Trustees talk goals, honor students

Earlier this year LISD Superintendent Dr. James Wilcox and the Board of Trustees presented priorities for 2016-17 that include improving recruitment and retention of quality personnel, improving communication with the general public, all schools meeting state standards and performing at state level in math and science, improving social/life skills of Longview Early Graduation High School students, as well as maintaining district grounds while looking for ways to improve facilities.

Recruitment and Retention
Citing active relationships with 26 institutes of higher education and six alternative certification programs, LISD Deputy Superintendent Andrea Mayo said the district continues to strengthen partnerships with colleges and universities to help students continue their education once they have left Longview ISD.

"We're continuing to work with traditional teacher programs like those found at Stephen F. Austin State University, UT Tyler, Letourneau University, Jarvis Christian College, Wiley College, and East Texas Baptist University," she said. "But at the same time we're partnering with programs like Teach Texas, Texas Teachers, I Teach Texas, Troops to Teachers, and others to find those who go the more unconventional route."

LISD is also working with Houston-based Region IV's certification program for bilingual teachers, Mayo said.

"(Region IV) currently recruits teachers from Mexico and Puerto Rico, and also holds the International Conference and Virtual Job Fair for bilingual education professionals," she said. "We had two staff members represent the district at the job fair on Feb. 22-23."

Although most hirings were made by the several Dallas-area districts in attendance, Mayo said one bilingual teacher was recruited and issued a letter of intent to join Longview ISD.

"In addition, we sent five staff members to Puerto Rico on a recruitment trip," she said. "More than 100 candidates came to a two-day job fair, with 47 candidates interviewed. We had seven people issued letters of intent to join Longview ISD as bilingual teachers, with six others we're interested in speaking more with."

Concerning teachers currently on staff, Dr. Jody Clements, Assistant Superintendent of Administrative and Pupil Services, said the district's Incentive for Teachers (LIFT) program awarded payments in the amount of $10,742, $8,969, $7,196, $6,816, and $6,675 to the top five teachers in the past year.

"Total payout to individual staff and campuses in December 2015 was $465,788.54, an outstanding incentive to campus staff as they continue to improve instruction for all students," he said.

Mayo said having a district day care in the Playing For Keeps Early Childhood Center has proven to not only help recruit teachers to LISD, but helps retain them.

"The care (at Playing For Keeps) is high quality and very competitive with the private daycare centers in the area," she said. "Payroll deductions help ease the financial burden on teachers and staff."

LISD began offering childcare through Playing For Keeps six years ago, and Wilcox said it is a resource many employees are glad to utilize.

"Child care can be expensive, especially for a facility comparable to what we offer," he said.

Mayo said Longview ISD's pay scale historically has been highly competitive, not only within the East Texas area but other parts of the state. In 2010 the district engaged TASB to conduct a salary study of the auxiliary, paraprofessional, and professional compensation plan.

"At that time, the recommendation was to revise the compensation plan because the district no longer had a competitive salary plan. However, the recommendation was not approved because of the financial impact that it would have upon the budget," she said. "We have presented information twice since 2010 requesting to improve the compensation plan and even tonight we extended the request again."
 
Finding out why exiting employees leave is another way Mayo said the district is working to provide the best possible work environment for current staff.

"Each employee who resigns or retires from the district is given an exit survey to share feedback pertaining to their experience while working here," she said. "This information is always shared with the Board, administrative team and principals. It serves as a guide for improvement in retention of highly qualified staff.

Community Communication
Mayo said keeping a good line of communication remains a priority, and efforts to better inform the public remain ongoing. 

"We're continuing to look at best practices, finding the best way to keep our community up-to-speed with Longview ISD, and respond to questions and concerns in a timely and appropriate manner."

Clements said the district’s "Let’s Talk" program has been upgraded and extended, with new sections to address teacher/staff ideas, concerns and questions. To date, LISD has received more than 500 hits to Let’s Talk.

"April alone received 108 hits, with an average feedback score of 8 out of 10," he said. "Overall, 65 percent of the requests were answered in 24 hours, with 85% of the requests answered in 48 hours."

LISD Communication Specialist Matthew Prosser reported that traffic to the LISD.org website and has steadily increased since January, as has engagement and interactions on the district’s social media outlets.

"Our district newspaper, The Longview Voice, also recently published its fourth edition," he said. "We've seen a lot of positive response from that, with advertisers and contributors continuing to increase."

Looking ahead, Mayo said online registration for parents and students will be implemented this summer, "for ease of access to parents and improved ability to get information about their students."

Meeting Standards
Communication of clear objectives and shared vision for student achievement are keys to continuing success for Longview ISD students, Wilcox said.

"We've got to target professional development, administrators included, and monitor data while improving campus communication," he said. "From top to bottom there has to be the expectation of high academic growth for each student. From our students to our parents, our teachers or administrators: we've all got to be working together, and pulling in the right direction."

Wilcox said the district is striving to perform consistently at state level in math and science by recruiting and retaining certified math and science teachers, while continuing to pursue professional development.

"Another piece of this puzzle is adding instructional support for science and math, while working to Increase the number of students participating in UIL and science fairs," he said. "Continues these initiatives and monitoring the data is important to see how well we're progressing toward our district's goals."

In Other News...
Board members recognized Longview High School students achieving state honors in UIL Academic competition.

State debate finalists Seema Brimmer and Trevor O'Connor talked with trustees about how their education has been enriched by UIL participation, and how it has prepared them for the future.
 
LISD UIL Academic Coordinator Jeannine Brandon said she was proud of all the contestants, and said the students' successes are just the latest in a string of academic accomplishments.

"It's incredibly rewarding to see these young people put so much of themselves into preparing, and then seeing it pay off," she said.

Board members also presented medals of excellence to the 11 Foster Middle School students who earned state and national honors for their scores on college entrance exams. The students are among the top 25 percent of Duke University’s annual 16-state talent search.
 
Earning state-level recognition was Diana Acuna, Justin Beltran, Mario Diola, Jr., Nicolas Goodan, Harrison Lin, Alexis Nunley, Kelsey Quiett, Alexandra Rojas Monsivais, Rachael Smith, Caroline Taylor, and Emma Williams.
 
Nicolas Goodan also received national recognition, scoring better than 90 percent of college-bound juniors and seniors taking the SAT or ACT tests.
 
"This is a big deal, as much as we celebrate great sports honors, this is even bigger than that," said Board president Dr. Chris Mack. "At the same, we want to challenge you to continue, to continue to excel. We hope to continue to watch you progress in you school careers at LISD."
 
LISD Director of Instruction Beth Bassett said reaching this level often proves to be an indicator for high academic success "down the road."

"You look at past students who've achieved this, and you can see how they've followed a high trajectory into Longview High, into college, and onward," she said. "These students are part of a rich tradition at LISD, and we celebrate their hard work."

Dr. Wilcox praised the students, their families, and the staff at Foster.

"Longview ISD has excellent students, wonderful families, and fantastic teachers," he said. "Successes like these speak for themselves." 
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