Back-to-school blast: Adams to open Monday


Walking the pristine hallways of Adams Middle School, staff members at every stop shared the same adjectives as they prepared for Monday’s first day.
“It’s beautiful; state-of-the-art,” said seventh-grade Texas history teacher Mary Wilson.
In the extracurricular wing, band director Alycia Bingaman offered similar praise: “It’s beautiful. There’s plenty of space for us to work with separate groups.”
But as excited as the 100 staff members of the school are to share it, the reactions of students touring the building this past week have fully captured the anticipation surrounding the opening of the middle school on U.S. 81/287 on Eagle Boulevard in Haslet.
“It’s been great seeing their faces in the cub meetings. Their faces are like the way adults look at cars,” Wilson said.
The campus, named after late Justin Mayor Leo Adams, will open for its first day of classes Monday. Adams was a founding member on the Northwest ISD school board in 1949 and the owner of Justin Lumber Co. His daughter Jeannine Adams Eaton is married to Roy Eaton, the Messenger owner and publisher and son of V.R. Eaton, the namesake of the neighboring high school.
Principal Cynthia Webber expects to welcome 1,171 sixth, seventh and eighth graders to the halls of the new campus, which will be fed by Schluter, Nance, Peterson and Curtis elementaries.
In the past several months, Webber has made her rounds through the hallways of the district’s sixth and largest middle school. The school has 200,000 square feet.
“It takes 3 minutes and 36 seconds to get from one corner to the other,” Webber said. “It’s 50,000 square feet bigger than Wilson.”
The middle school is modeled after Eaton High School that is located next door. Wilson, who has a window facing Eaton, said she will point to the school and tell her students she is preparing them for the next step.
A feature shared by Adams and Eaton will be the collaborative spaces outside classrooms in the main hall. The areas have chairs, tables and mounted television screens.
“Learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom,” Webber said. “Once the teacher sets the stage, [students] will be free to work with others. It’ll give students a chance to work on their collaborative skills.”
The main educational building has two stories throughout and includes flexible STEM classrooms, a family consumer science classroom with six kitchens, special education classrooms and a spacious library.
In the extracurricular wing is the band hall, three gyms and the cafetorium. A courtyard is between the extracurricular wing and the main building.
On the first day, Webber said 20 adult volunteers will be on hand to direct students.
A dedication of the new school is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Curtis to open
Adams Middle School is one of two new Northwest ISD campuses to open Monday.
Lizzie Curtis Elementary on Belle Prairie Trail in Fort Worth will hold its first classes for students at the south end of the district.

New bus service
Reliant begins as Northwest’s new transportation service provider.
Information about the routes was sent in a personalized email to families that registered for busing during the enrollment process. The routes can also be online at www.nisdtx.org/news/what_s_new/2018busroutes.

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Alvord, Northwest earn A’s in accountability ratings


Two Wise County school districts earned A’s in the first A-F accountability ratings released Wednesday by the Texas Education Agency.
Alvord and Northwest received the letter grade of A based on three domains measuring academic performance — student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. All districts in the county earned passing grades.
In the student achievement domain, student performance is evaluated across all subjects for all students on both general and alternate assessments, college, career and military readiness indicators and graduation rates. The school progress measures district and campus outcomes in two areas — the number of students that grew at least one year academically as measured by State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results and the achievement of all students relative to districts or campuses with similar economically disadvantaged percentages. In the closing the gaps domain, data is used to demonstrate differentials among racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic backgrounds and other factors.
Alvord scored an average of 90, getting an 89 for student achievement, 84 for school progress and 93 for closing the gaps.
Northwest earned a 90 for student achievement, 85 for school progress and 94 for closing the gaps.
Decatur and Paradise earned B’s in the rating.
Decatur’s overall score was an 86. The district scored an 87 for student achievement, 83 for school progress and 84 for closing the gaps.
Paradise graded out with an 83, with an 84 for student achievement, 76 for school progress and 82 for closing the gaps.
Because it is a single-campus district, Slidell was assigned the rating of met standard with an overall grade of 80. The district had an 80 for student achievement, 84 for school progress and 72 for closing the gaps.
Boyd, Bridgeport and Chico received C’s.
Boyd had an overall grade of 76, with a 77 for student achievement, 69 for school progress and 73 for closing the gaps.
Bridgeport graded out with a 79. The district scored a 76 for student achievement, 80 for school progress and 76 for closing the gaps.
Chico received a scored of 78 with a 75 for student achievement, 79 for school progress and 76 for closing the gaps.

