Men's Breakfast, September 12, 2015

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, September 12th with Danny Massey, Brazosport Independent School District Superintendent.  Danny was raised in Oklahoma and went to college in Missouri.  He has  been in education for 27 years, twenty-five with BISD.  He has been a coach, taught special education and English.  He has been an assistant principal and an assistant to the former superintendent, Karin Holacka.  When she left the district Danny was promoted to superintendent.  Daniel Schaefer, BISD Finance director was also at the breakfast. 

Danny discussed several things the recent bond issues are paying for.  One obvious one is the new Astroturf on Hopper field and Slade field.  He said that the reason for Astroturf is that the maintenance costs are much less than for grass.  Hopper field should be finished in time for home games, weather permitting. 

The major part of the bond issue is to pay for replacing elementary schools.  Many of the schools are over fifty years old and need to be replaced.   Also the schools are small with about 300 students instead of the 700 students normal for contemporary elementary schools.  Therefore some elementary schools will be consolidated.  For example, Velasco Elementary and Jane Long will be consolidated.  There have been concerns about the loss of neighborhood schools, but the schools to be consolidated are less than a mile apart so the new schools will still be neighborhood schools.  The district is fortunate in that the schools have sufficient real estate on the present campuses that new schools can be built on the same campus without tearing down the present school.  This provides for minimal disruption for the students and teachers.  There has been some protest in that Little League will lose its baseball field at T.W. Ogg in Clute where the school will be built, but this should be resolved with the help of the city.   Another advantage of the new schools will be to rationalize the attendance zones in Lake Jackson.  At present,  the attendance zones  are spotty with students going to Beutel driving past Lake Jackson and students  going to Lake Jackson driving past Beutel.  The chaotic zones are due to new subdivisions being assigned to the least full school rather than the nearest, so the patchwork zones have resulted over time. 

Transportation of students to school has been a problem.  Only about five percent of the students are eligible for bussing since the requirement is that the students live two miles from the school to be bussed.  Even so, getting drivers for the busses is a problem.  Most students  within walking distance are actually driven to school by parents.  This requires special consideration for traffic and drop-off lanes at the schools.  The New HEB across from Lake Jackson Intermediate threatened to make the situation much worse, but HEB paid for upgrades to the streets to make it easier for the parents and to make sure that parents wouldn’t block access to HEB.  The question was raised about the effect of the death of Amberle  Woodard on the fraction of students walking.  Danny said he didn’t think it had an effect on the number of students walking to school, but it did persuade the city of Lake Jackson to put out more crossing guards. 

The student population of the district has been declining and has been becoming poorer and with a higher percentage of minorities.  Freeport is now majority Hispanic and about half the students in the district are on subsidized meal plans showing that they are poor.  This is a primary reason that the district has had declines in student test scores and school ratings.  One cause of the problem has been the stagnating local economy over the previous couple of decades.  It is hoped that the economic boom we are now experiencing will produce an increase in enrolment with higher state reimbursement and can help reverse these trends. 

Danny has replaced a large fraction of the school leadership, with over half the principals being on their first or second year at the school.  He has also moved Clara Davis from principal of Freeport Intermediate to head of curriculum for the district.  The district is also raising salaries.  At one time the district had one of the highest salary schedules in the state, but it was not raised as fast as other districts and became relatively low.  With the present raises, the district is once again a high wage district.  Danny says that this is necessary because the district is relatively far from a major city and therefore a high wage is required to attract higher quality teachers from cities where they were raised and educated. 

The schools can always use volunteers.  A couple of the men present were Anchor Dads for Brazosport High School.  These men mentor high school boys, especially boys without fathers.  This has also led to a corresponding program for girls called anchor sisters.  The women involved discussed ways to help and mentor the girls, but it turned out that what the girls really wanted, rather than material goods, was for the women to be present when the girls participated in sports.  There was also interest expressed in reviving the NOBCChE program. 

The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be Saturday, October 10th.