Whitis stays on as Decatur superintendent


Dr. Judi Whitis is staying the superintendent at Decatur ISD.
With a 4-3 vote after three hours in closed session, Decatur ISD trustees elected to keep Whitis on the job and move forward Monday night.
Whitis joined the district in July 2017. Her contract with the district runs through July 30, 2021, paying her $158,000 annually.
“I appreciate the board’s willingness to move forward, and I’m looking forward to great things in the district,” Whitis said. “I’m ready to get back to district business and deliver on the promises we’ve made. I appreciate all the community support. We’ve got rebuilding to do.”
Monday’s long closed session was the second within a span of two weeks to discuss Whitis’ contract, which was extended in February after a review by the board. Trustees met for seven hours June 4-5 in closed session a week after School Board President Watson sent Whitis a two-page letter detailing “multiple concerns [that] have been brought to the attention of several [board] members recently.”
Board secretary Cheri Boyd read the following statement prior to the vote Monday: “The Decatur Independent School District’s Board of Trustees met tonight in executive session to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation. The board recognizes that concerns have been raised by some about the superintendent, and board members have also received statements of support for Dr. Whitis. After considering what is in the best interest of Decatur ISD, the majority of the board has expressed its willingness to move forward with Dr. Whitis as our superintendent. Dr. Whitis will work with the board and district stakeholders to address these concerns. Communication is always key to success of any relationship, and we, as a board, pledge to work on communication with the superintendent. The board appreciates the community’s strong partnership with DISD, and we are ‘expecting the best’ in the days to come.”
Boyd said after the meeting that it’s been a long two weeks.
“The majority feel this was the best possible decision. I look forward to moving on and working with her as our superintendent,” Boyd said.
Watson along with vice president Matt Joiner and trustee Marsha Hafer cast the dissenting votes.
“Information was brought to the board, and the majority of the board felt it was in the best interest of the district to continue with Dr. Whitis as the superintendent,” Watson said. “The majority of the board felt that way. That’s why there’s seven of us.”
Watson’s letter sent to Whitis in the last week of May stated that board members had received communications from multiple individuals who feel the district is moving in a negative direction. It alleged personnel felt hesitant to share their concerns with Whitis, fearing retaliation; individuals leaving the district expressed demoralizing and unprofessional treatment; and individuals felt one internal individual was providing counsel not in Whitis’ best interest or the best interest of the district.
Whitis said following Monday’s vote she will address the concerns.
“It’s something we need to work through,” she said. “I’ll do my due diligence to work through those and work with the board to determine the next steps.
“It’s taken a toll on everyone. But sometimes it takes this to make us better and put us on the right path to better things ahead.”
Nearly 70 people turned out for the board meeting with many hanging around for the board to emerge from its close session around 10:20 p.m.
Three people spoke during the open forum at the start of the meeting. Mark Southard and Robin Lewis both voiced support for Whitis.
“Dr. Whitis should be applauded for raising the level of accountability in our district,” Southard said.
“She deserves the chance to make changes and see the impact of those changes…I have complete confidence that last summer you hired the exactly the right person for the job. Give her support, give her some time and let her do her job.”
Lewis said Whitis “expects the best and holds her staff to a higher standard.”
“We want the best and will get there with Dr. Whitis leading us,” she said.
Recently retired Carson teacher Becky Liles voiced concern about the recent departure of Carson Principal LeeAnn Farris. Liles read part of her resignation letter.
Trustees met with attorney Paige Kyle of Walsh Gallegos, the district’s regular counsel, during closed session. The board also called back Whitis for a brief meeting.

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Decatur ISD names Carson principal


Craig Weston is the new principal at Carson Elementary.
Decatur ISD trustees approved a one-year contract for Weston Monday night. He will replace LeeAnn Farris, who resigned following the school year.
Weston is currently the principal at Park Glen Elementary in Keller.
Decatur ISD Superintendent Judi Whitis said the district went through a thorough process before hiring Weston.
“There were two panels — a teacher group and an administrative group,” Whitis said. “There’s been phone interviews that I’ve conducted as far as the screening process. References were checked with current and former supervisors.
“He’s a seated elementary principal, working on a K-4 campus. He comes very highly recommended. It’s my pleasure to recommend Craig Weston as the Carson Elementary principal.”
The district also hired 15 teachers and a high school counselor. Whitis said four of the teachers jobs are additional staff members due to the district’s 4.5 percent growth.
The district is still looking to hire eight professional staff members and nine aides. Six of the aides are new positions.

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DISD trustees take no action on superintendent contract


After spending seven hours behind closed doors, Decatur ISD trustees took no action on the contract of superintendent Judi Whitis.
School Board President Wade Watson made the announcement at 1:15 a.m. after trustees left their private chambers.
Watson released the following statement on the matter: “The board received a great deal of information and input during our meeting this evening. This material should be carefully considered prior to taking any formal action on the item reflected on tonight’s agenda. In an effort to make decisions in the best interest of all parties involved, we ask that the community and district stakeholders afford us time to consider all of the data brought to our attention prior to revisiting this matter at a later meeting.”
Trustees are scheduled to meet again June 18. Watson said no special meetings are planned. He also said he could not say more than his statement at this time.
With no action, there is no change to Whitis’ employment with the district. No light was shed on what prompted the meeting.
Trustees met with attorneys while in closed session for approximately 30 minutes and then continued discussions for several more hours.
Whitis arrived in Decatur in July 2017 to replace the retiring Rod Townsend. She previously served as the superintendent at Valley Mills ISD. She also had a tenure as the superintendent at Fort Davis.
In February, trustees gave a unanimous approval of her performance. Trustees added a year to Whitis’ contract that will run through July 30, 2021, and gave her a $3,000 raise. With the raise effective March 1, her annual salary is $158,000.