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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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Seven students transported from bus crash


Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Seven Justin Elementary students were transported to local hospitals from the scene of a school bus rollover on Farm Road 407 near Bill Cook Road Tuesday afternoon.
All the students were treated and released Tuesday night.
The single-vehicle accident occurred around 3:15 with the bus leaving the roadway and landing on its right side on the north side of FM 407, approximately six miles west of Justin in Denton County.
“Preliminary investigation indicates a school bus was traveling west on FM 407, when for an as yet undetermined reason, the vehicle’s right tires left the roadway,” said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Lonny Haschel. “The driver overcorrected and the bus overturned coming to rest on its right side.”
The driver was treated at the scene and released.
According to Northwest ISD Executive Director of Communications Emily Conklin, 18 students were on the bus. The 11 students not transported to the hospital were taken back to Justin Elementary or released to parents.
Conklin did not know the extent of the injuries of the students.

Kierston Martz of Justin picks up her daughter from scene. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“We always want to be cautious anytime there is an accident,” Conklin said. “We had EMS out here as soon as possible. They’ve been great to work with. They did transport [seven] students. We don’t know the extent of the injuries. We hope to hear very soon. We’ve been in contact with their families.”
Northwest ISD Superintendent Ryder Warren thanked first responders for helping at the scene.
“We are truly appreciative for them getting out here so fast and getting the scene under control,” Warren said.
Justin Elementary has students in kindergarten through fifth grade from Justin, New Fairview and East Wise. Northwest ISD is in its final week of class for the school year.
The bus was from Durham Transportation. The district decided in February to move from Durham to contracting with Reliant for bus service starting in the fall. The district has been with Durham since 2001.

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Seven students transported from bus accident


Seven Justin Elementary students were transported to local hospitals from the scene of a school bus rollover on Farm Road 407 near Bill Cook Road Tuesday afternoon.
The single-vehicle accident occurred around 3:15 with the bus leaving the roadway and landing on its right side on the north side of FM 407, approximately six miles west of Justin in Denton County.
“Preliminary investigation indicates a school bus was traveling west on FM 407, when for an as yet undetermined reason, the vehicle’s right tires left the roadway,” said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Lonny Haschel. “The driver overcorrected and the bus overturned coming to rest on its right side.”
The driver was treated at the scene and released.
According to Northwest ISD Executive Director of Communications Emily Conklin, 18 students were on the bus. The 11 students not transported to the hospital were taken back to Justin Elementary or released to parents.
Conklin did not know the extent of the injuries of the students.

Kierston Martz of Justin picks up her daughter from scene.

“We always want to be cautious anytime there is an accident,” Conklin said. “We had EMS out here as soon as possible. They’ve been great to work with. They did transport [seven] students. We don’t know the extent of the injuries. We hope to hear very soon. We’ve been in contact with their families.”
Northwest ISD Superintendent Ryder Warren thanked first responders for helping at the scene.
“We are truly appreciative for them getting out here so fast and getting the scene under control,” Warren said.
Justin Elementary has students in kindergarten through fifth grade from Justin, New Fairview and East Wise. Northwest ISD is in its final week of class for the school year.
The bus was from Durham Transportation. The district decided in February to move from Durham to contracting with Reliant for bus service starting in the fall. The district has been with Durham since 2001.

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Northwest boundary discussion draws crowd


Northwest ISD officials spent nearly two hours discussing the proposed attendance boundary change and its effect on Chisholm Trail Middle School Monday during a town hall meeting.
The meeting was exactly a week after the school board split 3-3 on the proposed boundary. They are slated to meet again Wednesday to consider the boundary along with attendance zones for several elementary schools.
Parents filled the Chisholm Trail library to share their concerns about the enrollment of the campus being cut to under 500 students with the boundary between Chisholm Trail and Adams Middle School, which will open in the fall, set at the Wise-Tarrant county line. Concerns ranged from the staffing, athletics, programs offered and additional funding.
“The concern is the future of Chisholm. In a district like ours, growing as dynamically as we are, we’re going to have conversations like this about some campus every year. I love this conversation and listening to people that have this type of passion about this campus and love this campus,” said Northwest ISD Superintendent Ryder Warren. “That’s exactly why I am here. We wanted to make sure they were heard. We wanted to show them the numbers and show them the reasons why we drew the lines where we had to draw them. Then make sure they knew this was not a one time thing.”
Warren added that the campus would be properly staffed and no programs would be cut.
“There will be nothing less at Chisholm Trail than any school in the district,” he said. “We’re going to put the full force of the district behind Chisholm Trail.”
Northwest ISD Executive Athletic Director Joel Johnson addressed concerns about the school’s athletic program with the decreased enrollment. He said the district is looking at scheduling options with schools outside the Northwest, Keller and Eagle Mountain-Saginaw districts to create a competitive balance.
“We don’t want a school of 600 competing against one of 1,200,” Johnson said. “We want our athletic programs to be a great experience.”
Even after the meeting, parent Michael Ortman expressed concerns about the drop in enrollment setting the school back academically and athletically.
“It’s going to set us back quite a bit,” he said.
Amanda Merritt, who lives in Aurora Vista, addressed the board with concerns about the boundary changes and the impact on the school last week. Merritt said the conversation has progressed in the past week and is encouraged by the district’s openness and the turnout on the behalf of the community.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with them,” Merritt said.
She said concerns about PTA funding and other support are being addressed by engaging business partners in the community.
Trustees in attendance Monday expressed gratitude to the parents that came to the meeting and shared their thoughts.
“It takes a lot of effort for people to come out,” said Ann Davis-Simpson. “We had a good conversation. These are hard decisions.”
School Board President Mark Schluter added: “I loved it. Anytime we have public involvement it’s great. We’re not going to make everyone happy, but everyone gets to have a voice. That dialogue is important.”
Wednesday’s meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Northwest ISD Administration Building. Warren said the district needs to make a decision soon to move ahead with staffing.

