TEA downgrades Natalia ISD accreditation, assigns monitor to district

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has downgraded Natalia ISD’s 2017-2018 accreditation to accredited-warned, and has assigned TEA employee Sharon Doughty to monitor the district.
Data regarding postsecondary readiness was incorrectly reported for both the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, resulting in a score of 59 in College and Career Readiness in the state’s Academic Accountability Rating System. As a result, the district was given an Academic Accountability rating of Improvement Required for 2016 and 2017.
A score of 60 is considered Academically Acceptable.
On Feb. 9, the TEA notified the district it had been assigned a status of accreditation-warned for the 2017-2018 school year.
Districts may be assigned accreditation statuses of accredited, accredited-warned, accredited-probation, and accredited-revoked.
“A status of accredited-warned means that a district exhibits deficiencies in performance that, if not addressed, will lead to probation or revocation of the district accreditation status,” Natalia Superintendent Dr. Hensley Cone wrote in a Feb. 26 letter addressed to Natalia ISD stakeholders.
On Feb. 22, the district requested both a formal and informal review of the TEA’s decision to lower the district’s accreditation status and assign Doughty as monitor, because the data used to determine the status of Improvement Required was erroneous.
In a letter dated March 19, TEA Deputy Commissioner of Governance A.J. Crabill wrote, “After conducting the requested formal review of the accreditation status, I have determined that it should remain Accredited-Warned for the 2017-2018 school year. I have additionally conducted the requested informal review of the monitor appointment and have determined that it should remain in effect.”
Crabill also outlined Doughty’s role as TEA monitor as including, but not limited to, the following: “Assisting the Local Education Agency (LEA) in identifying the issues that led to the lowered status and monitoring the LEA’s development of the district’s plan for improvement to correct the issues and identify LEA staff charged with implementation of the plan; If the need for technical assistance is identified the monitor will recommend that the LEA obtain such services as part of the improvement plan; The monitor will submit quarterly reports documenting the LEA’s progress and evaluating the LEA’s improvement plan; and If the LEA fails to comply with the recommendations of the monitor, the monitor will report that to the agency immediately.”
No further review of the TEA’s ruling is possible under the Texas Education Code (TEC) or applicable rules.
Both Doughty and Jeff Cottrill, Director of Governing at TEA, were at the Regular school board meeting on Tuesday, April 9.
“I want to be clear, I’m here today because this is serious stuff,” Cottrill said. “The gravity of the situation is tremendous, because currently, the outcomes of student performance of this district is what brought us here.”
Cottrill warned that if student performance doesn’t improve, the district was in danger of receiving a rating of D or F when the new accountability rating system takes effect in August, which would lower the district’s accreditation status further to probationary.
“We need to move the needle in terms of student outcomes,” Cottrill said. “We need to move the needle for our kids and our community, because they deserve it. They deserve better.”
Doughty, who retired after over 30 years as an educator in Texas, met Cone for the first time last week and will be in the district three to four days a month.
“In my meeting with Dr. Cone last week, I saw that he is positive and passionate in all aspects of his job as your school Superintendent,” Doughty said. “He is committed to the students of Natalia ISD, and he has assured me that the improvement plans that are in place are being implemented that will correct your accreditation status.”
Doughty will remain in her role as monitor until the district achieves an academic accountability rating of D or better; a FIRST (Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas) rating of C or better; the Board engages in research-based governance practices and earns 45 points in governance scoring in back-to-back quarterly reports to the TEA; and the district follows all Texas school policies, rules, and laws.
Until then, the district will pay Doughty’s fee of $75.00 per hour, plus travel expenses not to exceed the state’s per diem rate.
“As president of this Board, this is embarrassing,” Board President Eric Smith said. “It’s unacceptable. It falls on each one of our shoulders, as well as the district as a whole.”
The incorrect data that was submitted for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years was done so under administration that is no longer employed by Natalia ISD. The district now employs a dedicated Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) coordinator, and a triple check system has been instituted to ensure that accurate data is submitted. A registrar, counselor, principal, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Donald Stewart, and Cone now each review data and reports for accuracy.
Cone acknowledged that student performance needs to improve, and said district employees are working hard to make that happen.
“You’ll see significant differences this year, but it’s only the beginning,” Cone said. “We have to make sure we’re working as a team to make that happen, on the administrative side and also on the governance side, here on the Board. So we’re committed to making this happen.
“It’s serious. We need to go up. Our kids deserve it, and I think you’ll see some great changes this year.”
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer