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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Paradise names superintendent lone finalist

Paradise School Board named Dr. Paul Uttley the lone finalist for superintendent after a special meeting Thursday night.

According to the district’s press release Uttley, the superintendent of Vega ISD, was selected from a list of 71 applicants who applied for the position. The board chose Uttley following a superintendent search that started in November 2017.

The district will have to wait 21 days before officially hiring Uttley as superintendent.


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Paradise searching for new superintendent

Paradise School Board voted Monday to pay the Texas Association of School Boards’ (TASB) Executive Search Services to compile the results of a community survey concerning the qualifications and characteristics desired in the district’s future superintendent.

The survey is for stakeholders in Paradise ISD – parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, board members, students and community members. It can be found here.

TASB will also host the district’s job posting.

School board president Homer Mundy said the trustees will narrow down the applicants and conduct interviews after the November election. Four seats on the board are up for election.

Former superintendent Mac Edwards resigned in June. Robert Criswell is currently interim superintendent.


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Loss of taxable revenue tightens Paradise ISD budget

Paradise ISD is facing a large loss of taxable revenue for the 2016-2017 school year.

After receiving the first tax value estimates for the year from the Wise County Appraisal District, Paradise’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Criswell announced that the district will be down nearly $79 million in taxable revenue from last year. The loss in revenue comes from decreased mineral values.

That translates to around an $800,000 loss in the district’s maintenance and operations budget, Criswell said, and that number may yet go up to over $1.1 million loss in total revenue. Final tax values are released in July.

“We’re a very poor property district, as you can see from our values here,” Criswell said.

On a slightly more positive note, Criswell expects the district will receive more revenue from the state for the next school year.

“It won’t be as drastic as what I just said, that $1.1 million. It will be better than that,” Criswell said, “but we’re going to be down in funding.”


The district renewed their food services contract with Aramark for the 2016-2017 school year at a cost of $89,800.

Superintendent Mac Edwards said the contract price was not where they expected it to be. Based on prior discussions with Aramark, the district expected the contract for 2016-2017 to be at least $10,000 less. Edwards said that he could accept the increase but asked Aramark to address complaints about the quality of food in the lower grade schools.

“Great food at a cost I think we would be OK with. Horrible food at us breaking even I think we would be OK with,” Edwards said. “Both I’m not OK with.

“Hopefully we move forward from here and make money and make the food better. That’s the goal.”

The board also approved a 10-cent increase in lunch prices across the district for the 2016-2017.

Lunches will cost $2.45 at the elementary school, $2.70 at the intermediate and junior high and $3.20 at the high school.

The board also:

  • approved budget amendments to move an undesignated $382,000 from loan proceeds to pay for various expenses;
  • approved changes to the district’s local policy to allow non-eligible students to voluntarily come in for tutoring outside of school hours; and
  • approved the district’s annual School Health Advisory Council report and committee for 2016-2017.

Paradise seniors graduate 7 p.m. Friday, May 27, at the school gymnasium.

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Back to School: Paradise


  • Candace Thompson, first grade, Jacksboro


  • Caroline LaPrade, fifth grade, Van
  • Jana Worley, fourth grade, Azle


  • Chad Woodard, inclusion/coach, Poolville
  • Ken Thompson, boys basketball/health/ P.E., Jacksboro
  • Hillary Limbaugh, history/girls coach, Cooper
  • Kinney LaPrade, science/head baseball coach, Grand Saline


  • Megan Ciaburri, English/girls coach, first year
  • Ken Thompson, boys basketball/health/P.E., Jacksboro
  • Kinney LaPrade, head baseball coach, Grand Saline


  • Amy Pace, special education, promoted to teacher


  • Kristen Sanders, P.E., promoted from aide to teacher


AUG. 12

  • New student registration continues for elementary, intermediate and junior high
  • New teacher orientation
  • High school pre-registration and schedule pickup, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

AUG. 13

  • Faculty and staff back to work
  • High school pre-registration and schedule pickup, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

AUG. 14

  • Pre-k registration, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • High school pre-registration and schedule pickup, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

AUG. 17

  • High school Meet the Teacher/Locker, 5:30 to 7 p.m.

