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Nederland ISD seeks input while it plans ahead

Planning was a key theme as school officials and parents discussed Nederland students’ current and continuing educations.

Nederland Independent School District (NISD) hosted its second of four Strategic Planning Education Summits (SPES) Thursday evening at Nederland High School. The first one occurred that same morning at Hillcrest Elementary.

“I came to just kind of see what they’re thinking and doing,” Jennifer Cardenas, teacher at Port Arthur Independent School District, said.

Cardenas has three kids in the Nederland School District.

“I’ve noticed that going into the schools recently, it looks like a whole new city. It’s so diverse compared to when I worked in the district five years ago,” Cardenas said. “I’m just curious in how they handle more Hispanic and African American students.”

Cardenas’ children are Hispanic.

“I’m curious because, in Port Arthur, the schools celebrate the different cultures the students come from,” she said.

“I just want to know what (Nederland) is planning, especially for kids who aren’t college-ready. Because not all kids are college-ready and I want to see what they’ll do for them.”

In her introduction, NISD Superintendent Robin Perez thanked the parents who showed up and asked them for their say-so in school affairs.

“We want input from our community. With planning, we can say where we are and where we’re going. Strategic planning helps us allocate our resources,” she said.

Perez asked for the community’s involvement in where the school will be in five to 10 years and expressed desire for there to be a plan for every student.

The Summit facilitator was Robert Nicks, a professor at Lamar University with extensive experience in the education field.

Nicks spent 15 years as an educator for Hamshire-Fannett ISD before leaving in 1990 as their superintendent. He then worked as Executive Director for Region 5 Education Service Center in Beaumont for 11 years before heading to West Texas and serving as superintendent for Midland ISD.

For about eight years, Nicks has taught school board training, school board bond issues and Strategic Planning for school districts at Lamar University.

However, Nicks started his education career teaching at Nederland High School in 1975.

“This building is actually the one where I first talked in,” Nicks said of the place where the Summit was held. “I still have a lot of friendships made here over the years and I really enjoy the area.”

Nicks then spoke about variables that affect the quality, strategy and objectives of a school district before saying NISD will be working within a year-long process.

“We’re looking for parent and community input. We’re looking for stakeholders and developing a plan that interests them.”

Nicks emphasized that Nederland administration would look at all the written input from its community.

“It’s not possible to take action on every recommendation,” Nicks said. “But what we’re looking for are trends. What are some of the bigger recommendations that the school district needs to pay attention to?

“Your input is important.”

Nicks acknowledged NISD’s reputation as a quality educational institution, but added, “It’s a good district, but we’re here to make it better.”

In that vein, Nicks introduced Strategic Planning.

“Strategic Planning leads to long-range planning,” Nicks said, before extolling the merits of working together.

“Collectively, we’re going to accomplish a lot more than what one would accomplish alone,” Nicks said.

Nicks encouraged the use of everyone “rowing in the same direction” as an analogy for the school district and the community working together toward the same goals.

“We have to make effective use of our resources,” he said when speaking about limited resources such as funding, personnel and time.

“Anything that is an important tenet of the school district comes down to three factors: people, time and money,” Nicks said.

Nicks stressed the idea that for good strategic planning to occur within NISD, it would require everyone to come aboard and to participate.

Discussion moved on to Nederland ISD’s future.

“Education is about what is needed now for the world we live in; but the reality is adding to education and preparing them for the world they’re going to live in, not just the world we lived in,” Nicks said.

One of the issues they tackled was how to attract and retain quality educators.

“Every time I talked to superintendents who were leaving one district to go to another district, their answer was always the same,” Nicks said. “‘I’m looking for a new setting, I’m looking for a new challenge.’

“Consequently, they just happened to be looking for new challenges that had more money.”

When Nicks worked in Midland ISD, for example, they provided their new teachers with things like gifts baskets and other tokens of encouragement. In a similar style, Nicks said important things needed to be done in order to let educators know they are appreciated.

In closing, Director of Nederland Economic Development Corporation and trustee on the NISD board Kay DeCuir thanked everyone for coming and for giving their input.

She encouraged attendees to go share their experience with neighbors and to encourage them to attend future meetings “so we could make the best plan for our community.”

After the Summit, Nicks shared an account from a couple that attended earlier that day.

“One of the best stories we had came from a couple this morning,” Nicks said. “They went to school in Nederland, graduated, completed college, married and moved away.

“When they had kids, they chose to return to Nederland because they were so comfortable with the education they had received here.”

“That’s probably as good a compliment as can be given to the school district,” Nicks said.

There are two more Education Summits scheduled for the district:

  • 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 2 at Central Middle School
  • 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 16 at Highland Elementary

Those unable to attend are encouraged to send comments or feedback to Perez at rperez@nederlandisd.org.