Part One – Grapeland ISD
By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – Now that the 2018-2019 school year has come to a close and the administrators have had a chance to catch their breath, we thought it would be a good time to review the highlights and challenges of the past year in education and see what the various districts have on tap for the 2019-2020 school year.
In the first of a multi-part series, The Messenger contacted Grapeland ISD Superintendent Don Jackson to get his thoughts on last year and to see what he believes is on the horizon for the next year.
“The biggest success is the passing of House Bill 3 where there was more money appropriated to our per student ratio – allowing more money to be put back into public education. I believe it was Senate Bill 5, years ago, that took it out. The legislators heard the outcry of the educators and really came together to put a package in place which would benefit public education,” the GISD superintendent said.
Another highlight for GISD in the 2018-2019 school year has been the progress in construction of the district’s new elementary school, Jackson said.
“Where we stand right now is that we are in near-completion mode. I’m not very good with the verbiage of construction, but when I walk through the facility, I see painting that is being done. I see clean-up starting to happen. I see sidewalks starting to be put down. It’s looking like our rooms are ready to be furnished. Furniture has been ordered and the transition (from the old building to the new) is about to happen. Our date is July 15 – to begin the transition. The building is completely air conditioned and the lighting is in place. Cabinets have been hung and storage area have been defined. We’re starting to put in our safety technology where the whole school can be locked with the flip of a switch. All of the final pieces are being put together. Of course, the landscaping and playground equipment – we’re not there yet – but the process of possessing the building is starting to take place,” he said.
Jackson added another one of the major highlights of the past year was the establishment of the Early Learning Center.
“We feel like it is going to be monumental in the preparation of our students for the future because we will have infants in our childcare learning system until they get to be three-years-old and then move them up to the elementary school. We have been able to bring in an experienced childcare director who has 20 plus years of experience to help us dive into this endeavor. A portion of the old elementary school will be used for this. We feel like this will be a great benefit and it already has been by allowing us to attract some employees because we can offer childcare at a much-reduced employee rate,” he said.
As the interview continued, Jackson highlighted two other areas of success in the athletic and FFA programs.
“In athletics, we wound up being number six in the Lone Star Cup rankings. We had another phenomenal year on the courts and on the fields. Also, out in the Ag shop, we have one of the top FFA programs in the state of Texas for a school this size. Those are perennial, traditional successes we have here in the district,” he said.
Regarding the Lone Star Cup, the superintendent was asked what it would take for Grapeland to move up and claim the championship.
“Athletic-wise, the thing that has the most room for improvement is our track and field program. I believe we have the students and athletes to be more competitive in track and field. I just believe by the time it rolls around, our kids have played football, volleyball and basketball. Basketball has always dipped a long way into track season. We’re late getting started and we haven’t excelled like we probably could and should,” he explained.
UIL academic competition was another area Jackson stressed the district needed to place more emphasis.
“Academic UIL is an area where a lot of people score points for the Lone Star Cup and it’s where we have the most room for improvement,” he said.
Changing gears to challenges faced by the district, Jackson indicated his biggest concern was academic accountability.
“We continue to fight this battle. We are making steps towards improvement. Our junior high school scores are much improved. Our high school scores are holding consistently at about the same level of achievement. I believe our high school kids are performing especially well in the areas of biology and US History. There is room for growth in our English end-of-course (EOC) tests and our algebra EOC,” he said.
At the elementary level, Jackson said the scores were lower this past year than where he would like for them to be.
“Academic accountability is an area we are working hard to improve. The culture of Grapeland ISD is fantastic. I like our culture. I like the excitement we have at the school. We have kids who want to be here, but the reality of the A through F system means you have to perform academically on the STAAR test and we are determined to win that battle,” Jackson asserted.
When it comes to academic improvement, Jackson expressed it was grade-by-grade “… from Pre-K on up. That is what we are addressing and that is what we are trying to do. This year we have placed an emphasis on accelerated instruction. Accelerated instruction involves the students who have not done well on the STAAR test having to come to summer school. We are full right now. We have 100 plus kids in summer school, which is a large number for us. We are sending a message to our students that academic progress is really not an option. It is something that is totally expected.”
Moving to the 2019-2020 school year, the superintendent said one area where people would see a change is in personnel.
“We’ve lost some key members of our staff and faculty. We have at least 14 positions we have filled going towards the 2019-2020 school year. We feel very good about the employees we have hired. We’re very thankful for what our former employees have contributed and it is our job to acclimate our new employees to our school system. It is our job to make sure they get the things they need and the information they need to be successful. Moving forward, we are excited about the opportunity to go forward and to continue to make Grapeland ISD the school of choice for our students, parents and our community,” Jackson said.
Another area the superintendent said to watch for in the 2019-2020 school year is growth.
“You can also expect high expectations when it comes to our A’s,” Jackson said. “I talk about our A’s all the time. You can expect high expectations in Accountability. You can expect high expectations in Attendance. You can expect high expectations in Academics. You can expect high expectations in Attitude. You can expect high expectations in Appearance. You can also expect high expectations in Attention. The final one is you can expect high expectations in Aspirations.”
He added the district now had two counselors which he believed would help the students aspire towards greatness.
“We are also very excited about our master schedule and curriculum. In the past, our seniors have been allowed to leave midday. Now, we are setting our seniors up with career choices. As they are finishing curriculum or course requirements, the seniors will have a chance to prepare for college, a career or to prepare for military readiness. We are offering more opportunities in our master schedule where kids can get more dual credit hours. We’re trying to grow our offerings and allow students to leave Grapeland well on their way to a college path, a career path or the military, if they choose,” he said.
As the interview concluded, Jackson said he liked where the district was currently “… because we are just coming off of a year where our district enrollment increased by 100 students. We are now classified as a “fast growth” district, according to the TEA. I will be very excited about what people see and where we are trying to go. We’re not there yet. The perception of what people see as far as where we are trying to go is exciting to me. Because of that, our kids want to be in school, here in Grapeland. Are we a perfect district? No. Are we string towards perfection? Yes. I hope people see that and that excites me.”
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.