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.

By state law, the board of managers could be in charge for only two years. When it turned the district back over to the community board, the problems remained. "We wanted to do new things and they wanted to do things the way it had always been done, and we could never make the transition," McShan said.

The disorder in North Forest was making it easy to build a case for closure. The state emphasized the district's low test scores, though Robert Wimpelberg, the dean of education at the University of Houston, noted that test scores are a difficult barometer to use in measuring student achievement because, he said, the tests are driven as much by politics as by a real desire to assess education quality. To really understand the educational issues in a troubled district like North Forest, you need to look past the data, Wimpelberg said. "We use data as a hammer. We use data to prove something when we should be using it as a flashlight," he said.

TEA warnings came to a head in 2011 when North Forest officials were told the district would lose its accreditation and close the following year, along with Premont ISD, a small district of about 500 students near Corpus Christi.

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.

The North Forest TEA accreditation review for the 2011-12 school year noted that despite the state of the district's finances, the trustees had failed to hire a chief financial officer for almost a year. District officials argued that they couldn't find a qualified replacement at the salary they could offer, but that was no excuse, according to the TEA report.

The TEA report explicitly stated that agency officials are not supposed to consider a district's entire history when reviewing that district, but that in this case doing so was relevant. The report then recounted the many missteps, failings and transgressions in North Forest since the 1980s. The report argued that HISD needed to take control because of North Forest's long and lackluster history, bluntly stating that HISD offered a better education, based on overall district test scores, graduation rates and other district-wide indicators.

Premont ISD was given one more chance after the superintendent appealed to the TEA and then made the drastic — in Texas, land of Friday Night Lights — and national-news-making move of cutting the district's football program to get the funding needed to make the TEA improvements. Having given Premont another chance, TEA gave North Forest a final reprieve in the spring of 2012.

But in December 2012, Tritico said, he realized from his interactions with TEA lawyers that state officials had already made up their minds about North Forest. "The TEA clearly decided over four years ago that they were going to close North Forest, and every decision they made moving forward was in line toward closing the district," Tritico said.

The next semester's test scores wouldn't matter. The fact that North Forest High School had come within less than a percentage point — just two students — of meeting the required improvements in the graduation rate in 2011-12 was moot. In February 2013, TEA announced that the school district would lose accreditation and close on July 1.

"The district's troubled performance history spans multiple boards and multiple superintendents. While the extended performance history is not relevant in determining the assignment of accreditation status, it is clearly relevant to rebut the notion that all of the district's problems would be solved if they just had the right superintendent and the right board," stated the final TEA report, issued last April.

When Carrol Thomas heard the agency's pronouncement that it would be impossible for the right superintendent and board to save the district, he laughed at the claim. He knew North Forest could be saved, because he'd done it himself 20 years earlier. In his work with the district, he also became convinced that it was worth saving, because the institution was the heartbeat of the community.

Every North Forest official you talk to will acknowledge the school district had problems, but North Forest proponents argue the district still had potential. Many continued to fight the takeover even after it was made official, saying that HISD had similar problems but had hid them better.

After a last-ditch attempt to stop the merger under the Voting Rights Act was killed by the Supreme Court's ruling in June that struck down the pre-clearance requirement — which had meant that the U.S. Justice Department would have to sign off on any consolidation involving a minority school district — it was over, Tritico said.
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Some critics argued that even if North Forest had to be absorbed by another school district, HISD wasn't necessarily the right choice.

Pedro Noguera, a professor of sociology at New York University and executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education who worked with North Forest administrators in the final attempt to turn the district around, said his research and other studies have shown that academically struggling students do not benefit from being put into larger school districts. Studies by researchers at the University of Chicago and Texas Southern University indicate the same thing.

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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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