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DISD trustees to discuss superintendent’s contract


Decatur ISD trustees have called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday to evaluate the performance and discuss the contract of superintendent Judi Whitis.
The meeting was posted Friday afternoon with the items under closed session — superintendent goals, objectives and duties; superintendent performance and evaluation; and superintendent contract.
The lone item listed after executive session is “consider action regarding the superintendent’s contract including but not limited to any necessary administrative action by the board.”
Decatur ISD School Board President Wade Watson confirmed that along with goals and objectives, action regarding the superintendent’s contract would be discussed.
He said a statement would be given after the meeting.
The meeting was set for Tuesday to ensure all board members could attend.
Whitis arrived in Decatur in July 2017 to replace the retiring Rod Townsend. She previously served as the superintendent at Valley Mills ISD. She also had a tenure as the superintendent at Fort Davis.
In February, trustees gave a unanimous approval of her performance. Trustees added a year to Whitis’ contract that will run through July 30, 2021, and gave her a $3,000 raise. With the raise effective March 1, her annual salary is $158,000.

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Schools encouraged by Abbott’s school security plans


Superintendents at multiple Wise County school districts were encouraged by the security plan announced by Texas Governor Greg Abbott Wednesday.
Abbott’s plan included proposals for increasing law enforcement presence at schools, strengthening school security and providing mental health evaluations to identify students at risk of harming others. Abbott also suggested a “red flag law” that would allow law enforcement, family members, school employees or a district attorney to file a petition seeking the removal of firearms from a potentially dangerous person.
“The plan is a starting point, not an ending place,” Abbott said in a press release with his 40 recommendations and proposals. “It provides strategies that can be used before the next school year begins to keep our students safe when they return to school. This plan will make our schools safer and our communities safer.”
Abbott held a series of discussions last week with victims from multiple mass shootings in Texas along with parents, educators, lawmakers and law enforcement. The roundtable and subsequent proposals followed the shooting at Santa Fe High School earlier this month that left 10 people dead and 10 others injured.
Since the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., several local districts have looked at enhancing security at its campuses.
“It is encouraging. Some of the things discussed by the governor are some of the discussions we’re having here on a local level,” said Boyd ISD Superintendent Ted West. “It’s more of a proactive approach with the additional counseling. It’s encouraging to see everyone on the same page.”
Abbott’s proposals were divided into four areas. The first was to provide immediate aid to Santa Fe with counselors and mental health providers to work with victims and first responders.
The second area was making schools safer. He called on districts to work with law enforcement for heightened police presence at the schools. He proposed increasing the number of school marshals that can be appointed per school and providing adding funding for training for the marshals. Abbott also wants to see active shooter and emergency response training and infrastructure improvements to prevent security threats. He said $62.1 million in federal funding will be available for safety improvements, law enforcement patrols and the implementation of mental health programs.
“Any time the state is looking to add funding is a good thing,” said Paradise ISD Superintendent Paul Uttley. “The fact that the governor is discussing how to protect our kids is fantastic. Whether every single aspect of that plan works, well, we’ll see how it plays out. But six months ago or a year ago we weren’t even having these conversations.”
The third area addressed is preventing threats in advance. Abbott called for increasing mental health resources, including evaluations to identify students at risk of harming others, providing school personnel with training on behavioral threat assessments, and giving students more access to counselors to help with mental and behavioral issues.
Abbott wants schools to expand the list of offenses for which students can be expelled or placed in a disciplinary alternative educational program and put in place a zero-tolerance policy for students committing assault.
He also put forth plans to expand the campus crime stoppers and increase the use of the Department of Public Safety’s “iWatch Texas” reporting system to enable and encourage parents, students and teachers to report suspicious activity on campus.
“The plans laid out are very comprehensive and consider a lot of aspects from counseling to mental health,” said Decatur ISD Superintendent Judi Whitis. “To me, it’s a proactive approach and looking at preventative measures before a catastrophic event occurs. There are some new ideas. We’ve all talked about metal detectors and buildings. These new thoughts are not just about structures.”
The fourth area called for enhancing firearms safety with the possible “red flag law” and closing gaps in federally mandated background checks.
Whitis and others hope to see the legislature follow through with more funding for many of the governor’s suggestions.
Many districts are already enhancing buildings and security efforts. Decatur ISD added a second school resource officer (SRO) at the high school. Boyd ISD recently hired a SRO through the Boyd Police Department.
Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin approached Paradise, Alvord, Chico and Slidell about increasing security and adding an additional SRO.
Uttley said he appreciated Akin talking to the schools about safety and security earlier in the year, after the Parkland shooting in Florida.
“Wise County is fortunate to have Sheriff Akin, who recognized these issues and is working within the schools’ budgetary restrictions,” Uttley said. “He was being proactive about this before the governor.”
In a statement, Northwest ISD officials expressed appreciation for Abbott’s focus on school security and pointed out that the district committed $14 million to security enhancements from the 2017 bond package. The enhancements include improving the security of school entrances, upgrading classroom doors with an intruder safety function and enhancing security systems.
“Most of the dollars being spent to enhance safety in our school district mirror Governor Abbott’s call to ‘harden campus facilities,’” the statement said.

