The Iron of White Oak ISD

Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I hold that scripture dear because it is very descriptive of my professional career as an educator and, I believe, very descriptive of the public education community as a whole. Over the past thirty-five years, I have been extremely blessed to work with many of the very best that this world has to offer. Educators that have a true sense of working towards something much larger and more important than self and focusing their attention on providing an outstanding educational experience for the students in their charge.

White Oak ISD is no exception to this standard. Each year, we are compelled to honor those of us that are retiring/finishing their careers at White Oak ISD. This year we honored four members of the district’s Leadership Team. Each of these educators left an indelible positive mark on the students, faculty, staff and community of White Oak ISD. Each of these educators is very deserving of some level of rest and more importantly gratitude from the community they served.

 

  • Kevin McKay served the district for more than 10 years as a teacher and Middle School Assistant Principal. His dedication to all students and especially those with special needs is a gift that White Oak Middle School received on a regular basis for more than 10 years.
  • Michael Gras served the district for over 15 years as Director of Technology. Many people in the White Oak community would not Mr. Gras and the outstanding work he did to build and maintain a digital network designed to enhance student learning. He is an educator first and a “tech guy” second. He focused on what can be done to help teachers and students, not what can be done to “protect” the network.
  • Ronnie Hinkle began his career at White Oak as a teacher/coach and spent the last 18 years serving as principal of the Middle School. I think the best way I can describe Ronnie’s 18 years as principal is to say, we were blessed to have God’s man squarely placed were he can do good work for thousands of our young people.
  • Dan Noll served over 20 years as the principal of White Oak High School. His passion for students and his love for all things White Oak are second to none! There is not enough time or ample words to describe how many ways our students have benefited from the God inspired leadership of Dan Noll.

This letter is not an attempt to acknowledge all the good done by these leaders. It is an effort, on my part, to say “thank you ‘ one more time to dear friends, fellow educators and true difference makers. They are not finished shaping the lives of those around them, simply moving to a new target rich environment that will benefit from their presence. I want to finish where I started with Proverbs 27:17. I am better, “sharper”, for having been blessed to work with each of these outstanding Professional Educators!

Michael Gilbert

Why question the improved graduation rate of Texas Public Schools?

When given the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of thousands of Texas educators and literally hundreds of thousands of the state’s graduating seniors, the Longview News Journal chooses to assume the numbers are wrong and endorse the idea that school district administrators are being dishonest. Prompted by Texas Association of Business, Bill Hammond: the LNJ editorial in Thursday’s paper (http://www.news-journal.com/news/2015/sep/02/editorial-states-graduation-rate-tale-isnt-the-ful/) describes how 15,000 high school students were listed as “home school” leavers in 2014. The editor finds this number to be inaccurate. This data driven opinion is based on the following excerpt: “One thing we know about high school seniors is that they are not going to switch to home schooling in their last year and miss all those parties and all that attention.” That is not a compelling argument for dismissing the improvement shown by so many in the Texas Public School System. Throwing a number out there for the readers to be shocked at is always a good way to create interest/distrust.

The editor would also have the reader believe that schools take the word of the student that they will be home schooled. At White Oak ISD and many, if not all, public schools, there is a procedure for withdrawing to home school which includes the signature of the parent/guardian stating the student will be home schooled and a requirement to list the curriculum that will be used in this process.

I believe it is important to address this issue in human terms, not just numbers and percentages. Students that leave the district are not just numbers or percentages. They have names and stories that are unique to the individual. There is not an acceptable drop out rate for our public schools. Any of us that set our sites on less than a 100% success rate do a disservice to the students, parents/guardians and taxpayers of the community. The 15,000 students at the center of this discussion chose home school as an option to not be a drop out, according to the data provided by school districts across the state. That number represents 3.8% of the incoming 9th grade students in the 2009 school year to those looking to question the data. That number, 15,000, represents names and faces of young people and parents that, in many cases, found themselves in difficult situations, requiring difficult decisions be made in the moment, with only the information available at the time.   Could some of the students misrepresent their circumstance? Yes. Could some of the parents have allowed their student to make poor choices? Yes. This would be the exception, not the rule.