AUG. 18

  • Junior high Meet the Teacher Day, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Elementary Meet the Teacher Night: kindergarden and first grade, 5:30 to 6:15 p.m.; second and third grade, 6:15 to 7 p.m.
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Paradise ISD board remains the same

The Paradise ISD school board canvassed votes Monday from the Nov. election and confirmed all incumbents retained their places.

The election for Place 3 was the closest race in the county with Kevin Howerton edging Vann Wakefield by only a handful of votes.

Carrie Preather defeated Jim Taylor for Place 4, and Rusty Ford was unopposed for Place 5.

The board opted to not change place arrangement. They will meet next on Dec. 15.

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Howerton holds off Wakefield in Paradise ISD polling

Paradise ISD fielded the closest race in Wise County Tuesday, as Kevin Howerton narrowly defeated challenger Vann Wakefield, 491 votes to 486, to secure Place 3 on the school board.

With the rest of the votes tallied, incumbents Carrie Preather and Rusty Ford retained board seats 4 and 5.

Ford was not challenged for Place 5, but said he was watching the Place 3 and Place 4 races closely. Having served with Howerton and Preather for six years, he feels they both bring a good mix of ideas and experience and was happy to see them continue their service.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Ford said. “We’ve a got a good group and I feel comfortable about the direction we’re headed. The race was important to me, because I’ve got kids going to that school.

“I knew [the Place 3 race] was going to be a close race, but both of those guys would do a great job.”

Preather’s opponent for Place 4, Jim Taylor, said he has a year to contemplate whether to run again. Taylor served on the PISD board a couple of decades ago and said he and other members were responsible for many of the land purchases and buildings PISD enjoys today.

He thanked his supporters and said he believes planning for the future is a key board responsibility.

The Paradise school board will canvass this year’s election results Monday, Nov. 17.

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Meet PISD’s school board candidates

Three spots on the Paradise ISD school board will go before the voters Nov. 4. The at-large seats are 3, 4, and 5.

Rusty Ford is unopposed for place 5, but places 3 and 4 are up for grabs.

Incumbent Kevin Howerton is challenged by Vann Wakefield for place 3, and Jim Taylor faces off against place 4 incumbent Carrie Preather.

Short biographies of the candidates, and their responses to questions concerning the challenges facing Paradise ISD’s school board, follow.


Kevin Howerton (incumbent)

Age: 51

Howerton has lived in Wise County for 51 years, the last 10 in Paradise, where he currently resides.

Howerton has been married for 25 years to his wife Celina. They have three daughters: Ally, 21, Rylee, 18 and Kaycie, 16.

His wife taught at PISD for 15 years, and he has many friends who teach in the district. He said he wants to serve to help keep the school going forward now that it’s back on track.

“The uphill climb now is state funding,” Howerton said. “A large number of schools like PISD have lost a considerable amount of funds from the state. It will take a strong effort from all the districts to get their voices heard. The board’s role should be to evaluate and support the Superintendent’s plans as they discover and move forward.”

Despite multiple attempts to contact challenger Vann Wakefield, there was no response as of press time.


Carrie Cleveland Preather (incumbent)

Age: 40

Preather has lived in the area for 40 years and resides in Paradise.

She is married to Larry Preather and has two children, Cash and Jett Preather, both active at PISD in academics and extracurricular activities. She said her children are looking forward to completing their senior year next spring.

Preather said It has been a pleasure to watch her children thrive at PISD over the last 12 years. She believes their time at Paradise has prepared them to be active, responsible and educated leaders in the future.

She graduated from PHS (1993) as did her parents and other family members over the years. Her mother taught in PISD for 25 years.

She said her love for Paradise is deep-rooted, and serving on the school board is her way of giving back. She said she is prepared for the issues the district is facing.

“I feel the major issue facing PISD today is the state funding cuts,” Preather said. “As a board, we work closely with our Superintendent Robert Criswell to ensure the money we receive is used wisely for the good of the children at PISD.”


Age: 60

Taylor, a Wise County resident since 1989. lives in Cottondale.

He has five grandchildren and two nieces in PISD, from pre-K to high school. In the past 20 years he has had three children and seven nieces and nephews graduate from Paradise High School. Taylor’s wife of 42 years, Patti, works for WG Financial in Bridgeport and Mann Refrigeration.