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Decatur ISD names high school principal


Sherman High School principal Chris Mogan was hired Monday night to lead Decatur High School.
Decatur ISD trustees approved a contract for Mogan to become the Decatur High School principal.
Mogan’s contract will start July 1. Decatur ISD Superintendent Judi Whitis he will be giving input on staffing before he arrives as the school prepares for the 2018-19 school year.
“He’s highly recommended. He’s described as a relationship builder and someone that knows kids,” Whitis said. “He has experience in building programs in career and tech, all the things we have on our radar. He’ll be a great member of our team.”
The district had more than 50 applicants.
According to the Herald-Democrat in Sherman, Mogan was previously the principal at Frisco Wakeland before coming to Sherman in 2016. Mogan also worked in Little Elm and Plano.
Mogan replaces Jeff Russell, who left the Decatur ISD earlier this year to accept the director of student and campus support services job at Denton ISD. Russell recently was named Denton ISD’s fourth area superintendent of academic programs.

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DHS to transition to closed campus lunch


Decatur High School students will have a closed campus for lunch next school year.
Decatur ISD trustees voted unanimously Monday night to close the campus starting with the 2018-19 school year after receiving an update from Superintendent Judi Whitis on dining options, facilities and scheduling.
Currently, sophomores, juniors and seniors are allowed to leave campus for lunch.
“This is a discussion that’s taken place for quite some time, and it’s based on the security and safety of students,” said Decatur School Board President Wade Watson.
The decision comes almost three weeks after a Decatur student was involved in a lunchtime accident on Hale Street that killed a man and injured a woman. The student was charged with manslaughter last week for running a stop sign and exceeding the speed limit.
“That’s certainly a factor in the decision. It’s time to do it,” Watson said.
Whitis went over options to increase the seating capacity in the cafeteria. The district may look at alternative seating in the future classroom addition or in a picnic area.
She also mentioned the school was looking at alternatives to the traditional lunch room, including a bistro area offering grab-and-go options for students throughout the day.
Whitis said the Director of Child Nutrition Shelly Laaser has been involved with planning food options.
The school will need to adjust scheduling with two or three lunch periods between 11:30 a.m. and 1:05 p.m.
Trustees will hold a May 7 workshop at the high school to look at facilities.
“Considering all aspects of student safety — kids are under our care before they come to school and throughout the school day ­— I think it’s very wise,” Whitis said about the change to a closed campus. “The other side of that is all the logistics we have to think about to effectively and efficiently make it happen.
“We want a smooth transition and want to make it appealing and provide healthy options to kids. It’s what we make it with variety and options we provide for kids.”
Trustee Rex Hoskins, who seconded the motion to close the campus, said it was time for the change.
“I wanted to make sure the kids had a place to eat and we could feed them.”

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Decatur ISD to move 5th grade in fall


Decatur ISD fifth graders will not be on the district’s three elementary campuses next fall.
The district announced Monday that it will move the fifth grade to McCarroll Middle School’s sixth-grade campus on Eagle Drive. The campus will house fifth and sixth graders. The seventh and eighth grades will stay at the current campus on West Thompson Street.
Carson and Rann will become kindergarten through fourth-grade elementary campuses. Young Elementary will hold pre-kindergarten through fourth.
Decatur ISD Superintendent Judi Whitis informed the staff of the campus reconfigurations during Monday’s staff development.
“This is step one. There are many decisions to be made,” said Whitis about the move. “This is the big one with the logistics of moving, budgeting and staffing.”
Growth throughout the district played a role in the decision. Since the end of the 2016-17 school year in May, the district has added 198 students, hitting an enrollment of 3,371 last week. The district has added 20 since returning from the winter break.
“We have a golden opportunity because there is room at the sixth-grade campus. It buys us space at the elementary,” Whitis said.
Before the district opened its third elementary, Young, in the fall of 2010, fifth and sixth graders shared an intermediate school.
“Fifth and sixth grade go together well academically,” Whitis said. “There’s been an intermediate school here in the past.”
The move will also change how the campus is graded in the state accountability ratings. Its rating will be based on two grade levels instead of one.
Whitis said the announcement was met with positive feedback from the staff.
Throughout the spring, the administration plans to address staffing and scheduling for areas shared between the two campuses at McCarroll Middle School.

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Back to school: Superintendents channel first day excitement

Back to school: Superintendents channel first day excitement


WELCOME BACK — Dr. Judi Whitis welcomes students to Carson Elementary on the first day of school. This was Whitis’ first, first day of school with DISD. She’s had a total of 43 since she started kindergarten, including her professional career.

With the ring of the first school bell, Wise County superintendents are stepping out to greet parents and students.
The top school officials get just as excited about the first day as the kids, and they can’t wait to set foot in the classroom, greeting kiddos. Many of them have been “going back to school” for decades.
The Messenger decided to ask superintendents a few questions to kick off the 2017-18 year. Keep reading to find out your superintendent’s favorite school supply as a child, learn more about their first day traditions and gain insight from their favorite back-to-school memories.

BROWN

Alvord ISD
Dr. Randy Brown
39 first days
Favorite school supply: I always liked picking out a lunch box with a matching thermos, although I ate at school most of the time. My favorites were Evel Knievel and the Incredible Hulk.
First day tradition: I always enjoy taking my own kids to school on the first day. I then visit each campus. It’s always great to welcome everyone and feel the excitement of a new school year.
Favorite first day memory: My sister and I usually couldn’t sleep much the night before the first day of school. We would get up and get completely dressed and ready and then go back to bed and surprise my mom when she came to wake us up. My mom was a teacher and my sister is an elementary school counselor. Our family has always loved school.

WEST

Boyd ISD
Ted West
35 first days
Favorite school supply: Lunch box
First day tradition: I enjoy being at the elementary school during the morning dropoff on the first day of school. Seeing the excitement in our pre-k and kindergarten students on the first day is what it is all about.
Favorite first day memory: I remember vividly my first day of kindergarten. My mother walked me into my classroom and sat down with me at a table while I started playing with a toy boat. I’m not sure how long I had been playing, but I turned around and my mother was nowhere to found. I really don’t think I paid much attention to suddenly being away from my parents’ side for one of the first times in my life. I am reminded of that scene every ‘first day’ when I see it replicated numerous times. It reminds me of the importance and magnitude of our role in students’ lives.