The positive work being done by students, teachers, and school leaders deserves to be highlighted in the media. There are several places you can go to find good news about the public school system and the dedicated people that serve the needs of students every day. Resources like:

Friends of Texas Public Schools (http://fotps.org/)

Jamie Vollmer (http://www.jamievollmer.com/)

Raise Your Hand Texas (http://www.raiseyourhandtexas.org/)

These three sites are filled with good information about the work of the Texas Public Schools and Public Schools across the country. Cohorts of leaders in the public schools are working tirelessly to transform the education students receive in the classroom everyday. These are the stories we promote and hopefully, the News-Journal will continue to celebrate on the “East Texas” page in their publication.

The editor states that he would rather celebrate the accuracy of the data than the success of the students, which highlights a fundamental difference between teachers and the media. At White Oak ISD and districts all over the state, our choice is to celebrate the success of our students.

 

Safety, Security and Instruction at White Oak ISD

On January 6, 2013, White Oak ISD hosted a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the safety and security of the students, faculty and staff. This meeting was prompted by, at that time, the latest school shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. The meeting was attended by about 250-275 concerned citizens and the district presented the positive attributes of our school district and community that worked together to form a safe instructional environment for our students.

Without being too repetitive, the discussion covered the training and visibility of our staff whenever our students are in transition, upgrades/purchases of equipment to increase security and the vitally important role our first responders play in the process of keeping our students safe. We had representatives from every first responder agency in attendance from the city and Gregg County level. There was a great deal of conversation about the positive relationship the school district has with these professionals and the rapid response we receive every time one or more of these agencies are called to aid the district.

It is my belief that the meeting was successful in presenting the facts about WOISD’s plan to ensure the safety, security and positive instructional environment for all involved. But the conversation did not stop there. We also assured our stakeholders that we would continue to look for best practices and methods of improving the process for our students. So what has taken place over the last two years to make good on that assurance?

Since January 6, 2013, White Oak ISD has invested close to $350,000 in security upgrades, gone through two safety audits that are reviewed at the state level and created a plan with the assistance of new technology to connect teachers, administrators and first responders in real time during a crisis. Listed below are some of the improvements/additions made during the timeline discussed;

  • Almost every exterior door in the district was either replaced or retooled as an exit only door or electronic entry only. This was done to control the flow of traffic into each building and enhance the district’s ability to keep up with who is visiting each campus.
  • Upgraded and increased the number of security cameras at every facility both inside and out. These cameras are high resolution equipped with night vision and digitally recorded by date and time for easy review. The system can be monitored onsite or remotely on a desktop, laptop or tablet computer.
  • New entrance and receiving areas have been and are being installed at the Intermediate, Middle School and High School campuses. This improvement not only creates a safe and controlled visitor entrance area but provides the added benefit of allowing our campus leadership team o focus on instructional matters due to less distractions and interruptions answering “the buzzer” connected to the electronically controlled entrance.
  • The campus entrance areas have been upgraded to laminate glass, which is stronger and more difficult to break through.
  • Beginning in the fall of 2015, the district will activate the CrisisGo app installed on all teacher devices supplied by the district. This app allows teachers, administrators and first responders to access a tremendous amount of useful data during an emergency situation. The application makes student class rosters, parent contacts and communication alerts possible for district staff. First responders are instantly notified when an alert goes out and the app provides them with contact numbers and digital maps of all the district facilities. These are just the highlights of a wide range of features provided by CrisisGo.
  • Additionally, we continue to practice, upgrade and evaluate our safety procedures for intruder, fire, weather and disaster protocols.

