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Education
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May election preview: Two candidates vie for Place 2 spots on Pine Tree ISD board
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Drew Seidel and Rob Woods hope to bring a new perspective to the Pine Tree ISD school board as Place 2 candidates.

The seat was vacated by Kerri Daugbjerg.

Seidel is vice president of distribution for AEP Southwestern Electrical Power Co. and has two daughters at Pine Tree High School and a son who graduated from the district. He also is president of the booster club.

Woods, who is self-employed, is seeking a board seat for the third time since 2018. He ran for the Place 6 seat in November.

Gifted and talented

Pine Tree ISD trustees have discussed a need for a more challenging gifted and talented program.

The CEER (Communications, Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Robotics) Academy, which started this school year, aims to serve students who want more of a challenge.

Woods said he has a lot of questions abut the CEER Academy and if it is replacing GT. He said he plans to attend a parent meeting to get more information and speak with parents involved.

“ What is our new policy?” he said. “I think we need to promote gifted students. We used to do it.”

Seidel said any problem starts with understanding where you are and where you want to go.

“It starts with a conversation with everyone involved,” he said. “I’m not in a position to give a solution today. I think that’s the worst thing you can do is say I already know the answer. But I can tell you in my experience Pine Tree has done a fantastic job.”

Seidel said his children have been part of the Advanced Placement program, and all are successful.

”I am very confident this can easily be solved, and I understand that from a parent perspective,” he said.New programsLongview ISD is the only school district in the area with programs such as Montessori and International Baccalaureate.

”I’m going to find out what is Longview doing that we’re not doing,” Woods said. “Everybody compares Longview and Pine Tree, and that’s one of my areas of interests.”

Seidel said he is open to any programs that can help students succeed.

”I think we should look at everything,” he said. “I’m not interested in excluding anything just because it’s different. We definitely need to look at what is successful and being better today than we were yesterday.”

Superintendent accountability

The superintendent of a school district reports to trustees, who are responsible for hiring, firing and evaluating the position.

In evaluating the superintendent, Seidel said he believes it is important to have clear expectations and direction.

“Before we let things go so far off the rails, we need to take action. We need to be involved so that that situation doesn’t sneak up on us,” he said. “It’s really about being involved and engaged every day and making sure we’re successful in bringing quality education to students.”

Woods said he has issues with Superintendent Steve Clugston.

“Mr. Clugston is just, he’s too hard core. He doesn’t have the ability to make a judgement on a fly, and when it’s obvious a lot of people are upset about it, he should have waived the requirements,” Woods said in reference to Clugston not allowing virtual students to attend prom despite a parent being upset about the rule.

Woods said he would not have supported the raise Clugston received after his last evaluation.

Helping students of color

Like many districts across the state, Pine Tree ISD is a majority minority district, meaning students of color are the largest demographic.

However, there still are achievement gaps between those students and white students.

Woods said helping minority parents get jobs would help with the issue.

“If there were any businesses opening up, I think the school is a place jobs can be posted,” he said. “Pine Tree can send out a hand out they can take home and their parents can get another job.”

For Seidel, a way to help with the achievement gap is creating a culture and atmosphere where students can thrive.

“I know that Pine Tree really is focused on trying to get teachers who care, that want to be there and help students be successful, and I think that model works,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing I want to promote. I think it’s the right direction. I think it’s going to be very successful.”

Guardian program

Pine Tree ISD recently approved becoming part of the guardian program, which trains certain teachers and staff members to have concealed carry on campuses. Trained staff members are kept secret for the security of the program.

Both candidates said they support the move and would have voted for it.

Woods said he also would even volunteer for the program, if possible.

Seidel said he supports the people in the program being properly trained so they respond to a situation in the right way.

“It’s about safety for children and faculty and making it a safe place for learning to continue,” Seidel said. “It’s a complicated issue and people will probably side on either side of it, and I understand the reasons for that. I’m confident in the district trying to make the best decisions for students to protect them.”

Early voting for the May 1 election begins Monday.


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The rain event: Spectators, competitors enjoy Longview PRCA Rodeo despite weather

A light mist fell Friday evening on an already rain-soaked, muddy arena, but it didn’t damper the spirits of the competitors and spectators at the 30th annual Longview PRCA Rodeo.