PEAVEY

Bridgeport ISD
Brandon Peavey
40-plus first days
Favorite school supply: Trapper-Keeper notebook
First day tradition: Going to the elementary school and seeing the new kids (pre-kindergarten and kindergarten) for their first day of school.
Favorite first day memory: My sons’ first days of school.

 

 

Chico ISD
Don Elsom
45 first days
Favorite school supply: The Big Chief Tablet. The Indian was so cool.
First day tradition: To be visible and make sure I have at least a Snickers bar available.
Favorite first day memory: My favorite memory is seeing the faces of the pre-k and kindergarten parents. They are more scared than their children and then seeing them the next few years as the fear becomes joy and relief.

Decatur ISD
Dr. Judi Whitis
43 first days
Favorite school supply: Box of crayons. It’s so much fun to think and create.
First day tradition: Start the day early and go out to every campus and classroom.
Favorite first-day memory: Every first day is exciting. There is an energy and anticipation like no other day of the year.

Northwest ISD
Dr. Ryder Warren
49 first days
Favorite school supply: In the 1970s, it was crucial to find just the right lunch box – that was a major factor on how the school year would go.
First day tradition: I always start off on campuses for the first week of school. I like helping out with the car lines to be able to see kids, staff and parents.
Favorite first day memory: One of my favorite memories was not long ago. We built three new elementary schools in a previous school district, and these were the first new campuses built in more than 20 years. The look on all of the faces, both students and adults, was priceless as we opened those new buildings.

Paradise ISD
Robert Criswell
66 first days
Favorite school supply: That would be a toss-up between my new tennis shoes called PF Flyers or my new lunch box, which was a Buck Rogers space cadet model.
First day tradition: As a child it was to get up early after a sleepless night and rush to get dressed and off to school. As a career educator, I still get here early and try to get to as many campuses as I can to see all the kids come in fresh and shiny in new clothes, shoes, backpacks and supplies. Absolute favorite time.
Favorite first day memory: One of my favorite memories of the first day of school was taking my oldest son to school on his first day in kindergarten. His mom and I dropped him off to his classroom and proceeded to leave the school. Upon turning the corner, we saw him running out the back door headed for the street home. That was an early sign of school not being his favorite place.

ENIS

Slidell ISD
Greg Enis
54 first days
Favorite school supply: I don’t recall any specific favorites. Our family really enjoys this time of year as we help support our students and families as they prepare for the first day of classes.
First day tradition: While I grew up in a family of educators, I reflect back on my first year as a teacher — coach at Mart High School and how that tremendous opportunity fundamentally changed my belief system.
Favorite first day memory: My most vivid first day of school coincided with my first day as superintendent in Slidell ISD – August 2004. I remember driving that bus route not knowing for sure exactly where to stop. I remember a Spanish speaking kindergarten student crawling up the steps of the bus and looking me square in the eyes. Her courage made me lose all apprehension about the route as my problem was minor in comparison to the challenge she faced in terms of getting on the bus for the first time without any reservations. This young lady graduated from Slidell in May 2017 as our salutatorian with many distinguished awards and accomplishments. She will be starting her college career this fall.

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Technology, security upgrades approved by Decatur School Board


The Decatur School Board heard some refreshing news Monday, in more ways than one.

A bid for wireless network enhancement/refresh related to technology and network infrastructure upgrades related to security was not only approved by the board, but also came in under budget.

The board awarded the bid to TFE for $476,294.15. The 2015 school bond package budgeted $500,000 for the projects.

But the news might be even better this fall if the district qualifies for a rebate through a federal program known as an E-rate discount.

“Our E-rate consultant feels pretty confident we are going to get these discounts, which means out of the $500,000 we’ve budgeted, we are going to be paying roughly $170,000,” said district Technology Director Troy Bagwell. “We’re going to get a really good deal. We’ll be able to take those savings and get a really good surveillance system placed in the network.”

Bagwell said the school district had the opportunity to apply for the E-rate discount of 70 percent based on the district’s economically disadvantaged population.

The discounts will be awarded in the fall, meaning the district would be rebated all but about $170,000 of the costs.

In addition to providing all the network equipment related to security issues in the bond, the purchase should also have a noticeable effect in the classrooms.

“We are going from one wireless access point in every other classroom to one for every classroom,” Bagwell said. “We’ve got some teachers in classrooms next to each other, and they’ve got all their devices out and the kids are taking a test, but they are sharing one access point. So once we get one per classroom, they are not going to get the bandwidth slowdowns.”

In other business, the board:

  • approved the 2016-2017 school calendar;
  • called a school trustee election for May 7, including a joint election agreement with the city of Decatur;
  • learned during the superintendent’s report that school enrollment has continued to grow and now stands at 3,027 students; and
  • honored Rann Elementary third grade teacher Maria Carrillo as educator of the month.
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Decatur ISD to launch dual language immersion program


Decatur ISD is getting ready to launch a program in the fall where a mix of English- and Spanish-speaking students will be taught in both languages.

For two years, the district has offered a “one-way” dual language program in the younger grades at Rann Elementary where native Spanish-speaking students have received all of their instruction in Spanish. The thinking behind this strategy is students who can master their native language while receiving instruction in that language can better transition to speaking English without a drop in academic performance as they advance in school.

Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, the dual language immersion program will allow Spanish and English speakers to learn side by side. Only kindergarten will use the program next year, with another year added each year after that.

