LA MARQUE — La Marque Independent School District is struggling to keep students and to meet state academic and financial standards. It is asking the state for more time to fix its problems.

Superintendent Terri Watkins said the district just needs time to turn things around. Critics claim only the state education agency can fix the broken district.

Parents and their children are left to wonder: Should they stay or should they go elsewhere for an education?

The Texas Education Agency warned the district to fix things quickly or the state would take over.

How did LMISD get here?

The woes facing the La Marque school district are well documented with three straight years of poor financial performance and a failure to meet state academic standards.

Enrollment has continued to drop at a dramatic rate. The former superintendent was forced out. A new superintendent started last fall. A state-ordered financial solvency plan was twice rejected before getting approval. 

The state put the district’s accreditation status on probation and ordered a conservator to oversee the district’s operations. 

Along the way, a school trustee was charged with felony theft and has taken leave from the school board.

The district was warned time and time again by the state that things needed to change. But discord between former Superintendent Ecomet Burley and the majority on the school board, as well as infighting among board members, hindered progress.

It wasn’t until the state insisted the district implement a financial solvency plan and Burley left that the board took steps to address the district’s dire situation.

 

Challenges remain

Watkins may want time to turn things around, but many parents of students have already made up their minds. Enrollment is still falling.

In the 2008-09 school year, the district had 3,704 students. As of Friday, enrollment was 2,482. That’s a decrease of 1,222 students, a loss of more than 200 students per year.

At the current rate of 166 students lost a year since 2011-12, La Marque could have fewer than 2,000 students within three years and fewer than 1,700 students within five years — a period Watkins has said might be needed to turn things around.

Many of those students are attending classes in other Galveston County school districts. The most recent figures from Texas City, Dickinson, Hitchcock and Galveston school districts — the county’s only open-enrollment districts — show that 680 La Marque students attend classes in those districts.

That’s an increase of 117 students who fled the La Marque school district since The Daily News first reported on transfers last summer.

La Marque’s own figures show 135 students transferred this school year to other school districts, which results in millions of dollars in lost state revenue.

 

Creating a ‘winning’ culture

“You have to change culture first,” Watkins said. “It you don’t get that done, anything else you do is just a Band-Aid.”

A winning culture at La Marque is nothing new. It’s been a part of the football program for decades.

“It is a mindset every year that you expect La Marque football to win,” Watkins said. “That is a mindset and that is a culture. That is where we are trying to get within every aspect of the district.

“We have to move forward in our thinking. If I continue to talk about the past, we won’t get to move forward. It is time for us to move forward.”

 

Master teachers

Watkins said there are so many issues to address that any effective change will take some time. She asked the state to let her have three to five years to turn things around.

One of the glaring issues — after years of layoffs and an exodus of seasoned teachers — is a dearth of experience within the teaching staff. 

Of the district’s 148 teachers, 40 percent have less than five years experience. Twenty-seven percent have two years or less teaching experience; 27 of those (18 percent of the teaching staff) are in their first year of teaching.

“We have teachers with the knowledge but not the day-to-day teaching experience,” Watkins said.

In December, the district launched its monthly Master Teachers workshops. Each is 11⁄2 hours of “intense classroom management” where inexperienced teachers are matched with those with experience as well as outside help and administrators.

Those sessions also are used to introduce new technology and methods for those experienced teachers.

 

New technology 

Watkins said many veteran instructors were intimidated by classroom technology. The Master Teacher workshops aim to ease the fear of technology and to offer training. 

Cheryl Banks-Jones, an intermediate schoolteacher, is among those taking advantage of the workshops. She has six years classroom experience but has been working in the administration the last several years.

“When I saw what was going on in our district, I said I need to get back into the trenches,” she said. “I have seen a huge change in the district (since Watkins’ arrival) and for once I see more hope than ever.”

The Master Teacher workshops showed Banks-Jones ways to use technology to engage students.

On the day The Daily News visited her classroom, she was using a Smart Board and laptop as students competed in a science quiz. 

But the training isn’t just in the workshops, Watkins said.

Each school principal had to come up with a remedial plan and is responsible for monitoring it in practice.

Erin Cole, principal at La Marque Intermediate, spends more time in the classroom monitoring and assisting teachers and less time in her office, Watkins said.

 

Learning continues after class

Another part of the new culture at La Marque is the of the 21st Century after-school program.

Students spend time on their academic studies to reinforce what teachers taught during the day. They also participate in enrichment programs, including STEM-based hands-on projects and career and college readiness instruction.