The Longview Greggton Rotary Club fundraiser returned for a two-night run after it was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families roamed around outside the arena, enjoying the food, mechanical bull rides, pony rides and petting zoo.

Many of the children were new to the rodeo.

Corbin Stracerner, 5, said he was excited to be at his first rodeo, coming from Whitehouse.

“I’m gonna do mutton busting,” Corbin said, explaining the event: “Hanging on to the sheep.”

Heston Steenland, 4, of Diana tried out the mechanical bull.

“It’s his very first time,” said his mother, Jennifer Steenland. “As soon as we walked in and he saw it, he said ‘I want to ride that.’ ”

Heston managed to stay on the bull just like the next rider, Colt Ruiz.

Colt, 4, was just a few weeks too young for mutton busting, so he tried his hand at the mechanical bull. He and his parents, Albert and Breanna, recently moved to Longview from California.

“This is a new experience for all of us,” Albert Ruiz said. “We love the people in Longview. The community has been great, and we love the culture.”

For the competitors, returning to Longview is the beginning of the rodeo season.

“I ain’t never been so glad to be somewhere where it’s pouring rain,” Blake Miller of Belton said. “I had like 36 pro rodeos booked last year and only did three because of COVID.”

Miller, 23, is a bullfighter and has come to the Longview rodeo for about three years.

“Every year I’ve come here, it’s been raining,” Miller said, laughing. “Even with the rain it’s one of the most homiest and nicest place to be at, and the committee does a great job of putting the rodeo together, so it’s very smooth. And they make you feel at home, and the hospitality is amazing. It’s a great town.”

The rodeo features bull riding, bronco riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling, team roping and tie down roping.

“This is my first pro rodeo of the year since COVID,” Miller said. “We’re excited to be here. I’m excited to go rodeo.”

“Rain Is A Good Thing” by Luke Bryan played over the speakers as competitors signed in at the rodeo secretary’s office in a shed.

Riley Reigier traveled 31 hours from his home in Alberta, Canada, just to compete as a saddle bronc rider. This is his first time riding in Longview.

“There was no season in Canada last year,” he said, adding that he’s excited to compete again. “I’d prefer it if it was sunny though.”

Chase Thompson of Stephenville had a different view of the weather.

“As much as we all need rain, we’re kind of glad it’s here,” he said. “We’re just glad Longview is stepping up and putting on a rodeo.”

Thompson and others were signing up for team roping.

“COVID put a damper on our year last year. Yeah, it was pretty wrecked for anybody involved in this,” he said. “We’re all tired of being at home, and we’re ready to go.”

Texas Oncology sponsored the evening, and Longview Greggton Rotary Club members wore pink shirts for “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” night to support breast cancer awareness.

Tonight’s sponsors are Coors and Peter’s Chevrolet.

All revenue generated from the annual rodeo is reinvested into community programs, scholarships and facilities, according to the Longview Greggton Rotary Club.


Education
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May election preview: Longview ISD board candidates want equity for students, accountability for district
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The May 1 election will bring a new face to the Longview ISD school board to replace longtime Trustee Chris Mack, who stepped down this past year.

Dr. Samir Germanwala, a cardiologist at Longview Regional Medical Center, and Tiffany Angus, a social worker, have students in the district, and both say they want to improve the schools that are shaping their children.

Equitable education, achievement gaps

Not a board meeting goes by where a trustee does not bring up equity in the district. Considering Longview ISD’s two largest student populations are Hispanic and Black, trustees have said they want to make sure all students have an equal chance at success.

Germanwala said as the son of an immigrant, he cares about making sure the district holds a standard of equity in everything it does.

One way his family has helped students in the district is through the nonprofit Simple Bare Necessities, which his daughter Arya started and the family has worked together on. The organization collects hygiene products and creates packs to go home with students who would be able not afford them otherwise.

He also said various programs can help all students succeed.

“I think having all sorts of programs whether vocational, dual-credit — where they can graduate with an associate’s degree — or those who want to go to the Ivy League and do International Baccalaureate,” Germanwala said. “If we could have a career preparatory class so students of the lower socio-economic class can have guidance or mentorship programs , it would help.”