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Two students detained for gun at Northwest HS


Two Northwest High School students were detained for possessing a handgun on campus Tuesday, according to a statement released by the district.
The weapon was confiscated without incident by district officials.
In a letter to parents, Northwest ISD Superintendent Ryder Warren said pictures of a student with a handgun were posted on a social media site Tuesday morning.
“Two other NHS students saw the posting and immediately informed campus leadership,” Warren said. “Within three minutes of the initial report, NHS leadership with the School Resource Officer located the student and took possession of the weapon with no incident. During the questioning of the student, another NHS student was implicated, and that student was detained for further questioning.”
Warren said the district and police are continuing to investigate.

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Chisholm Trail boundary remains unsettled


The dividing line for the attendance zones between Northwest ISD’s Adams and Chisholm Trail middle schools remains unsettled.
After nearly an hour-long discussion centered on the impact on Chisholm Trail by the changes Monday, Northwest ISD trustees split 3-3 and failed to approved the recommended attendance zones. Trustees followed with a 4-2 vote to delay the boundary changes for the two middle schools and several elementary schools until their next meeting March 19.
With Adams opening in the fall, the recommended boundary change for Chisholm Trail has the dividing line at the Wise-Tarrant county line. The change would cut the enrollment at the Rhome campus from a projected 1,097 students to 492.
At the end of the meeting, Northwest ISD Superintendent Ryder Warren asked for a discussion to get direction and called for the board to reconvene next week to revisit the boundaries.
“I don’t think we can wait three weeks for this decision. That puts us behind from the personnel standpoint and getting the very best people moved around in our school district and getting the best people into our district,” Warren said. “I’d recommend we call a meeting next week and we get into this again. Between now and then I will blank out my calendar, and I will do everything you need me to do to make this decision right.”
Warren added that he stood behind the recommendation of boundary committee, which included parents impacted by the changes.
“You need to understand this, I’m not going override the committee on the work they did,” Warren said. “No. 1, I trust the committee we put together and trust the decisions that were made. No. 2, I will not override the committee in putting children on buses for that long. That’s the only way to solve this is to spread that area out and put kids on buses to Chisholm because there’s no more kids in that area.”
Assistant Superintendent for Facilities Tim McClure in presenting in the boundary recommendations said about 85 percent of the population impacted are around Adams Middle School and points south.
“I’ve been tasked with this since Day 1 that I walked in the door by [former superintendent] Dr. [Karen] Rue. I’ve been working on Chisholm scenarios since Day 1 and it is a geographic problem,” McClure said. “I can not stress it enough. I’m a parent of two Chisholm kids…I don’t know a way without relocating a mass portion of our populace that doesn’t make sense to fix that until we get more development out there.”
Amanda Merritt, who lives in Aurora Vista, addressed the board with concerns about the boundary changes and the impact on the school, pointing out an increase in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students.
“Our communities do a lot for our students,” Merritt said. “Our district relies a lot on PTA donations for improvements to our schools and that’s understandable. As PTAs we raise significantly less because of our parent population than other schools in our district, which leaves us unable to provide the things we would like to provide. We want to open that communication with our leadership. At the end of the day, we trust our district and leadership. We have nothing but positive things to say about Dr. Warren and our board. We do want a little more communication before we can buy into this.”
Trustees Josh Wright, Lillian Rauch and Anne Davis-Simpson voted against the boundary change.
Rauch called for a two-week delay based on feedback she received from members of the community.
Wright said it was the most difficult vote he’s faced as a board member. He said he received eight or nine calls
“My concern is a half-empty school and what will happen with the culture in the community. I don’t feel comfortable with it tonight,” Wright said.
Davis-Simpson expressed concern about the enrollment projection.
“I cannot understand why we can’t balance the numbers,” she said.
Steve Sprowls, who voted for the boundary change, praised the sense of community at Chisholm Trail and wanted to make sure it is protected.
“It’s an awesome culture and I don’t want to impact it. I want it to influence the rest of the district,” Sprowls said.
Before the board’s vote, Warren and Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Rob Thornell said plans are in place for the campus for next year with the smaller enrollment. They told the board no programs would be cut.
“There’s a lot of 500-student middle schools and a lot of successful 500-student middle schools, but a lot of them don’t have the full force of a district the size of NISD behind it,” Warren said. “We’re going to make sure they have the assets in place, both in personnel and programs to give kids every chance to be successful.”
Board President Mark Schluter said the district will be reaching out and addressing concerns about the boundary changes
“There’s so many people in the district that it’s so hard to a pulse from every person,” Schluter said. “Every decision we make is going to be either supported or rejected. We’re not going to make everyone happy. The biggest part of what we do is making sure every voice that wants to give input has the opportunity.”
Schluter admitted options are limited at Chisholm Trail.
“We laid it out today, it’s either bus kids or accept the boundary lines we have,” he said. “One of my concerns when you start looking at other areas and we’re going to divide an area that’s stable, you bring in a whole different group and there’s a whole learning curve all over.”