There’s also some fun thrown in, including some recreation activities, during the daily three-hour program at four campuses.

The program, which started in February, already has more than 1,000 students who participate daily, the program’s director, Kelley Romar, said. 

It’s too early to know whether the program will have tangible academic results. Results from mandatory state exams taken in April won’t be made public until May 15, and the latest round of test results from a couple of weeks ago won’t be known until the summer.

But having so many students taking part is encouraging.

“We are very proud of the direction we are headed,” Romar said. “We hope to continue over the summer so there isn’t a slack.”

Maintaining a summer education program also is key, Watkins said. 

“We are finding that so many of our students fall behind over the summer and when they return to class, they are behind some of the other students,” she said.

 

Making the case

Watkins insists that if given time, she can turn things around. Already, just seven months on the job, she said progress has been made.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Watkins said. “La Marque didn’t get in this position overnight, and we can’t fix everything overnight either. But we are headed in the right direction.”

Watkins and the district’s attorney, finance director Dianne Duron, school board President Nakisha Paul and board member David Hooker met face-to-face with TEA officials in March.

“We got a chance to get all (of the TEA’s) questions answered,” Watkins said. “They presented the information of why we were where we were, and we got to present our side about what we are doing to resolve the question. Nothing was left unanswered.”

The state appears to be willing to give La Marque the benefit of the doubt.

On Thursday, the district got a reprieve when the Texas Education Agency announced it would not assign a conservator to the La Marque district.

Still, the district’s accreditation status remains on probation, and La Marque has to meet a long list of stipulations. 

That came a week after the TEA finally approved the district’s financial solvency plan.

Both decisions provided Watkins and her staff with a sense of relief but also a whole new set of challenges.

 

New game plan, same players

Walter Manuel, a frequent critic of the La Marque school district’s management, agrees a new culture is needed. He’s been calling for change for about two years and has dozens of complaints filed with the Texas Education Agency.

While he supports Watkins’ desire for change, he isn’t confident she will be able to implement it.

“That’s because aside from (Watkins), it is all the same players that got the school district in the mess in the first place,” Manuel said. “The school board (members) knew of these problems long before the state came in and forced them to make changes. They did nothing.

“Now, the district wants more time, but what does that do for the kids that are there now?”

Manuel and others lobbied the TEA to not back down on its accreditation rating.

“The district needs someone to guide and tell them what to do,” Manuel said. “If not, it will be business as usual and we will have lost a whole new generation of kids.”


 LMISD Enrollment

School year — number of students

2008-09 — 3,704

2009-10 — 3,396

2010-11 — 2,971

2011-12 — 2,980

2012-13 — 2,862

2013-14 — 2,482*

* As of May 2

Sources: TEA/LMISD

 


 

LMISD teacher experience

Total number of teachers: 148

Less than 1 year experience (first year teachers): 27

1-2 years experience: 13

2-5 years experience: 20

5-8 years experience: 16

8-10 years experience: 11

10-plus years experience: 61

Source: LMISD

Contact Mainland Editor T.J. Aulds at 409-683-5334 or tjaulds@galvnews.com.

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(18) comments

Robert Buckner

I can't see wasting any more time or money here. Nice article TJ, but that isn't enough. Enrollment will continue to decline, as will academic ratings. This board is a failure destined to end it all for LMISD.. RIP

George Croix

“You have to change culture first,” Watkins said. “It you don’t get that done, anything else you do is just a Band-Aid.”

THAT is EXACTLY right.
The only problem with it, imho, is it's aimed in the wrong direction.
The culture that needs changing first is the one in the Board room.
And for that to happen, the voters need to change their culture of listening to people who care more about who goes into school than what they get out of it.
Here's the first clue:
This is 2014, not 1964.
Start there, and try to catch up, before the entire student population of LMISD can fit inside an 'eagle nest'.

MissionaryMan
Walter Manuel

ROFL Gegroix, your absolutely right!

Watkins has obviously learned quickly how to "Eagle speak" as our dear friend Mr. JBG would tell us.

Your also correct Robert, TJ did an excellent article covering how we got where we are today. Without qualified board members this district can paint lipstick on this pig all day long and it's still going to be a pig.

"Cheryl Banks-Jones, an intermediate schoolteacher, is among those taking advantage of the workshops. She has six years classroom experience but has been working in the administration the last several years".