He said he wants to serve because because of his vested interest in Paradise ISD. He has previously served on the school board, so he already possesses the ability and experience to be effective.

“The major issue facing Paradise ISD is stability. In the past 18 months every administrative position from superintendent to elementary school principal and athletic director has changed personnel,” Taylor said. “The superintendent position is yet to be filled. It will be the task of the new board to provide the stability of purpose, goal, strategic and long-range planning.

“The first step is selection of a superintendent to operate under the leadership of the board. Change must be controlled and channeled to meet the 5-, 10-, 20-year goals and strategies as determined by the board. The fact of complete change in administrative staff from superintendent to elementary principal in a short period of time says the board has had to move from strategic planning to operational planning and firefighting.

“The board is the voice of the voters in determining the short and long term goals and strategies for the district.”


Early voting for the Paradise school board election will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 20-24, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 27-31 at three locations:

  • Decatur City Hall, 201 E. Walnut St., Decatur
  • Rhome City Hall, 105 1st., Rhome
  • Bridgeport Law Enforcement Center, 1000 Thompson St., Bridgeport

Early voting will also be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 25, and noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 26, at Decatur City Hall only.

On election day, the polls will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the following Paradise-area locations:

  • Precinct 22 – AgriLife Extension Building, 206 S. State, Decatur
  • Precinct 8 – Assumption Catholic Church 1305 S. Deer Park, Decatur
  • Precinct 14 – Bridgeport Lions Hall, 1107 6th St., Bridgeport
  • Precinct 16 – Boonsville Community Center, West on Hwy 920, Boonsville
  • Precinct 17 – First United Methodist Church, Activity Center, 301 S. Oak, Paradise
  • Precinct 20 – Cottondale Community Center, 161 CR 3571, Cottondale
  • Precinct 23 – Boyd Community Center, 420 E Morton Ave., Boyd.
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Paradise ISD has two spots on Nov. ballot

Early voters looking to decide the Paradise school board election Nov. 4 will have to cast their ballots outside the city.

Full three-year terms for Places 3 and 4 are up for grabs with Place 5 secured by Rusty Ford, who’s running unopposed. Incumbent Kevin Howerton is being challenged by Vann Wakefield for Place 3 and Jim Taylor faces off against Place 4 incumbent Carrie Preather.

PISD is partnering with Wise County for its election, so early voting locations are determined by where the county has machines.

Early voting for the Paradise school board election will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 20-24, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 27-31 at three locations:

  • Decatur City Hall, 201 E. Walnut St., Decatur
  • Rhome City Hall, 105 1st., Rhome
  • Bridgeport Law Enforcement Center, 1000 Thompson St., Bridgeport

Early voting will also be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 25, and noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 26, at Decatur City Hall only.

On election day, the polls will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the following Paradise-area locations:

  • Precinct 22 – AgriLife Extension Building, 206 S. State, Decatur
  • Precinct 8 – Assumption Catholic Church 1305 S. Deer Park, Decatur
  • Precinct 14 – Bridgeport Lions Hall, 1107 6th St., Bridgeport
  • Precinct 16 – Boonsville Community Center, West on Hwy 920, Boonsville
  • Precinct 17 – First United Methodist Church, Activity Center, 301 S. Oak, Paradise
  • Precinct 20 – Cottondale Community Center, 161 CR 3571, Cottondale
  • Precinct 23 – Boyd Community Center, 420 E Morton Ave., Boyd.
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Paradise ISD adopts deficit budget

Following a Monday night public hearing, the Paradise school board adopted a budget for the 2014-15 school year that shows a deficit.

Under the proposed spending plan, the district will bring in $11,631,211 and spend $11,845,134 – expenditures exceeding revenue by $213,923. That amount will come from the district fund balance, which acts as a savings account, according to Interim Superintendent Bob Criswell.

The board also adopted $1.34 per $100 in property value as next year’s tax rate – $1.04 for maintenance and operations and 30 cents for debt service. That means a homeowner with a home assessed at $100,000 would owe $1,340 in property taxes.


Criswell was given the authority to lease a new bus that can transport handicapped children, to replace the current bus. He said the district has to transport at least three wheelchair-bound children.

“That old bus didn’t want to start this morning,” he said. “We got it going, but to say the least it’s on its last legs.”

