Buckholts ISD says schools have another year to meet state standards

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BUCKHOLTS, Texas (KWTX) The Superintendent of one of the two Central Texas school districts which lost state accreditation last week, says the schools won’t close this year.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

"The school is in the sink or swim year, so we're planning on swimming,” said Nancy Day Sandlin, Superintendent for the Buckholts Independent School District.

On Friday, the Texas Education Agency announced it had pulled the accreditation of four of the 1,200 schools in the state including Buckholts ISD and Marlin ISD.

Buckholts, a district where 87 to 89 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, started falling short in state accountability ratings in the 2013-2014 school year.

"If you're told for four years that you can't do it, and then all of the sudden someone comes in and says 'yes you can,' that's what's hard is trying to get them to believe in themselves,” said Sandlin.

"They were in trouble and my background was in school improvement, and I thought ‘I wanna help.’"

Sandlin said she came knew the challenges facing the district when she signed-on as superintendent in Aug. 2016, and the same year made a deal with Education Commissioner Mike Morath that she’d have the district turned around in two years.

"Last year (Morath) allowed us the two year abatement agreement if we were able to make great strides...we were, and so he is allowing us to have the second year,” said Sandlin of a phone conversation she had with Morath Friday.

"He said that they had every intention of honoring his abatement agreement with us."

Her office was filled with colorful sticky notes on posters, one for each of the district’s 154 students, documenting their status and progress.

“We’re trying to move these up here,” Sandlin said as she pointed to the sticky notes in the ‘below grade level’ section on her wall.

There were even more of them last year, but Sandlin said students have shown a lot of progress

“Watching them grow has been just an unbelievable experience,” said Sandlin. “We came here and we put good teachers in the classroom – they were like sponges, they wanted to learn so badly.”

Sandlin gives credit to the teachers, many who she said work 14 hour days.

“We hired-on master retired teachers part-time,” said Sandlin. “Teachers are going to be your game-changers, and so a very visible involved principal, a very visible involved Superintendent, and teachers who are dedicated and passionate about these kids have made the difference.”

Buckholts is a tiny town of less than 600 people; Sandlin said the campus housing the elementary, middle, and high school is the hub, and It’s going to take a village of support to get the students where they need to be to save the campus.

“We’re going to give it everything we’ve got,” said Sandlin. “I know we can, it’s convincing the kids they can do it.”

KWTX was still waiting on TEA's confirmation of Morath’s decision Monday.

Sandlin discussed the status of the district with the school board Monday night.

No action was taken on a 2018-2019 accountability plan for the district as board members requested for additional information, however, Sandlin said the plan focuses on Buckholts buckling down on academics; no more electives for students until the reach grade level, a ramp-up of dual credit classes, and creating the district’s first Advanced Placement (AP) program.

“Our plan is to move forward academically and become the best college preparatory school we can so that students are ready to go on,” said Sandlin.

TEA officials said the situation for Buckholts and Marlin were different.

Marlin ISD had it's final review by a TEA panel Monday afternoon after the district appealed the TEA's decision to revoke its accreditation.

No decision was made immediately after the review, but it will be up to Morath to decide whether or not Marlin schools will close on their scheduled date of July 1.