Several Galveston Independent School District parents, community leaders and former teachers voiced concerns about the new administrative team at Central Middle School after learning the new principal will make about $70,000 more than her predecessor and that the newest accountability scores say the campus “met standard” under the previous administration.
“You put an administrator and teachers in place at Central and they did a bang-up job, but it took several years, and as soon as the accolades start coming through the pipeline, you replaced them,” Norman Pappous, a former Galveston councilman and school board trustee, said.
District trustees in May approved hiring eight new administrators for the campus at a cost of about $640,000, records show. Principal Monique Lewis is set to make about $150,000, Superintendent Kelli Moulton said.
Lewis most recently was in charge of Fondren Middle School in Houston Independent School District.
The previous Central principal, Sherman Beafneaux, earned about $81,900 in his last year in charge of the campus, district documents show. Beafneaux, along with former Weis Principal Cheryl Rutledge, were reassigned after the new administrative team’s hiring, Moulton said.
Trustees made the decision after three of the district’s five middle schools were rated as “improvement required” in the 2016 Texas Education Agency assessment. Repeated failure to meet state demands for improvement can have a range of consequences for public schools, including intervention by state education officials.
One of those schools, Coastal Village Middle School, was closed at the end of the school year and Weis and Central middle schools, which were housed at 3014 Sealy Ave., were both combined into one Central Middle School.
Weis and Central had both received “needs improvement” ratings every year since 2013. That’s notable, because under state rules, schools that receive such a rating during five consecutive years could be in line for a state takeover — either of the entire district or of individual campuses.
At the time of the decision, the hiring of the new administrative team was widely praised, with at least one person at a June NAACP meeting in Galveston saying Lewis’ hiring was the best decision the district ever made.
The praise came as district officials said they would face hard decisions in about 12 months because budget projections showed trustees might have to pass a deficit of $2.6 million, or almost twice what had initially been projected, because of the new administrative team. Officials initially projected a budget deficit of $1.5 million.
The conversation changed after officials learned Central had “met standard” in the Texas Education Agency’s 2017 accountability ratings, breaking the four-year streak during which the campus received “improvement required” ratings.
“Those years after Mr. Beafneaux took over, he put things in place for the school to be successful, especially on the STAAR tests,” said Roshawn Pope, a former teacher in the district. “All of a sudden, out of the blue, a new superintendent comes in and gets a new principal. At the end of the day, in four years, this man has built the school up to where it is now. He should be recognized.”
Great things to come
While Central’s recent rating improvement comes as a relief for district administrators, work remains to be done, Moulton said.
District officials and trustees were all quick to praise the previous administration, but also noted how highly qualified they think Lewis is.
“The long-term goal is academic excellence,” Trustee Anthony Brown said. “I firmly believe that in a few years — sooner than we think — students at Central will be performing at levels currently enjoyed at Austin Middle School. I know it can be done — Ms. Lewis’ team did it at Fondren Middle School in Houston.”
Brown noted that when Lewis arrived at Fondren, their scores were actually worse than Central and Weis in 2016.
“Fondren had approximately 1.5 times the number of students as Central/Weis last year, approximately 10 percent higher number of economically disadvantaged students and a much higher percentage of English language learners,” Brown said. “Ms. Lewis reported 12 different native languages. Nevertheless, an award-winning performance last year in a school that had been perennially ‘improvement required’ three years earlier.”
School board President Matthew Hay said the trustees were hesitant to set specific targets, but noted that he expects improved literacy by third grade and several other general improvements.
Moulton said that it’s important the campus achieve more than merely passing scores and that the new team is still needed.
“That’s some level of significance to celebrate,” Moulton said. “But if you look at the scores, the performance was just at the floor. We need to rise above that.”
Despite trustees and officials’ insistence the new team will continue to improve scores at the struggling campus, some community members remained unconvinced.
“Let me be really frank and fair,” Pappous said. “I have no doubt the board was looking to really do something, be the best and get the best whatever it took. But they are supposed to be the adults in the room.
“They should have waited to see how the multiyear plan, that they were behind, turned out. Now you’ve upset a significant portion of the people they oversee. And they did what was asked of them.”
Pope said he had heard from several teachers that were upset at the administrative move and felt that it was unfair to the previous administration.
Pappous agreed with the sentiment, especially when considering the financial implications, he said.
“Considering the improvement shown by the existing team, this move is a head-scratcher,” Pappous said. “They should be the ones getting a significant bump in pay.”
Trustees this month approved a deficit budget of $2.3 million after finding several last-minute costs to cut.
But, as the new team nears the start of school, people such as Pappous and Pope are concerned about what comes next.
“I see more backlash this coming year,” Pope said. “I promise you that. I know some people there don’t like the new administration at all. Some people stayed, some left and some left in a hurry.”