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GHS teacher impacts students, community


Posted April 18, 2014


Sixteen Garland High School speech and debate students recently competed at the Texas Forensic Association State Meet in Houston, where more than half earned notable honors.


Senior Connie Ly won second place in the prose interpretation category while junior Emily Jilson placed third in state for her impromptu speaking performance. Five students also earned semifinalist titles for placing in the top 10-20 percent of their categories. Three additional students were deemed quarterfinalists.


Although these talented students dedicated much time and energy to the competition, they say their results would not have been possible without speech and debate teacher Lory Stewart.


Ly, who serves as speech and debate team co-president, credits Stewart’s encouragement and guidance for helping her succeed.


“Working with Stewie—that is what we call her—is really like working with a professional teacher because she is not afraid to give you harsh critiques,” she explained. “Stewie has been there for me since my freshman year. She is really a big part of my life. She is my mentor, friend and teacher.”


Co-president Jenna Chapman agrees that Stewart is one of the best teachers around.


“She really does care about her students. She is very personally invested in everyone. It is not just her job. It is her life and her passion,” Chapman said. “I think she has influenced me by making me really look at myself and seeing what I am capable of and pushing myself to achieve that. She is such an inspiration.”


An inspiration to not only her students, but the community as well, Stewart was recently recognized by the City of Garland for her work with Dramapalooza. She started the musical theater group for special needs adults 10 years ago. It is part of the Actors Anonymous Theatre Company, a charitable drama organization Stewart started in 1997.


And the busy teacher has even authored a teen novel series under the name Lory Alison called Sydney’s Vampire Diary, which focuses on teen dating violence. The series has been praised by professionals from Texas Christian University and Texas Women’s University, as well as licensed counselors and high school students.


Stewart said she tries to do all she can to help individuals build a higher self-esteem, overcome adversity and become successful citizens. With the valuable service she continues to provide, there is no doubt Stewart’s hard work is paying off and is much appreciated by students and the community at large.


Photo courtesy of Lory Stewart

Masons provide dental health kits


Posted April 18, 2014


All first graders at Club Hill Elementary School and Heather Glenn Elementary School in Garland recently received free prevent tooth decay kits through the Fantastic Teeth Fan Club. Eric Stuyvesant of Garland Masonic Lodge led members in assembling and delivering kits to the schools.


The Fantastic Teeth Fan Club, sponsored by Masonic Home and School of Texas, strives to prevent suffering from toothaches, reduce missed school days due to dental problems, and cut costs for dental treatment.


Prevent tooth decay kits contain: a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, healthy teeth sticker, two-minute timer (optimal brushing time), Tips for Healthy Teeth educational info for parents in both Spanish and English, and a summary of MHS services.


According to Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease—it is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.


Poor children are affected by this epidemic more frequently than other children, with nearly 12 times more restricted-activity days due to dental issues than children from higher-income families. With more than 1.5 million Texas children living in poverty, there is a great need for preventive dental care.


Dental problems also directly affect success for children, with more than 51 million school hours lost each year to dental-related illness. Teachers have judged both classroom performance and classroom behavior to be significantly poorer among children in need of dental care. Pain and suffering due to untreated dental disease can also lead to problems in eating and speaking.


Masonic Home and School of Texas is a non-profit organization with a history of helping children across Texas for more than 100 years. Contact MHS by calling toll-free 1.877.203.9111; sending an email to info@mhstx.org; or by visiting the website, www.mhstx.org

O’Banion MS wins KISS FM contest


Posted April 18, 2014


Talent, drive and one committed teacher helped O’Banion Middle School win the fourth-annual KISS FM Classroom Musical contest. Theater arts students snagged the grand prize—a $1,500 check and a live musical performance by pop duo Karmin—for creating the best music-themed digital video in the sixth to eighth grade category.


The competition required students to sing and dance in a Glee-like manner, send a shout out to Karmin and the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show and upload the video to YouTube. Morning show hosts then viewed all of the submissions and announced winners in elementary, middle and high school divisions on the air March 25. 


Theater arts teacher Courtney Reed worked with all of her classes to create the five-minute video, which features students singing original lyrics to four current pop songs. Reed said her 49 students did not realize they were up against hundreds of middle schools from across the country.


“We entered the contest because the students and I enjoy making videos,” she said. “The video that we made took two days of recording audio, two days of recording video and then I edited it over Spring Break. When I heard we won the contest, I was ecstatic. It was very rewarding to have our hard work pay off.”


Although the physical check hasn’t yet arrived, Reed and her students already have plans for the generous gift.


“We are going to have a pizza party, make some repairs to our lighting system and purchase costumes and props for our next play,” she said. “My students and I have never been recognized for anything on a level like this. They have learned that making videos is hard work, but enjoyable. They are all so excited and proud to be a part of this experience.”


To top off this extraordinary life event, the students’ beloved musical act Karmin is scheduled to perform May 12.


Visit YouTube to see O’Banion’s winning video.



Northlake ES, city mentorship program 16 years strong


Posted April 16, 2014


For more than a decade, students at Northlake Elementary School have been receiving guidance and support from some big-hearted community members.


Principal Kathy Metzinger dates the campus’ City of Garland Employees Mentoring Program back to 1998, when the idea was introduced by professionals in the Mayor’s office.


“They thought it would be great to help at-risk kids, and it just grew from there,” Metzinger said. “This tutoring and mentoring program goes on every school year. It is great because we think it helps the students tremendously.”


Third, fourth and fifth-graders participate in the year-long program. Students are nominated by teachers, approved by administration and then paired with a mentor who is available during an allotted time. The number of students involved in the program depends on the quantity of volunteers who sign up to participate.


This year, the program has 20 men and women dedicating 45 minutes to help a student once a week. The sessions usually see mentors assisting students with assignments, but it can also be a time for kids to just sit and talk with an adult.


Assistant Principal Kimberly Marsh said the volunteers are truly invested in the students, which can lead to a cherished bond.


“The tutors are very diligent about keeping up communication with the kids,” she said. “They ask me if they have been in my office, have been in trouble or are staying out of trouble. They know what issues the kids have because they are given a little bit of background. Plus, they communicate with the teacher a lot. I think it is more of a mentorship than it is academic help. They really take the students under their wing.”


City of Garland Recreation Superintendent Warren Bird is in his eighth year of volunteering. He is so committed to the program that he still keeps in touch with one of the students he worked with his first year.


“Mentoring is mainly about helping the kids do better in school, but far more can be achieved if the mentor has a bigger vision of what they can accomplish in the student’s life. Time is so important in the development of a child, and I do what I can in the 45 minutes allotted to be more than a tutor,” he said. “I decided to be a mentor because I have a passion for helping kids have more joy in their lives and be better prepared to make the right choices as they grow older.”


Metzinger said volunteers like Bird are the reason the program has been successful for 16 years.


“Mentors have had a positive impact on students’ lives. They see that an adult—who is not a family member or teacher—cares about them and that motivates them.  We have liked the impact of this partnership, which is why we have had it for so long and plan to keep it going.”

GISD campuses welcome Japanese dance teams


Posted April 14, 2014


Students at Lakeview Centennial and Sachse high schools got to see how their Japanese counterparts bust a move March 27.


LCHS Assistant Dance Magnet Coordinator and Sweethearts Director Jolene Schaefer hosted half of the 211 Japanese high-schoolers who visited Garland ISD.