That statement right there's shows the mentality of LMISD in it's hiring practice and the reason they will NOT move forward with any "plan" when someone with ONLY "6 years of classroom experience" is working in ADMINISTRATION!

If we took the time to look throughout this district, I'm sure that we would find that many of our administrators and teachers in the classrooms are filled with people that have good intentions, but not the experience required of their positions and are here only to get the "on-the-job training" needed before moving on to another district.

STAAR and End of the Course test scores are already back from TEA and I can assure you that IF they had been good, the district would already have already called a special board meeting and the phones at the GCDN would have already been blasted off of the walls!

It's sad to see that our student enrollment numbers will continue declining year after year until we do have less than 2,000 students in the district, but this board and obviously now Terri Watkins main focus is on keeping employees in their jobs and their paychecks.

A school district the size of LMISD DOESN'T need all of it's current administrators and district employees and the size of the school district certainly doesn't warrant paying a superintendent $135k a year.

That $135k looks to only be a guarantee that Terri Watkins would be a rubber stamp for Nakisha Paul and the rest of the board in order that they could continue meddling in the day to day operations just like they did with Mr. Burley.

No other superintendent nor school district would allow the board to do their meddling in the day to day operations that this board does, but just like they say only in LMISD can you get away with this PODUNK type of mentality and incompetent business practices.

Unfortunately, it's still business as usual for this district and the only thing that has changed is that they are now having to use bigger band-aides. [yawn]

MissionaryMan
Walter Manuel

"Watkins and the district’s attorney, finance director Dianne Duron, school board President Nakisha Paul and board member David Hooker met face-to-face with TEA officials in March".

I'm sure that was the perfect "who did it and what for" kodak moment... [whistling]

Robert Buckner

At first I thought gecroix's remark about an eagle's nest was funny but I got to thinking that the eagle's nest is probably imaginary.

Gary Miller

LM ISD has a teacher for each 16 students. How many non teaching staff do they have? The TEA or voters should require teachers and staff be cut as and in proportion to the loss of students. When enrolement declines 117 in a year 7 teachers and a like number of support staff should be let go.
I suspect there is some resentment by teachers when they see support staff jobs more protected than teaching jobs.

MissionaryMan
Walter Manuel

"I suspect there is some resentment by teachers when they see support staff jobs more protected than teaching jobs".

Absolutely IHOG! No where else but LMISD would these people make the kind of money that their making in LMISD and performing so poorly if it weren't for the fact that they are being protected by their friends sitting on the school board.

We see exactly what single member district voting does to destroy a school district. The results is just like having rats and roaches, once you got 'em their hard as hell to get rid of! [wink]

magpie

TJ Great Job on your article. Keep up the good work.

