Texas Education Agency rules to close North Forest ISD and merge into Houston ISD

The struggling North Forest district is set to be shut down and absorbed by HISD following years of mismanagement

April 1, 2013 2:58:18 PM PDT
The Texas Education Agency has ruled it plans to shut down North Forest ISD and have the district merge with Houston ISD in time for the new school year.

After all the back and forth over the years with the troubled district, the one thing we know for certain is the fight isn't over yet -- the district is promising to appeal, while HISD says it's ready to welcome new students.

Back in 2011, the TEA recommended that North Forest ISD close its doors. The district appealed in May 2012 and received a year and a half to turn things around.

Then in February of this year, the state said there was no hope for North Forest ISD, ordering again for it to be shut down.

North Forest ISD appealed that decision, but the TEA ruled Monday that the district had failed to sufficiently improve two conditions established last year in order to withdraw the closure and annexation order -- the completion rate at North Forest High School and student performance district-wide on statewide assessments.

The TEA says it determined that NFISD annexation into HISD "would not substantially impair HISD's ability to educate its current students or to pay its pre-annexation obligations."

North Forest ISD will be closed effective July 1, according to the TEA.

For parents at North Forest, the latest announcement by the Texas Education Agency to annex NFISD into HISD was met with surprise and doubt.

"This school's been here for years since I was a kid. I was raised up in the district. I don't think that's fair to the children," said Tracie Walker.

And that's the sentiment echoed by North Forest's spokesperson who says losing a school district would have widespread damage in the community.

"You've got generations of people who have gone to these schools, the people who have gone to these schools have kids and grandkids who've gone to these schools. A community without its schools is less of a community," said Sue Davis with NFISD.

But HISD says if North Forest shuts down by July as directed, it will be well prepared to handle the influx of approximately 7,000 students. HISD says many of North Forest ISD's current schools will stay open, and they are already preparing to put a transition team in place.

"We need to move forward on that transition as they move forward on that appeals process. I'd rather have it, and not need it, than need it and not have it," HISD Chief High School Officer Orlando Riddick said.

But NFISD's attorney is promising to appeal in the state and federal levels to keep the school district independent. He argues that the TEA has set a number of standards for the district to stay open, and the district has met those criteria

"I'm a pretty good lawyer. I have a pretty good law firm, but I can't defend jello. Every time we hit the standard, they change the standard," said Chris Tritico, attorney for North Forest ISD.

The district had proposed an operations agreement with some of the area's charter schools -- Kipp Academy, Yes Prep and Harmony. That did not appear to be a factor in Monday's TEA decision.

NFISD Superintendent Edna Forté released a statement earlier today which read: "We at North Forest ISD are disappointed by the TEA's decision to merge North Forest with HISD. Because we truly believe partnering with the charter schools that make up PHILO is the best option for the children of North Forest, we will appeal this decision to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Regardless of the outcome, the faculty and staff will continue to move forward with the transformative work we are doing at North Forest ISD to complete a successful year."

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