“We were contacted by Joyce Pennington, owner of American Dance/Drill Team and the first director of Lakeview’s Yankee Doodle Sweethearts, to see if we would like to host Japanese teams coming in town for the American Dance/Drill Team Nationals competition in Denton,” she explained. “I volunteered to host them because I thought it would be an amazing experience for my girls. Both schools had fun making signs and putting together goody bags for all the Japanese students.”


During their visit to Lakeview, six dance groups toured the campus, performed routines, exchanged gifts and enjoyed lunch with their American peers. The teams were accompanied by 23 adults, including a camera crew that filmed and snapped shots of the visit as well as all performances.


Sweethearts officer Zena Chatman enjoyed learning that the students were impressed with her school’s elective courses, but the eye-opening experience she had while watching them dance blew her away.


“It was amazing. I did not expect their dancing to be this intense. I knew it would be really good, but this was over-the-top. I have never seen anything like this in my life,” Chatman said. “I loved it. I want them to come back all the time.”


Although only a handful of the Japanese students spoke English, it was not hard for the teens to find commonalities and form bonds.


“Even though there was a language barrier, they learned that dance, ‘selfies’ and Justin Bieber are all universal,” Schaefer said. “My girls had an incredible time. They made new friends and learned more about the Japanese culture. It was an amazing experience. Definitely one of the greatest things I have ever done.”

National Achievement Scholarship winners named


Posted April 14, 2014


National Merit Scholarship Corporation recently announced the names of approximately 800 outstanding Black American high school seniors who have won Achievement Scholarship® awards through the National Achievement Scholarship Program.


Two GISD students won scholarships:


Olatunde A. Badejo, North Garland High School, $2,500


Keshawn M. Ivory, Garland High School, $2,500


These awards, totaling over $2 million, are financed by grants from 31 corporate organizations and professional associations, and by National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The National Achievement Scholarship Program is a privately financed academic competition established in 1964 specifically to honor scholastically talented Black American youth and to provide scholarships to a substantial number of the most outstanding participants in each annual competition.


By the conclusion of the 2014 program, which marks the 50th annual competition, about 33,400 participants will have received scholarships for undergraduate study worth more than $105 million. The program is conducted by National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that operates without government assistance.


The Achievement Scholar designees announced today include 700 recipients of National Achievement® $2500 Scholarships. All students who advanced to the finalist level in the 2014 competition were considered for these single-payment scholarships, which were awarded on a regional representation basis in proportion to the population of Black Americans in each geographic region.


About 100 scholars are winners of corporate-sponsored Achievement Scholarship awards. These winners were selected from finalists who met the specific criteria of their grantor organizations. Most are residents of an area served by the sponsor, children of the organization’s employees, or finalists planning to pursue a college major or career the sponsor wishes to encourage. Almost all corporate-sponsored scholarships are renewable and provide stipends that can vary from $500 to $10,000 per year, but a few provide a single payment between $2,500 and $5,000.


GISD art students qualify for VASE competition


Posted April 14, 2014


Boasting with pride, Garland ISD’s fine arts community sends best wishes to 38 high-schoolers who went to state Visual Arts Scholastic Event (VASE) competition April 5.


Art students from all seven high schools participated in the regional round, which saw 2458 creations from 19 area school districts. Many GISD pieces earned perfect scores, and 43 were chosen to advance to state.


Qualifiers hailed from Garland, Lakeview Centennial, Rowlett and Sachse high schools. Out of the region’s 159 artworks that advanced, 27 percent came from Garland ISD.


Garland High School art teacher Jessica Thompson said the annual competition is both a learning and thrilling experience for students and teachers alike.


 “VASE is the only outside opportunity to practice discussing our work with a stranger, honing our ability to intelligently speak about the work we have done,” she said. “The energy that surrounds the day is so inspiring. Of course, we hope to medal a second time, and possibly get the coveted gold seal, but we do not worry about those things. At this point, it is all about enjoying the moment, appreciating the opportunity and just relaxing.”


To learn more about VASE, visit the event’s website.


Photos courtesy of Jessica Thompson.

Hillside Academy student hoops way to national acclaim


Posted April 14, 2014


On April 12, Hillside Academy for Excellence student Joseph Lucas will play what may be the most important game of his basketball career. When the fourth grader steps on the court, he will not only represent his school, but Garland ISD, Texas and three other states as well. Lucas hooped his way to the National Elks Hoop Shoot Free Throw Contest in Massachusetts, where he will compete against 11 other regional champions for the title and to have his name inscribed on the Elks trophy in the Basketball Hall of Fame.


“I have been playing since I was three,” he said. “I like the competiveness and fast pace. I also practice a lot and like to watch players that inspire me like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. It is all starting to pay off.”


National competition represents the fifth leg of Lucas’ Hoop Shoot journey. He previously won the 8-9 year old boys division in the Garland Elks Lodge, Northeast District, Texas Elks State Association and Southwest Region shoot-outs. More than 340,000 children from Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas participated in those competitions. Lucas landed the Southwest Region title March 22 after sinking 23 free throws out of 25 attempts. He plans to approach the championship game as he did all the others.


“I have a routine to get ready to throw. I spin, dribble and then shoot,” he explained. “It is all about mental toughness for me. I cannot lose focus.”


Win or lose, Lucas just hopes to do his best. He also hopes this Hoop Shoot experience will lead to a career in the NBA. Get live updates from the finals in Massachusetts by using the Elks online shot tracker or following on Twitter using #HoopShoot.

GISD Place 5 board incumbent, challenger

disagree on recording interpretation

Kim Everett | April 11, 2014

Garland Independent School District board of trustees Place 5 incumbent Scott Luna and challenger Lawrence Billy Jones III disagree on the interpretation of a recording recently made public by Jones.

The recording is of a conversation between Luna and Dr. Gary Reeves, associate superintendent of GISD currently on administrative leave.

According to Luna, he had been told that he had Reeves’ support in the upcoming election and was explaining to Reeves that he felt he could help Jones if he ran for the available Place 4 seat or waited and ran in the future.

Jones believes that Luna was offering him a buyout in exchange for not running against Luna or for moving his candidacy to Place 4.

A transcript of that portion of the conversation is below:

Scott Luna: I think you’re the only one that can talk to him. If you call and tell him that you’re going to support me then that’s going to take the wind out of his sails.

Gary Reeves: I’ll call him this afternoon, Scott, and see what he says. I didn’t know if he was going to run or not.

Luna: Well, he is. He’s filed against me. He only has until 5:00 to go and change.

Reeves: OK

Luna: And I know some people that’ll give him some money and you know probably the same people I’m talking about, if he wants to try and jump in on the other one. So I’m in your corner. I hope you know that.

Reeves: Scott, aren’t there already three people running in that other race?

(At this point, the two discuss that Dwight Davis, Connie Boone and incumbent Dr. Cindy Castaneda are running for Place 4.)

Luna: If you can call him, he can go change between now and 5:00. But after 5:00 he can’t change.

Reeves: It’s locked in then.

Luna: Yea, it’s locked in then.

Reeves: All right. I’ll do it.

Luna: See if you can help me.

Reeves: OK.

Luna: You’re the only hope.

Reeves: OK.

Luna: And I’m there in your corner, I really am.