JBG JBG

I'll tell you one thing! I applaud those parents who are thinking about the futures of their children and their well being, by leaving here to enroll their children in an atmosphere with better opportunities, conducive for learning, reaching higher goals,...and achieving established benchmarks of success!
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The more I see of this, the more my faith and hope grows for these kids left behind here! See they have NO IDEA just how much they are being "RIPPED OFF" by their own community! The realization of what is being systematically done to them will come years down the highway of LIFE!
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Only thing, it will be to late to do anything about it then! Not for me though, and not for Mr. Manuel, Mr. Buckner, IHOG, gcroix and others who already can see through "MUDDY WATER!" We already know the score, see! I low crawled through the burning fields of hypocrisy,..inefficiency, incompetency, inequality, and of a third rate education. It was not until I left this district that I was able to, with a strong resolve, and a will to overcome, do something worthwhile, which included a deployment of a "catch up Methodology" to help me! Hard work, expensive work, but in the end worth every penny!
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None of these kids should have to copy what I did,....they deserve a first rate educational opportunity to learn and reach out for a piece of the AMERICAN DREAM!
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The great English Poet Robert Browning wrote:
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?"
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Mr. Browning was talking about HOPE and,...VISION,.....HOPE which are the eyes of faith! Faith is the substance of things ....HOPED for,...and the evidence of things NOT SEEN!!!! Faith reaches out and receives what HOPE shows to it! Unless a child can hope,...unless we train up a child to hope and reach out for a better way of life, than what he has GRASPED in his hand, or what they can see in their immediate environment,....we have failed that child! One of the ways we can enhance that process is by equipping that child, EVERY CHILD who passes through LMISD with a second to none education! Give the a reason to inquire, to dream and hope!
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The least we could do is to expose every child to a second to none quality education,..but that is not happening here now! I'm like Mr. Manuel, I don't think we can afford to give five to ten more years to a dysfunctional, ill-equipped, under performing,... educational facility just to allow them to prove they can do what every other school district is already doing! TIME IS UP!!! Ahhhhhh and I got a feeling that before it is said and done,....that place for one reason or another is going to be closed down! Please remember, ...this district is hemorrhaging students out of here like nobody's business! Which means, the PARENTS have a greater stake, and a greater say so in this, than the TEA! It is not the state's children who are being shortchanged or RIPPED OFF!!!!!!
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I believe the day they close this place down there will still be some students still here for one reason or another! It does not take all of the students to leave in order to close them,...it just takes the majority of them. There will always be those who can see and those who cannot! When I came through here years ago, there were parents who just could not see what those in charge were doing to their children, BUT THANK THE LORD, there were some who did, and they took action! They had students marching in the streets with signs,..calling for change,..channel 13, and channel 2 covering it! There were Black Administrators standing in the hallways crying, and feeling betrayed! There were teachers, who could not participate but supported what was happening in the streets quietly!
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They forced changes to take place,...but as I said in another post,...just because you defeat a spirit of destruction, in one generation does not mean it will not raise it's ugly head up and check you out in another generation to see if you are still prepared! A spirit never dies! Our own spirits will live forever in one place or another!
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Unfortunately, Ms. Bowie has move on,..Dr. Armstrong is dead, Dr. Drake is dead, Dr. Lillian Lockhart is dead, Major Steve Bock is dead, Ms. Pratt has move on, Mr. Bruton has move on, and several others who helped to make this school district one most of us were proud to call our own, and arguably one of the best in TEXAS if not the best at that time! So now, it is what it is! We took all of them for granted and for that I am deeply sorry! Old East Texas adage says, "You Don't Miss Your Water, Until Your Well Runs Dry!"
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One of the LMISD leaders said out of her own mouth,.."It took years for this district to get this way!" That is correct, but we cannot afford to allow YEARS FOR SOMEONE TO TRY TO FIX IT! IT WILL COST TO MANY CASUALTIES AND WE SHOULD NOT ACCEPT THAT COST! I'm talking about 5-10 years to SEE if it can be saved,....there is no guarantee their mission will be accomplished! The price is to high, and we have let it go to far! It is like a skinny half dead horse that cannot get up! Pull the plug,....and PULL IT NOW!!!! I'll gladly be willing to pay taxes to any other capable school district! Money is not the primary issue with us,..the primary issue with those who are complaining are "HUMAN CASUALTIES"... or those being pushed out in the world with a half-assed dysfunctional education having to compete with those coming from FISD, CCISD, TCISD, PISD, SPRING BRANCH ISD and others where they are complying and doing what their constituents have elected or paying them to do!
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No need for ten more years to see anything, If the state won't act, I am elated that the parents of these children are still peaking loud and clear by LEAVING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MissionaryMan
Walter Manuel

“It is a mindset every year that you expect La Marque football to win,” Watkins said.

Watkins was also quoted as havng said, “That is a mindset and that is a culture. That is where we are trying to get within every aspect of the district".

Hello?????

If my memory serves me correctly, LM's football state titles were as far back as 1995, 1996, 1997, 2003 and 2006. We're now in 2014, 8 years later and the "dream" of being on a winning football team has long been gone just like the players from our district!

If Terri Watkins needs selling points for LMISD, she shouldn't be concentrating her effrots on such old news.

Mr. JBG, this is that mastered "Eagle speak" again that you have mentioned in the past resurfacing by Terri Watkins making imaginary promises on that "hope" that you mentioned that will save these people's behinds and get students back into the district.

Well I got news for these people, once these children have seen the difference in the "culture" and learning environment of a better school district, the students will NEVEER come back for the measly crumbs that LMISD has to offer them.

I know some people may say that there are some stupid people working in surrounding school districts, however we certainly have a "certain kind of stupid peoople" running our district!

All these people ever do is make promises and don't produce squat in the end. Show us the grades and change in administration this year and ONLY then we might start believing them when any of their lips start to move! [angry]

Gary Miller

Word of mouth advertising is the strongest kind.
One of LM ISD's problems is the word of mouth advertising by LM students who've been attending other local schools. Describing to siblings, friends and peers how much better it is out of LM ISD.
Students describing LM students as big, strong and dumb. Great at football, not so great at math.
Does a winning sports programe cause a decline in academics? Non athletes resent the athletes loopholes and priveledges.