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Commuters to face delays on 114 over weekend


Wise County commuters into Denton County could face potential delays Friday evening through Monday morning on Texas 114.
The highway will be closed below the Farm Road 156 bridge, starting at 8 p.m. Friday. It is expected to be closed through Monday morning.
In an email to Northwest ISD, the Texas Department of Transportation did not provide an expected completion time Monday. But it is expected to last through rush-hour traffic.
FM 156 will remain open with limited flag crews to provide guidance if needed.
Northwest ISD schools and facilities will be closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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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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District celebrates construction milestone


Northwest ISD student Jacob Champagne signs the final beam to be placed at Leo Adams Middle School in Haslet. A class of future students at the school were invited to the district’s topping out ceremony Tuesday.

Northwest ISD Tuesday held a topping out ceremony at the future site of Leo Adams Middle School in Haslet, inviting trustees, construction officials and community members to watch as the structure’s final steel beam was put in place.

“This represents a significant milestone,” said Pogue Construction Vice President Zach Walker. “From here we can put the roof on and really go to work.”

The school is named for former Justin mayor and founding member of the Northwest school board Leo Adams. Future students at the school, family members of Adams and others in attendance were invited to sign the beam before it was lifted away by a crane and placed in the building.

District Superintendent Ryder Warren identified Adams as a community leader who valued education.

“We’re honored and humbled to have Mr. Adams’ name on our middle school.”

See this weekend’s Messenger for more photos and information from the event.

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Northwest ISD launches new website


As Northwest parents and students head to the internet to find information for back to school, they will be greeted by the district’s new website.

It launched the new site July 1 and has initially received glowing reviews.

“Once it went live, we started getting good feedback,” said Emily Conklin, director of communications for Northwest ISD.

Conklin said the redesign of the district’s site took months, beginning with feedback from community members and staff on ways to improve its online presence.

A committee of administrators, staff, parents and community members was established in March to begin the process.

The district’s webmasters and technology staff started preparing for the data migration from the old site to the new one in April.

One of the main suggestions was establishing consistency for the district’s main webpage and the pages of the 26 campuses (17 elementary, five middle and four high schools). Each campus homepage features big pictures, latest campus and district news along with upcoming events and a map to the campus.

Conklin said the community wanted quick access to the latest news on their home campuses and also the district.

Another request filled was a searchable directory on each campus page. Conklin added that the district site will also have a directory with pictures of the staff.

“It helps when you are able to call and see a face with a name,” she said.

The home page features color-coded tabs for parents, students, staff and community members, which brings the user to popular links tab for each of the specific groups.

The district’s homepage includes the community dashboard at the bottom with informational items about the district, including enrollment, graduation rates and teacher pay. It opens with a click to the full dashboard with more demographic, academic and financial information about the district.

“One of NISD’s goals is to provide timely, open communication and positive parental and community partnership opportunities in our schools,” Conklin said. “The district’s new digital look directly supports the district’s improvement plan and strategic goals as well as meets the needs requested by parents for a site that communicates effectively with concise, easy-to-find information and is consistent across the board.”

The district’s web-design team has been working with staff members since the start of June on “Website Wednesdays” to familiarize them with the new site.

“There’s been a full house every training session,” Conklin said.

The district is updating its mobile app, which is expected to be ready within six weeks.

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Northwest ISD hires new search firm


Days after agreeing to part ways with its first choice for a superintendent search firm, Northwest school board members picked Education Consulting Research Group’s Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) to help find the district’s new lead administrator.

Trustees planned to meet with representatives from HYA Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the process.

