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.

The African-American community gained control of the school board in the late 1970s, making North Forest one of the largest African-American-run districts in Texas.

Former HISD superintendent Billy Reagan said he watched North Forest during those early years and thought of trying to make the district a part of HISD then. He put out feelers to TEA as early as the late 1970s, he said, but was told it would never be allowed to happen because desegregation laws prohibited two primarily minority-populated districts from merging.

Reagan proposed that the Humble superintendent — whom he competed with to see whose district could get the better test scores — step in and see if the state would allow Humble to annex the school district, but the Humble superintendent never made a move, he said. None of the neighboring districts seemed interested either, Reagan said.

Parents Robert and Trisha Cardenas say their daughters, Ceanna, seven, and Bianca, ten, are thrilled to be attending Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a campus nothing like Fonwood Elementary, the school they attended last year.
Parents Robert and Trisha Cardenas say their daughters, Ceanna, seven, and Bianca, ten, are thrilled to be attending Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a campus nothing like Fonwood Elementary, the school they attended last year.
More than 700 students arrived for the first day of school at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a repurposed, renovated campus with a principal and teachers hired for the job in less than two months.
More than 700 students arrived for the first day of school at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a repurposed, renovated campus with a principal and teachers hired for the job in less than two months.

North Forest ran into problems in the mid-1980s when North Forest administrators and teachers had the lowest TECAT (Texas Examination of Current Administrators and Teachers) scores in the state. In 1988, financial issues began to surface. Questions were raised about how the school board and the administration were managing finances, drawing TEA attention. However, that was also the year Carrol Thomas was hired as the latest superintendent.

Thomas said he came in with a clear plan for North Forest. He said he made sure to treat everyone, from trustees to staff and students, equally, something he said had not always been the case with other superintendents. He looked for ways to connect with the community and help schools provide what the community needed, such as WIC-sponsored clinics that would provide birth control and that were run in the schools, he said.

He raised test scores, improved the graduation rate and cleaned up the district's financial record-keeping in just a few years, winning awards for his time as superintendent, according to state records. State support was as much a key to his success as was connecting with the school board and the community, Thomas said. "The TEA wanted the school district to succeed. It was their mission, and they sponsored me and helped me make it happen," he said. When Thomas left to become the superintendent of Beaumont ISD in 1996, North Forest began to founder again.

In the early 2000s, state laws were changed to make it easier for TEA to close underperforming districts, said Thompson, one of the representatives of the North Forest area.

Wilmer-Hutchins ISD, a district that was almost a mirror image of North Forest in both demographics and history, was closed in 2005 and merged with Dallas ISD. Kendleton, another district run primarily by African Americans, was annexed to Lamar in 2010. A handful of underperforming school districts were intensively reviewed, but annexation seemed to happen only with black schools, Chris Tritico, the Houston lawyer representing North Forest, said.

The beginning of the end for North Forest started in 2007 when TEA installed financial and academic conservators, Tritico said. A more drastic takeover was announced in a coolly worded letter from then-TEA commissioner Robert Scott in 2008 firing the superintendent and board and replacing them with a board of three state-appointed managers. "In the intervening years, progress has been sporadic and regression has been frequent," Scott wrote. "School governance is unstable in North Forest ISD and has been so for quite some time."

The agency took that step just after the board fired the previous superintendent, James Simpson, for allegedly attempting to investigate board members and administrators, according to the TEA report. He was given a $233,000 buyout, but then the board repeatedly tried to rehire him, a decision Scott mentioned in his letter firing the board as a symptom of what was wrong with North Forest.

The district's financial hijinks hit a new low when the state found that officials had used bond money to cover shortfalls in payrolls. The school district's bonds were downgraded to junk status, district accounts were negative, North Forest couldn't get approved for any loans to bridge the gap in funds, and district accounts were constantly in the red. In 2008, Ruth Watson, the head of special education, was found to have awarded federal grants to her own family, a development that led to more scrutiny by the state. Even the state-appointed managers couldn't get a handle on things.

George McShan, one of those state-appointed managers, said he thought North Forest board members and administrators were so focused on grappling for power that they lost sight of priorities. Everything McShan and the other managers tried to do was met with obstinacy from North Forest officials, he said.

Adding to the difficulties, the managers were dealing with a chronically underfunded school district, McShan said. The school finance reforms in the 1980s and 1990s still left North Forest short on funding, Thompson said. Enrollment dropped from about 13,000 students in 2000 to around 8,000, when the board of managers took over. The numbers continued to slip as parents chose to put their children in area charter schools, meaning there was even less state funding. The district couldn't offer competitive salaries. Teachers received almost no extra training, and there was no money for campus repairs, McShan said.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
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.

 
Houston Concert Tickets
Loading...