Texas Education Agency Upholds Decision To Shut Down North Forest ISD
by: Laura Isensee, April 1, 2013 5:04:00 pm
For years North Forest ISD has struggled with poor academics and botched finances.
This week the Texas Education Agency decided it’s time to start over.
Debbie Ratcliffe is with the agency.
“If it could fix it, it would have fixed it by now. There’s a point at which we’ve got to say, enough is enough, we need to give someone the opportunity to do a better job educating these students.”
Last year the Education Commissioner first ordered closing North Forest but gave it a year to improve.
Ratcliffe says North Forest did improve but not enough. For example only 66 percent of North Forest students finish high school.
“Think about that number for a minute. That means 34 percent of their students are not graduating.”
To help more kids graduate, North Forest wanted to partner with three high-profile charter school operators.
Ratcliffe says that plan didn’t have enough details and came too late.
“Today’s decision is unfortunate, unjust and intellectually dishonest on behalf of the Texas Education Agency.”
That’s North Forest attorney Chris Tritico. He says they weren’t given a full year to improve but still made big strides.
“The commissioner said you got a year to improve. We improved over a year more rapidly than any other district in the state. Yet all I hear is this district isn’t being run properly. Those are old prejudices.”
Tritico says North Forest will continue to fight on five different legal fronts from state administrative court all the way to Washington, DC.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee is a strong North Forest ally. At a press conference outside the NAACP headquarters in Houston’s Third Ward she calls the merger a “civil rights violation.”
“Can you tell me why we have become the victim, if you will, of the TEA’s decision on closing schools? Why do we have to be an example? The TEA, over the years, has closed four school districts – this is my recollection. All of them were African-American-run.”
With all the anxiety about the merger, HISD says it will listen to parents, students and teachers with North Forest.
Orlando Riddick is the chief high school officer for HISD. He says a transition team will review the district’s academics, personnel, buildings and buses.
“We need to move forward on that transition. I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. So it’s important to know that as we move forward that we continue what is our transition process to bring North Forest over to HISD.”
If it goes through, the merger will take effect July first and North Forest will become the largest school district closed in Texas.