Jones, who provided the recording to media outlets Wednesday, April 9, said that he feel voters should know about the conversation, which took place Wednesday, Feb. 28, the same day that he filed to run against Luna for the Place 5 seat.

Luna said that he was only offering contacts and support and that he would never offer a financial incentive for someone not to run against him.

Jones said that the mention of money was an important fact.

“When you use the word ‘money,’ that’s different from support,” he said. “And why would he say something like take the wind out of his [Jones’] sails?”

Luna said that his words were taken out of context and that he was set up. He also said that the recording starts mid-sentence and that it has been edited. He added that he has never been accused of anything like this and that anyone who knows him knows he isn’t capable of it.

“It’s a flat out, bald-faced lie,” Luna said. “He [Jones] has taken the conversation and twisted it to make me look bad."

Jones said that it’s important for people to know that Luna called him first, and then Luna called Reeves.

“I don’t want this to become a distraction from the campaign, but I want people to know what’s going on,” Jones said.

H1-B visa investigation uncovers abuses 


Kim Everett | April 11, 2014


An April 8 Garland Independent School District press conference provided details of the H1-B visa program scandal and outlined how investigators believe the scheme worked.


Harry Jones of the Littler Mendelson law firm, which has been investigating the issue since December, 2013, said that it is clear that GISD’s former executive director of Human Resources, Victor Leos, capitalized on the district’s need for bilingual teachers.


Jones added that Leos, who retired in January, traveled to other countries, including the Philippines, all expenses paid by a recruiting agency and that Leos allegedly reaped economic benefits for himself, as well as his family and associates.


The attorney explained how the process worked:


“In Manila, Philippines, a math teacher sees an advertisement of one of Mr. Leos’ associates, a recruiting agency. A job fair with an American school district is coming up. She’s interested,” Jones said. “Mr. Leos is flown to the Philippines by Manila recruiters who pay all his expenses while he is there.”


The attorney added that annual salaries are approximately $5,000 in the Philippines and the math teacher, who wants to teach in the U.S., pays about $1,000 for a chance to interview with Leos.


“Mr. Leos conducts orientation training for her. The math teacher pays a fee for that. If Mr. Leos agrees to hire her for Garland ISD by signing a letter of intent, she pays $4,000-$5,000 to the recruiting agency,” Jones said. “Obviously since this is equal to an annual salary in the Philippines, this math teacher may have to borrow that money or get on a payment plan.”


Jones said that after the teacher gets to Garland, Leos directs her to live at a rental home owned by his stepson, Paul Ruediger, another GISD employee who has been placed on leave.


The teacher needs an immigration law firm, so Leos directs her to the Yu Law Firm, where his stepdaughter works.


“Mr. Leos’ stepdaughter, who was the district’s contact at the Yu Law Firm and handled all the billing, is a convicted felon,” Jones said. “The teacher from the Philippines pays fees to the Yu Law Firm, which also bills the district. The entire time that teacher is with GISD, Mr. Leos holds complete control over her visa status.”


Jones called this “just one typical example.”


“Money was being made and privileges were being enjoyed by many people,” Jones said.


Over a decade, GISD filed approximately 642 visa applications. In comparison, in the same time period, Mesquite filed 23 and Grand Prairie 17. Leos might hire as many as 30 teachers in one visit.


Jones said Dr. Gary Reeves, who was assistant superintendent at the time, did not require reports or other information to justify the recruitment.


“Of course, Dr. Reeves did not know all the abuses that were being committed by Mr. Leos,” Jones said. “However he knew of some and there were a number of opportunities for Dr. Reeves to step in and stop the corruption of the district’s foreign recruitment program.”


Jones said that Reeves did not benefit financially from the visa program abuses.


He also said that the program was investigated in the past when GISD had to pay $225,000 back wages to foreign teachers for violations from 2005-09. There was a plan to pay this in installments so it didn’t have to be discussed with the board since each payment was under the allowed limit. (Any amount more than $75,000 must be approved by the board of trustees.)


Jones added that Reeves received an anonymous, detailed email that told about the abuses of the program by Leos and instead of investigating, took it to Leos and told him to fix it.


The price tag for refunds to teachers whose immigration documentation was not done according to regulations will be in excess of $500,000.

There are currently 280 foreign teachers at GISD and 80 of them have green cards.

Nonprofit helps SGHS students attend state competition


Posted April 11, 2014


Moving from Lakeview Centennial to South Garland High School this school year, it seems that Garland ISD’s auto body program has not had any trouble settling into its new home. The Career and Technology Education classes have a healthy number of students enrolled, several of which are being recognized at various competitions. The program also recently received an unexpected donation from a local nonprofit.


Students and teachers were surprised with $1,000 from The Pettinger Foundation during their SkillsUSA Bash March 6.


“Word made its way to us that GISD was not able to allot enough funds for every eligible student to attend the [state SkillsUSA] competition,” President Wes Pettinger said. “Since we feel that local and state competitions are a very important part of a project, we really wanted each student to have this experience. Mr. Baughman’s students have exhibited uniquely creative and artistic talents over the past years we have been supporting his efforts.”


And that tradition continues at SGHS. Eighteen auto body students qualified for state SkillsUSA this year. Auto Collision Repair Technology teacher Craig Baughman is confident they will impress at the competition being held in Corpus Christi this week.


“Our students are not content to let things be, and they have improved their projects for state,” he said. “Competition really steps their game up because they know their work will be judged, they have a deadline, they want it to look good and I am pushing them.”


Senior Elvis Gamino is one of the students advancing to state. He is so devoted to the auto body program that he gave up his senior year at Lakeview to follow its move to South.  He also spent a substantial amount of time to perfect his piece before heading to state.


“I was in here pretty much all day, every day. I stayed after school until about 4:30 or 5 p.m. and came on Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. until 2 or 3 in the afternoon,” he said. “I expect a lot more competition, but expect to get a first place.”


State SkillsUSA competition kicked off March 27 and continued through March 29.


Photos courtesy of Craig Baughman.

AEC principal claims title of GISD grill master


Posted April 11, 2014


Robert Weyman has been named Garland ISD’s new grill master. The Alternative Education Center principal won his school’s second annual BBQ Throw Down March 7.


“Winning the title this year was fabulous. I gained back the respect of my campus,” he joked.


Weyman competed against reigning champion and Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and Community Relations John Washington, as well as other district employees. This year’s battle of the beef was decided by a panel of foodies, but the public was invited to feast on competitors’ fare for lunch. The event also offered carnival-type fun with face painting, pie throwing and other games.


While the meat may have taken center stage at AEC’s Throw Down, chefs and guests alike participated for a greater cause. The event was one of many fundraisers the school hosted for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients program. AEC will donate more than $4,000 this year—$1,100 from the BBQ lunch alone.


“We would like to thank everyone that joined us and supported the cause,” said Victoria Acevedo, AEC assistant principal and Throw Down organizer. “A special thanks to Ms. Roberts from Lakeview and her Future Teachers student group for volunteering.”


Photos courtesy of Victoria Acevedo.

Administrators play student for a day


Posted April 11, 2014


As part of a district endeavor, Garland ISD principals, department heads and other administrators experienced what it was like to be back in the classroom.


The Student for a Day project was an initiative launched by Superintendent Bob Morrison, who completed his assignment at Memorial Pathway Academy. Its purpose was to strengthen the culture and impact of GISD by reconnecting participants to the heart of this district—the students.