The program will be held at Rann, but it’s open to all incoming kindergarten students in the district.

Rann Principal Melonie Christian said students in the program will learn language arts in their native language, social studies and science will be taught in Spanish and math will be taught in English.

And it won’t just be the teachers who are doing all the instruction.

“We’ll have what we call bilingual pairs when they are in the classroom,” Christian said. “The teacher will do all her teaching in Spanish and the kiddos will come together to work, and you’ll have an English-speaking student and Spanish-speaking student conversing together. They will be learning from their peers.”

The program continues until the fifth grade, and Christian said the school will ask parents to make a commitment to stay with the program the entire time in order to get the most benefit.

“They’ll leave fifth grade as a bi-literate student, not a bilingual student,” she said. “Bilingual is just speaking two languages. Bi-literate is speaking it, reading it, writing it.”

Students in the program will follow the same scope and sequence of the curriculum as the other classes.

To participate in the program, a parent must fill out and return an enrollment packet by March 3. A parent must also attend one of the four parent meetings: noon or 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, or noon or 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23. All meetings are at Rann Elementary.

A lottery will determine which kids are accepted. Once the names are picked, the students must prove fluency in their native language as determined by an oral assessment.

For information, call the school at 940-393-7600.

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Decatur Administrator contracts approved


The leadership teams at Decatur school campuses will stay the same for the 2016-2017 school year.

Administrator contracts were unanimously approved at a special school board meeting Wednesday.

Those include the following:

  • High school Principal Jeff Russell and Assistant Principals Debbie Boatright, Sheila McCollum and Norman Reuther (DAEP)
  • Middle School Principal Dewayne Tamplen and Assistant Principals Terri Hornsby and Beth Fountain
  • Carson Elementary Principal Stephanie Quarles and Assistant Principal LeeAnn Farris
  • Rann Elementary Principal Melonie Christian and Assistant Principal Kaci Cook
  • Young Elementary Principal Gabe Keese and Assistant Principal Lana Thompson

Director contracts were approved for Troy Bagwell, Meradith Culpepper, Mike Fuller, April Whisenant, Melinda Woods and Ashlee Carter.

A contract was also approved for Deputy Superintendent/Chief Financial Officer Cindy Tatum.

The only other item on the agenda was a brief update on projects related to the 2015 bond. More information on those projects, including an update from VLK Architects on the Rann dining hall/gym solution, will be given at the board’s regular February meeting on Monday, Feb. 15.

Also on Monday’s agenda are items related to calling a school board election, a report on the dual language immersion program and the 2016-2017 school calendar.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. with a closed session followed by the open session at 7 p.m. at the DISD Administration Building, 307 S. Cates.

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Donors honored at foundation program


Giving Back

GIVING BACK – Donors who contributed at least $1,000 were honored as Silver Partners at Thursday’s Decatur ISD Education Foundation Donor Recognition Program. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Decatur Diamonds

DECATUR DIAMONDS – Decatur ISD Education Foundation board directors display a $5,000 check to represent the donation by faculty and staff. They were one of three Diamond Level donors to the foundation. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Thursday’s program at Young Elementary was a chance to celebrate both those who have donated to the Decatur Education Foundation (DEF) as well as the unique programs funded by the foundation grants.

Guest speaker DeDe Diaczenko, who teaches art at McCarroll Middle School, described what the grants have provided for her students over the years: 1,000 pounds of clay, two 6-foot looms and 500 silk scarves they made for family members and for the local cancer center.

“Grant writing for the DEF pushes me as a teacher,” Diaczenko said. “I try to make the sky the limit in brainstorming for my grant ideas.

“I ask myself what could we do that would be awesome, would be different, something that I’ve always wanted to do but never been able to afford to do with these kids? And then I bring it back to how would it affect the students? How can it affect our community?”

This year’s grant will partner her students with senior citizens in local nursing facilities.

“They are going to get to know each other, find common interests,” Diaczenko said. “Then our students will go back to the art room and they will design garden art like bird feeders, bird houses, frog houses, anything they think the residents would like to enjoy.”

The last three grants she has received were double her supply budget for the entire year, she told those in attendance.

“Thank you, Decatur Education Foundation. Without your support, my class would not have such inspirational opportunities. Connecting kids, art and community makes my students aware of the world beyond themselves and the impact they can have on it,” Diaczenko said.

Donors also were recognized for their contributions to the foundation.

Those contributing at the Diamond Level of at least $5,000 included Devon Energy, the Decatur ISD faculty and staff, and Wise Health System.

Gold Partners – those contributing at least $2,500 – included ConocoPhillips and DATCU.

Silver Partners who contributed at least $1,000 included Bond Family Eyecare, Oncor, Decatur Tire, J.E. and Betty Carson, C.M. and JoAnn Cocanougher, Roy and Jeanine Eaton, 2K Pawn and Gun, First Financial Bank, First State Bank, Lovette August Pediatrics, James Wood Motors, Young’s Tanks, Linda Widdon, and Stephens, Bastian and Cartwright.

Contributing at least $500 on the bronze level were Atmos Energy, Jeff and Kasi Elder, and Rex and Gabe Keese.

The “Friends of DEF” who contributed at least $250 were Bill Carter, Dana McCarroll, Wise Electric Co-op, Decatur Machine Services, Dr. Douglas Kyle, Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds, BG Cocanougher and Wise County Medical and Surgical Associates (Dr. Long, Dr. Alling and Dr. Faglie).

Foundation President Fred Renfro said nearly $37,000 of the $50,000 goal for this year has been donated.

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Decatur ISD hires Tatum as deputy superintendent


Wichita Falls ISD Chief Financial Officer Cindy Tatum has been named the new deputy superintendent and CFO at Decatur ISD.