 

It is safe to say the district has not rested on the plans of the past to take care of our students both now and in the future. With that being said, I want to restate something I said at the close of the meeting in 2013. No safety and security plan is perfect and/or fool proof. Evil exists in the world and it exists in White Oak, Texas. It is not my intention to convince you there is no way harm can come to our students, faculty and staff. The purpose of all that we do is to mitigate that possibility to the very best of our ability. The safety of the student population at White Oak ISD is the top priority of the faculty, staff and board members in this district. The safety of over 1400 students and 180 employees is the top priority for me personally and professionally as this great learning institution’s superintendent.

The ultimate purpose of this document is to assure each of you that there is a plan in place at White Oak ISD. The threats that could affect us are discussed, researched and addressed. But most importantly, we do not live or work in a climate of fear. We believe in our students, our staff, our leadership team and first responders, knowing that each of these groups will answer the call when/if a crisis presents itself. Thank you for your time and attention. I am truly blessed to live in this community and work with the outstanding people that make WOISD a very special place.

 

 

White Oak ISD Community and Student Engagement Reports 2014/2015

 

Over the years, I have been very clear about the need for a more accurate method of rating the effectiveness of our Texas Public Schools. The current method of using STAAR/EOC results (one test per subject area on one day of the year) is not a true measure of what is taking place in a district, including White Oak ISD.

House Bill 5 was implemented state wide in 2013 and with that came the requirement for each school district to do a self-evaluation of the district and each campus. The results of these reports are to be posted on the district’s website and submitted to the Texas Education Agency. This was a very positive step towards letting the local district showcase the successes taking place in their schools everyday. White Oak ISD chose to not only post the rating earned by each campus and the district but included the actual report that documents our scores in each domain and performance measure.

There are eight domains to be addressed in the report and each domain will have between 4-10 individual performance measures. The domains are as follows;

  • Fine Arts – 6 performance measures
  • Wellness and Physical Education – 4 performance measures
  • Community and Parent Involvement – 6 performance measures
  • 21st Century Workforce Development – 7 performance measures
  • Second Language Acquisition Program – 7 performance measures
  • Digital Learning Environment – 10 performance measures
  • Educational Programs for Gifted and Talented Students – 7 performance measures
  • Drop Out Prevention – 6 performance measures

Each performance measure inside the domain is rated from unacceptable to exemplary. After this process in complete at the campus level, the district evaluation process takes into account the ratings of each campus to determine the district’s overall accountability rating. For the 2014/2015 School year our ratings are;

  • White Oak Primary – Recognized
  • White Oak Intermediate – Exemplary
  • White Oak Middle School – Recognized
  • White Oak High School – Recognized
  • White Oak ISD – Recognized

As stated earlier, the complete evaluation document for each campus and the district can be found on our website at www.woisd.net. The ratings are located on the district’s main page as well as on each campus page and the curriculum page.

As the years progress, you will be able to access current and previous years information to track the progress of any campus and the district in any of the eight domains listed above. It is my belief that this report, coupled with the results of our STAAR/EOC assessments will give you an accurate picture of the work and successes of our students, faculty, staff and leadership team. It is a true picture of what is taking place in your school district every day.

White Oak ISD is committed to the transformation of the classroom in order to provide the highest quality, relevant education that our students deserve. I hope you find this Community and Student Engagement Report to be both informative and encouraging as to the work that is being done by and on behalf of the students at White Oak ISD.

What You Should Know About White Oak ISD

White Oak Independent School District just completed another successful year. The term “successful” has different meanings to different people but in this case, I am referring to the success of our students in multiple categories of school business. Throughout the year, the accomplishments of our students are well chronicled in the print and broadcast media. The purpose of this publication will be to inform the stakeholders of the district about the processes and planning involved in creating this environment of success. The district’s students, faculty, staff, leadership team and trustees are all involved in a collaborative effort to create what is White Oak ISD. The instructional mission of this district is to transform the classroom into a quality, this century educational experience. The vision for moving forward in that mission is to provide our students with a multitude of educational opportunities to develop their talents in innovative and collaborative experiences at every grade level.

