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Sutherland for Schools blog

FWISD to suspend $5.4 million contract with TNTP

by Ann Sutherland on 08/28/14

Some months ago, trustees approved a controversial contract with TNTP to help us locate and train teachers, especially bilingual teachers, and to reorganize our Human Capital Management program.  This contract will now be suspended pending the wishes of our new superintendent.   This change will save $1 million per year.

Here is the rollout for the High School students' laptops

by Ann Sutherland on 08/27/14

The first five pilot schools, (South Hills, Northside, Eastern Hills, Dunbar and Western Hills) will get them 2nd semester, followed by the next five the following semester and the balance 2nd semester next year. 

Thanks to Kyle Davie for this information.


New PK teachers will "work with" other teachers until supplies arrive

by Ann Sutherland on 08/23/14

Tuesday's agenda carries the money to supply each of the 28 new pre-K classrooms with $15,000 in supplies--but none of them are in the classrooms yet.  Dr. Sorum tells me that Dr. Rangel will be working with other teachers to make sure all classes have adequate supplies.

Apparently the order for the supplies got caught up in a discussion over adding additional pre-K classes.

Agenda and board book for 8-26-2014 meeting

by Ann Sutherland on 08/21/14

Available at on the data tab.  It's a long agenda.

The Citizens Oversight Committee minutes are at the end.

Your laptop may not be ready after all

by Ann Sutherland on 08/20/14

Kyle Davie assured the board on Aug 12 that the laptops and Promethean board would be ready.   He promised a report on Aug 26 of the number that were not available.  

Six days later, all bets are off.  Here is the email from our IT Asst. Supt. 
From: Navarre, Becky 
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2014 7:41 AM
To: Navarre, Becky
Subject: Promethean Laptop Refresh
Importance: High
We have experienced a delay in the processing and delivery of the teacher laptops that are to be used with the Promethean boards.  Additional laptops are being processed but they will not arrive before the start of school.  We know that you collected the laptops with the understanding that they would be replaced over the summer.
We will need to schedule the onsite Promethean laptop Refresh/exchange at your school after the laptops arrive.  I’m very sorry for any issues that this may cause and we will try to make it as convenient as possible to replace the eligible laptops once the additional shipment arrives.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.
Becky Navarre, Ph.D.| Assistant Superintendent
Division of Technology
Fort Worth ISD 
(:: (817) 814-3100 / (817) 814-3105 fax
*:: 3150 McCart Ave., Ste. 16 | Fort Worth, TX | 76110

Are those CBAs illegal under SB5?

by Ann Sutherland on 08/18/14

I mentioned at the last board meeting, in asking that the CBAs be discontinued, that the Legislature enacted language prohibiting more than 2 benchmark tests for any STAAR test.  Here is the language:




"benchmark assessment instrument" means a district-required

assessment instrument designed to prepare students for a

corresponding state-administered assessment instrument.

       (b)  Except as provided by Subsection (c), a school district

may not administer to any student more than two benchmark

assessment instruments to prepare the student for a corresponding

state-administered assessment instrument.

       (c)  The prohibition prescribed by this section does not

apply to the administration of a college preparation assessment

instrument, including the PSAT, the ACT-Plan, the SAT, or the ACT,

an advanced placement test, an international baccalaureate

examination, or an independent classroom examination designed or

adopted and administered by a classroom teacher.

       (d)  A parent of or person standing in parental relation to a

student who has special needs, as determined in accordance with

commissioner rule, may request administration to the student of

additional benchmark assessment instruments.

       (b)  This section applies beginning with the 2013-2014

school year.

According to a memo from Dr. Sorum to me, the purpose of these tests is to prepare students for the STAAR tests.  He writes, "Short cycle assessments are intended to be formative assessments.  Formative assessments "inform" teachers about the effectiveness of the teaching of the TEKS of a particular grade level."  [attachment, email to Ann Sutherland, July 28, 2014]

How our children differ on tests (a digression)

by Ann Sutherland on 08/18/14

This weekend a fine article by Berkeley prof David Kirp was published in the NYTimes.  See 

I have long been concerned about the range of student performance levels within our classes.  Here, a commenter to Kirp's article summarizes the range:

Andrew Biemiller

 Barrie, Canada 43 minutes ago

David Kirp is quite right that teaching is a "complicated and messy human relationships". Treating education as a knowledge factory has long been an inadequate way of preparing children for successful adult lives.
One problem in "education reform" has been a failure to acknowledge the reality that children's educational progress varies a great deal. By 6th grade, old standardized tests of reading and mathematics (e.g., the Iowa Test of Basic Skills) showed that 10% of children are achieving at levels reached by median children in 3rd grade, while another 10% are at levels reached by median children in 9th grade. While the range is smaller for "just advantaged" or "just disadvantaged", it isn't that much smaller.
Many children can ultimately achieve well in school--if we would allow them enough time. We do that for children learning to swim or learning to drive automobiles. It would be nice if we would do the same for reading, writing, and computation.
Andrew Biemiller, former director of an elementary education teacher program

Statement regarding Curriculum Audit work

by Ann Sutherland on 08/16/14

In 2012, the board’s curriculum audit contained a number of findings relating to the management of the district.  The #1 finding was that the board is not adequately directing the educational program.  The first finding was

 1.1:  Board policies are inadequate to direct curriculum management decision making and to establish control over the educational program and related organizational functions.