To purchase a new bus, the school would have to spend about $95,000 – money it does not have. Criswell plans to lease a bus, with the lease amount going toward the purchase price so that by the end of the lease, the school district will own it. He said it does cost more, but the district wouldn’t have to pay the whole amount at once.

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School resource officer contract renewed

The Paradise ISD board of trustees renewed its contract with Wise County for a sheriff’s deputy to be the district’s school resource officer.

Monday night, the district agreed to pay $15,500 for the officer’s service, which only covers time during the school day. Special events and game nights are billed as overtime.

PISD will hold an election for board places 3, 4 and 5 this fall.

The filing period for candidates starts July 19 and ends Aug. 18. The election is Nov. 4.

The board also agreed to hire the accounting firm of Hankins, Eastup, Deaton, Tonn and Seay to conduct the district’s annual audit. The firm will look at PISD’s major funds, activities and financial statements, costing the district $16,500.

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Paradise ISD’s values see little change

The Wise County Appraisal District has released Paradise ISD’s preliminary 2014 property values – and not much has changed.

Consequently, the district expects no major changes in property tax revenue for next year.

PISD is looking at total taxable values of $392,236,311 for next year, compared to $388,517,443 last year. The numbers came from Chief Appraiser Mickey Hand to the board of trustees, which held its first of several budget workshops Monday night.

Property values are a key piece of information in the budget planning process.

Breaking the preliminary data down shows real property values, industrial/utility values and mineral values are all up, but personal property values are down nearly 50 percent compared to 2013 numbers, negating most of the increases in other areas.

Also on the agenda:

  • The board approved the district emergency operation plan.
  • Breakfast and lunch prices for 2014-2015 will remain the same as the previous year.
  • The board offered reasonable assurance of employment for auxiliary and para-professional employees.
  • Trustees Doug Bryant and Homer Mundy will hand out diplomas to Paradise ISD seniors during the 2014 graduation ceremony.
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Paradise board begins budget workshops

The Paradise ISD Board of Trustees will start the budget planning season with a workshop 6:30 p.m. Monday during its regular meeting.

The workshop will be led by former Superintendent Robert Criswell and is slated to review preliminary appraisal district values, discuss preliminary district revenue and the district’s budgeting priorities.

Also on the agenda:

  • Wise County appraisal district resolution for resell;
  • emergency operation plan;
  • breakfast and lunch prices for 2014-2015;
  • offer reasonable assurance of employment for auxiliary and para-professional employees;
  • graduation ceremony.
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Criswell named interim Paradise superintendent

Former Paradise ISD Superintendent Robert Criswell has been tapped to take over as interim superintendent following Monty Chapman’s departure.

Robert Criswell

Chapman’s contract runs out June 30, and Criswell will take over again July 1.

Board of trustees President Homer Mundy said Criswell will likely be the interim superintendent for six months or a year, until a candidate is selected to take over permanently. He will also lead the search for Chapman’s permanent replacement.

“We’ll let him look inside the district and outside the district. He’s more experienced and knows a lot more people,” Mundy said. “He knows the district very well and I feel it was a very good thing to do.”

Criswell was PISD’s leader for a decade, from 1999 to 2009, when he retired and Chapman took over. Chapman was Criswell’s assistant superintendent at the time. Until July 1, Criswell is acting as a consultant.

“I’m excited about being back,” he said. “I told the board I still bleed green and this is my district. I love it.”

Criswell comes in as budget season gets underway. Munday said the board faces challenges in figuring out funding solutions for fixing an ailing roof and buying buses.

Criswell said he is looking forward to being a part of the process again, comparing it to a bicycle he’s getting to ride again. That said, he still likes retirement and plans to make it permanent.

“Retirement is good. I recommend it for everybody,” Criswell said. “It’s still hard for me to get up and go to a job when I’ve been going to a golf course and to the deer lease.”

Criswell was integral to the process of building up the district’s campus to what it is now.

“It’s changed and it’s a good thing,” Criswell said. “We have a great thing going here.”

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Paradise ISD extends teacher contracts

The Paradise school board opted to extend the contracts for all teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses during Monday night’s meeting.

The contracts were extended for one year and will be up for review again in spring 2015. The board also agreed to use Superintendent Monty Chapman as an independent contractor after his current contract ends in June.