The Decatur School Board Monday unanimously approved Superintendent Rod Townsend’s recommendation to employ Tatum on a one-year contract.

“We had approximately a dozen applications. We had some very qualified people. We interviewed four different ones, and she rose to the top very quickly,” Townsend said.

The Gainesville resident has served as a CFO for nearly 15 years, the last three at Wichita Falls.

According to her resume, Tatum has overseen budget, finance, purchasing, employee benefits, food service, transportation, operations and risk-management departments at Wichita Falls ISD. The district, with 13,500 students in 31 campuses, has an overall budget of $130 million.

Tatum also served as director of finance for Gainesville ISD from May 2001 to December 2010.

“She’s a CPA. She’s extremely knowledgeable with school finance, and I think she’ll be a good fit here,” Townsend said.

Tatum will officially begin work at Decatur on Sept. 1, but she will be at the board meeting at 5:30 p.m. next Thursday, Aug. 27, for the public hearing and adoption of the budget and property tax rate, Townsend said. The meeting will be held at the DISD Administration building.

Former Decatur ISD deputy superintendent and finance chief Gary Micinski was hired to serve as CFO of Irving ISD last month.

Townsend also gave an update on the 2015-2016 budget, which totals $38 million in expenditures.

“There were four or five items that were taken out of the budget from last year, but basically it is a balanced budget,” he said. “… We will spend about $326,400 out of our I&S fund balance to make sure we don’t go over that 4-cent increase on the I&S side with this bond election.”

The 4-cent increase in the tax rate being proposed by the district would bring it up to $1.33 per $100 valuation.

The items Townsend referenced that were taken out or reduced in the budget primarily were items such as vehicle purchases or capital projects that will be covered under the 2015 bond issue.

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Back to School: Decatur


NEW EDUCATORS
DECATUR HIGH SCHOOL

  • Sarah Burdett, art, Hurst Euless Bedford
  • Patricia Hodge, Spanish, Eagle Mountain Saginaw
  • Shannon Hutchin, English, first year
  • Anthony Lopez, math, Birdville
  • Dusty Naumann, ag, Harper
  • Aaron Renaud, Spanish, first year
  • Heather Riley, English, first year
  • Donna Russell, English, Birdville
  • Jordan Smith, ag, Forestburg
  • Anne Wartes, counselor, Childress
  • Teresa Watkins, English, Grandfalls-Royalty

MCCARROLL MIDDLE SCHOOL

  • Courtney Hopkins, math, Santo

SIXTH GRADE CAMPUS

  • Kara Hays, social studies, Bridgeport
  • Jennifer Peek, science, Alvord
  • Cynthia Radcliffe, math, Connally

CARSON ELEMENTARY

  • Kelley Galovich, fourth grade, Springtown
  • Alexandra Gillispie, kindergarten, Bowie
  • Amber Hayhurst, first grade, Denton
  • Kelly Jacobsen, life skills, Bowie
  • Lacy Maddox, kindergarten, Eagle Mountain- Saginaw
  • Mary Kate Tampke, life skills, first year

YOUNG ELEMENTARY

  • Jennifer Chaney, fifth grade, Prosper
  • Amy Davis, fourth grade, Plano
  • Rachel Lambert, first grade, first year
  • Amy Moore, fourth grade, first year
  • Rachael Reyna, third grade, Garner
  • Kimberly Sinclair, fifth grade, Northwest
  • Nicole Smith, fourth grade, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw
  • Amanda Taylor, first grade, Crowley

DISTRICT-LEVEL

  • Reuther Norman, assistant principal at DAEP, Alvord
  • Stephanie Monroe, diagnostician at special services, Northwest

INTER-DISTRICT TRANSFERS

  • Lindsey Griffin, McCarroll Middle School to Decatur High School, math
  • Carrie Alano, Decatur High School, English to journalism

SIXTH GRADE CAMPUS

  • Julie McDonald, special education resource, sixth- grade math

SPECIAL SERVICES

  • April Whisenant, director of special education, special services diagnostician

AUG. 13

  • Decatur ISD will host a vaccination clinic by Movax noon to 5 p.m. at the McCarroll Middle School multi-purpose building for all students. Cost is $20 for one vaccine, $25 for two or $30 per family for three or more vaccines. Incoming seventh graders have required vaccinations due by Aug. 24. Turn in updated shot records to the MMS front office.
  • 6th Grade WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) is 9 to 11:30 a.m. at McCarroll Middle School gym.
  • 7th Grade WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) is 1 to 3:30 p.m. at McCarroll Middle School gym.

AUG. 20

  • Elementary Meet the Teacher night is 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
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Micinski hired by Irving ISD to lead business office


A long-time member of the central administration team at Decatur ISD is headed to Irving.

On Monday, the Irving ISD school board voted unanimously to hire Decatur Deputy Superintendent Gary Micinski to be their new chief financial officer. The Decatur School Board will consider Micinski’s resignation at Monday’s regular meeting.

Mcinski Moving

MICINSKI MOVING – Decatur ISD Deputy Superintendent Gary Micinski has accepted a job at Irving ISD to be their chief financial officer. Micinski has been at Decatur for 15 years. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

While Micinski plans to begin work at Irving next month, he said he would finish out next year’s budget at Decatur, which must be approved by Aug. 31.

He said working at Decatur ISD for the past 15 years has been a “fantastic opportunity,” and he’s been able to work with three great superintendents and a great school board during his tenure.

“I’ve been able to learn from some really good mentors,” Micinski said. “I started with J.D. Kennedy, then Gary Gindt and now Rod Townsend. I’ve been able to learn a tremendous amount. And then we’ve been blessed by a stable, good school board. We’ve been blessed with good finances, too.”

