The Commerce Journal

January 23, 2013

School security, funding highlight CISD board meeting discussion

By Joseph Hamrick
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — In the past year, the Commerce Independent School District Board of Trustees supported the CISD iPad initiative to give iPads to every high school student, put in plans to have an Agricultural Learning Center for the high school and passed a resolution supporting Texas superintendents in their case against the state in school equity.

With January being National School Board Appreciation month, the board was recognized by students and staff during the Jan. 22 meeting.

“I go to a lot of meetings and I hear a lot of superintendents talk about their boards,” Blake Cooper, superintendent of CISD said. “I want to tell you that I am proud to be here with this board. You hold me accountable and you each are here because you care for kids.”

Willie Blow, president of the board, has been on the school board since 1999. According to him, the fellow board members make his job less difficult.

“It is easy to be on the school board here in Commerce,” he said.

Joe Venable, chief of police for the Commerce ISD Police Department, presented the board with his safety report for the previous year.

“In recent weeks we’ve had calls from parents about safety,” he said. “Every campus, compared to other districts, is safe. Every principal does a very good job with safety.”

Venable announced that the school is up to date and current on the safety audit, but with the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Venable said he will be looking at increasing the security even more beyond what is required by law.

“In recent weeks we have tweaked some of our security,” he said. “There is always room for improvement. We’ve done as much as we can do right now and still be able to function as a school.”

According to Cooper, the schools will be receiving another upgrade in the near future.

“All campuses have a shelter in place in case of a shooter situation,” he said. “And we are looking at putting up buzzer entries into campuses.”

The 82nd Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion in public school funding in 2011. Included in those cuts was funding for the Student Success Initiative (SSI), which is a program to help struggling students to be academically successful in reading and mathematics.

Since that funding was cut, the board passed a vote to move $12,000 from the general fund balance to hire a long-term substitute teacher to work with middle and high school students.

“The legislature cut the SSI, but it’s still a federally mandated program,” Cooper said. “And guess who that falls back on? Us.”

The Commerce Community Plaza (CCP) was formed in January of 2012 as part of an outreach program with the university, school district and community. According to Maria Garza, CCP coordinator, the program is going well.

“Our mission is to improve lives through education,” she said. “We have 25 GED prep students.”

The CCP meets every Monday and Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. inside the CISD building on Washington Street, and offers free childcare provided by the First Christian Church of Commerce. Since the program has grown, it now offers morning ESL classes from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Garza said many of her students were ready to take their GED’s, but were unable to because there was no room in the nearest testing site.

“Our students couldn’t get into the Garland center because it was full,” she said, adding that the center does not have a way for people to call in advance to schedule testing days. “The GED is $100 to register, $30 for each retest, and the students are losing out in lost wages when traveling to and from the center.”

According to Julia Robinson, director of curriculum for CISD, the ordeal had her outraged.

“It appalled me to see people not able to take a test to better themselves,” she said.

Texas A&M University-Commerce used to have a GED testing site in Commerce. Garza, along with Robinson, said they would like to see that re-instated.

“It would be a great service to our community,” Garza said.