First, it is very important for you to know this district has a well thought out plan of curriculum and instruction. Our faculty and staff work diligently to align the curriculum to the required state standards and ensure that there are no gaps in the instruction of our students. This process is monitored by the Board of Trustees on an annual basis to ensure a continued focus on the instructional Mission and Vision of the district. Our students are well prepared for the next grade level and/or the educational expectations placed on them when they leave the district as graduates. Students that pursue post secondary educational goals will find those goals difficult to achieve. If that were not the case, then the money spent on that level of education would be wasted. You should know that the education your students are receiving at White Oak ISD is the result of a very intentional process.

You should also know that the instructional strategies in place at White Oak are well defined and based on mountains of research to determine the best way to prepare our students for the world they will live in. It is not the focus of the district to prepare students to enter the workforce of the past. That is not the world our students are going to live, work and contribute to. A growing number of our faculty and staff are embracing the Professional Learning Communities model of planning for the instruction of our students. Working as a team to meet the individual needs of our students as opposed to working in isolation relying on just one’s own experience and knowledge. The collaborative working process is also important to our students. We are using a Project Based Learning (PBL) method of incorporating higher level thinking skills and deductive reasoning skills. We are increasing the inclusion of technology to enhance the educational experience in many subject areas. Technology is not the focus of instruction but it is a vital tool in the overall learning process. You should know that White Oak ISD has Professional Educators in place to provide the most current and effective instructional practices currently available.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is the process used in White Oak ISD to monitor, plan for and meet the individual needs of every student in the district. As students are identified with specific learning disabilities, this process allows us to increase the focus on the students needs, individualize instruction and create an environment that will allow those students to succeed. This is a process that takes place with individual students at every grade level. You should know that the educational process at White Oak ISD is not mass-produced or one size fits all at any level.

The most visible areas of success at White Oak ISD have to do with our student’s performances in extra-curricular activities. The district takes great pride in providing our students with a platform to pursue their passions, polish competitive skills and measure their abilities against those from other school districts. In the areas of Academics, Athletics, Fine Arts and FFA, our students excel. This level of success is well known around the state of Texas. White Oak ISD has been ranked in the top 10 of the UIL Lone Star Cup for the past 5 years. There are two things you should know about the success of this district. First, it has not and will not take place at the expense of the academic readiness of any student in the district. This district has its priorities in the proper order. Second, this kind of overall success cannot take place in a district that is not dedicated to the needs of the students. Our student’s put out the best effort they can in every aspect of this districts performance because they know they are cared for by all involved.

This is just an overview of all the important and meaningful pieces that make White Oak ISD one to the best school districts in the state. We have just under 180 employees and operate on a budget of $11 million. We are responsible for the most precious commodity in this community, our children. Education is a labor-intensive business. We are not perfect corporately and/or individually. We are and will continue to be good stewards of your students and your tax dollars. The district is not a factory trying to meet a production schedule nor are we necessarily looking to squeeze every minute out of the day with activities. This is a school; an institution of learning that requires reflection and diversification in the learning process. The pace of learning is as varied as the students we teach. Time has to be factored in to meet those needs.

The last and most important thing you should know is that I, nor anyone that works at White Oak ISD, does so without keeping the students as the absolute center of every decision made in this district every day. That includes the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and leadership team of the district. The work being done here is very important. The work being done here is planned and very intentional in nature. The trust of this community in the work being done and the people doing the work is vital to the continued success of this district.

As you engage in conversations about the district, it is my hope that this information will be helpful. The teaching staff at White Oak ISD is the finest I have ever been associated with in my 34 years of service to the Texas Public Schools. They are the tip of the spear in this districts effort to provide a quality, this century education for our students. This is a group of people that deserve a great deal of credit and support from the community for the work done each and every year.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve this community and this school district as Superintendent of Schools. Thank you for your time and consideration as you read through this document.

District Response To Allegations Against WOISD Staff Member

Over the past week and a half, White Oak ISD has been cooperating with the White Oak Police Department in an investigation of a WOISD Staff member. Allegations have been made that this individual was involved in an inappropriate electronic messaging conversation.

