Everyone Says They Want the Best for North Forest Students, As Long As They Stand to Benefit.

HISD didn't just absorb North Forest out of the goodness of its heart. There's some real benefits in the acquisition to the mega district and its superintendent. Hopefully for the kids as well.

Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, based in Austin, said that education funding is still well below where it was before 2008 and that state funding will never return to the level it was at then for HISD and other Texas school districts.

But HISD didn't have to look for extra money to fix up North Forest, thanks to TEA funding. Crews moved in the day Grier took possession of the campuses, and reports came out about the sorry state of North Forest's classrooms and buses. Officials recounted how rats and bugs were found in Fonwood Elementary, the school Bianca and her sister attended last year, never mentioning the fact that the school was slated for closure by North Forest.

The state of North Forest's campuses was trumpeted by HISD officials as further proof that they were the solution to the smaller district's troubles. The picture painted was one of a rotting school district that HISD was courageously swooping in to save, despite the fact that HISD has aging schools in similar states of disrepair, according to former HISD general construction manager Issa Dadoush.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier talked about how HISD is taking in North Forest for the good of the students, but HISD also benefits from the merger.
HISD Superintendent Terry Grier talked about how HISD is taking in North Forest for the good of the students, but HISD also benefits from the merger.
Jasmine and Damond Wiggins and their parents Mable Wiggins and John Alexander say they are hoping the consolidation with HISD will mean a better learning environment for the Forest Brook Middle School students.
Jasmine and Damond Wiggins and their parents Mable Wiggins and John Alexander say they are hoping the consolidation with HISD will mean a better learning environment for the Forest Brook Middle School students.

By taking on North Forest, HISD gets all the real estate attached to it, including a high school and sports facility slated to be built in North Forest with $80 million from the state, according to state Rep. Senfronia Thompson. HISD will most likely sell any North Forest property not repurposed, according to district policy, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said. The district will also receive an injection of funds from the state to cover the cost of renovations and the rapid annexation — HISD has spent about $25 million so far — and an additional $35 million in funding for at least the next five years, Spencer said. HISD must assume North Forest's $60 million in general obligation and maintenance tax debt, Spencer said, but TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said the state agency officials will do all they can to ensure they aren't placing too great a burden on HISD.

Spencer said Grier never initiated the move to consolidate the districts. After assuring the Houston Press that an interview with Grier on North Forest would be no problem, the HISD communications office subsequently said that Grier was unavailable for comment. Questions for this story were answered by Spencer via e-mail or telephone.

After the district was formally closed, North Forest's 58,000 registered voters were split between HISD board trustees representing two existing districts. The voters were placed in either District 8, represented by Juliet Stipeche, or District 2, represented by Rhonda Skillern-Jones. Neither is up for re-election until 2015, meaning the voters of North Forest have gone from having an entire board elected directly by them to a situation in which they won't have any say in who represents them for the next three years.

A push from North Forest residents to add two seats and give them their own HISD representatives was ignored, former North Forest board member Silvia Brooks Williams said. All of North Forest's estimated 1,000 employees were fired when HISD took over. The employees were invited to re-apply for their jobs, but with no guarantees. Only 74 of approximately 500 teachers working at North Forest when it closed were rehired, Spencer said.

The move also works out for Grier, who has been at the helm of HISD since 2009 and is not seeing the results promised from his school turnaround program, Apollo 20, according to former HISD school board member Carol Mims Galloway. North Forest schools could provide a welcome distraction and a way to burnish Grier's record at a time when he needs it, she said.

On the first day of school, Hilarion Martinez, the new principal of Thurgood Marshall, who was overseeing a staff hired in less than two months, had a strained smile on his face as he speed-walked through the halls to make sure everything was in order. Martinez never stopped smiling as he rattled off the changes they were making — a longer school day, reading programs, access to new gadgetry including computers and iPads, any incentive he could dream up to get kids excited about coming to school — repeating the usual party line about how happy he and his new staff were to meet these challenges.

As the media event for the first day of school rolled along, Martinez stood in the doorway of a classroom as Grier handed out school supplies donated by energy companies. One little girl, her long black hair swept into a pony tail and topped with a yellow bow, looked up as Grier handed her the supplies. Her brown eyes went from Grier to the bank of cameras behind him and down to the supplies, and she burst into tears. Grier and the cameras edged away as her sobs continued and she dropped her head to her desk. There would be nothing but smiles recorded on the first day of school.
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North Forest was one of TEA's "problem child" districts years before its demise. The district started as a single school serving mostly poor white rural children in northeast Houston about 90 years ago. By the time desegregation rolled around, the area had blossomed into a pocket of white suburbia along US 59. When all Texas schools were ordered to integrate in the 1970s, African Americans began moving into the area, attracted by the excellent schools. As they moved in, the whites moved out. By the end of the decade, the community was predominantly African American, as it is today.

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3 comments
RinHiroishi
RinHiroishi

Also Hispanic students and parents in the NFISD boundaries may have access to more bilingual and Spanish-speaking services within HISD.

RinHiroishi
RinHiroishi

Remember the state also closed Mirando City, and that was majority Hispanic and rural. NFISD and WHISD were in urban areas so annexation is fairly easy and did not have to put hardship (when WHISD was first annexed, though, DISD sent its students to faraway DISD campuses due to the poor state of WHISD campuses. Now DISD built new schools in the WHISD area).

The "performance drop when schools close" made more sense with WHISD than with this one because all but one of the NFISD schools did stay open (WE Rogers closed) BUT the teachers were almost completely replaced.

With Kendleton it is more similar to a "hardship" case since it is still in a rural area. I'm hoping Lamar Consolidated re-opens the school someday.

Also since NFISD's population was spiraling down, it was bound to "collapse" someday anyway.

RinHiroishi
RinHiroishi

There are other arguments: By having NFISD merged they can attend other HISD schools. Even if NFISD performances tank later, the more motivated students can travel to other HISD schools. Property values can rise: After WHISD merged, property values in that district increased. There can be an argument that the voting base in NFISD was too apathetic or unable to save their own district from decay, so why should they still have exclusive political power over their own schools that other neighborhoods in Houston don't have.

 
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