, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

October 4, 2012

TEA chief visits, Memorial 9th grade gets $25K donation

PORT ARTHUR — The Memorial Ninth Grade Academy received a $25,000 donation Wednesday before hosting a meeting between local superintendents and the Texas Education Agency commissioner.

Michael Williams, the recently appointed TEA commissioner, met with six superintendents from Region 5 to discuss the disparity between state and federal testing requirements and possible funding cuts in the upcoming legislative session.

After the closed-door meeting ended, Williams expressed his faith in the state legislature to make the best decisions possible.

“Let’s allow the legislature to do its work,” he said. “The legislature has a tremendous capacity to get the right answers on the test.”

One of the first thing Williams did after his appointment in August by Gov. Rick Perry was file for a waiver from federal testing standards. He said it is “truly important” to have an alignment between state and federal regulations.

“School districts ought not be put in the position where they have two sets of standards,” he said. “We believe Texans know how to teach Texas kids.”

Williams said he wants create more flexibility for public education by making modifications without affecting the integrity of the accountability system.

Port Arthur Superintendent Johnny Brown said the meeting was an open discussion that covered a variety of topics, including accountability measurements and funding.

“I’m hoping action is taken to recognize growth more than what occurs now, for both districts and students,” he said. “We should recognize that not all students start in the same place.”

Before the meeting began, the ninth grade center held a dedication ceremony to celebrate a surprise donation of $25,000 by the Texas Construction Association. The money will help fund strategic labs for the school’s final exams at the end of the year.

Representing the TCA was Raymond Risk, who said the state-wide organization has an interest in making sure high school graduates have a solid foundation in math and geometry.

“We want to make sure the people coming out of school have a good understanding of the skills needed to succeed in our industry,” he said. “The idea for the labs here were something we considered worthy of funding.”

Risk said the donation was made possible because of the organization’s relationship with State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, who is a financial partner for the ninth grade center.

The school named its library after Deshotel during the ceremony to honor all of the assistance the long-serving representative has provided.

“I help solicit funds from private industry to help supplement needs,” Deshotel said. “I hope to see more of that around the state.”

Deshotel, who also arraigned the superintendent’s meeting with Williams, said he wants to start focusing more of his attention on public education.

“Economic development has been my focus the last twelve years,” he said. “During that period of time it all came down to an educated work force. You can’t have economic development without an educated citizenry.”

Deshotel is trying to get on the Public Education Committee during this legislative term and said receiving recognition from the school reinforces his commitment.

“It’s just giving me more incentive,” he said. “I’m really fired up about going back and working on public education.”

There will be a tough battle over accountability this year, Deshotel said, because some people want to keep standards attached to testing while others want teachers to have more “autonomy in the classroom.”

“You have too many kids dropping out of school because they’re forced into a cookie-cutter test,” he said. “If they don’t fit in that test, they’re out. We have to change that.”

He said funding will be an issue, like it is every year, and he expects education revenues to take another cut.

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