Chapman recently resigned to take a job at Weatherford Independent School District, but has agreed to help the board and the next superintendent with next year’s budget, which will include planning for other big-ticket items like a wastewater treatment facility.

Non-contracted employees will see a pay raise. The board approved a 2.5 percent raise from the midpoint, which would mean a larger raise for employees on the lower end of the pay scale and a smaller raise for those on the high end.

In other business, the board:

  • adopted textbooks recommended by Patti Seckman; and
  • agreed to seek a waiver from the Texas Education Agency for an additional bad weather day due to all the ice last winter.
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Staging a classic: Story adapted by PHS troupe plays well at UIL contest

Staging a classic: Story adapted by PHS troupe plays well at UIL contest

Required reading and a close inventory of talent sent the One-Act Play team at Paradise High School on a different kind of adventure this school year.

“We graduated tremendous talent last year, a lot of our male actors,” said Karen Bohmfalk, PHS drama teacher and One-Act Play director. “We knew we wanted a play with powerful women’s roles, but in just about everything we came across, the story made the woman the victim. So we chose our own path.”

Community Play

COMMUNITY PLAY – Paradise High School will perform the One-Act Play “The Hiding Place,” written by two of its students and its director, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, and 5 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at the PHS cafeteria. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Bohmfalk, along with seniors Cimmiaron Alvarez and Katy Skogberg, wrote an adaptation of “The Hiding Place,” a book PHS sophomores read for their English class.

And despite the challenges the three faced in doing something not many schools do, their efforts advanced the school’s One-Act Play team to area competition, garnering a slew of honors along the way.


What started as a group of students meeting during the summer eventually dwindled to just Bohmfalk, Alvarez and Skogberg.

From July until mid-October, the playwrights gathered before and after school for up to three hours, three or four times a week to comb through every word of the book.

Honored Cast

HONORED CAST – At One-Act Play district competition March 19, judges named (back from left) Janae McMurry to the All Star Crew; Daniel Alexander, best actor; Katy Skogberg, best actress; Hope Dennie, All-Star cast; (front) Julianna Smith, Honorable Mention All-Star cast; and Cimmiaron Alvarez, All-Star Crew. At area competition April 8, Dennie and Skogberg made the All-Star Cast, and Alexander and Smith received Honorable Mention. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“We just started picking the parts that impacted us the most as we read it and then filed it down into an actual script,” Skogberg said. “That was the process. We went from the beginning of the book to the end.”

Set in Holland and Germany before and during World War II, the story is about the ten Boom family – father Casper and his unmarried daughters, Corrie and Betsie.

During the invasion of Holland, the Christian family holds steadfastly to their beliefs, helping the Jews hide from the Germans.

“They start taking the Jews in, and, of course, they develop the hiding place to protect them,” Skogberg said.

The German soldiers discover their operation and take the family to a prison – and later, a concentration camp.

“Father and Betsie both die in the process, and Corrie is the only one that makes it out,” Skogberg said. “So she’s the one that carries the message to the rest of the world.”

With this adaptation of the book, Paradise students aid in the spreading of the message, which students describe as “powerful.”

“We wanted something that was going to impact on a great scale, not just for One-Act Play, but beyond that,” Skogberg said. “This message and this story was something that a lot of the students could relate to because they read it in class, and is something they can take with them.

“That was the biggest thing – being able to do a story that left people with something.”


But that same ambition may have been the writers’ biggest challenge.

“We knew this story has subject matter that isn’t very popular these days and that we might land on some judge who found its message was trite,” Bohmfalk said. “We didn’t know how judges would take it … Some people just shut down or aren’t involved if it’s spiritual.”

“The message of the Holocaust, too,” Skogberg added. “There are a lot of people who still don’t like that either. But I think it was a risk worth taking.”

That subject matter is key to the story.

“That was the center of the show for the two women,” Bohmfalk said. “You really can’t write the show without it.”

“Their spirituality is what kept them from becoming hard, like a majority of other people did during the concentration camps,” Alvarez added. “They stayed true to themselves and true to their faith. That’s why it was so powerful.”

As a compromise, the writers made a concerted effort to limit the number of Bible verses included.

