NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Incoming Nacogdoches ISD Superintendent Sandra Dowdy is now recommending that the school district scrap a "reduction in force" plan designed to address the ongoing TEA accountability issues regarding the Emeline Carpenter Elementary campus.
In a recommendation Dowdy sent to the Nacogdoches ISD School Board Monday in advance of a special called board meeting, the superintendent said that implementation of the plan, which would have required Carpenter students in grades 2 to 5 dispersed to other campuses would have cost NISD $3.3 million in federal grant money.
"Carpenter Elementary, as it currently exists, is set to receive $3.3 million in federal grant money," Dowdy said. "Reconfiguring Carpenter would disqualify us for the grant as I found out later."
The NISD superintendent said they grant money is desperately needed for the at-risk students who have spent their entire educational careers at an "improvement required" campus.
Dowdy told East Texas News that the grant money will allow the school district to hire a dyslexia teacher for the Emeline Carpenter campus. In addition, the money will also allow NISD to hire another social worker and another counselor strictly for that campus. The grant money will also allow the school district to hire a community liaison.
Dowdy said the Carpenter campus has a new principal, and the former principal has been reassigned. The teachers who haven't already resigned will be given an opportunity to stay at the campus.
"I need them at Carpenter, and they have actually waited, and they are willing to stay," Dowdy said.
The board unanimously agreed to table any reconfiguration plans for the Carpenter Elementary campus. Pam Fitch, an NISD board member, asked for one guarantee. She wanted to know that if the money was taken off the table, the new recommendation to keep students at the same campus would still be in the students' best interest.
"They need stability," Dowdy said. "They need structure. I've preached that since I've been here."
Later in the meeting, the Nacogdoches ISD School Board asked Dowdy for monthly updates on the Carpenter Elementary campus' progress. They also ordered the district's leadership to start redistricting plans for all NISD campuses.
"While we are hopeful that the results of the current year test scores show improvement, those increases may not be significant enough to garner an acceptable rating by August 2018," Dowdy wrote in the recommendation.
She said, along those lines, the NISD School Board approved her recommendation that they implement a "Plan B" that was contingent on the STAAR test results the school district will get back in June. Back in March, Dowdy suggested to the school board that they re-configure the Carpenter campus for the 2017 and 2018 school year, so that it would only serve students in grades pre-K, K, and 1.
The students in the higher grades at Carpenter would have been moved to other elementary campuses in the Nacogdoches school district. The original "Plan" would have affected about 14 NISD employees and at least 175 students and their parents.
"The goal would be to return one grade per year as stability was established until Carpenter returned to a Pre-K through 5 configuration," Dowdy said. "Restructuring Carpenter to remove all testing grades would take it out of IR status, which would improve the overall rating of the school district and eliminate immediate agency intervention."
Dowdy echoed what the district's attorney said. She said the board's decision effectively gave her the green light to do whatever was necessary to implement Plan B in June if the test scores indicate that the Emeline Carpenter campus will be going into its sixth year of IR status.
"Restructuring Carpenter to remove all testing grades would take it out of IR status, which would improve the overall rating of the school district and eliminate immediate agency intervention," Dowdy said.
Dowdy said after the last NISD meeting, she started looking at the numbers and talk to the district's principals, teachers, and transportation personnel.
We have since confirmed, however, that the implementation of Plan B would cost the district in several critical areas, specifically in relation to a tremendous loss of funding available through a TTIPS grant," Dowdy wrote in the recommendation. "Carpenter Elementary, as it currently exists, is set to receive $3.3 million dollars in federal grant money."
She went on to say that reconfiguring the Carpenter campus would disqualify the district from getting the grant.
Dowdy said Carpenter's second through fifth grade students desperately need the grant money.
"Without the TTIPS grant, it will be incumbent upon us to 'recover' or 'rescue' these students using current resources on the campuses that would receive these students under Plan B," Dowdy said.
The incoming NISD superintendent said that although she is aware that restructuring the Carpenter campus would take it out of IR status, improve the school district's overall accountability rating, and eliminate possible immediate intervention by the Texas Education Agency.
"It is my recommendation today, therefore, that the Board postpone action on the program change and allow Carpenter Elementary to remain a pre-K through 5 campus for the 2017-2018 school year regardless of the outcome of student test scores received in June," Dowdy said. "I have talked with TEA and while they will not tell us what to do (or not to do), they have been extremely supportive. They recognize that we know our District best and what is truly best for our students."
Dowdy said the goal is to put the Carpenter students in grades 2 through 5 in "the best position possible for success at the secondary level."
In the recommendation, Dowdy explained NISD has a large, diverse at-risk population of students. She added that many of the school district's students are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, or children with special education needs. Other are at risk for other reasons, she said.
The NISD superintendent said the NISD test scores show the students in grades 2 through 5 across the district don't have the mastery of skills they need to be successful. Dowdy said these students often struggle as they move into the higher grades because they didn't get the "essential foundational skills" in the lower grades.
"We have limited resources to provide the interventions and supports needed to overcome the learning gaps," Dowdy said. "We need the TIPPS grant money to close the gaps and to put our children in the best position possible to be successful in middle school and high school."
Dowdy went on to say that she is proud of the NISD faculty and teachers. She said in addition to the school district's targeted issues, they have veteran NISD teachers stepping up and asking to join the team at the Carpenter campus.
"We will have a strong, impressive team in place for 2017-2018 to address the issues, face the challenges, and lead Carpenter to success," Dowdy said.
The NISD superintendent added that regardless of what plan the district chooses, there won't be any kind of guarantee or timeline in regard to if or when the TEA will intervene. Dowdy said she thinks the new plan will allow NISD to make the best, local decision for its students.
"This can't be done quickly; it takes time," Dowdy said. "I want to stress, it can take years for campuses and districts to recover from situations like the ones we face today. What we are looking for is continued progress and growth and for our campuses and district to become self-sustaining."
Dowdy said changing the district for the better is going to require students, families, teachers, staff, and community members to work together as a team.