There are changes on the horizon for all Texas school districts, particularly Van Alstyne ISD in regards to both its academics and athletics.
On the sports side of things, the University Interscholastic League announced district realignment on Monday. For Van Alstyne basketball and its fans, well, there will be some travel involved.
Football and basketball conferences were both announced. The Van Alstyne football program will compete in District 5-3A Division I. The Panthers will compete against Callisburg, Farmersville, Pilot Point, Pottsboro and Whitesboro.
In basketball, the VAISD programs have been sent to East Texas. There are eight teams in District 13-3A; Caddo Mills, Commerce, Farmersville, Leonard, Lone Oak, Tom Bean and Whitewright.
"My concern with that district is our kids traveling," said VAISD Superintedent Dr. John Spies, who stated that 13-3A will probably be their district for all other sports, as well. "I have a major concern for all kids, but in particular for our middle school kids the travel this is going to cause."
Spies said he will be pushing for the middle school kids to run a split district wherein they play each team close to home twice and then have a big Saturday district tournament to involve all eight teams.
"We can’t do that in high school so we’ll have some real late Tuesday night games," said Spies.
The increased travel means less time for student-athletes to do homework, a harder time for friends and family to make it to away games on time and more travel expense for the district. One thing the district has done this year in basketball is to require each team to split sub-varsity games to two sites to prevent extremely late nights. Spies said that practice will continue.
"I would have liked less travel in our basketball district," added Spies. "I think our football district makes a lot of sense [as] there’s not a lot of significant travel."
It is, to say the least, an interesting grouping as neighboring Gunter and Howe ended up in the same district, both in the basketball district 13-3A. What this means is that Van Alstyne and either of these two schools would have to make it as deep as the regional round in playoffs to go up against each other. And in football there is no chance of meeting as both Gunter and Howe were classified in the Division II, or small school, division. As Spies said, the dividing line had to be drawn somewhere and Van Alstyne was, apparently, that line.
"In two directions we’re that dividing line," he said.
In academic news, House Bill 5 was finalized by the State Board of Education. HB5 revised the graduation program for incoming freshmen in the 2014-15 school year. A very general description of this bill is that it allows students the flexibility to follow their chosen academic graduation tracks. For instance, students could possibly choose a vocational track which would differ greatly from a STEM (science technology engineering and math) track which requires algebra II. Spies said the district will discuss whether or not to drop the algebra II requirement from certain tracks. The plan is similar to college life where students get to choose their own career path.
In addition, the number of required tests for high school students has gone down from 18 to 5, though some of those have been combined.
There are issues to be worked out. How does a district handle a junior or senior transfer who’s previous district had different graduation track requirements? How best to make sure that diploma requirements are rigorous enough that if a graduate changes their mind after getting their diploma they still have the skills to be successful at a four-year college?
"What we have to do locally is define those local tracks and what’s going to required in those," said Spies, who said that the district has not decided at this point how many tracks will be offered. "We’ll be burning the midnight oil to determine this."
Good news for the district came in the release of the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) 2012-13 School Report Cards, otherwise known as accountability ratings. In 2011, TEA rated Van Alstyne High School as academically unacceptable. That rating prompted a multitude of changes within the district, including bringing in Spies and VAHS Principal Dr. David Brown and making core changes at the school.
Those changes have paid off as the ratings for the 2012-13 school year have VAHS as "Met Standard." For this reporting year only, TEA rates schools as "Met Standard" or "Improvement Required." In the past, the rating system used by the TEA consisted of four possible rankings: Exemplary, Recognized, Academically Acceptable and Academically Unacceptable. TEA will again use these ratings next year for the 2013-14 school report cards.
VAISD met standard for all its schools — the high school, middle school and elementary school. In fact, the middle school earned distinction designations in mathematics and for top 25 percent student progress, while the elementary school earned distinctions for reading/ELA, mathematics and top 25 percent student progress.
Unfortunately, the district was surprised to learn that it was required by the state to send out what’s known as the "PEG" letter to parents. Basically, all schools which scored academically unacceptable in 2011 are required to send a letter informing parents that they have a right to send their children to another district because of the school’s low scores; this is especially irksome for VAISD as it is ranked among the top high schools across the state for 2012-13.
"It’s just an irritating thing to have to send the letter out and tell parents that according to the state we have these issues. Right now, the high school is in the top 10 percent of the state and we’re sending letters saying that the state says we have problems and if you want to transfer your child you’re welcome to do so," said Spies, who doesn’t believe that the district has lost any students as a result of these letters.
What these letters have done in some cases, however, has been to cause confusion and lead some parents to believe the school had scored another unacceptable rating. The truth could not be more different as the district is significantly above the state average in all indexes across the board.
"There are four indexes that are measured for each school…we’re significantly above state average in all areas," said Spies. "I’m pleased with where we are and I anticipate we’re going to go up even more."
The accountability ratings for each school can be viewed online. Go to www.vanalstyneisd.org, find the school under Campuses at the top and then find the ratings for that school under Accountability at the top of the school page.