Administrators had three months to complete their assignment, which consisted of following a student’s schedule at any GISD campus for one full day. Kimberlin Academy for Excellence Principal Tyisha Nelson became a Lakeview Centennial High School student March 5.


“This was a mind-altering experience. With an elementary background, it was exciting for me to interact with the students at the high school level,” she said. “Listening to students debate various concepts in physics was amazing. Comprehension of the topic was evident as they were able to explain concepts with depth and complexity.”


Lakeview Centennial High School Principal Angel Rivera reinforced the project’s message as he reflected on his experience at Daugherty Elementary School March 6.


“Overall, the experience gave me an increased sense of awareness in terms of how administrative decisions impact the students’ daily routines,” he explained. “The decisions we make as administrators reflect each and every day in the life of children and we should be reflective while keeping the client at the forefront.”


GISD’s Student for a Day project wrapped up the week of March 24. Administrators shared stories and thoughts verbally and in writing at a district meeting March 27.


Candidate profiles: GISD board of trustees


Kim Everett | April 10, 2014


There are three GISD candidates running for the Place 4 seat and two candidates for Place 5 on the GISD board of trustees. The election is May 10. Early voting begins Monday, April 28 and ends Tuesday, May 6. The profiles below are in alphabetical order.


Connie Griffin Boone


The main goal of Connie Griffin Boone, candidate for the Place 4 seat on the Garland Independent School District’s board of trustees, is to educate kids.  “That is my passion,” she said. “We have to let them know we care and that we’re there for them.”


Boone has lived in Garland since she was 9-years-old and began working for GISD in 1975. She held various positions in the district before going back to school and earning a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s in mid-management and education.


After 20 years at GISD, Boone moved to the Mesquite School District where she started as a teacher/coach then served as an assistant principal, then as a principal. She is currently the principal at Mesquite Academy, a school for at-risk students.


Boone’s goal at Mesquite Academy was to graduate 200 at-risk students in a single year. She has met and surpassed that goal.


Because of her experience, education, and passion for educating children, Boone feels that she is the right choice for the board. She does have concerns about the current state of the district.


“I’m very concerned about the salary increases given to people in upper management. I’m concerned that we have doubled the salaries and number of management employees,” she said. “In the past, the Texas Education Agency frowned on top-heavy organization charts. Right now we are way over on top of the chart.”


She disagrees that the district needed to hire in-house counsel and has been told there is a possibility that another lawyer and a paralegal will be hired.  “I don’t understand why we need so much representation.” she said.


Boone feels that teacher and paraprofessional salaries are too low. “The people who are in the trenches are the ones who deserve raises,” she said. “Teachers’ salaries should be in the $60s.”


She also said that new teachers are paid better than experienced teachers and those with experience are leaving because they are not receiving fair pay increases, or sometimes no increase at all.


Boone believes that a bond program is needed, but disagrees with the amount of $450 million. “I think we need to look at it item by item and decide what is needed,” she said.


She places students’ safety at the top of the priority list and doesn’t believe that $20 million should be put into the reserve fund as is planned. “That $20 million could be spent on starting to get things up to par,” Boone said.


She is also concerned how a $450 million bond will affect property taxes.


“The superintendent came from a wealthier district and he doesn’t understand Garland,” she said. “There are unemployed people, single parent families and low-income families. When you take $20 out of their account every month that is going to affect them.”


“We need to look at items like turf on sports fields and a natatorium and decide what is most crucial to be done within the next two or three years.”


Another problem according to Boone is that administrators are not listening to principals and teachers. 


“We must let them be the leaders they were hired to be. Principals are the ones tasked with getting a family feeling in the schools and right now, that has been torn down severely,” she said. “That has come about with mandates from upper management and from administrators going into classrooms, not announcing who they are and interrupting instruction.”


She said this practice intimidates teachers and frustrates principals who feel that they have no control over their campuses. 


“Anonymous letters were recently being sent to board members about the treatment of teachers and Dr. Morrison told principals if they were encouraging their teachers to write letters, they would be fired,” Boone said. “That is freedom of speech.”


 “Many employees fear for their jobs,” she said. “Morale could be improved by getting back to the family feeling that the district had before.”


She added that the district has to get back to letting teachers and principals know they’re appreciated and trusted to know how to do their jobs.


She would like GISD to work harder to prepare students for the workforce. “Not every child is going to college and we need to make sure we are offering opportunities for training so they can learn a skill or trade. They need to be able to support themselves and their families,” Boone said. “We need to get community companies involved and start intern programs for the kids to work at the companies.”


“The district is working to close the gaps,” Boone said. “Strategic planning is being studied and decisions are being discussed for the future.”


Cindy Castañeda - incumbent


Dr. Cindy Castañeda, incumbent for Place 4 on the board of trustees, is excited about the direction that the Garland Independent School District is going and hopes to serve a third term. She recently received the endorsement of the Garland Education Association and said that she was humbled by the news.


“I feel like we are poised to take those next steps in strengthening academics and expanding career and technical opportunities and investing in our facilities,” she said.


Castañeda was the first in her family to go to college and education has played a large role in her life. She attended Harvard on a full scholarship then she earned her master’s degree in public policy in Illinois. She later earned her doctorate at the University of North Texas and is now a professor at Eastfield College.


The candidate hopes that voters will judge her on her record.


“If voters like balanced budgets, not having to lay off teachers when the state cuts funding, having a district that is in the top 10 percent in financial accountability, having programs that allow students to get an associate degree while in high school, having dual credit programs in more than 76 courses and having career and technical programs which prepare students for today’s jobs, I ask them to consider my candidacy,” Castañeda said. “I was part of the team that made these things happen.”


She added that the existing board operates with a high degree of integrity and commitment to the students.


As an advocate of career and technical education, Castañeda understands that not every student can, or wants to go to college and said that it is great that GISD has classes for trades such as welding, cosmetology, plumbing, building trades, pharmacy tech, iPhone app development and more. Firefighting and geographic information systems will be added next year.


The candidate said that the bond election is critical. “I think that some of the non-negotiable items for the board are safety and ADA compliance issues,” she said. “We have to do the right thing to keep our teachers and kids safe and that includes sprinkler systems and camera systems and security. These are a priority.”


In addition, she feels that the fine arts program and expansion of the career and technical program are high priority.


“I don’t know what the bond amount will be,” Castañeda said. “Chances are that it will be north of $450 million but it will not be a billion dollars. We’ll have to prioritize.”


She supports the natatorium and sees it as a water-safety and health and wellness issue for everyone as it would be open and accessible to the community. She said that it doesn’t have to be funded with bond money and that other models, such as partnering with the cities’ parks and recreation departments in our community should be explored.  


Castañeda also hopes to get salaries of all employees closer to the market amounts and wants to reward longtime teachers.


“Our paraprofessionals are hard-working individuals. In my opinion they are undercompensated,” she said.


Castañeda was in favor of the new hires and salary increases in upper management.


“There was an opportunity for the superintendent to make hires in upper management due to retirements and when he looked at salaries compared to the market, GISD was below market,” she said. “If we want to play in the big leagues and we want our kids to have those kinds of records of success that other districts have already achieved, we have to be able to bring those people in. I think that Dr. Morrison is building a strong team with diverse views and opinions that will help take the district to the next level.”


She is aware that there is some discontent among teachers and understands their concerns about administrators going unannounced into classrooms.


