State orders North Forest ISD to close

July 13, 2011 2:43:27 PM PDT
A state education commissioner has ordered North Forest ISD to close its doors by next year. Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott sent the school district a letter on Friday outlining its intent to close the district July 1, 2012.

North Forest ISD can still operate for the upcoming school year, and it is being given the option to appeal the state's decision. The district's acting superintendent, Edna Forte, says North Forest ISD is in the process of filing that appeal now. But as of now, the state is planning to annex the district to Houston ISD, which would then determine whether to keep the campuses open or place current North Forest ISD students at HISD schools already open.

The state's decision comes after years of financial and academic issues plaguing the school district. The district will have a substandard financial rating statewide for the fourth straight year, and North Forest High School will be given an academically unacceptable rating for the sixth year.

Last year, only 31 percent of ninth graders passed the TAKS test. Of the 8,000 public high schools in Texas, North Forest High School is the worst-performing school.

"We think it's time to close North Forest and give somebody else a chance to educate these kids because this district has consistently failed the kids," Texas Education Agency Spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said.

The TEA says the district has dug itself into a deep financial hole it simply can't dig itself back out of.

North Forest ISD released a statement late Tuesday afternoon in response to the TEA's decision, which read in part, "We acknowledge the troubled past of the district and many of the challenges we face to get back on solid footing, but we're also encouraged that the innovative academic opportunities and the 2011-2012 financial forecast provide evidence that our strategic plan is taking us in the right direction.

"It took years to get to this point and we will not come out of this overnight; but we will come out of this with the North Forest Independent School District intact and able to provide the quality education our students deserve."

Houston ISD also issued a statement late Tuesday stating it did not advocate for this proposal, but it is ready to welcome North Forest ISD's students if the state's order becomes reality.

"We know it's going to be a challenge. We believe there should be an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective leader in every school. We are realizing the positive results from those beliefs and we are looking forward to sharing our academic achievement with every student, teacher, and community member joining Team HISD," HISD Board President Paula Harris said in the statement."We look forward to working with Commissioner Scott to ensure that HISD receives adequate financial resources to tackle this unique challenge."

Since the closure is being forced by the state, the Department of Justice will have to approve its closure.

Meanwhile, residents in the area are heartbroken.

"For this area to continue to thrive and to make it better, we have to make sure our children are educated and there are jobs for people in the community," resident Jerry Davis said.

"I think this is a wakeup call. I think it's time for the community to get more involved than it has been in the past and truly pull behind North Forest because I don't think it's a truly broken situation," former North Forest ISD student Bryan smart said.

While some hope the north forest name still has a future, others side with the state and believe a drastic change is the only solution.

"I think it was the best thing they could have ever done," parent Anna Brooks said. "I feel like the children have a better chance of getting a better education, through somebody else."

Sheila Jackson Lee wants to keep district open

Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee wants to keep the district open and could ask the federal government to step in.

She released a statement that encourages "parents and community leaders to use all legal action to prevent this school district from being shut down." She calls it "a civil rights issue."

The congresswoman plans to hold an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the closing.

Past troubles of North Forest ISD

In 2009, the state had kicked out all of the school board's elected trustees because of a $12 million budget deficit, academically unacceptable rankings.

The Texas Education Agency then took over the entire school district but returned control to a locally elected school board last year.

Then in March, North Forest ISD placed its Texas Education Agency-appointed superintendent Dr. Adrain Johnson on administrative leave amid concerns over continued financial issues and the district's graduation rate.

A13 Undercover investigation also exposed serious mismanagement in their special education department.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office never did anything about it, but hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for special education kids went misused at North Forest until 13 Undercover stopped it.

Ruth Watson used to be head of the north forest special education department. In 2008, we exposed hundreds of thousands in state funds wasted on unqualified consultants.

As it turned out a lot of folks on the payroll were kin folks or special friends to Watson. She was on the spring school board at the time but was eventually voted out.

It's hard to forget Watson. Among her allegations is that 13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino sexually harassed her during a spring school board meeting by tickling her hand when he shook it.


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