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Harvey reprieve must be used well by schools

August 5, 2018

More than two dozen school districts in Southeast Texas got a break from the state last week. They deserved it, but they can’t be complacent in the coming school year. They need to treat this for what it is — a one-time benefit that buys them some time to get back on track and provide a first-rate education to their students.

The reprieve came in the form of the “Harvey Provision” from the Texas Education Agency for districts that suffered major damage or disruption from the storm. Any struggling campuses that would have been rated “improvement required” will instead be declared “not rated.” The waiver provides the most relief to Beaumont ISD, which faced severe sanctions for three schools that had consistently underperformed. If they had fallen short again this year, they could have been closed, or the district could have faced another state takeover.

The TEA decision was appropriate and should have been delivered sooner. Harvey’s damage to this region was so severe that only seven school districts didn’t qualify for the relief, though a few campuses in some districts didn’t qualify.

For most districts, however, when the opening bell rings for the first time in a few weeks, administrators and teachers can dial back any apprehension … just a bit. They have some breathing room, but they still have to bring about better results from the students they serve. That’s not easy under the best of circumstances, because most struggling schools have a lot of students dealing with poverty or rough home lives. But these kids can be taught, and then can earn A’s. It happens right here in this region, and throughout the state.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen enough, which is why some local school districts received bad ratings from the TEA. The only thing that any school can do under those circumstances is try harder, do more and be ready to make changes. In fact, change is probably inevitable in teaching tactics, work schedules, classroom assignments, etc. What was done before wasn’t working, or it wasn’t good enough. If it’s repeated, it will likely fail again. With thoughtful persistence, the right combination can be found — and then established to prevent any backsliding.

Next summer, these districts shouldn’t be thinking about additional waivers from the state (which probably wouldn’t grant them anyway) because of the residual effects of Harvey. That storm’s aftermath will linger in Southeast Texas for some time, just as the after-effects of Rita and Ike stuck around longer than we wished. These school districts will have to deal with their Harvey challenges and overcome them, just as other people and businesses in this region have too.

These districts must take advantage of this opportunity and create the kind of academic culture where this won’t be an issue again. They have a year to figure it out.

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