“It feels like someone is trying to get you. But it’s not about that…It’s about following through…Finding out if the training teachers received on the Fab Five is being implemented. The board has heard the teachers and the superintendent has heard them, too.”


She said that the board is trying to assist the teachers facing deportation.


“They are highly qualified people of good character and strong integrity,” she said. “They are not at fault.”


“The community is GISD’s asset -- students, parents, teachers, volunteers, PTA and booster clubs. We couldn’t do without them,” Castañeda said.


Dwight Davis


Dwight Davis, candidate for Place 4 on the Garland Independent School District board of trustees, said that the district’s conservative financial management is one of its most valuable assets.


“I think that their wise use of funding has been one of the real assets and has really helped the district tremendously over the last decade,” Davis said. “They have been conservative and maintained necessary funding, even when a lot of state funding was lost through lean years.”


He said that this had been accomplished without the need to lay off as many teachers and that the fund balance is higher than the state’s required amount.


He noted that there have been a number of positive changes since Dr. Bob Morrison assumed the role of superintendent.


“I think the district has been maintained with high performing schools and there are two elementary campuses that have been nominated for National Blue Ribbon Schools,” he said. “So we have kept our schools at the top level.”


He added that there have been some changes in teaching methods along with curriculum changes which perhaps need additional staff and teacher training.


“I’m concerned for the teachers. They are highly qualified and the have a lot of passion and understanding of how to teach kids,” Davis said. “I want to make sure they are allowed to use their creative skills with the art of teaching not encumbered with rigid curriculum and administrative requirements.”


“There are a number of new rollouts for teachers to quickly employ with minimum understanding or training,” Davis said. “I think it was a little overwhelming for some of the teachers. That can run some of the “highly qualified” teachers off who don’t need those requirements and we do not need that.”


“I believe that our superintendent is proactive and he wants things done ‘right now,’” Davis said. “He is learning to let things happen in a longer timeframe of events. He is learning from his campus staff feedback and improving communications with them.”


Davis said that the career and technical opportunities that the district offers its students are great, especially for those who do not plan to attend college. He believes that the district should continue to expand these programs and add more similar opportunities.


One of Davis’ concerns is the district’s aging facilities and mechanical issues such as aging HVAC systems, and other items that must be addressed. In addition, there are things like libraries that are too small for the population of campuses.


“Safety and security are extremely important. There are schools that do not have entrances that are blocked so that you can’t just walk right in,” he said. “Every school is supposed to have a buffer.”


Davis feels that high priority repair and improvement items should be packaged together in a bond and non-critical items, such as a natatorium and athletic field turf, should be added as propositions.


If elected, Davis plans to rectify any inequity in employee salaries. 


“My commitment is to achieve equity. Teachers are out there in the trenches while administrators are making higher than average salaries,” he said. “Our teachers and administrators need to remain paid equal to or slightly above other districts.”


He added that he feels that upper administrative salaries are higher than other regional school districts and perhaps as the community has stated, GISD may be a little top heavy with administrative percentages and dollars spent.  His hope is that the district will greatly benefit from this.


Davis cites experience serving on other boards, service on State Representative Angie Chen Button’s Educational Roundtable, along with a background which includes finance, business, technical, and human resources, as his main qualifications.


“I will focus us on the students, the classrooms and the teachers. That’s my reason for running,” he said. “I’m not going to be a yes man and I’m going to stand up and say no when the answer should be no.”


He added that he would do everything possible to help the teachers facing deportation.


“They are qualified teachers who are trying to do things the right way,” Davis said.


Lawrence Jones


Garland Independent School District Place 5 board of trustees candidate Lawrence Jones is busy knocking on doors in Garland, Rowlett and Sachse to let voters know where he stands and what he will work on if elected. His first priority is the students and he pledges to always keep kids first.


Jones said that the board needs a member that is closer to some of the students’, as well as some of the parents’, ages. He believes that a younger person will be able to bridge existing gaps. He also feels that having worked as a student advocate at GISD, he is uniquely qualified to understand students’ issues.


“With all due respect to the board, I don’t think there is one member that can be called the ‘citizens’ board member.’ Someone needs to have the mindset of being the citizens’ or community’s board member and that’s me,” Jones said. “We need someone who will get out and get to know people.”


A Garland High School graduate, the 21-year old investigative journalist and college student feels that the district has numerous assets, but there are also issues that require immediate attention.


Jones believes that the district’s students, along with the fact that they are free to choose which school they attend, are GISD’s biggest assets. 


“GISD is still great and has the best teachers and principals in the area,” he said. “All of our employees are great, but there are currently issues that could make the district look bad and they must be addressed.”


Jones believes strongly in fiscal responsibility and said that the amount of salary increases that some management employees have received is ridiculous.


“I believe in being fair. All employees should have the opportunity to move up in salary, not just upper management.”


He is also concerned that the district is getting off track. “Traditionally GISD has done great as a district, but we are making a U-turn and going the wrong direction,” he said. “We need to go back to the basics.”


Jones feels that transparency must be improved. “It’s great that board meetings are being televised now, but that’s not enough,” he said. “Getting information is a digging process. It’s very secretive and I don’t like that.”


He added that the problems can only be fixed through transparency. “How can GISD get the public’s support when everything is done behind closed doors?” he asked.


Another issue that Jones feels must be addressed is micro-managing of teachers and principals.


“Teachers and principals need to be empowered,” Jones said. “I’ve talked to many teachers and they say they don’t like to teach anymore because of the micro-management. When I talk about ‘kids first,’ I am talking about putting the power back where it belongs.”


He said that principals should be allowed to run each campus with more autonomy, set policy for, and monitor his/her own campus.


“GISD’s students can achieve great things. We need to set high standards and let the teachers do their jobs,” Jones said.


He added that having a family atmosphere among the people in the district is important.


“GISD has always been a family-based district. We have to continue to have the attitude that we are a family, the teachers, the board and the administrators but that is not being pushed under this administration.”


Jones is concerned about how district problems are affecting students. “If the teachers and principals and other employees are unhappy, it changes their job performance, and that affects the kids.”


The candidate believes that a bond election is needed but $450 million is excessive.


“Maybe half that much,” he said. “I think we need to re-evaluate some things.  We need to take care of safety issues and bring buildings up to par. We can stop it there.”


Jones pointed out that bond money was spent on the Curtis Culwell Center and the district is barely breaking even on it.


 “We have to push technology but I think there is a cost-effective way to do it,” he said.


He also hopes to bring in more programs that will prepare students for the workforce and even have an internship program for them.


“Not everyone wants to or is able to go to college,” Jones said. “There are trades such as plumbing, and electrical and air-conditioner repair, that pay great. We could even have a program to get students certified in the field of their choice.”


Jones would like to conduct town hall meetings during which the state of the district would be discussed along with ideas for improvement. 


“The district’s image isn’t positive now and if we aren’t careful, the image will be completely destroyed.”


Scott Luna - incumbent


Scott Luna has been the Place 5 trustee on the Garland Independent School District board since 2005 and hopes to continue in that capacity. Luna, whose parents taught him to give back to the community, was born and raised in Garland and has kids in the district.


The attorney is proud of the board’s accomplishments in the last several years. “If you look at 2005 to now, the curve is going up on test scores and we are continually improving,” he said. “We have good teachers and good administrators. We are doing the right things.”


