October 03, 2015

Meltdown in Marlin ISD, or TEA commish kneecapping?

Well, it looks like the school district of my former newspaper home is in a heap of trouble.

Unless Marlin ISD has big improvement by next July, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams wants to shut it down, lock, stock and barrel.

There's several head-scratchers here.

First, a bit of background.

The TEA was threatening to close Marlin three or four years ago, as described here, due to district academic deficiencies. Then it hired a new superintendent, Michael Steck, who'd already done some degree of turnaround in his first spot, at Veribest ISD, where he was a finalist for superintendent of the year.

The middle school and high school at Marlin got off the TEA schneid, but the elementary school, where the district's problems were by far the worst, remained academically unacceptable, and so the district did as a whole.

The first link, from the Waco Trib, seems to have little information from the period after Steck was hired, including that it notes a warning letter from former TEA Commish Robert Scott back in 2011 with this quote:

“The monitor I appointed has been met with resistance and a lack of cooperation as she has attempted to implement her changes,” states a letter from Robert Scott, commissioner of education in 2011.
The fact is that I saw no such resistance after Steck got there. And neither did TEA monitor Jamie Morris (at least for public consumption), the last monitor to remain in place after the state reduced most of its oversight at the middle and high schools.

I'm not quite saying the Trib was doing a whack job; I don't think it was. But, while I know Marlin ISD still has problems, the Trib's Stephanie Butts didn't lay out much of a timeline of progress that has been made.

Indeed, the paper that serves Natalia ISD, where Steck went next, notes that improvement:
“He was recruited to take the position of Marlin ISD Superintendent by the Regional Education Center and TEA,” (Natalia) Board President Eric Smith said. “When he took over there, it was scheduled to be closed by the state within months due to their extremely poor academic status. They had seven state monitors on-site full time. Steck asked TEA for one year to improve academics before closing the district. Three years later all monitors are gone, except one TEA representative and things are headed in the right direction. Although Steck admitted improvements have been achieved, there is still work to be done.”
Still work to be done.

Steck's successor in Marlin, Michael Seabolt, who started there in June, discusses that in the Trib piece:
Seabolt said he already has made drastic changes to both teacher training and student instruction. 
Teachers are now required to teach using the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum, which wasn’t previously required, and received professional development on teaching literacy during the summer. Some teachers hadn’t seen any state accountability tests, he said. 
“They really had no idea of the rigor needed or what was being tested, in particular in reading,” Seabolt said. 
OK, so, did Steck do that much, or not? I know the elementary principal, Wes Brown, fairly well. (The comments are referring to the elementary.)
Surely Morris would have said something if major issues with teacher training still existed. Was Steck that far off? Is Seabolt claiming credit for things that Steck already had in place?

Anyway, I shot Brown an email, politely noting my interpretation of the Trib's piece and a couple of other things. We'll see if he responds. (As of Monday late afternoon, no.) The district is having a "save our schools" meeting; we'll see what turnout there is.

Update, Oct. 8: Turnout was very good, the Trib says.

Per the second link, Williams says state law requires the revocation of accreditation. Per this piece, he also says that the district failed to file timely appeals on the ratings. 

That, too, could cut two ways. Either some things got lost in the shuffle of superintendent changes or else Steck, burned out, out of magic wands or sleights of hand, hightailed it knowing that Williams was going to torpedo the ship in Marlin anyway.

Update, Oct. 9: A follow-up story by the Trib (same reporter on all) has the same "lacuna" problem as the original story on recent superintendent history. I've emailed Trib Editor Steve Boggs already and have yet to hear back from him. I Tweeted Butts now, giving her enough hints to work on filling this lacuna, and finding out what else comes up — if she wants to and Boggs wants her to.

Update, Oct. 13: Butts said she left messages with Steck, so he had his chance to comment. Again, there could be multiple reasons he didn't. He may just have "moved on," or he may have been turd-polishing. And, he's old enough, that Devine ISD could be his last pre-retirement stop, in which case, he wouldn't care what Seabolt is insinuating about him.

Update, Oct. 23: Seabolt has called Marlin Elementary instruction from before he arrived "Crayola curriculum." If he's even partially right, that explains who Steck wouldn't talk to Butts and Brown wouldn't talk to me. As for TEA monitor Jamie Morris, was she that bedazzled?

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