“We believe selecting the next leader for Northwest ISD is one of the most important decisions we will make as a board,” said School Board President Josh Wright in a press release. “This is a decision we do not take lightly. We are excited for our community to get a chance to provide their feedback in this process.”

The district is looking for a superintendent to replace Karen Rue, who announced in January that she would retire July 31. She has been with the district since 2005.

Northwest had originally selected Bob E. Griggs and Associates to lead the search.

HYA is currently leading searches for superintendents in Houston and Humble.

“Our board is passionate about the students, staff and community of Northwest ISD,” said Wright. “We believe we are on the right path to taking us one step closer in finding the right leader for Northwest ISD.”

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Northwest ISD reopens hunt for search firm


Northwest ISD trustees reopened its selection of a search firm to lead the hunt for a new superintendent Monday night.

Trustees will hold a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to select a new superintendent search firm.

Monday trustees announced that the district and the search firm Bob E. Griggs and Associates had mutually agreed to part ways.

“We are appreciative for the time spent working with Bob E. Griggs and Associates,” said Board President Josh Wright in a press release. “Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important jobs a school board member has. We are committed to finding a search firm to assist with selecting a candidate that will lead NISD on the continued path of excellence already initiated and take the school district to another level of success as we continue to grow.”

The new superintendent will take over for the retiring Karen Rue, who has led the district since 2005. She announced in January that she would retire July 31.

Trustees had selected the firm operated by Griggs, the former Birdville superintendent. at their Feb. 15 meeting.

Wright said in an interview last week that the trustees elected to hire a firm to help meet with stakeholders in the community as well as staff to create a profile for the potential superintendent.

“With a district as big as we are, it’s a big process to undertake,” Wright said. “A big part of what [a search firm does] is help with getting community input. We want to hear what the community says about what they want. [The firm] will help compile that data.”

Wright added that the firm would help identify the best candidate but board members would have access to all the applications. He also said that bringing in a firm did not exclude a potential hire of an existing employee.

The district’s tentative timeline is to name a lone finalist in late May or early June.

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Never leaving the classroom; Through unparalleled growth, Rue led innovation


Karen Rue

Superintendent Karen Rue. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

As Karen Rue took her seat as the new Northwest superintendent in late June of 2005, the district began discussing a $224.5 million bond package.

Less than a month later, she was traipsing through the district that stretched across three counties to meet voters.

She points out that’s where she learned a lot about the fast-growing district that would be her home for 11 years. It’s nearly tripled in size and has opened 15 schools during her tenure.

That tenure will end in July with her retirement.

“This is a good time. It’s the cycle of the system,” Rue explained. “I’ve been here for 11 years, and I’ve been a part of the growth that’s occurred that took us from the 7,700 to the 21,000. That’s one life cycle or segment of growth. We’re maybe 25 percent built out. The district will be 85,000 to 95,000 students. There’s a lot of growth left in this community.

“The district is ready to grow from this 21,000 in the next 10 years to 35,000,” she said. “I recognize this is a good time for someone to come in and take the next lap. Passing the baton. Someone will then come in after them, and they will do the next lap.”

During her lap, the district experienced unparalleled growth. When she was hired in 2005 from Tuloso-Midway, the district had one high school and 7,700 students. Since then, the district has added more than 12,000 students.

Instead of viewing the growth as a tidal wave, Rue and the district embraced it as an opportunity to not only shape a school district, but also a community.

“It’s exciting to realize you are growing community together,” Rue said. “That’s a message I’ve had for a long time. You look out into fields where there was nothing two years ago and then there’s a community there, a neighborhood with a church and a school in the middle of it all. You realize that’s really exciting to get to shape your future. How many people really get a hand in doing that?

“I don’t mean me as a superintendent, but as a community. How many people get to grow and shape their own community?”

The collaboration with the 14 municipalities in the district during the last 11 years has led to the passing of three bond packages tallying $739.5 million, opening of 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools – V.R. Eaton, Byron Nelson and Steele – and numerous federal and state honors for academics, finances and safety.

Rue points out the success is because of the support of the community.

“That’s powerful. Good communities make good schools, and that’s the bottom line,” Rue said. “The community has a hand in shaping the type of education it wants its children to have – the hopes, desires and wishes it has for them. That’s seen in how parents have a hand in talking and serving on different committees that shape our future. Those are big pieces that make schools successful.”

The district has also been on the forefront of innovation over the past decade. The district has opened academies for culinary arts and hospitality, cosmetology, media arts and technology, engineering, medical professions and this year, entrepreneurship.

“The academies offer students an in-depth exploration of a career field. It’s not specific to a single career,” Rue said. “Each academy offers a look at a career field. It gives them a chance to play with what could become a passion.”

The district has also led the way in redefining the classroom model, with students working together more on projects and the role of the teacher in the classroom changing.

