Editor’s note: Traditionally, school districts and communities across Texas have celebrated the success of public education during Texas Public Schools Week during the first full week in March. The Texas School Public Relations Association creates a Texas Public Schools Week theme to help Texas schools in our state promote public education. This year’s campaign is called Celebrate Texas Public Schools. The Daily Progress is featuring a look at each school district in Cherokee County throughout the week.

By Cristin Ross


For the most part, sweating the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tests is over. Now sweating the results begins.

But officials at Troup, Alto and Wells school districts all feel this year’s test results will continue to prove each district continues to improve.

All three of Troup ISD’s campuses earned a “recognized” rating — the only district in Cherokee County to do so — on the 2006-07 Academic Excellence Indicator System Report, published by the Texas Education Agency.

“‘Recognized” is the new ‘acceptable’ for us,” TISD Superintendent Marvin Beaty said. “And it wasn’t an accident that all our campuses were ‘recognized’ last year. We planned on what it would take to get there, and we undertook those measures with a vengeance.

“We take a different perspective with the TAKS tests than others do. They say ‘well, we hope we did well’ — we do everything we can to bust it from the get go,” he said.

Troup students get three to four practice TAKS tests a year before the real test is even reviewed.

“If you can’t pass the practice tests, there’s no reason for us to think you’re going to succeed with the real thing,” Beaty said. “We work hard in advance to ensure everyone passes.”

Beaty said after the first practice tests are tallied, the district starts remediation of trouble subjects in September. The district also offers various incentives for passing the TAKS tests to students and staff, including overnight trips.

“In three years we’ve gone from 227 commended students to more than 540 commended students,” Beaty said. “People want to debate about the test and how adequate it is. That’s just a waste of debate. It doesn’t matter what my opinion is, the bottom line is that’s what the state’s standard is and that’s what we have to pass.”

And in the ever-changing quest to find new ways to help students in the classroom, Troup ISD is experimenting with a merger of some hip technology with the day’s classroom lessons.

“We set a goal last summer to assist parents in assisting their children with homework,” Beaty said.

The district has purchased $36,000 worth of equipment and is in the process of training its teachers on how to use that equipment so they can be able to post Web casts and even Pod casts of lessons for easy access at home.

“The subjects and lessons are the same as they were when the parents were in school, but the methodology has changed,” Beaty said. “What we’re going to be able to do is download short lessons on our Web site or even through a child’s IPOD.

“The teacher will explain the lesson and work some examples, so parents are working on a level playing field. It’s kind of cool.”

Beaty said the district plans to have the program up and running by the beginning of the 2008-09 school year.

Troup ISD officials said the district is also in the process of renovating several facilities and even playing fields across the district.

“We’ve just renovated our baseball field and we expect renovations on the softball field to be completed this week,” Beaty said.

TISD is also expanding its coaching offices for the female coaches and expanding parking across the district, too.

“It’s not very glamorous, but it’s certainly necessary to keep our district in good shape,” Beaty said.

Alto ISD

Alto Independent School District officials and students are breathing a sigh of relief to have the reading and writing portions of the TAKS test done. But they can’t rest for long, since the test’s math and science portions are just 26 class days away.

“It’s extremely stressful for both the students and the teachers,” AISD Superintendent Ray DeSpain said. “The tests are so tricky, to be honest I don’t know if I could pass it.”

All three of AlSD’s campuses were rated “academically acceptable” on the 2006-07 Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) Report, published by the Texas Education Agency.

DeSpain said the district has been working on getting all its students to pass the TAKS since school started in August, utilizing tutorials before, during and after school and realigning some curriculum to make sure all the test’s objectives are covered.

“We’ve also given three major benchmark tests through the year, to see where our students are in their preparation for the real deal.”

The benchmark tests feature actual TAKS test questions from prior years’ tests.

AISD also offers incentives to its students including drawing for prizes and end-of-the-year field trips.

“We’re also talking about allowing students who pass the exit level TAKS tests be exempt from our end-of-the-year exams,” DeSpain said. “That’s quite a carrot there.”

But don’t think there isn’t anything fun for AISD to look forward to — faculty, staff and students alike are anxious to get started on building the district’s new elementary school building.

Voters approved the district’s $6.3 million bond request for the construction project in November by a vote of 307 for, 157 against.

The district is hoping to break ground on the site of the new building by the first of April. Construction is estimated to take 12 to 14 months. DeSpain said the district hopes to be able to begin the 2009-10 school year in the new building.