JBG JBG

"Does a winning sports programe cause a decline in academics? Non athletes resent the athletes loopholes and priveledges.".......IHOG
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Let me answer this one Mr. IHOG. The answer is no! Being an athlete has nothing to do with having poor academics,..unless you allow it to! Some of the smartest people I know were athletes! The problem at LMISD is the people and many of their constituents BOUGHT in to the lure of... it's going to be sports or nothing attitude! The rockem sockem,....win me a state championship at all cost attitude!
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So, in their excitement and EXHILARATION, for state championship trophies,...discipline and the demand on athletes to produce in the classrooms like everybody else began to eradicate, as the demand and expectation on them to produce on the gridiron soared! I've said many times when discipline goes by the wayside,..it won't belong before what you hold dear,..what you really value the most, will soon topple as well! Such is the "SAGA" of a once proud and productive school district called LMISD! I came through LMISD, and as far back as then,....the same mindset concerning athletes were prevalent there as well,.....I KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT HERE!!!
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It should not be up to the kids to operate and preserve the integrity,..ethics, standards, and mission of the schools they attend! It should be up to those in charge and those who were elected or hired to do those things! All of the students of LMISD are VICTIMS here, and if you exposed them to a quality proper learning environment, they will measure up as well as any other student who have had proper exposure to people who know what the hell they are doing! That includes making any student take responsibility for negative, disruptive, actions, and motivating them to set and ascertain career benchmarks,...academic standards and individual goals of excellence!
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LaMarque Independent School District use to be such a place! So let me say this,..I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd bet you any about of money, if you take a LM pre school student and make arrangements for that student to attend public school in Friendswood his/her whole career from pre school to high school graduation, YOU CANNOT TELL ME THAT STUDENT IS NOT GOING TO DO A FINE JOB!!!!!!
Your Honor,....pay attention Judge! Your Honor,....Prosecution rests!!!!!!![smile]

Gary Miller

JB Your words. .unless you allow it to! They did.

JBG JBG

Naw! Naw! I'm not going to let this go! I did not charge nothing for the last observation, but I'm going to need an AMEN! I hate to ask,...but I got have one,...preferably from Freiendswood, but I'll take what I can get! [smile]

MissionaryMan
Walter Manuel

Mr. JBG, that post certainly deserves a HUGE AMEN!

"That includes making any student take responsibility for negative, disruptive, actions, and motivating them to set and ascertain career benchmarks,...academic standards and individual goals of excellence"!

Mr. JBG, would you consider coming out of retirement and contract with these fly by night folks over at LMISD??? It didn't take but a second for you to sit down and come up with a viable plan that would suggest turning this district around even if we're stuck having the same slackers in place running the show! [smile]

JBG JBG

Mr. Manuel,
They don't want help, they want to "Do What They Do." Ray Charles said that about his music.lololololololol.
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Along side that we are paying high price consultants to come in here now to do what somebody is already getting paid to do, OR WHO HAS BEEN ELECTED TO DO! Ohhhhh it is a pity and a shame to be sure. The only thing I see is if the state will not do what they are supposed to do, the only other available alternative is to sit back and watch the parents take their children out of here then enrolling them elsewhere. Not only are the children leaving, but teachers who can see through "MUDDY WATERS" are leaving too!
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JBG JBG

Mr. Manuel,
They don't want help, they want to "Do What They Do." Ray Charles said that about his music.lololololololol.
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Along side that we are paying high price consultants to come in here now to do what somebody is already getting paid to do, OR WHO HAS BEEN ELECTED TO DO! Ohhhhh it is a pity and a shame to be sure. The only thing I see is if the state will not do what they are supposed to do, the only other available alternative is to sit back and watch the parents take their children out of here then enrolling them elsewhere. Not only are the children leaving, but teachers who can see through "MUDDY WATERS" are leaving too!
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MissionaryMan
Walter Manuel

Your right Mr. JBG once again.

Many students and teachers are already making preparations to leave LMISD after this year. If a student wants to go to another district, their parents better make arrangements early in order that they ensure them a seat in the district that they want them to attend next year.

It would take losing every child in this school district and LMISD becoming a one room school like back in the old days in order for them to recover from the damage that they created themselves and to start all over.

Unfortunately, these people would still feel entitled to their high paid wages with only having a handful of students remaining. [sad]

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