The success he’s had at the district has been a result of the business staff, most of whom he’s worked with 10 years or more, he said.

“The success or failure of any business or school is determined by staff, and the business office staff at Decatur ISD is second to none,” Micinski said.

Since he was hired in 2000, Micinski has seen the opening of Carson elementary and the multipurpose building, a new high school, Young Elementary and the transportation facility.

On a more personal level, Micinski said he is “exceptionally proud” of the education both of his kids received at Decatur. They are pursuing college degrees.

His wife, Audrey, a science teacher, plans to remain at Decatur High School for the upcoming school year.

Looking ahead, Micinski said he is moving from one financially sound district to another, where he will replace retiring associate superintendent of business services Debbie Cabrera.

“Their ship is in good shape,” he said. “It’s not like I have to come in and solve a lot of problems. She has done a fantastic job.”

Townsend described Micinski as an “exceptional employee” who is “great at what he does.”

“He’s been here so long and knows the district so well, everybody’s come to rely on him,” Townsend said. “So it’s a little uncomfortable knowing he’s not going to be here, because you lose that wealth of institutional knowledge.

“So that will be a little bit of a transition, but we will find someone good, and 15 years down the road they will have contributed hopefully as much as Gary has.”

Townsend said the job has been posted and he is already receiving applicants. He said he is looking first for someone with knowledge and experience with school finance and school accounting standards.

If he can’t find the suitable applicant from someone who has worked at a school district, the next step would be to look at auditing firms with experience with school audits.

He said his goal is to have someone working in the district by the first of September.

“We want to move as quickly as possible, but we want to make sure we are really thorough and do a good job making the selection for the next person,” the superintendent said.

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Townsend to pick architect; Decatur School Board gives go-ahead in practice facility planning process


Preliminary work started on Decatur ISD’s multipurpose indoor practice facility with the school board last week giving Superintendent Rod Townsend the authority to pick an architect for the project.

He plans to present them with his selection in July.

Townsend explained to the board at its June 15 meeting that architects are paid a percentage of the overall cost of the project.

“Sometimes when you ask an architect to build something, they add things to it just so their fee will be higher,” he said. “If we need to, let’s set a fee and not build a Taj Mahal, but let’s build something usable, durable and cost effective.”

Townsend said three firms have expressed interest in the project – WRA Architects in Dallas, VLK Architects in Fort Worth and Claycomb Associates Architects in Austin.

He noted that WRA designed Rann Elementary for the district, and Claycomb designed Carson and Young elementaries, the high school and the transportation building.

“The three I’ve talked to, they have a set of plans to start with. You just have to tell them what you want,” said Townsend. “It’s not like they’re going to be starting from scratch.”

Board member Wade Watson asked if they could get the plans of a facility they like and use them, avoiding the architect’s fee.

“I don’t know why we have to spend that much money if the design is already done,” he said.

Townsend reminded him that if the project is “over so many dollars it has to have an architectural stamp, by law.”

Board member Jeff Elder asked if athletic director Mike Fuller could just pick what he wanted.

“What if Coach Fuller could find an indoor practice facility exactly like he wanted and said, ‘this is what I want right here?'” Elder asked, wondering if those plans could be acquired.

Townsend said even if plans of an already-existing facility were acquired, it wouldn’t eliminate the architect expense because some changes would need to be made.

“An option is ‘design-build’ where they work with the architect through the entire process, so they’re drawing it and the construction people are involved in it at the same time from the very beginning,” he said.

“Based on our experience with the ag building,” Watson said. “Claycomb wanted us to build this, and we had to scale it back to this to get it reasonable.”

Board member Matt Joiner, who is associate dean of Weatherford College Wise County, spoke up, saying VLK designed the college, and “it was a remarkable experience.”

“You know what Claycomb does. WRA comes with a good recommendation, and you have a good recommendation from VLK here,” Townsend said. “I believe all three are reputable people.”

He told the board they could choose an architect, they could send out a request for qualifications, or they could give him the authority to pick an architect.

Board members also had questions about when a construction company would be chosen and how that would work.

Deputy Superintendent Gary Micinski suggested they give Townsend the authority to make the decision.

“If you could give Mr. Townsend direction on an architect where he can select one, that architect might be able to give you guidance as to what’s the best way to build this building,” he said. “Usually in the past the architect has come in here and discussed the various types of construction.”

Townsend said he’d like to use an architect that has already built several of these types of facilities and get input from them as to whether it would be best to use the design-build method or a general contractor.

“What are you leaning toward as far as architects?” the superintendent asked the board. “Claycomb has done the last few projects … or do you want to look at some of these other guys?”

The board members didn’t respond.

“I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I’d lean toward WRA or VLK,” Townsend said. The board voted unanimously to let Townsend decide.

OTHER BUSINESS

Townsend said the parking lot project at Carson Elementary will not be completed this summer.

“I did talk to TxDOT out there and showed them a hand drawing of what we wanted to do, and I’ve filled out an application,” he said.

There is also survey work that needs to be completed first. Townsend said the new construction, a parking area between the current lot and Business 81/287, won’t impact any of the current driveways and shouldn’t cause a problem if work begins after school starts.

In other business, the board recognized McCarroll Middle School teacher DeDe Diaczenko as June Educator of the Month and David Jackson, from the technology department, as Support Staff Employee of the Month.

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Former principal Young remembered for service to DISD


Decatur lost a longtime educator and namesake for a local elementary this week.

Allen Ray Young

Former Decatur ISD teacher and principal Allen Ray Young died at the age of 86 Tuesday in Decatur.