“We’re creating and replicating classrooms that are the type of classrooms that kids are going to work in and live in,” Rue said. “They need to learn to manage and navigate that world.”

Rue’s colleagues credit her vision and uncompromising values for allowing the district to make the innovative changes.

“Her visionary leadership has put NISD in a position to lead the state,” said Northwest Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Robert Thornell. “For me personally, she has taken time to develop my own skills and challenge me to be a better educator.

“Dr. Rue has strong beliefs and high expectations for herself and others. I have learned not to compromise on what you believe is right just because it may be difficult or unpopular.”

Jon Graswich, associate superintendent for business and operations, added: “It has been an honor working with someone so dedicated to the education of students. Dr. Rue’s dedication to this task has been widely recognized throughout the State of Texas and nationally. Her peers have repeatedly elected her to the top leadership position in numerous state organizations and even the White House has honored her work.

“Dr. Rue has built a district filled with leaders who care about the education and overall well-being of the students,” he said. “Interestingly, many districts now turn to Northwest ISD when recruiting for their own administrative needs.”

In recent years, the district has also been lauded for taking a new approach in evaluating itself with the Community-Based Accountability System implemented in 2012-13.

Rue points to the system helping the district develop classrooms that allow students to challenge themselves.

“For a child to feel compelled and motivated enough in their learning that they challenge themselves means we have a lot of getting it right to do,” Rue said. “We have to provide classrooms where the learning is meaningful and relevant and engaging. We have to think through what our kids get to choose from and what matters to them.”

Northwest School Board President Josh Wright credited Rue’s leadership and vision for a “transformational shift in education.”

“We will be forever grateful for her leadership and vision, and our students will continue to benefit from the impact of her work in our school system,” Wright said.

While trying to help the district on the edge of innovation, Rue has helped lead the charge at Northwest and across the state as a vocal critic of standardized testing and the Texas accountability system.

“In a world that values innovation, creativity, customization and opportunity, we continue to measure ourselves in a standardized way,” Rue said. “They are becoming more and more out of sync with each other.”

As she nears retirement, Rue still has the same passion for education that drew her into the field as a classroom teacher 37 years ago.

“What drew me into education was whatever I did in life, it needed to be useful and meaningful work. I can’t think of anything more meaningful than helping kids prepare for their lives,” Rue said.

Though she left the traditional classroom to serve in an administrative role, Rue just viewed the new roles as different classrooms.

“I realized from going from a classroom teacher to principal that I could have an influence and set the tone for classrooms throughout the entire school,” Rue said. “If I’m working at a district level that I can work with multiple principals, there’s an opportunity and your classroom just gets bigger. So I have felt about the role of superintendency, that I have the opportunity to work through adults to touch the lives of kids.”

Even in retirement, she won’t be far from the classroom.

“I want to stay active in some manner,” Rue said. “I will always be a strong support of public education. I will always be an advocate. I know I will find a way to stay engaged in some manner.”

Until July 31, she won’t be resting. The district will be reworking attendance zones and planning for the future.

“In a robust fast-growth district, there is no draw a line and you’ve done everything and close the door and the next person opens it,” Rue said. “It has a life of its own, and it’s ongoing.”

And she’ll be asking everyone one question about each decision: “How does it impact kids?”

“That’s the only question,” Rue said.

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Rue retires; Superintendent steps down after 11 years with district


After leading Northwest ISD during a time of unprecedented growth, Karen Rue announced Thursday night that she will retire at the end of the year.

Karen Rue

The Northwest ISD superintendent announced her intention to leave her post July 31 at the district’s school board meeting.

“It has truly been an honor to be part of Northwest ISD,” Rue said in a press release. “I’m looking forward to the adventures and opportunities retirement will bring and am excited about the possibility of exploring other avenues I might want to pursue. It has been a joy to be part of the Northwest ISD family, and Northwest will continue to be my home.”

Rue joined Northwest ISD in 2005 from Tuloso-Midway ISD, where she was superintendent.

During her 11 years at Northwest, the district has grown from 8,700 to 21,000 students. The district opened two new high schools – Byron Nelson in 2009 and Eaton in 2015.

“Dr. Rue has been an inspirational leader, and we will be forever grateful for her leadership and vision,” said Josh Wright, Northwest School Board president.

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Back to School: Ready for flight – Eaton HS set to open


Walking though the second floor of Northwest’s new V.R. Eaton High School, Ambriette Reed points out the colorful furniture in the open corridors.

“The couches are the best part. What other school has couches?” questions the sophomore on the tour of the new high school off U.S. 81/287.

The couches and the unique charging stations are just a small part of this big school.

The massive school with 524,602 square feet was built with a budget of $91.1 million and will open Aug. 25 to freshmen and sophomores.

