Fort Bend ISD trustees face criticism
After months of turmoil over proposed plans to re-zone as many as 3,000 students, Fort Bend ISD trustees faced complaints from parents at a recent board workshop. Trustees also faced harsh criticism that new programs promised for Marshall High School were decided without community input, bringing to a boil a sense of resentment that many say has been simmering for years.
“I don’t understand why we can’t have the same level of educational quality throughout the district,” Marshall parent Orangegy Jackson Jones said, and shared her disappointment that her son missed out being on the swim team because Marshall didn’t have a swim program. “We pay our taxes like everyone else and we want the same type of respect. We have not gotten the respect we need from the district.”
Tensions were high as crowds of anxious Fort Bend ISD parents listened to trustees discuss plans for large-scale re-zoning and new programs planned for Willowridge, Marshall and Hightower HighSchools at a workshop held Monday, Jan. 14. Last October, administrators promised “innovative new programs” for students at Marshall and Willowridge High Schools, which have lower enrollment and lack popular academy programs that currently thrive at other campuses. Part of the process, parents were told, was to form steering committees for each campus and gather input. However, trustee Addie Heyliger said Marshall High School supporters contacted her after parents and community leaders were not allowed to weigh in on which new programs were being considered for their school. Trustee Kristin Tassen told administrators she had heard similar complaints.
“There were steering committees for some high schools and none for others. Why?” Tassen asked chief of schools Joe Rodriquez.
“With Marshall, we acknowledge the level of engagement was not there,” he said and promised to form a Marshall steering committee for future programs and take time to listen to Marshall parents who had felt “ignored”.
Steering committees at Hightower High School helped design a new certification program for health science careers and Willowridge steering committee members supported a new JAVA computer programming certification class.
For Marshall, administrators picked an early college high school program for 100 incoming freshmen next year.
Trustee Dave Rosenthal said he “didn’t get” why parents and advocates for Marshall complained about not having a steering committee and the lack of community input.
“I keep thinking the conversation at this level should be about what’s best for kids,” Rosenthal said, adding that Marshall parents should be grateful for the early college high school program selected by administrators.
“Personally, I think we’re doing a great favor for these kids; I don’t care what school it is, if we can help them focus and get that much further ahead” he said.
Board president Jason Burdine praised staffers for working with parents at Hightower and Willowridge high schools and said gathering community input was an optional part of the process.
“We don’t have to engage the community because we could just do it however we see fit,” Burdine said. “I’m proud we go out into the community and ask for input, because we don’t have to.”
At the end of the meeting, Burdine said board policy allowed him to limit community input to a total of 15 minutes, which meant people who waited hours had only two minutes to speak before the board.
Tammy Moreno urged the board to listen to Marshall parents and invest more resources in Marshall High School.
“How will Marshall ever measure up in the eyes of the community when its treated like an outsider and an outlier by administration?” she asked.
Trustees are expected to vote to finalize re-zoning plans and new programs for Marshall, Willowridge and Hightower High Schools on Tuesday, Jan. 22.