Funeral for Young is 10 a.m. Saturday, June 6, at Sycamore Baptist Church with burial at Sycamore Cemetery. Family visitation is 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 5, at Coker-Hawkins Funeral Home in Decatur.

Young, who grew up in the Sycamore community near Decatur, began teaching in Decatur in 1949 at Decatur Junior High. His teaching career was interrupted a year later by the Korean War.

He served two years in the U.S. Army, in Germany.

Another longtime Decatur educator, principal and elementary school namesake, J.E. Carson, grew up not far from Young, and the two were later stationed at the same camp in Germany.

“If the Russians attacked, … (and) if the Americans had to retreat, he and a few other guys were to stay there and destroy everything they couldn’t take with them,” Carson said. “There we are, two guys raised up about a mile apart, he was to be the last one to leave, and my job was to lead a convoy of these American dependents to the French coast out of harm’s way. I was going to be the first one out, and Allen Ray was going to be the last one out.”

When his service time was up, Young returned to teaching and coaching in Decatur.

Carson remembered that Young taught science and coached football, basketball and track for many years.

“He had good discipline in his classroom, and I think he was a good coach,” Carson said, adding that he had many successful athletic teams.

After 24 years of teaching at Decatur, he became principal at Decatur Elementary. He would spend the last 14 years of his educational career in that position until his retirement in 1986.

Rann Elementary teacher Lou Hitt was hired for her first teaching job in 1981 by Young. She recalled him being a strong disciplinarian and someone who truly cared about his teachers.

“All the teachers were like a family,” Hitt said. “We really got to visit a lot with each other. He was always in the teachers’ lounge to visit with us.”

Young also knew the teachers’ families, and even long after his retirement, he would inquire about their well-being.

Young married Nelda Ramey in 1954. Like her husband, Nelda Young spent several decades as a teacher and administrator in the Decatur school district.

When Decatur ISD opened its third elementary in the fall of 2010, the district chose the name “Young Elementary” to honor the couple.

Following his retirement, Young devoted more time to his farm in the Sycamore community, served on the Slidell School Board and was an active member of the Sycamore Baptist Church where he served as deacon and taught a men’s Bible class.

Young’s family has requested that donations be made to the Decatur ISD Education Foundation.

The full obituary will be featured in the next midweek Wise County Messenger.

Editor’s note: Knox served on the school naming committee for Young Elementary.

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School will buy its own fueling station


By the next school year, you might not see Decatur school buses filling up at local gas stations.

Last week, the school board voted to spend up to $160,000 to install an above-ground fuel tank at its transportation center for its bus fleet.

The district currently uses a card system to fill up at various gas stations, and bills are collected and paid monthly.

Having their own fuel tank would not only allow the district to make bulk purchases, thereby saving money, but also save labor costs with drivers not having to make special trips to fill up the buses.

“The cost of it is going to be around $150,000,” said Superintendent Rod Townsend. “We feel like it will be a two- to three-year payback, we might project a little longer than that just to be safe, but we think we can save in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $60,000 per year by doing this.”

The tank would hold 12,000 gallons, and two buses at a time could fill up.

A card reader system would be used, with each bus having a coded key, and each fill-up would be tracked.

In other business from the May 18 meeting, the school board:

  • voted to keep the same officers with Kevin Haney as president, Jeff Alling as vice president and Jeff Elder as secretary;
  • granted temporary hiring authority for professional teaching positions to Townsend through Sept. 4;
  • approved an easement request by Mark Duncum on the north side of the Rann property line in order to construct a retaining wall for a planned apartment complex;
  • approved a resolution related to Senate Bill 149 that would allow certain students to graduate who have not successfully passed all end of course exams;
  • honored valedictorian Holt Garner and salutatorian Stevi Perkins, members of the superintendent student advisory cabinet, members of the state-qualifying golf team and journalism students who qualified for the state competition;
  • honored Carson’s teacher of the year Becky Lyles as employee of the month and Telma Puente from McCarroll Middle School as support staff employee of the month.
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Bond projects already on fast track q


It didn’t take long for a couple of projects listed in the recently-approved Decatur school bond election to become reality.

The Decatur School Board Monday awarded a bid to begin resurfacing both the high school and middle school tracks.

The track resurfacing projects were part of the $13.5 million bond package approved by voters on May 9.

By awarding the bid now, the district hopes to have the project complete by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.

Austin-based Hellas Construction submitted the low bid which totaled $413,540 for both tracks.

Superintendent Rod Townsend also outlined a suggested timeline for the bond projects. Much of the discussion centered around the type of buses the district wanted to order.

Townsend said the buses would need to be ordered by July 1 in order to have the buses delivered by next January or February.

He recommended 17 regular route buses that seat 77, four 48-60 passenger buses with lifts and four 84-passenger buses to serve as activity buses.

The activity buses in particular could have several options.

“I guess what I need to know is do we want to have an activity bus that is not yellow and black?” Townsend asked. “A white bus that is wrapped in school colors and logo and that sort of thing? Do we want bench seating? One (of the four proposed activity buses) has coach seating right now. … Do you want conventional body style or a snub nose HDX that has the rear engine? Those are more expensive, but the majority of school districts that have activity buses, a lot of them have rear engine drive buses.”

The snub nose buses would be about $20,000 to $30,000 more than the traditional school bus, and the addition of the school logo would add another $6,000 to $7,000, Townsend estimated.

“I would like for us to look at some of those activity buses in the white wrap with the snub nose,” board president Kevin Haney said. “I think we’ll just have to look at where it fits within the estimates we were working on through the bond package.”

Townsend said he thought those type of buses would be within the amount budgeted in the bond package.

The board will have a chance to approve the bus purchase at next month’s meeting.

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