New Surroundings 1

NEW SURROUNDINGS – V.R. Eaton High School will open to students Aug. 25. The new high school will have approximately 1,000 freshmen and sophomores this fall. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Students are already filling the campus for fall sports practices and band rehearsals, bringing life to the campus and home to the Eaton Eagles.

“We build a building, but it’s not until the students and faculty show up that it transforms from a building into Eaton High School,” said Principal Carri Eddy.

Eddy, who was hired in May 2014 from Rockwall ISD, has patiently waited for the campus to open, while hiring staff to teach the expected 1,000 students for 2015-16.

This will be the third time in her almost two decades in education to open a brand new campus.

“It’s like having a baby,” Eddy explained. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”

New Surroundings 2

NEW SURROUNDINGS – Among the athletic facilities at the new school are three gyms, a turf football/soccer/track stadium and the large indoor practice facility being toured at right. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Over the first year, while students and staff members are learning their way around the campus that includes three stories, three gyms, an 800-seat auditorium and coffee shop, the culture of the school will be developed.

Eddy said that’s one of the special parts of opening a new campus – “building the culture from the ground up.”

That culture will be built around teaching students to become creators, communicators and collaborators.

“The expectations of the world is for them to be thinkers and visionaries,” Eddy said.

The school’s first academy to open – the Academy of Business Management and Entrepreneurship – embraces the vision of helping students become future ready and able to compete on the global stage.

The space for the academy has flexible classrooms and meeting spaces – all designed after real-world application.

“Learning doesn’t all take place in rows of desks,” Eddy explained. “We want people that can work in the real world. We went out to create instead of producing something someone’s already done.”

Tobey Mathis is a Wise County resident that is transferring from Northwest to Eaton to study in the academy.

“I love the setup. I’m not a fan of the big, traditional classroom,” Mathis said. “The setup will be nice and allow us to work together in groups.”

Mathis hopes to use the academy to grow his interest in marketing.

“I like to get into peoples’ heads and see what they want,” he said. “I like selling things to people.”

He added that students through the academy will be able to become Microsoft certified and earn other certifications that will help with internships and jobs.

Reed will also attend the academy and plans to major in business in college. She hopes her high school experience will help her one day run her own business.

Stephanie Reemtsma, whose interests lie in advertising and graphic design, said the ability to work with people and pursue those fields drew her to apply for the academy.

“I’m glad I did because the school is really cool,” Reemtsma said.

“I’m blown away.”

As is everyone walking the halls.

FACTS ABOUT EATON

  • Eaton High School is 524,602 square feet.
  • If all the 3×8 inch bricks in the building were stacked on top of each other, they would be more than 85 miles tall.
  • The 1,960 tons of steel for the structure would be enough for 2,177 cars.
  • Construction budget was $91.120 million.
  • Eaton mascot is Eagles, and the colors are navy blue and green.
  • The school has one competition gym and two auxiliary gyms.
  • There is one competition turf football/soccer/track stadium and two turf practice fields. There are also turf baseball and softball fields.
  • The Eaton Performing Arts Center will feature an 800-seat auditorium.
  • The first graduating class will be in 2018. The school will open with approximately 1,000 students – freshmen and sophomores.
  • The school will open the Academy of Business Management and Entrepreneurship this year. Next year the school will add an aviation academy.

– Source: V.R. Eaton website, FAQs

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Back to School: School named for determined education advocate


When the fate of Rhome students was being decided by voters in Decatur, V.R. Eaton led the charge to get the area in what would become Northwest ISD.

V.R. Eaton

The efforts of the local rancher, farmer and education advocate eventually paid off, and now nearly 50 years after his death, the newest Northwest school that will open this month will bear his name. The V.R. Eaton High School on U.S. 81/287 at Willow Springs and Blue Mound roads will begin classes Aug. 25.

“It’s a great honor for dad and the entire family to have this high school named for him,” said Roy Eaton, V.R. Eaton’s son and the publisher of the Wise County Messenger.

V.R. Eaton grew up in the East Texas town of New London – the town that became known for the 1937 natural gas leak that triggered an explosion and killed 295 students and teachers.

After attending Tyler Commercial College, he moved to Fort Worth around 1934 and worked in the milk delivery business.

He settled in the Rhome area with his family on the Chisholm Trail Ranch, and his son recalled his father always being “a big believer in education.”

Eaton organized a cooperative of business leaders and agriculture community members in Rhome, Justin, Haslet, Roanoke and Fairview. The common thread was that they all faced crisis in their respective schools and desired a quality educational program.

“Mr. Eaton was among the core group who worked many hours overcoming almost unbelievable obstacles on a local and state level to make the district a reality more than a half-century ago,” said Jerhea Nail, executive director of communications and government relations at Northwest ISD.