The issue was first brought to the attention of school personnel and quickly turned over to law enforcement officers due to the nature of the allegations. White Oak PD has interviewed several individuals and is looking at information that will be used to determine the next steps to be taken in this process.

It is and will continue to be the position of the district that there will be no confirmation of anyone involved in this stage of the investigative process. The district has taken steps to ensure the safety of all students and will continue to monitor the investigation as it develops. It is not our intent to hinder and/or interfere with the police investigation in any way.

It has been reported to me by both print and television news media that calls have been made to the press offering names and information about the case. These same outlets have requested that I confirm details that are not appropriate for this stage of the investigation. As stated earlier, the safety and security of the students at White Oak ISD is and will continue to be the highest priority of this district. Our students are safe and the instructional day continues, as it should. What we will not be a part of is the premature condemnation of any employee of the district. Meeting a deadline for a story or getting the word out first is not a concern of the district. When facts are in place to indicate further action is required, the district will act accordingly. Along those same lines, if the facts do not support the allegations, releasing the name would be terribly irresponsible.

I want to assure all stakeholders in the White Oak Independent School District that this situation is being handled with the utmost level of concern and urgency required. The safety and well being of our students drives all decisions being made in this process and finally, the level of transparency (or lack thereof) is consistent with the responsible handling of all parts of this investigative process.

Speaking on behalf of the district leadership team and the Board of Trustees, We value the trust you place in us each day as we work to provide a first class, this century learning experience for your students. Speaking for myself, I want to assure you that your trust is not misplaced. We will work this process to it’s conclusion and take, or not take action accordingly.

Senate Bill 893 and White Oak ISD What would be the impact?

Senate Bill 893, co-authored by Senator Seliger and Senator Campbell, is creating quite a bit of conversation across the state about changes in teacher pay. When the bill was released, everyone quickly focused an the verbiage about the removal of the minimum pay scale for teachers and a starting pay not to go below $2,750 per month, which is the current minimum pay for a teacher at state step 0.

Do not be concerned with the minimum pay language in this bill. White Oak ISD eliminated the state minimum pay scale years ago when we adopted a pay scale that pays above state base. Only 11 school districts in the state still pay minimum scale. There will be zero school districts in the state that will operate without a pay scale that acknowledges years of service, including White Oak ISD. I do not know if SB 893 will pass the house and/or come out of conference committee to be presented for the Governor’s signature. I do know that White Oak ISD will have a pay scale that remains very similar to the one currently in place. I do know that none of our teachers will experience a decrease in pay based on any part of this piece of legislation.

The true “issue” of this bill is in the language about value added portions of the teacher appraisal process. This language is intended to promote the use of student’s assessments in the teacher appraisal process. I have been and will continue to be opposed to this data for the purpose of determining the job performance of an educator. If required by statute to implement some form of this process, we will use multiple assessments and rely heavily on locally developed assessments to ensure that our faculty gets credit for the outstanding efforts applied each day in meeting the needs of our students. I am open to the idea of rewarding outstanding educators. I have not seen the system that will do that in an acceptable manner as of yet.

Finally, when you are reading the posts on Facebook, tweets and comments in all media outlets, examine the level of trust implied by those contributing to the conversation. In my nearly eight years at White Oak ISD as Superintendent, the students, faculty, staff and leadership team have always been my highest priority. Programs are not preferred over people in White Oak ISD. That set of priorities will not change due to the passing of a piece of legislation. The strength of this district is in the people of this district. I know that and your Board of Trustees knows that as well. Slighting our personnel to put money in the bank has not been, is not and will not be the priority of anyone in leadership at White Oak ISD.

Texas Association of Community Schools and Vouchers

TACS requested that member schools prepare a one page letter with information about the district and the services provided to our students. This information will be complied and presented to legislators as they consider possible voucher bill in both chambers. White Oak’s response is as follows;

White Oak ISD

Pride, Tradition and Educational Excellence!