             Perhaps the board’s most egregious failure has been to control the intrusive practices of management into our classrooms which are widely believed to be the cause of our decline in student performance relative to other districts.  The main problem has been the six-times-yearly administration of “curriculum based assessments” and the numerous workshops required for their implementation and interpretation.  There are no board policies which authorize this massive and expensive testing regimen, and no research showing that our tests yield positive results.  To the contrary, the imposition of these tests and associated curricular requirements have accompanied a DECLINE in our student performance compared to other Texas urban districts.

  While formative assessments are universally accepted as part of the educational curriculum, I am aware of no information showing that requiring specific multiple-choice questions do so.  Moreover, there is no reference in our board policies to these assessments.

             I was reminded of the curriculum audit’s finding this month when I learned, through the “grapevine”, that the district plans to DOUBLE the number of curriculum based assessments in our schools this year, plus requiring MONTHLY tests of a computer program called ISIP in elementary grades.  This change in our operating procedures was never approved either by the Superintendent or by the board—indeed, we were never even told about it, which is the usual way staff manages to weasel around the approval process.

             We need a board policy requiring approval of district-wide testing mandates prior to any more imposition of district-wide tests not required by state law. 




Update on superintendent search

by Ann Sutherland on 08/15/14

Our timeline for the superintendent search is to have meetings with the community in Aug and Sept; interview candidates in Oct and Nov, select the superintendent on Dec 9, and have the final vote on January 13.  This seems pretty fast, although as of today we are on schedule.

The board chose Iowa firm Ray and Associates [ ], probably the largest national firm specializing solely in superintendent searches.  They have 160 associates from whom Mr. Ray picks the best consultants.  40% of their consultants are women and minorities.   I was particularly impressed with the Hispanic consultant who said he would be meeting with our community and speak to them in Spanish.

Ray worked for us previously, as had David Thompson and Associates.  In my mind, either firm would have done a fine job.  The chance to pull our Hispanic community closer to us was what tipped the balance for me.

Why FWISD was not responsible for paying the children

by Ann Sutherland on 08/12/14

On Saturday we were briefed by our attorneys regarding our legal responsibility for paying the Good Hands crew. I can't share with you what they said, of course, or the conversation which followed. But I did receive an email afterward from another source who researched the question herself. Here is what she found, and which suggests that the children were NOT our responsibility: 

 o Under Texas law Manual Section 201.011 an employing unit is defined as “a person who, after January 1, 1936 has employed an individual to perform services for the person in this state” and requires that the employee to be subject to control in the performance of his duties in order to be in employment. The control is the test of whether or not the person receiving the assistance meets the conditions required. 
o The workers in question were subject to the control of Urban Public LLC, and never of FWISD. In all cases Urban Public, LLC would be considered the employing unit for members of the Good Hands Crew. 
o Any claims to the Department of Labor would be directed to the hiring entity, which in this case is Urban Public LLC. This includes all training time that employees completed for the employing unit. It is impossible to argue that anyone received benefit of that training time other than the employer, as these employees were not being trained for the exclusive purposes of working on FWISD property. Additionally, each employee was hired by Urban Public, LLC who had the knowledge that they were not working as an agent of FWISD or hiring any employees on behalf of FWISD.

STAAR: We inch past Dallas!!

by Ann Sutherland on 08/10/14

STAAR test results are in and the news, for once, is GOOD!


78  Austin
77  El Paso (not sure about this . . .)
71  Houston
67  Fort Worth
66  Dallas
62  San Antonio

Last year's ratings:

78  Austin
71  Houston
69  Dallas
67  Fort Worth
63  San Antonio

Readers will remember that the El Paso district has had problems with testing irregularities; I am not sure how valid the scores are.

Also I'm not sure how comparable the numerical scores are from year to year, although hopefully they will be more reliable than under the TAKS.

August 12 agenda and board book available

by Ann Sutherland on 08/07/14

The agenda and background material are at the data tab.

The board meeting included a presentation on the budget, a lot of curriculum purchases, and 50 more buses (yes, we are buying buses again).  The board will be briefed on both Palazzolo cases but they will not be reviewed publicly at this time.  

Agenda for Saturday AUGUST* 9 board meeting

by Ann Sutherland on 08/05/14

On Saturday at 9 a.m the board will meet.  We will hear public comment, we will be briefed by our attorney regarding the Good Hands matter (that's the children who worked for 3 weeks earlier this summer), and we will hear presentations from the three finalists for our superintendent search position.

We will meet at the board room at Shotts St., our usual meeting place.

*sorry for the oops!!

Time to amend the budget

by Ann Sutherland on 08/05/14

This morning's Star-Telegram editorial sums it up: 

Recent news that the Fort Worth ISD owes the Texas Education Agency $37-$39 million is disturbing.  But the full picture is even graver.

  The FWISD board was counting on the $182 million reserves to pay for these extra programs and salary increases.    Yet because of overspending and the error discovered last week, based on staff data presented with the budget, we will be completely out of money by the end of the 2015-16 year.  

         The lost reserves of the Fort Worth ISD (in millions)

    Projected June 2014                           Projected in June with revised fund           2013-14           $182                                 2016-17                                                      $  16 million deficit

      The board must adopt a new budget as soon as possible.  We must maintain our reserves at least at the 10% level, or between $60 and $70 million.  

Thanks to the Star-Telegram editorial board for their support.

Board selects three finalists for superintendent search

by Ann Sutherland on 07/31/14

Last night at a special board meeting the board selected three finalists to interview to do our superintendent search.  We will be interviewing them on Saturday morning, August 9th in an open meeting.  The three finalists are  Thompson-Horton, Hazard Young and Ray & Associates.

The issue about paying Good Hands workers was not on the agenda.