Luna, who is endorsed by the Garland Education Association, feels that GISD’s 58,000 students, along with its teachers and the rest of its employees, are the district’s assets.


He would like to serve again because he feels there is turmoil in the district and his parents taught him to always leave something better than when he started.


He said that the turmoil must be addressed, that there are teachers who have been in the district for many years who are upset.


Luna said that last fall, when the board heard that administrators were going into classrooms unannounced and not identifying themselves, the board told them to stop that practice and let teachers and principals know they are coming.


“They were going in and not telling people what they were doing, writing stuff down and making teachers uncomfortable,” he said. “Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming in unannounced.”


Luna said that the problem slowed down through December, but in January, it started again.


“It went straight downhill in my opinion,” he said. “And I know people are upset and teachers and principals feel that they are being micro-managed.”


Luna acknowledged that there is an issue with the attitude of the superintendent and his cabinet and said the board talked to them about that when they addressed the problem with them going into classrooms unannounced. 


“We have to bring everyone together. If there is a problem with an employee, you have to tell that person what they have to do, whether it is a teacher, a custodian, a counselor, or the superintendent. But, you also have to give a new person enough time to put their plan in place.”


He added that it is best to make changes slowly, after trust is earned and maybe the new administration started changing things too quickly. 


“You can’t come in and make sweeping changes right away,” Luna said. “Change is hard for anybody. Some of the changes are because of House Bill 5, but some of them are not.”


Luna said some changes have been positive and though the organizational chart looks like a lot of people have been added at the top in comparison to previous years, it’s about the same with one exception.


“One of the changes is that we hired in-house counsel and I think that was a good decision,” he said. “In my opinion, that is less expensive than outside counsel.”


Luna said that salary increases must be approved by the board and that some of them were made to bring people in upper management in line with those in the same positions in other districts.


“Maybe we were underpaying for certain positions,” he said. “But we should look at everything. Every position should be in the 65th percentile when compared to salaries for that same position in other districts if we can afford it. We have to be competitive to get the best people in every position.”


He added that salaries at the top of the organizational chart have not increased as much as some people are saying.


Luna said that a comparison of the debt per GISD student compares favorably to the state’s and Dallas County’s debt per student. At the state level, debt per student is $12,601. In Dallas County, it is $15,691. In GISD, it is $6,391.


“That’s important,” he said. “Also we increased our fund balance by $19 million this past year and we spent approximately $8 million on fixing things that should have been fixed a long time ago.”


Luna feels that a bond election is needed but would like to see it presented as propositions such as safety, repairs and maintenance, career and technical center and natatorium.


“That way voters can choose what they want,” he said. “My feeling is that if you do it the way it was first presented, that if people don’t want a natatorium, they are going to vote down the whole thing even though they aren’t against the whole thing.

NFHS student receives DECA award


Posted April 8, 2014


Amy Bauer, Business Department head at Naaman Forest High School, recently announced that senior Gabby Reed was named the recipient of the 2014 DECA Emerging Leader Honor Award.


The award recognizes students studying marketing, finance, hospitality and management for being an academically prepared, community oriented, professionally responsible, experienced leader through participation in DECA.


To be eligible for the award, the recipient must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 or better for each of the high school semesters.


Gabby is the daughter of Mark and Wanda Reed of Garland.


About DECA:  DECA is a career and technical student organization composed of more than 200,000 students who are interested in careers in marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, hospitality or management. DECA enhances the preparation for college and careers by providing co-curricular programs that integrate into classroom instruction, apply learning, connect to business and promote competition. DECA student members leverage their DECA experience to become academically prepared, community oriented, professionally responsible, experienced leaders. Visit www.deca.org for more information.

GISD earns Best Communities in Music Education title


Posted April 9, 2014


Five years and counting, Garland ISD has once again been named a Best Community for Music Education. The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation awarded the district and 375 others with this distinction March 26.


“I am so proud of our teachers, our students and our district,” said George Jones, director of Fine Arts. “This is proof of the exceptional talent that abounds in GISD, as well as the commitment we have to quality instruction.”


According to the NAMM Foundation, more than 2,000 schools and districts applied for a 2014 Best Communities for Music Education award. Applicants were required to complete a detailed survey about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support and community programs.


In its 15th year, BCME recognizes school districts that have demonstrated exceptional efforts toward maintaining music education as part of schools’ core curriculum. The designation is an important part of the NAMM Foundation’s efforts to advocate for school-based music education. Numerous studies have demonstrated that learning to play music can boost other academic and social skills.

CCC named Top Stop for second year


Posted April 9, 2014


For the second year in a row, Garland ISD’s Curtis Culwell Center has been named one of Texas’ Top Stops by leading international trade publication Venues Today.


“It feels great to be recognized again,” said CCC Director John Wilborn. “This gives the staff an opportunity to beat their chest for a day. The recognition means we are doing things the correct way.”


Welcoming approximately 1 million visitors every year, the Culwell Center has become a staple setting for local events. It is also landing some big name titles like UIL State Wrestling and Volleyball tournaments as well as SMU basketball.


“Hosting big-time events helps a venue get noticed,” Wilborn said. “A good example of that is SMU. We got those games because we hosted the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament for three years. And we are constantly recruiting. We do not understand the definition of no.”


That drive led the CCC to North Texas’ only Top Stops title for venues with a 5,001-10,000 capacity. GISD’s nine-year-old facility came in fourth place, right behind the McAllen Convention Center, Laredo Energy Arena and Hidalgo’s State Farm Arena.


Although this acknowledgement may open up more opportunities, Wilborn says that Garland ISD is the center’s No. 1 priority.


“We always remember we are here for the district and everything else is gravy.”


For more information about the Curtis Culwell Center, visit the facility’s website.

SHS athletes help in community


Kim Everett | April 7, 2014


The city of Sachse received lots of help from at Sachse High School athletes during the Great American Cleanup Saturday, April 5.


Mark “Red” Behrens, SHS athletic director and head football coach, said that boys and girls from various athletic teams were on-hand to help.


“Approximately 50 Sachse Mustang athletes participated in the Great American Cleanup by helping pick up trash in several different areas of the city,” Behrens said.


Students met at Sachse City Hall at 9 a.m. to pick up their gear and hear Mayor Mike Felix read an Arbor Day and Great American Cleanup Proclamation, then they set out for their assigned cleanup areas.


The volunteers returned to City Hall at 11 a.m. for lunch and entertainment.


Coach Behrens was proud of the athletes’ community service.


“As coaches we stress the importance of good citizenship and giving back to our community. We all were proud to be a part of this great event.”

SHS students partner with NASA


Posted April 6, 2014


A popular television show says space is the final frontier, but for a group of students at Sachse High School, it is just the beginning. Their class has partnered with NASA to develop educational computer games that will teach middle-school students about the dangers of asteroids. And the project is more than just an assignment—it is an introduction to the real world.


Until this school year, SHS has offered computer animation and computer science I, II and III courses separately. Students learn the software and basics in year one and two then complete their own project during year three.


“My third year computer science students could create awesome games but did not have the animation and artwork skills to make them look professional,” said teacher Haley Bolton. “Likewise, third year animation students could design great-looking pieces but did not have the programming skills to make them functionally advanced. We often talked about our students working together.”


This year, that dream became a reality. Computer animation and computer science III classes combined to give students a more authentic experience.