“That was a difficult part in writing, to make sure we didn’t put a million Bible verses in there,” Skogberg said. “We didn’t want it to be a sermon. We used the title verse and two others. But mostly in action instead of words, we wanted to create the story.”

As they crafted that story, the writers ran into other roadblocks. Although they preserved as much of the book as possible, modifications were made for the sake of time.

“We tried to take as much original dialogue as possible,” said Alvarez, who is also the OAP stage manager. “That wasn’t possible in all cases, so we had to create some of our own.”

The writers also merged characters and eliminated subplots to speed along the main story line.

“But we never change the message,” Bohmfalk said. “We change who said what and where they were when that happened.”

“Overall we get the message across,” Skogberg added. “We get mad at some movies whenever they change from the book, and then we started writing and realized why they do it. I have a whole new respect for that.”

The three also agreed it was a challenge to stay on track while writing.

“I wanted to follow the pattern, the mono-myth of the hero journey to an extent,” Bohmfalk said.

But it wasn’t until the writers overcame the obstacles and completed the script that they faced the ultimate challenge.

“What if it was bad? What if nobody likes it?” Bohmfalk said they wondered.

“All of the other plays have been performed before, so you know they have to be good somehow,” Skogberg said. “We didn’t know if this would appeal to anyone at all.”

But the ladies soon found out that it did.


As a matter of fact, it appealed to many – from officials with the UIL to the students who auditioned and the judges at competition.

After finishing the script, Bohmfalk spent more than a month polishing it before submitting it to the UIL for approval in late November.

“It took a long time to polish the stage directions and all that tedious work,” Bohmfalk said. “It was rough. We didn’t have any stage directions other than what we conceived ourselves. There wasn’t anything in a book. We had to create all the movement.”

With a go-ahead from the UIL, the director continued with casting in December.

“If nobody likes the story, they don’t come audition,” Bohmfalk said. “Fortunately, we did have kids come audition.”

After months of rehearsal, the cast and crew took their 40-minute production to contest, where they received their most telling affirmation yet.

At district competition March 19 in Graham, the Paradise show was one of two that advanced to area.

Judges also picked Skogberg as best actress and Daniel Alexander as best actor. Hope Dennie was named to the All-Star Cast while Alvarez and Janae McMurry were named to the All-Star Crew.

Juliana Smith received Honorable Mention All-Star Cast.

“It was good to get affirmation, to know that we’re not crazy,” Skogberg laughed.

At area competition last week, the play was named an alternate to regionals.

Skogberg and Dennie were named to the All-Star Cast while Alexander and Smith received honorable mention.

“It’s ended up nothing like we expected but everything that we wanted, which is really cool looking back now from the time we wrote,” Skogberg said. “Originally we had in mind a play that was focused on just the hero story, just that one character. In the process of all the cast members coming in and all the ideas that we’ve thrown out, we’ve really developed not just one person’s story, but a lot of people’s stories in the background.

“It’s developed into something that’s hit home for lots of different people,” she continued. “It doesn’t just fit to one specific person in the audience. We’ve morphed it into something that a lot of people can relate to. There are several key messages that really resonate with people. There are lines that go through my head when I’m not on stage and when I’m not thinking about One-Act Play.

“It’s not what any of us expected, but we like it. And we’re proud of it.”


  • Paradise One-Act Play will stage its adaptation of “The Hiding Place” in two community performances this month:
  • 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 22, at Paradise High School cafeteria, sponsored by the Paradise Historical Society and Paradise Chamber of Commerce.
  • 5 p.m. Sunday, April 27, also at the PHS cafeteria.
  • Both shows are free.


  • “The Hiding Place”
  • adapted from the book “The Hiding Place”
  • By Corrie ten Boom
  • With John and Elizabeth Sherrill
  • Play by Cimmiaron Alvarez, Katy Skogberg and Karen Bohmfalk

Cast – Daniel Alexander, Hope Dennie, Katy Skogberg, Lainee Hasty, Drake Young, Austin Medlin, Andrew Alexander, Faith Blankenship, Garrett Schneck, Devan McAsey-Perez, Alyssa McCutchen, Austin Ketchum, Michael Hasty, Julianna Smith, Kaitlynn Godwin

Crew – Cimmiaron Alvarez, Kyndal Baker, Heather McDuff, Janae McMurry, Jennifer Welch

Alternates – Cheyeanne Alvarez, Jamie Talley

Directors – Karen Bohmfalk, Georgia Headley, Megayla O’Rear

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Trustees consider teacher contracts

The Paradise ISD board of trustees will look over and possibly approve teacher contracts during its regular meeting Monday, April 21.

