TEA commissioner recommends closing North Forest ISD permanently

February 7, 2013 8:45:48 PM PST
A Texas Education Agency commissioner is recommending that North Forest ISD be permanently shut down by the end of the school year.

Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams said the school district has failed to meet certain TEA conditions and requirements to stay in operation. As a result, he recommending that North Forest ISD be dissolved on July 1 and annexed to Houston ISD.

"The decision to close a school district is a tough decision for all involved but we can no longer be tolerant of chronic underperformance," Williams said in a prepared statement. "My recommendation is based on the district's poor performance over the past year, which is reflective of a familiar pattern of failing to meet student needs over decades."

In response to the recommendation, North Forest ISD officials issued a statement saying they are disappointed in Williams' decision to not consider other options, adding:

"The state's decision in no way negates the good work that has been done in NFISD for the past 18 months. As this year progresses, our staff and students will continue to demonstrate confidence in their abilities."

In 2011, the TEA made its first recommendation to close NFISD and annex it to HISD. At the time, the agency said the problems that have plagued the school district are too deep-seated to be fixed. North Forest ISD administrators appealed the decision in May 2012 and subsequently, were given one more year to try and turn the school district around.

The TEA's statement on Thursday said that attempt was unsuccessful.

The education agency said NFISD failed to meet a 75 percent completion rate for the 2011-2012 school year and couldn't improve the performance of the 10th and 11th graders on the statewide Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test.

"I fully recognize that there have been people in North Forest ISD working hard to turn things around for a very long time, but we can no longer afford to wait," Williams said. "More importantly, the students of North Forest can no longer afford to wait for a strong education they need and deserve."

Parents of students in the school district seemed split over the decision.

"I feel it's already a home as is with North Forest, so I don't feel like it should change," parent Jessica Dixon said.

"I'm going to move them anyway, because I have a lot of complaints from this school and Forest Brook," another parent said.

Williams' recommendation now will be sent to TEA Chief Deputy Lizzette Gonzalez-Reynolds, who will make the final decision. If Reynolds approves the closure, the U.S. Department of Justice must then pre-clear the merger with Houston ISD.

The school district has until February 17 to request a second review of its compliance with the terms and conditions of last year's order. It also can ask the State Office of Administrative Hearings to review this decision.

North Forest ISD says it does plan to appeal and has scheduled a news conference at 10am Saturday to discuss this decision.

For the families of those involved, it's all about marching towards that end goal.

"Anything to better my grand kids. I want them to do better," said the grandmother of a North Forest ISD student.

"As long as he gets his education, that's what counts to me," another parent said.

If all the legal hurdles are cleared, the NFS merger with Houston ISD would be effective July 1, and HISD Superintendent Terry Grier promises a smooth transition for students and parents.

"While we did not seek this action, HISD stands ready to welcome North Forest into our family," Grier said.

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