“It can’t come too soon,” Alto Elementary School Principal Melody Witt said in an earlier interview. “I kept reading about other school districts in the area getting new schools and I thought ‘oh, lucky them,’ but soon it’ll be our turn and that’s so exciting.”

Alto’s board of trustees and administration decided to request the bond to build a new facility, because the elementary school is more than 50 years old.

“It was originally built as the Booker T. Washington school, before desegregation,” DeSpain said. “And it’s got a lot of structural problems inherent to buildings that are just old — electrical problems, plumbing problems, roof problems — a little bit of everything, really.

DeSpain said the new school design will focus primarily on updating and upgrading the classrooms, labs and other academic spaces. DeSpain said the district also plans to demolish the old elementary school buildings and turn that area into additional parking.

“We want to look into getting a marker at the old site telling people the history of the buildings,” DeSpain said.

But the highlight of Alto’s school year had to be when the Alto Yellowjackets clenched their 28th consecutive game — downing the Seymour Panthers 22-0 on Dec. 16 — to repeat as the Class 1A state football champions.

“Now I won’t be unbalanced. I have a state championship ring for my left side to go with the ring we got last year on my right hand in 2006,” Alto assistant football coach Jay Witt said in December. “I am so excited, this is so wonderful for the school and the kids, the community. Not many teams have done this. This makes the 19 weeks of practice all worth it. This is exactly how we wanted the season to end — with us winning it all again.”

Alto recorded 622 points, while allowing 80. The 28 consecutive wins is the longest streak in the state by an 11-man football team.

Five Alto players were also named to the Associated Press Class 1A All-State list.

Alto lineman Derek Mumphrey was honored as a top selection. He made 43 tackles and forced four fumbles. Linebackers Clayton Scott and Lance Low made the list, as well. Scott averaged 14 tackles per game. Tarlandus Mitchell, the quarterback/defensive back of the Jackets was also recognized for his work on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Mitchell threw for more than 1,200 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. Defensively, Mitchell had six interceptions, including one in the state title game.

Alto junior running back Marcuse Gasaway was honored for his gridiron exploits. Gasaway rushed for more than 1,200 yards and recorded 24 touchdowns on the year.

Wells ISD

Some of this year’s TAKS testing is done for Wells Independent School District, but that doesn’t mean the incentive to do well in school has been forgotten.

Instead of rewarding students on just testing well, Wells Superintendent Dale Morton said WISD opted to reward its students’ attendance.

“If we can get students to come to school every day, it’s going to improve their education as a whole, not just how they score on the tests,” Morton said. “Last year our attendance rate was at 90 percent, which is lower than where we want it to be.”

The incentive includes field trips for students with perfect attendance in the lower grades and a chance at an academic scholarship for high school students with perfect attendance. Perfect attendance in this case means no more than two tardies within a six weeks; no leaving early; and, of course, no absences.

“It seems to be having an effect,” Morton said. “Even through the flu season, we were up four points from last year.”

The district and its students have been working hard preparing for the TAKS tests this year, too, by administering several benchmark tests throughout the year, to see where students might need extra help.

Wells Elementary was rated “academically unacceptable” and Wells High School was rated “academically acceptable” on the 2006-07 Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) Report, published by the Texas Education Agency.

“We feel good about the testing this year,” Morton said. “I know the teachers and the students gave a tremendous effort. The test is pretty challenging.

“Some of our students were here until 4:30 in the afternoon, testing on the writing portion. I know they all worked hard and gave their best individual effort.”

Morton said the “unacceptable” rating was based on the scores of one grade level on the science portion of the test.

“Unfortunately one score affects the entire campus,” Morton said. “Unacceptable is just that, unacceptable. We’re committed to rising back to recognized and even exemplary.”

Morton said the district has invested $200,000 — about 10 percent of the district’s budget — into new teachers, new software, new lab materials and completely new science curriculum for all grade levels.

“We’ve worked hard to strengthen this part, hopefully without weakening any other areas,” Morton said. “Our teachers’ efforts have been phenomenal.”

WISD board members also set the district’s teacher pay scale at higher rates than the state’s base pay scale, in the hopes of wooing the best of the best to Wells.

“We’ve got great teachers, teaching great kids,” Morton said. “I think we’ll be okay.”

Wells ISD is also planning to do some major maintenance on its facilities over the summer.

Morton said the district is looking to replace floor and wall coverings and paint the school buildings as well as installing an LED message sign.

“It’s a pretty significant facelift for us,” Morton said.

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