 

The White Oak Independent School District is located in East Texas about halfway between Dallas and Shreveport. We provide an educational home to just over 1400 students, Pre-K through 12th grade. WOISD provides a quality “this century” education with an emphasis on one instructional strategy: The Transformation of Instruction in the Classroom.

Instructionally, White Oak ISD provides our faculty and staff with up-to-date training to enhance the classroom experience for all students. The district has been recognized by TEA as a “Power On Texas” school for excellence in the embedding of technology into the learning process. We are one of 23 school districts selected by TEA as members of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium, dedicated to leading the way to a 21st Century Education. Teachers are trained in Project Based Learning (PBL) allowing our students to learn in a collaborative environment where student voice and choice are encouraged. Our purpose is to focus on a learner centered educational environment for all students.

White Oak ISD has a long-standing tradition of excellence in UIL Academic Competition. Our high school has earned the honor of District Champions in UIL Academics 50 of the last 53 years. WOISD was Academic State Champions in 2012 and Over-all State 2-A Lone Star Cup Champions in 2012. We are currently the three time defending State Champion in Journalism.

White Oak High School has an enrollment of just over 400 students. We have well over 80 percent of our student body involved in extra-curricular activities. Our award winning Marching Band marches right at 200 members and we are still consistently successful in all UIL Athletic competitions. In the last five years we have been State Champions in Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis and Track. We have also qualified for the UIL playoffs in every team sport during that time with Baseball and Cross Country qualifying for State. Our football team was a State Semi-Finalist in 2013.

The message I am attempting convey is that students at White Oak ISD are exposed to the latest in research-based instructional strategies. They are afforded the opportunity to be a well-rounded student/athlete/citizen while attending our schools. We are good (excellent) stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars and see no reason to remove funding from our district to provide tax dollars for private/for profit educational institutions. Please support White Oak ISD and the Texas Public Schools and vote “no” to any form of voucher legislation presented for your approval.

Public Comments

I want everyone to know that I have read each comment posted on this site. The decision to leave comments open was not arbitrary nor unintended. To each of you that have taken the time to express your views, thank you.
The comment section will be turned off at this time.

Michael Gilbert, Superintendent
White Oak ISD

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and White Oak ISD

Recently, I have been contacted by two concerned residents of White Oak ISD and legal counsel from the Freedom From Religion Foundation concerning the use of scripture in the “Thought for the Day” at the high school.

The residents were offended at the use of scripture, demanding that it be stopped and calling for disciplinary action against Mr. Noll. I am fully aware of the practice at the high school and will not pursue any action against our High School Principal or any other member of our faculty/staff concerning this issue.

The letter from the FFRF is not the first received by the district. They contacted us in the fall with concerns about the practices at our football games. I have responded in  accordance with their stated concerns and we have moved on.

Let me be clear, this is an attempt to draw us into a contest of words for the sole purpose of giving the FFRF a large amount of free press/recognition that they and their very few members (1,200 in Texas) do not deserve. This group and others like it, are wanting us to provide them with negative quotes to use in the promotion of their agenda. We can and will make the adjustments needed to ensure our students experience a morally sound, positive character based education. There are a multitude of options to provide our students, faculty and staff the opportunity to express their First Amendment Rights as provided for in the United States Constitution. Let me also be clear that we have not (in my opinion) violated anyone’s rights and/or subjected anyone to undue stress. Bible studies and scriptures are allowed in schools. The requirement is that the material be presented in a neutral manner. It is my position that we met that standard with the morning announcements.

My recommended response to the FFRF is, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I will be praying for you and your staff daily.”

Finally, as a Christian Brother, it will not promote the values we hold so dear to assail those that disagree with the Gospel. We will state our case. We will make sure our rights are just as protected as anyone else that lives in this great country. We will continue to provide for all the needs of our students and we will do so while traveling the High Road. Don’t get drawn into a game of words that has no “winner”.

Please do not waste your time and effort on these few detractors.

Michael E. Gilbert
Superintendent of Schools
White Oak ISD