The younger Eaton recalls specific examples of the arduous hours his father invested to realize the dream shared by so many in the community and its surroundings.

“I remember walking door-to-door in Decatur with my dad, passing out leaflets urging Decatur residents to vote against the consolidation,” he said, “They did, and that paved the way to form Northwest ISD … There were many trips to Austin at their own expense. I’m not sure the Texas Legislature or the Texas Education Agency had heard of a multi-county school district before Northwest.”

After the district was formed, V.R. served on its founding school board, which oversaw the issuing of bonds that opened a new high school in 1950 west of the Texas 114 and Farm Road 156 intersection (which now houses the district’s Special Programs Center).

He helped scout out that 40-acre tract of land that is now also dotted by NISD Stadium, baseball/softball fields, Texan Stadium, the new Northwest High School, Pike Middle School and Hatfield Elementary.

“I remember riding with my dad and then-Wise County Sheriff Carl ‘Rook’ Ramsey to inspect several possible building sites on Texas 114 to make sure the ‘safest’ location was picked,” Roy recalled. “I remember driving our farm truck to move furniture from the Justin school to the new Northwest building the summer before it opened.”

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Back to School: No place like home, Seven Hills for Blackburn


Four years ago, Kim Blackburn and her family settled in Newark and began getting to know the area.

Kim Blackburn

Now Blackburn will guide the community’s elementary school.

Blackburn was named the principal at Seven Hills Elementary in the spring after serving as the head administrator at Grapevine Elementary School since 2011.

“Living in the attendance zone was the primary draw. I planted roots with my family in the community. I wanted the opportunity to extend those roots,” Blackburn said.

Before working in Grapevine, Blackburn was an assistant principal in Clear Creek ISD. She taught in Keller and Birdville.

Even though she’s joining a district that spreads into three counties and 14 towns, Blackburn has felt a sense of community in her short time at Northwest.

“One thing I notice about Northwest is the genuine sense of community,” Blackburn said, “especially on our side, it truly feels like home.

“Seven Hills serves a diverse community, but we have an incredible support component. We want to bring our community into the school as a support for our students.”

Blackburn added that the district has also shown its commitment to helping her and her staff become effective leaders.

The school will have a theme for her first year on the campus, “No Place Like Seven Hills,” taken from “Wizard of Oz.”

“It’s focused on personal learning and playing off ‘have heart, be bold and seek knowledge,'” Blackburn explained. “We want to teach students to set goals, take risks and have a sense of wonder.

“If you have a sense of wonder, dreams really do come true.”

Blackburn hinted that Glinda from “Wizard of Oz” may appear on campus to spread the message “you’re capable of more than you know” to Seven Hills students.

And like Dorothy, she hopes her time working at Seven Hills, just down the street from her house, leads to the feeling “there’s no place like home.”

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Back to School: Vercher moves up to middle school


Throughout his career, Justin Vercher has strived to be a positive role model and start elementary children on their educational journey.

Justin Vercher

Now Vercher will serve the same role with older students, taking over as principal of Chisholm Trail Middle School in Rhome.

“The elementary has been my background, but there’s something about the opportunity at the middle school,” Vercher explained. “It’s another chance to get kids on the right path and be a positive role model.”

Vercher was hired in the spring to lead the middle school campus. He replaces Todd Rogers, who is the new associate principal at Byron Nelson High School.

Vercher served as principal of Watauga Elementary School in the Birdville school district since 2012. He also worked in administrative roles in Forney and Katy ISD. Before going into administration, he taught kindergarten, first grade and physical education.

Vercher plans to take a similar approach to working with middle school students as he had at the elementary.

“As educators, you want to build relationships with kids,” he said. “Middle school is a precarious age, but it’s a chance go be a positive influence and get them on the right path.”

Vercher wants to continue the drive for excellence at Chisholm Trail. The school has excelled with its student-led learning that has teachers serving as facilitators of information. Several members of the school’s math department presented at the Texas Middle School Association Conference in the spring on the school’s non-traditional teaching that challenges students to learn the concepts and skills through helping their peers and leading the lessons. The school also secured several grants for their science department for project-based learning programs.

“We have really talented people at Chisholm Trail,” Vercher said. “I’m grateful to be part of that team that is top notch.

“The teaching methods and the facilitating learning are very progressive and first class.”

Vercher hopes to reach out and work with the elementary schools that feed into Chisholm Trail, including Seven Hills and Prairie View.

“I plan to be involved with them. We’re better together,” Vercher said. “We want to build that school spirit and on our successes.”

He also wants to get students involved in the community with service projects.

“We want to give kids an opportunity to serve,” Vercher said.

Along those lines, Vercher points out it starts in his office with setting a strong, positive example.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Vercher said.

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