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Rising from the ashes

By Rickie R. Harris

In my last column I spoke of the fire that we have been building within our school district. I believe that a flame has been kindled through high standards, achievement, passion, and Mustang spirit.
From ashes, we have risen.
The most recent example of this is our baseball team. The West Orange – Stark High School baseball team advanced into the playoffs in 2014 following a long absence; and, was defeated in the first round. This year the team advanced to the playoffs again; and, they kept advancing.
They are a great example of the fire, the effort, which Mustangs can supply when working passionately together towards a goal.  The team finished their 2015 season as state silver medalists, an outstanding accomplishment, and we cannot be more proud of them. For that matter, it was so exciting to see our entire community embrace these outstanding young men and cheer for them each step of the way. It is difficult to adequately express our gratitude; but thank you for the phenomenal turnout at our games, throughout the playoffs, and at the state tournament.
And while speaking of community support and athletics, I must say thank you to Seattle Seahawk Earl Thomas III, his family, his professional and alumni colleagues, the Earl Thomas III Guardian Angel Foundation, and all of the local community members who volunteered and contributed to last weekend’s Free Football Skill Camp.
The two-day camp welcomed approximately 1000 area children from ages 8 – 18. Earl and his staff shared knowledge, time, and heart with all who attended. The camp was outstanding. As a District and community, we are so fortunate to have #29 as a patron. Thank you!
During the month of June, our District was also completing the final details associated with the 2015-2016 school year by analyzing expenditures and revenues, and preparing the 2015 – 2016 budget. A $29.1 million budget was adopted by our Board of Trustees June 22. The approved budget includes general operating, food service, and debt service (bond payment). We worked diligently to make certain that it is a balanced budget. The budget also reflects a slight decrease in the tax rate, providing that certified tax appraisals remain as estimated by Orange County.  Last year’s total tax rate was $1.42774 per $100 valuation. This year’s approved rate is $1.425 per $100 valuation.
While we were not able to do everything that we desired to do with this budget, we were able to take some significant actions that have strengthened our position. This budget includes potential incentive pay for our staff. Details are being finalized and will be shared once all local and state funding has been certified.
The approved 2015-2016 budget is based upon a 95 percent attendance rate by our students. Therefore, we ask for your assistance by helping your child achieve outstanding school attendance. Excellent attendance not only maximizes academic potential; but also, ultimately supports the financial well-being of our district.
Recently, the Commissioner of Education released statewide test scores and we are continuing to see growth throughout the district. Beginning with the Elementary, scores improved in many of our subject areas. At the Middle School, social studies scores improved by 17 points. Middle School scores remain closer to the state average than any campus within the district. If you will remember, our Middle School earned five out of seven possible distinctions from the Texas Education Agency last year:  Academic Achievement in Reading/English Language Arts, Academic Achievement in Mathematics, Academic Achievement in Social Studies, Top 25 Percent Student Progress, and Top 25 Percent Closing Performance Gaps.
English I Scores from the High School, this year, also saw a significant improvement; scores for Biology and Algebra I also increased.
In reviewing averages under the STAAR assessment program since inception four years ago, there has been little to no growth in averages statewide. However, we are pleased to report that West Orange – Cove student performance has continuously improved. In fact, we have experienced double digit gains in some subject areas.
There is always room for more improvement. We are not where we want to be; but, we are taking strides daily to get us closer to our goals.
Success is not easy. It is only achieved through hard work and commitment. As a team, we strive to produce an outstanding education product in a professional and respectful environment that will make our community proud.
As contemporary author John Maxwell said, “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.”
Go Mustangs!

Rickie R. Harris is the Superintendent at West Orange – Cove CISD.