River north of Mount Pleasant.

Subcommittee members for Region C (Dallas-Fort Worth) and Region D (Northeast Texas) met Tuesday in Sulphur Springs but were unwilling to give ground on their respective demands — just as they were during meetings in Tyler in November and December.

“This is a unique project — a real bad one, but unique nonetheless,” Region D Chairman Jim Thompson of Bowie County said.

Region C wants to include construction of Marvin Nichols by 2050 in its draft for the 2021 state water plan.

Region D wants either no construction of Marvin Nichols or that it occur no earlier than 2070, which is what both regions agreed upon when they last stalemated in 2015.

In front of more than 150 people who were mostly anti-Marvin Nichols, neither side yielded.

Thompson said North Texas representatives “had no intention of complying” with the 2015 agreement.

“I do not feel like (building Marvin Nichols) protects the natural and valuable resources of the state,” Thompson said.

His Region C counterpart, Kevin Ward, said Marvin Nichols is the best solution to meet North Texas’ growing water needs and that his region can’t wait past 2050 for construction. Other options such as expanding Wright Patman Reservoir or impounding the Sulphur River farther upstream of Marvin Nichols won’t meet Region C’s water needs, Ward said.

The full Region D Committee will consider whether to officially oppose Marvin Nichols in its draft water plan when its members meet at 1 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Region 8 Education Service Center in Pittsburg.

Thompson and Ward agreed that, after Region C Committee members meet Feb. 10 in Arlington, they will come together to decide whether to bring the subcommittees back together for further discussions.

“If we can’t get past that,” mediator Robert Gulley said, “then I think we’re going to find ourselves in a position where we have different proposals by Region C and Region D.”

If their stalemate continues past March 10 when their draft plans are due to the state, the Legislature and courts could get involved, authorities said.

Ward suggested a compromise in which Region C would agree to issue no permits for Marvin Nichols construction until the 2027 state water plan — provided that the construction timeline is moved to 2050 in next year’s state plan.

Region D subcommittee members balked at the idea.

“My position is there is no way that a reasonable person can look at this project and say it protects the natural resources of this state,” Thompson said.

Nearly everyone from the public who spoke inside Hopkins County Regional Civic Center voiced opposition to impounding for Marvin Nichols, including Stanley Jessee, superintendent of Rivercrest ISD, which would be directly impacted by the reservoir’s creation.

“When this happens, we are going to lose students, so we lose state funding (and) we lose local funding,” Jessee told the joint subcommittee members. “I don’t know how Rivercrest is going to survive with that happening. ... In fact, what I see happening if this happens is Rivercrest dying a slow death. I just can’t see how it can’t.”

The district, which is based in Bogata in Red River County, had 693 students enrolled in the 2017-18 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Jeff Hargrave, vice president of operations for Graphic Packaging International in Queen City in Cass County, asked the subcommittees “to really consider the impact downstream to the Cass County area” if Marvin Nichols is built.

Max Shumate of De Kalb in Bowie County also spoke against the reservoir.

“I tell you, we don’t need this lake,” Shumate said.

Robert Holt of Red River County expressed his thoughts a little differently.

“We feel like we’re being treated sort of like the Indians,” Holt said.

Warren, Sanders spar over her claim he said woman can't win

DES MOINES, Iowa — Elizabeth Warren made a vigorous case for a female president and stood behind her accusation suggesting sexism by progressive rival Bernie Sanders Tuesday night in a tense Democratic debate that raised gender as a key issue in the sprint to Iowa’s presidential caucuses.

Sanders vehemently denied Warren’s accusation, which threatened to split the Democratic Party’s far-left flank — and a longtime liberal alliance — at a critical moment in the 2020 contest.

“Look at the men on this stage. Collectively they have lost 10 elections,” Warren exclaimed “The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women.”

An incredulous Sanders responded: “Does anybody in their right mind think a woman can’t be elected president?” he asked. “Of course a woman can win.”

He added: “I don’t know that that’s the major issue of the day.”

The drama unfolded just 20 days before Iowa’s kick-off caucuses with four candidates tangled at the top of the shifting field.

Longtime allies Warren and Sanders are icons in the party’s left wing. Former Vice President Joe Biden, considered the centrist in the race, has maintained his place as an establishment favorite thanks to relationships with Democratic officials that have spanned decades. And Pete Buttigieg, a virtual unknown a year ago, is trying to carve his own path as a 37-year-old openly gay military veteran from the Midwest.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer joined them on stage.

The race until now has been defined by respectful policy differences and urgent opposition to President Donald Trump’s reelection,. Tuesday night, the simmering feud between Warren and Sanders — literally a “he-said, she-said” clash between the progressive movement’s two biggest stars — sometimes overshadowed criticism of Trump and the left wing’s desire to attack Biden and Buttigieg.

Trump, campaigning in neighboring Wisconsin just as Democrats took the debate stage, tried to encourage the feud between Sanders and Warren from afar.

“She said that Bernie stated strongly that a woman can’t win. I don’t believe that Bernie said that, I really don’t. It’s not the kind of thing Bernie would say,” Trump said.

Just six candidates gathered in Des Moines, each eager to seize a dose of final-days momentum on national television before Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses. Diversity was a focus even before the prime-time event began.

For the first time, not a single candidate of color appeared on stage. All six candidates who met the party’s polling and donor thresholds were white, and four were men.

The Democratic field’s eroding diversity comes as the party tries to navigate broader debates over how to reflect and embrace the crucial role women and minority voters will play in 2020.

To defeat Trump this fall, Democrat need to ensure black, Latino and suburban voters are excited to vote against the Republican president.

Tuesday’s debate showcased differences between the candidates on a number of issues.

Sanders stepped up his attacks on Biden over the former vice president’s past support of the Iraq War and broad free-trade agreements. Klobuchar, who has had several strong debates, looked for opportunities as she remained mired in the middle of the pack in polling. Billionaire Steyer faced criticism that he’s trying to buy his way to the White House.

With surveys showing Buttigieg losing support in Iowa, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, struggled for attention in a debate that often featured points of conflict among his rivals.

The evening began with the candidates clashing over Iraq, war and foreign policy, although they were largely united against Trump’s leadership on such issues.

Sanders drew a sharp contrast with Biden by noting that Sanders aggressively fought against a 2002 measure to authorize military action against Iraq.

Sanders called the Iraq invasion “the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country.”

“I did everything I could to prevent that war,” Sanders said. “Joe saw it differently.”

Biden acknowledged that his 2002 vote to authorize military action was “a mistake,” but highlighted his role in the Obama administration helping to draw down the U.S. military presence in the region.

Several candidates condemned Trump’s recent move to kill Iran’s top general and his decision to keep U.S. troops in the region.

“We have to get combat troops out,” declared Warren, who also called for reducing the military budget.

Others, including Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar, said they favored maintaining a small military presence in the Middle East.

“I bring a different perspective,” said Buttigeg, who was a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan. “We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment to ground troops.”

The candidates will not share a debate stage again until after Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses, which will offer the first dose of clarity to the Democrats’ yearlong nomination fight.

Until then, the campaigning that played out Tuesday will take place in the living rooms and community centers of Iowa and the other early voting states. Meanwhile, Trump, with no serious primary election of his own to speak of, is free to continue focusing his political machine on the general election.

Today in Longview history

Jan. 15, 1938: Judge E.M. Bramlette announced his candidacy for the District 2 seat in the Texas Senate to represent Gregg, Rusk, Harrison and Panola counties. Bramlette served as county judge from 1916 to 1920 and was city attorney for 11 years.

Jan. 15. 1962: Five Longview schools were back to near-normal operation after broken water lines were repaired, Superintendent Charles F. Mathews reported. The lines broke during near-zero cold and heavy snow the week before.

Jan. 15, 1981: Tonkawa Gas Processing Co. completed a $6.5 million natural gas processing plant in the Longview Industrial District north of the Gregg County Airport. The plant was to be fully operational within a month, employing nine people on site with 145 involved in gas gathering.

Jan. 15, 1981: Southwestern Electric Power Co. signed a lignite mining contract for fuel for the Henry W. Pirkey Power Plant near Hallsville. The Sabine Mining Co. was to develop and construct the mine, expected to be operational for about 25 years.

Texas education officials weigh new rules to fast-track charter school expansion

Amid protests from teacher’s groups and public school advocates, Texas education officials are rewriting the state’s rules for approving new charter schools to speed up the process and allow some charter operators to expand more quickly and with less state oversight.

The Texas Education Agency solicited comments at a hearing in Austin Monday on proposed changes that would create a new scoring system to fast-track expansion of the highest-performing charters while prohibiting the lowest-rated ones from opening new schools.

A coalition of advocacy groups and teachers associations argued at the hearing that the state should instead put up more roadblocks to slow expansion of charter schools, which are managed by nonprofits but funded by the state.

They argued that letting some charters open new schools almost automatically would eventually burden the state financially and siphon taxpayer money and students from traditional school districts. They also criticized the proposed scoring system, saying it could allow the proliferation of charter schools that lure the most promising students from public schools but fail to serve students with disabilities and language needs.

“(TEA officials) don’t have the ability to effectively process and take responsibility for all of these expansions so they’re creating some simple spreadsheet thing that lets them make a decision without thinking about it, when the question of what’s in the interest of all the kids in the community ... really takes a lot of work,” said David Anderson, policy analyst for Raise Your Hand Texas and former general counsel for the TEA.

Starlee Coleman, chief executive officer of the Texas Charter Schools Association, dismissed those criticisms as thinly veiled attacks on the existence of charter schools in Texas. In recent years, education groups that had been occupied fighting other political battles have coalesced to fight the growth of charter schools in nearly every venue they can.

“We are in a place where ... the coalition on the other side wants to fight about everything. They want no more new charters and I think it would be helpful if they would just say that out loud,” Coleman said.

While the number of new charter operators has slowed over the last few years, existing charters have been rapidly opening new schools, especially in urban and suburban Texas. Texas caps the number of charter operators in the state at 305, as of last September, but doesn’t cap the number of schools each operator can open. As of 2019, 172 charter operators ran more than 700 charter campuses, a number that is likely to keep rising.

Currently, charter districts whose students consistently score well on standardized tests can already expand without much oversight.

The agency’s proposal would open that fast-track process to a broader group of charter operators. The scoring system would use a long list of academic, financial and operational measures to divide charters into three tiers: high-performing, average performing and watch list.

“High-performing” charters would be able to notify the state of their plans to create new schools and receive near automatic approval, with the commissioner having no discretion to turn them down. The “watch list” charters would not be able to add new schools at all and could have their charter revoked. And the “average performing” districts would need commissioner approval to expand.

Opponents argue the proposed scoring system will allow charters with relatively few special education students or English language learners to move ahead and expand, instead of receiving extra scrutiny. They say the new system would give charters points simply for fulfilling basic minimum requirements like maintaining their nonprofit status.

“Since we’re opening up the rules, why not put provisions in place to improve the current status quo?” said Patty Quinzi, legislative counsel for the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “There should be boxes that should be checked for someone to try to expand.”

But Coleman said the proposed scoring system would allow more certainty for charters wanting to expand. “If you are doing well, you can grow. If you are not doing well, you cannot grow.”

Monday’s public hearing was one of the last scheduled steps in the process. The agency could approve a final version of the amended regulations as early as Feb. 23.