The achievement gap between white students and those of color is not a new problem, Germanwala said, adding that the gap exists among gender and socio-economic status as well.

”One thing is to start early. Trying to get to these kids as early as possible is important,” he said. “Setting benchmarks that say these are the goals we are tying to get. Tracking their progress — you have to be able to make sure you have objective data to make sure these kids are doing well.”

Germanwala also said many parties should be involved in a child’s education — parents, the teacher and the community.

”They need to feel their personal development and success are important. Nothing can replace a strong loving teacher who is invested in that student,” he said.

Angus shared similar ways to address students’ achievement gap.

“I’m really big on research-based decision making, so what methods are being used to work with the students who struggle the most?” she said. “I think the most important thing as a board member is to monitor what’s actually happening on the campuses and getting feedback from teachers directly.”

Using data to monitor student growth is important, Angus said. Students take common assessments every six-week grading period, and those results can be used to look at growth throughout the year versus just the end-of-year STAAR results.

“Connection between classroom and home are vital to make sure achievement gaps are met,” she said. “And I know sometimes teachers reach out and don’t get responses, and that’s not on them, and there are some parents who don’t have tools or the experiences when they were growing up to know how to help their child, and that’s why after-school tutoring is really important.”

Working on equity also starts off early, Angus said, adding that one way to address the issue is to have gifted and talented programs at schools other than Hudson PEP Elementary School and Foster Middle School.

”I’ve talked to parents at other campuses … some of their kids don’t want to leave their friends and they want to stay with their friends they’ve known and not leave them for Hudson PEP,” Angus said. “And the pattern continues that those who go through Hudson PEP, Foster gifted and talented are the ones that end up kind of at the top of the class in the high school, and that’s not bad, but it leaves a lot of those minority students without those opportunities.”

All campuses need gifted and talented programs, she said.

Special education

At the last school LISD board meeting, Trustee Michael Tubb said he wants dyslexia teachers at all campuses after he found out there are none at the middle or high schools. Tubb is the parent of a student with dyslexia.

It’s not the first time changes in the special education program have been targeted by the board. The Texas Education Agency told Longview ISD in December that improvements were needed.

As the parent of a child who needs special education, Angus she said is particularly invested in the district’s program.

She said a solution that research has proved effective is inclusion for special education students in general education classrooms.

“It’s hard to kind of talk about this, because there’s some people who feel very differently, and that’s fine, that’s understandable,” she said. “But in reality, we have a lot of research that shows students with disabilities in their peers’ classroom, the students with disabilities fare better (in general education.).”

Those types of classrooms have two teachers for general and special education, but both work with everyone, so students do not know the difference, she said.

”But it’s a team effort, and that’s why an individual education plan is about a team,” Angus said. “I think that it’s a lot about communication and team building between those people. I’ve learned follow up is something we have to do all the time.”

Germanwala said he hopes a resident of Place 3 would be willing to tell him if he or she has an issue in special education so he can meet with the director and superintendent to get it taken care of.

“We need to make sure that we have the human resources and physical resources as well. Some (students) have handicaps, and we need to make sure we have the technological resources they need,” he said. “And individualized programs are really important. My understanding is usually by the end of the calendar year, the school has an idea of the needs for those kids so they have the ability to correct.”

He said parent involvement in a child’s education is important because a lot of the learning and systems in school need to continue at home in order to work.

Accountability

School boards across the state are tasked with the hiring, firing, salary and evaluation of their superintendents, and while Longview ISD is no different, its trustees also oversee the boards of the Senate Bill 1882 charter partners.

SB 1882 is legislation that provides financial incentive to public schools for partnering with nonprofit organizations to operate campuses as charter schools. All Longview ISD campuses are SB 1882 charters operated by three partners: East Texas Advanced Academies, Texas Council for International Studies and Longview Educates and Prospers.

The board has said it still maintains control over campuses because it monitors the charter boards and makes sure they uphold their contract to improve schools.

Both candidates said they are prepared to hold all those parties accountable.

Germanwala said the board needs to have objective evaluations based on quantifiable goals and not opinions.