Contracts slated for review also include librarians and nurses.

The board will consider possible pay increases and changes to pay grades for non-contract district employees, according to the meeting agenda posted Friday afternoon.

The board also plans to discuss applying to TEA to get an additional bad weather day waived that was left out of the original application.

Other agenda items include budget amendments, textbook adoption and a health education notice related to State Senate Bill 283.

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Chapman to leave Paradise ISD job

Paradise ISD is looking for new leadership as Superintendent Monty Chapman resigned Monday night during a special meeting.

Chapman’s last day with Paradise will be June 30. He has accepted a position with Weatherford ISD as the executive director of human resources.

Chapman has been with PISD 20 years, five of those as superintendent. He was assistant superintendent for six years under Robert Criswell and high school principal nine years before that.

Chapman let PISD staff know about his resignation soon after the Monday meeting ended.

In his resignation letter, Chapman wrote that working in Paradise had been an honor and would always hold a special place in is heart. He said the employees would always be his family.

WISD offered Chapman the job last Monday and made it official via vote Thursday night during the regular Weatherford board of trustees meeting. Chapman said it will be quite a change from running PISD.

“WISD has about 930 employees,” he said. “It will be a big job with a lot of responsibilities. I’ll have a staff with me dealing with benefits, payroll, hiring and working on contracts.”

Chapman said he and his wife are close enough to Weatherford for him to commute for now but will weigh their options on whether or not to move closer to his new job.

“It’s hard thinking about making a transition after being in one place for 20 years,” Chapman said. “I like to stay in one place and build and see the progress you make over the years.”

Chapman recognized the big job that lies ahead for the next superintendent. He said he believes PISD will be in good shape budget-wise but faces challenges with the school’s aging wastewater treatment facility and other larger expenditures – like buying buses and making some building repairs.

“I’ve looked at the budget for next year, and there is definitely a way to balance it,” Chapman said. “We’ll have to be pretty conservative and figure out some concerns with capital expenses.”

His replacement might have a steep learning curve in certain areas as few school districts have their own wastewater treatment facilities.

“Most districts don’t have to provide that,” Chapman said. “There are a few in the area, like Peaster and Brock, who do.”

Chapman has offered to continue consulting with the board, and his replacement, moving forward with PISD’s budget concerns, if needed.

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Paradise ISD board raises teachers’ pay

Many Paradise ISD teachers and several administrators can look forward to pay raises next year.

The school board accepted recommendations from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) to increase many of the district’s pay grades to make salaries more competitive with those throughout the area.

TASB representative Matthew Levitt advised the board in February to raise pay grades to 95 percent of the market average. This will affect newer teachers most, but teachers with 13 years’ experience and less will also see an increase. Several administrators’ pay will also be raised in accordance with TASB recommendations.

Currently, first-year teachers’ salaries in Paradise are about 13 percent below market average, while fifth-year teachers’ salaries are 9 percent lower. With the increase, a first-year teacher will now start with $36,000, and fifth-year teachers will earn $38,671 annually, according to PISD Superintendent Monty Chapman.


PISD is the only district in the county to still have its superintendent’s contract up in the air.

School board President Homer Mundy said the board has decided to put off a decision on Chapman’s contract until April in order to give newly-elected members Ben Sanders and Ronnie Pewitt time to get to know the superintendent and see how he operates.

“It was December before we seated the new board members, and they weren’t ready and we weren’t ready to vote on his contract,” Mundy said. “It was different when we had elections in May – they had time to work with [the superintendent].”

The board also:

  • unanimously agreed to compensate PISD workers for another missed instructional day due to inclement weather. During the prior meeting in February, they agreed to pay district employees for four other bad weather days.
  • approved administrator contracts.
  • approved a new Internet provider contract with CenturyLink, saving the district money and doubling its bandwidth.
  • approved textbooks and the 2014-15 calendar.
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