“We paired a programmer with an animator, a designer and a project manager who puts it all together,” animation teacher Erik Bushland said. “Students need to learn how to work in teams with different backgrounds, skill sets and personalities because that is what they will encounter in the workforce.”


Bushland came up with the new course’s curriculum after touring the Johnson Space Center. He spoke with NASA Education officials in Houston about assisting with their initiative to use computer games for science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction. NASA not only agreed but has provided mentorship and guidance throughout the process.


On March 7, Dr. Paul Abell, the lead scientist for planetary small bodies, visited SHS to meet with students face-to-face.


“I have been to other schools around the world, in Australia and other places, but this is the first school near to Houston that I have visited,” he said. “Planetary defense is one of the big aspects that we have at NASA. Some of the games will focus on exploration, figuring out what an asteroid is made of and how to get to it. Others will allow players to develop satellites and spacecraft, used for asteroid deflection or reconnaissance. Some might even look at resources.”


Senior Taryn Allen’s team received pointers from Abell on their game entitled Asteroid vs. Satellite.


“First, you build a satellite,” she explained. “When asteroids head toward earth, you push them away. It is a real technique used by NASA. I am so happy to work for them. I never thought this would be possible.”


Allen feels her job is important because of the infancy of space exploration. She hopes her game will not only engage middle students in science education, but maybe recruit NASA’s next scientist who helps save the world.


With a potentially life-changing mission, Sachse students’ prestigious partnership will no doubt impact their own.


“I want to work for the army, creating simulations for battlefields,” said senior Jesus Zuniga. “Dr. Abell’s visit helped me see there is hope for people like us. This project is also giving me real world experience.”


While asteroid deflection games may not remain part of the course curriculum next year, teachers plan to continue the industry-like atmosphere by providing educational games for the school or community organizations.

Texas author inspires Liberty Grove ES students


Posted April 6, 2014


Taking writing instruction out of the classroom and into the library, Liberty Grove Elementary School received a visit from author Melissa Williams March 21. She spoke to students about her books as well as her writing process, which includes research, editing and imagination.


“Creativity is such an important piece of childhood,” Williams said. “I want to break down the fear of not being perfect and encourage them to write about anything—even a speck on the ground. My goal is to replace the passion for writing that state testing has stolen. I am also an advocate against too much technology. I think it stunts creativity “


Liberty Grove’s PTA President said the group brought in Williams to inspire students.


“I remember being a child and thinking that author visits were so exciting,” said Lisa Hjelm. “It is important for students to see at least one in person, and Melissa relates to the students well through her energetic personality. She also shares some great insight about creative writing.”


Williams is the Texas children’s author who writes Iggy the Iguana chapter books, Turtle Town chapter books and Little Miss Molly picture books. She also owns LongTale Publishing and started the I Write Publishing Contest for kids. While at Liberty Grove, Williams engaged students through story time, a question and answer session and book signing.

Donation gives special education students unique experience


Posted April 6, 2014


Special education students at Southgate Elementary School will soon have the opportunity of a lifetime. They will take a field trip to Morgan’s Wonderland—a San Antonio-based theme park designed especially for children with disabilities.


A donation from the Garland Police Association March 25 ensured that Southgate’s group would be able to go. Needing to raise $2,200, the campus had previously collected approximately $1,400.


“I heard about other Garland Police Association outreach, so I wrote them a letter,” said Kristin Wolfkill, assistant principal at Southgate. “Students had been raising money through pizza-and-a-movie nights, but we were not quite there. We really appreciate the Association’s donation and support. This is a great opportunity for our students.”


“Our members believe that community involvement is key,” added Officer Lucas Shupe, president of the Garland Police Association. “We are in a position to help, and giving back is important. We hope the kids enjoy their trip and have fun. We hope it is a dream come true.”


The country’s first amusement park of its kind, all of the rides at Morgan’s Wonderland are adapted for children with limited abilities or wheelchairs, including swings, a train around the park and even “off-road” vehicles. The park also offers several multi-sensory areas with colors, sounds and varying textures like water and sand. And, Morgan’s Wonderland limits the number of visitors each day, so as not to overwhelm its special guests. Electronic tracking bracelets also comfort caregivers, providing the location of their children at all times.


Southgate will join several other GISD campuses taking the same field trip this spring. It includes transportation, meals, lodging and park admittance for students and parents.


“There is more to teaching that what you can do in the classroom,” said Julius Plomantes. “I want to give students new experiences and enhance their quality of life. We know how meaningful this trip will be to them, so we are elated to get the opportunity to go.” 

RHS Jazz Band wins at festival


Posted April 6, 2014


Thanks to talent, hard work and a great instructor, the Rowlett High School Jazz Band beat out its competition at the annual University of Texas at Arlington Jazz Festival Feb. 28. Garland ISD’s musicians not only snagged a first place win in the 5-A division, but a Sweepstakes Trophy and an invitation to perform at the event’s evening awards next year as well.


Head band director Phillip Alvarado said the win came as an unexpected but well-deserved surprise.


“The kids were very excited and proud. A little jumping up and down and shouts of joy were appropriate,” he said. “Our philosophy with regard to competition is to do our best and the rest will take care of itself. Our kids certainly did their best that day.”


Two individual band members were also recognized at the festival, winning Most Outstanding Brass and Most Outstanding Soloist awards.


The RHS Jazz Band is currently preparing to compete at the upcoming Texas Christian University Jazz Festival and University of Texas at Austin Longhorn Jazz Festival. Alvarado hopes his students will continue to shine at these competitions.


“We have taken the comments and suggestions we received from the judges at UT Arlington to continue to improve our performance,” he said. “Our goal is always just to do our best and be satisfied with that. Any awards or accolades that come from it are just icing on the cake.”

GRS Giving Place helps GISD students


Posted April 2, 2014


Helping children receive a valuable education is Garland ISD’s No. 1 priority. But when a child does not have access to basic needs due to homelessness or their family’s financial stress, there is a high likelihood that child will fall behind academically.


That is the reason GISD opened its GRS Giving Place March 24. The center provides new clothing, school supplies, hygiene products and other necessary items to students in need.


Parsons Prekindergarten School Principal and Garland Elementary Principal Association President Bonnie Barrett approached Superintendent Bob Morrison with the idea last fall.


“The more stable a student’s home environment is, the better they do in school. But if they are worried about what they are going to eat or what they are going to wear, school can get difficult,” she said. “As a school principal and foster parent, I have witnessed first-hand the need for basic supplies. When GEPA met this year, I recommended that we pursue this project. I thank Dr. Morrison and the board for making this available to our community.”


Case manager Emily Jandrucko got the venture up and running in the Student Services building in about four months. Though she is the reason the center is off the ground, the room would not exist without the help of several GISD and community entities.


“We got the initial idea and funding from GEPA. We also held a district donation drive, which is currently the main stocking. We did get some funding from administration, but we want to focus on community donations,” she said. “I have had some pledges from Kiwanis and the Citizens Firefighters Club. We want to reach out and create that partnership with the community. GEPA had this idea to give back to our own. These kids are in our district, which means they are coming from families that live here.”


The Giving Place is not open to the public and will only operate through school counselors confidentially identifying a student in need. Counselors must first complete a referral form and ensure that help from campus resources and local charities has been exhausted. Once an official need has been established, a custom-made care package is prepared and delivered to the student’s campus or home within 24 to 48 hours.


