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Ferguson: 'Trust' is not in Longview ISD vocabulary

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School Bus

Longview ISD school buses wait at Hudson PEP Elementary School in August.

Trust is a delicate thing, but I gather that’s not something the upper administration of Longview ISD really cares about.

The day in May that storms rolled through Longview, I went to bed wondering if my sons’ schools would be open the next day. So much of the city, including our home, was without power. I didn’t know what the morning would hold.

I remember being pleasantly reassured early May 9 by the voice of Longview ISD’s spokeswoman on the telephone. In a recorded message to parents, she informed us that all campuses were open. That meant it was safe to drop off my fourth-grader at Hudson PEP.

A separate message from my youngest son’s preschool, which is not a part of Longview ISD, offered the same assurance. That was so important to my tender 5-year-old. As we pulled up to his school that morning, his eyes widened in sudden panic: “What if my school doesn’t have electricity?” he asked. I assured him it did, because his school’s director had sent parents a message saying it did and would be open.

May 8 had been a bit traumatic, with our towering oak tree falling on our neighbor’s house as straight-line winds tore through our neighborhood. (Our neighbors weren’t home and were uninjured, thankfully.) I had trouble even getting out of my neighborhood that afternoon and had to rely on a friend to get my oldest son from school at Hudson PEP. We were left without power at home and didn’t know when it would return.

It seemed the right thing to do to send my boys to school that Thursday, where there would be electricity and routine while we began the task of figuring out how to function for the next few days.

Perhaps that is why I felt particularly betrayed, as a parent in Longview ISD, when I learned that while all district campuses were open, not all of them had power. Worse, the district had failed to give parents that information.

Thankfully, my son’s campus had electricity, but I can’t even imagine what that day was like at the campuses that didn’t. Teachers can leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but it seems wrong to have asked them, and our children, to try to function in any meaningful way in that kind of environment.

I also think parents should have been informed upfront that there was no power, provided information about how school would operate that day and what students would eat at lunch. Parents at those campuses should have been able to make informed choices about whether to send their children to school.

The next day, the district closed those campuses without power, with administrators offering up weird explanations for the lack of communication the previous day. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Ross told the News-Journal it was her understanding that students could be bused to campuses that did have power, while our part-time superintendent said no, that was never the plan.

Forget the district’s own lack of clear communication internally — I want to know why it would ever have been OK to bus a child to another school without first informing his or her parents.

If it were just this one instance, perhaps I wouldn’t be so concerned. But we have multiple examples of the district’s apparent unwillingness to communicate with parents and actively seek our input into our district’s future.

Years ago, the district transitioned all but one kindergarten campus to a Montessori-style education, holding up traditional kindergarten at Johnston-McQueen Elementary School as a ray of hope to parents who didn’t think their children would do well in a Montessori setting. It turned out that student transfers to the campus were restricted by a federal desegregation order that was still in effect at that time.

A couple of years ago, the district moved its entire preschool and kindergarten program to its new Montessori Prep Academy at Eastman Road and Marshall Avenue, with Johnston-McQueen still offering traditional kindergarten.

Now that the district is out from under the desegregation order, it has begun promoting its “School of Choice” program, sending a flier home with students in February that included information about the offerings at its various campuses and touting the traditional kindergarten at Johnston-McQueen. Its ads still pitch “choice.”

Weeks ago, though, the district suddenly changed gears. It said Johnston-McQueen is out of space. To make room, all district preschool and kindergartners will now go to the Montessori Prep Academy.

So much for choice.

It makes my head spin. Was someone sleeping when the initial flier went out? It concerns me that our district apparently was unaware in February that the campus was running out of room. It stinks of poor planning. Are district administrators so shortsighted or do they just not care? Is this a product of having a part-time superintendent?

There’s more and I could go on, but I gather parents’ concerns fall on deaf ears at Longview ISD.

Trust needs to be cultivated. Clear and complete communication, early in the process of any change, is an important part of that.

I wish I believed the district’s upper administration cared about either of those things.

— Jo Lee Ferguson is an editor at the News-Journal. Email jferguson@news-journal.com .

Today's Bible verse

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops”

Proverbs 3:9

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