The charter contracts set out goals for the partners to achieve on campuses.

“There should be metrics or measures we look at for the superintendent and be able to rate them and evaluate them,” he said. “These expectations of the charters that we have, we need to follow up with them. As the board, we need to oversee the program and make sure they meet the goals. If not, we need to intervene and take appropriate measures with these charters.”

Angus said part of accountability is knowledge and asking questions.

“Half of it is knowing the information that’s in the charter partnership agreement,” she said. “Really understanding it and talking to a lot of different people that are connected to those types of things.”

She also said a member of the board should ask questions and follow up if the way something is reported and what actually happens is different.

“We’re already in the charter agreement, so there’s nothing to be done now,” she said. “But we need to make sure those achievement gaps are being met.”

Early voting for the May 1 election begins Monday.


Local
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COVID-19 in east texas
Single new case of COVID-19 reported in Gregg County
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New cases and fatalities of COVID-19 this week in Gregg and surrounding counties have remained relatively low, according to public health officials.

The Northeast Texas Public Health District, known as NET Health, reported just one newly confirmed case of COVID-19 in Gregg County residents since Monday, bringing the total cases in the county to 6,058.

NET Health made the announcement in its second update of the week Thursday, as confirmed recoveries and deaths from the virus were 5,822 and 108, respectively. NET Health reported in March it would begin updating numbers only on Mondays and Thursdays.

The numbers do not include 4,933 probable cases, 4,699 probable recoveries and 88 probable deaths.

A case is considered probable when a person receives a positive result from a rapid test that is not then laboratory confirmed.

On Monday, there were 128 confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in the county and no active cases in Gregg County Jail inmates.

In Smith County, NET Health on Thursday reported 51 new confirmed cases since Monday and one additional death. The county has had 11,560 confirmed cases, 10,834 recoveries and 202 fatalities from the virus.

In Gregg County, the seven-day rolling rate of new COVID-19 infections was up slightly this past week, although it still represented a “minimal” level of community spread, according to NET Health.

Gregg County’s seven-day rolling rate of infection, adjusted for population, was 5.65 for the period April 9 through Thursday a week after it registered 4.15. The rate means, according to NET Health, that Gregg County has a “minimal” level of community spread of the virus.

Minimal community spread indicates “evidence of isolated cases or limited community transmission, case investigation underway; no evidence of exposure in large congregate setting,” according to the district. Gregg County’s community spread has been at minimal since at least March 26.

Five of the seven counties for which NET Health provides disease surveillance exhibited minimal levels of community spread this past week with seven-day rolling rates of infection for Smith and Van Zandt rising into the double digits and a “moderate” level of community spread. Smith county had a rate of 10.31 and Van Zandt County’s was 13.13 new infections adjusted per capita.

Moderate community spread represents “sustained transmission with confirmed exposure within congregate settings and potential for rapid increase in cases,” according to NET Health.

The Texas Department of State Health Services on Friday reported eight new cases of coronavirus in Harrison County residents since Monday and no additional deaths.

The county has had 2,433 cases and 105 fatalities from the virus, according to state data.

The state reported two fewer cases of the coronavirus in Rusk County since Monday and no additional deaths. The county has had 2,195 positive cases, according to the state, and 105 COVID-19 deaths.

Cases in Upshur County increased by one to 1,328 total and deaths rose by two since Monday to 74.

The COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the Longview and Tyler has been marginally higher in recent days, although it has remained low compared to much of the time during the pandemic.

COVID-19 patients on Thursday, the latest day for which data was available, accounted for 2.55% of hospital capacity in the Trauma Service Region G, Texas Department of State Health Services data showed. The rate dropped below 3% on March 18, and since then it has been below 3% every day except May 22.

The rate dipped to 1.88% more than a week ago as it hit the lowest level for the region in nearly a year when it was 1.8% on April 14, according to state data. The rate has remained slightly elevated since 2.37% on Sunday.

The counties that make up the trauma service area are Gregg, Anderson, Camp, Cherokee, Franklin, Freestone, Harrison, Henderson, Houston, Marion, Panola, Rains, Rusk, Shelby, Smith, Trinity, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood.


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