The Commerce Journal

January 5, 2013

Examining a year in education

By caleb slinkard
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — From the university getting a new nursing program, to the Commerce ISD superintendent standing up for school equity and better testing rules, Commerce schools had many new developments in the 2012 year.



SCHOOL BOARD ACCEPTS BID TO BUILD AGRICULTURAL LEARNING CENTER

The Commerce ISD Board of Trustees approved a bid to construct the Agricultural Learning Center for $39,250.

Currently Commerce is the only school district in Hunt County to not have an Agricultural Learning Center.

“We are getting nothing but excitement from students and parents,” Richard Meeks, agriculture science teacher and FFA advisor said. “We’re looking at a facility that will serve several purposes for our students.”

The building will be 70 by 75 feet, will house small livestock on the South side and large animals on the North, and is scheduled to be completed in January.



BOARD APPROVES DRAINAGE WORK AT CHS

The Commerce School Board of Trustees approved the hiring of Jackson Construction as construction manager agent for the drainage work at Commerce High School. Commerce ISD Superintendant Blake Cooper said the company will oversee the construction.

“Jackson Construction will oversee the work that will be done,” Cooper said. “But all the work will be done through local bids. They won’t take any work from our local companies.”

Cooper said the high school has had a history of drainage issues and this contract will go toward fixing that problem.

“The water isn’t getting away from the building,” he said. “We have little rivers of water underneath the school.”

Cooper cautioned that the company’s proposal is the first step of potentially two.

“This will not guarantee that it will fix the problem,” he said. “But this step has to be taken either way. But Jackson Construction feels that this might remedy the problem without having to do more expensive work.”



SUPERINTENDENTS FIGHT FOR SCHOOL EQUITY

Quinlan ISD Superintendent Michael French said the case he and three other superintendents are presenting to Austin is one of the most important issues facing public schools.

French will be presenting his case for school equity before Austin on Nov. 26.

“This is the most important issue I believe facing school districts,” he said. “This will affect 43 percent of school districts in the state.”

According to French, Texas is putting an unequal value on students.

“The state is picking winners and losers and picking a value on kids that’s not fair,” he said. “I don’t believe any kid in Texas deserves any less than another kid.”

Blake Cooper, superintendent of Commerce ISD, agreed with French on the school equity issue.

“It’s been a problem for a long time now,” Cooper said. “Basically school districts are unequally funded.”

Cooper gave an example of how the issue is affecting CISD.

“We have a district close to us that has a $1.05 tax rate and gets $7,500 a student,” he said. “And we have a $1.17 tax rate and only get $5,000 per student. That’s a $2.5 million difference. There’s a whole lot more we could fund with $2.5 million.”

According to Cooper, if the state is testing schools the same, then it should fund them equally as well.

“As long as we’re all being tested in the same manner, we should be funded the same,” he said.

Texas schools have the second highest testing standard in the nation but are 48th in funding schools. French said he is fighting to change that.

“No superintendent is afraid of accountability,” he said. “But the word is equity. We want what’s equal and fair.”



A&M-COMMERCE GETS NEW NURSING PROGRAM

In response to the higher demand for nurses with college degrees, Texas A&M University-Commerce opened the doors to its new bachelor nursing degree on Nov. 19.

A&M-Commerce President Dan Jones said he didn’t realize how difficult it is to get a nursing program certified.

“Getting a nursing program started is not easy business,” he said. “I was a little bit peeved and frustrated about it, then I thought I am a current and prospective customer of nurses and was encouraged at what it takes to get a program.”

Jones said this program will fill a great need in East Texas.

“There is a need out there in rural Texas,” he said. “Our goal is to provide highly qualified individuals for all of the workforce.”

Barbara Tucker, director of nursing at A&M-Commerce, agreed with Jones, and added statistics showing how the community would benefit.

“The East Texas region has a 9.1 percent nurse vacancy rate, making it the highest nursing vacancy rate in the state,” she said. “This will be such a benefit to the region.”



SUPERINTENDENT SPEAKS OUT ABOUT TESTING PRESSURE IN THE CLASSROOM

Commerce Independent School District Superintendent Blake Cooper is not afraid of accountability for school districts in standardized testing, but he said the state has gone overboard on it.

“We have high expectations for our kids, but when we spend 47 out of 180 school days on testing, then there’s too much testing,” he said. “When you take all that they want us to teach our kids in depth, there’s not enough time.”

Cooper said the state has put too much emphasis on test-taking and has put forth a system that doles out punishments.

“Instead of testing to see where we need to improve, it’s a punitive program,” he said. “When the reputation of a school district is based on the reading grade of a third grader, that’s where we’ve taken testing and accountability too far.”

Cooper said expectations for teachers are unreasonable and unhealthy for the children.

“In history you have 250 points they want us to cover over a year,” he said. “How can you teach to the depth and the rigor that is needed when you have to teach so much in so little time. It’s the difference between skimming the surface of a pool to clean the leaves from the top and getting a big cleaner and taking the time to suck up the dirt from the bottom.”

According to Cooper, it is both frustrating to him as an administrator and to teachers because of the stress placed on them.

“They can’t really teach creatively and spend the time to teach the critical thinking skill,” he said. “The state’s got to take the handcuffs off of the schools.”