Anybody can donate to the GRS Giving Place by dropping off items at the Student Services building. Brand-new tangible items such as clothing, shoes and grooming products as well as monetary contributions, such as personal checks and gift cards, are all welcomed.


For more information about the GRS Giving Place, contact Emily Jandrucko at 972-494-8255 or visit the Student Services website.Flash player is required to view this content

RHS students enjoy yoga, art on field trip


Posted March 31, 2014


The Rowlett High School National Art Honor Society recently took an art-focused field trip that stimulated both students’ brains and bodies.


Fine arts teachers Kristen Hamidou and Brittany Kovach took the group to the Dallas Museum of Art as well as the Trammel and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art March 7. But the visit had much more in store for students than merely viewing and admiring stunning works of art.


To help them enjoy a unique museum experience, Hamidou signed the group up for a program called Yoginos for Youth at the Trammel Crow—a move she said made this the greatest outing ever.


“I think this was the best field trip I have ever set up because it was the most interactive experience I have had with my students outside of making art,” she said. “They had the opportunity to use their whole body for a learning experience. This is a memory they will never forget.”


Yoginos for Youth is a learning tour that lets students explore galleries and learn about Asian culture through discussion and yoga. According to Hamidou, a certified instructor led the group through the galleries and taught yoga poses that related to artwork within the space.


“In the first gallery, there was a façade of a home. It was constructed of a stone that contains flecks that sparkle in the sunlight,” she explained. “To mirror how the sun shines on the façade, we did a sun salutation in yoga.”


Hamidou said students loved the combination of art, history and yoga. Two male students were so impressed they even expressed interest in taking a formal yoga class.


Overall, she is happy the one-of-a-kind field trip may encourage high school students to visit museums more often. She also hopes others consider this outing in the future.


“The entire experience was free and yet so rich in learning and growth,” she said. “Trying something new and feeling comfortable to do so while also learning about art is the best thing for students. I think they will be much more likely to go back to the museum after this. It was so much fun.”


Photo courtesy of Kristine Hamidou. 

BEST tournament tees off in April


Posted March 29, 2014


Now that spring has officially sprung, Garland ISD invites you to enjoy a great game of golf. Join fellow community members as they tee off fore education at the 12th-annual BEST Masters Golf Tournament April 11 at Firewheel Golf Park.


More than 100 players will participate in this year’s competition. Pogue Construction, the Garland Chamber of Commerce and Plano-based law firm Gay, McCall, Isaacks, Gordon & Roberts, P.C. are among the dozens of charitable organizations sponsoring the event.


Registration is still open for a $150 entry fee. All players will receive a tournament golf shirt, breakfast prior to the 9 a.m. start and an Outback Steakhouse-catered lunch. BEST Education Foundation secretary Pam Parks organizes the tournament every year and said potential sponsors can also still sign up for the April affair. Levels of sponsorship range from a $7,500 tournament title sponsor to a $300 hole sponsor.


All proceeds from this outdoor event will benefit the youth of Garland, Rowlett and Sachse. The BEST Education Foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes academic excellence by providing financial support to Garland ISD students and teachers.


To register for the BEST Masters Golf Tournament, or to sponsor the event, contact Pam Parks by phone at 972-487-3254 or by email.

NFHS teacher finalist for Excellence in Education Award


Posted March 29, 2014


Eight North Texas educators have been named finalists for a 2014 H-E-B Excellence in Education Award, spotlighting them as some of the best educators in Texas.


H-E-B’s Excellence in Education is the largest monetary awards program for educators in Texas, and among the largest in the nation. The honor was kept a surprise from the educators, who learned they were finalists when H-E-B representatives visited their classrooms and schools with balloons, cake, and flowers.


Dr. Lisa Lundy of Naaman Forest High School received the Lifetime Achievement Secondary award with a $1,000 check for herself and a $1,000 check for her school.  In addition, Lundy is invited to Houston May 2-3 to compete on a statewide level for larger cash prizes totaling $430,000.


About the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards:  H-E-B launched the Excellence in Education Awards program in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators in 2002 as a positive way to support public education in Texas. It has become the largest monetary program for educators in the state, spotlighting best practices and celebrating the passion and creativity of Texas educators.


H-E-B asks customers, partners (employees) and community members to nominate teachers, principals, districts, early childhood facilities and school boards in Texas. Each nominee is sent an invitation to complete an application online and is asked about their professional experiences, educational philosophies and achieves both in and out of the classroom.


A team of judges reviews the applications, narrowing the field to semi-finalists. From that pool, five regional judging panels comprised of former winners, administrators, and university and community leaders select 40 teacher and principal finalists. Finalists and their schools receive a cash prize of $1,000 to $2,500, depending on category.


Three separate panels select up to 18 school districts, public school boards and early childhood facilities as finalists, awarding $2,500 to $5,000 in cash prizes. Site visits are conducted to determine winners.


Teacher and principal finalists are invited to Houston May 2-3 to compete on a statewide level for larger cash prizes. A statewide panel of judges conducts a personal interview with each finalist to select winners.


This year, H-E-B will award $430,000 in cash and prizes at its annual awards gala.


Eight winners, two principals and six teachers, will be announced along with two school districts, one large and one small, a public school board (if selected) and an early childhood facility, at a celebratory dinner on May 3.


Each winning principal—one elementary school and one high school—will each receive $10,000 in cash for themselves and a $25,000 grant for their schools. The winning large school district will receive a $100,000 cash prize and the winning small school district will receive $50,000. The winning early childhood facility will receive $25,000 and a school board (if selected) will be awarded with $25,000.

Garland police help fund field trip


Posted March 28, 2014


Thanks to the Garland Police Association, several Classical Center at Brandenburg Middle School students will soon have an opportunity to visit Morgan’s Wonderland. The San Antonio attraction promises a once in a lifetime experience as the country’s first amusement park built specifically for children with special needs.


The association donated $1,000 to Brandenburg’s Applied Learning Environment classes March 4.


“One of our members let us know the school was trying to raise money,” Vice President Tim Franey said. “Our organization wants to ‘Grow Garland’ and this is a chance to give back.”


That generosity provided the final funds needed to cover Brandenburg’s special field trip.


“Thank you to everyone who opened up their hearts and shared with these students,” teacher Donita Potts said. “They do not get to go on traditional field trips, so the opportunity to do this is extremely touching.”


Termed an ultra-accessible amusement park, all of the attractions at Morgan's Wonderland are adapted for children with limited abilities or wheelchairs. These include swings, a train around the park, “off-road” vehicles and several multi-sensory areas with colors, sounds and varying textures like water and sand. Morgan’s Wonderland also limits the number of visitors so as not to overwhelm its special guests.


But the outing, which includes transportation, meals, lodging and park admittance for students and parents, will cost Brandenburg approximately $10,000. The school began raising funds last fall, and Principal Elise Mosty says students and staff alone collected more than $5,000.


“Everyone here has a big heart and a passion for service. One thing we did was hold a competition among advisory classes to see which could raise the most money. Ms. Winkelmann’s sixth-grade class collected $898.”


GISD Board of Trustees President Larry Glick also helped Brandenburg reach its goal. At the beginning of the school year, he told campuses across the district that he’d match what they raise.


While Morgan’s Wonderland may be a new adventure for Brandenburg, it is not new to GISD. Luna Elementary School pioneered the field trip the past three years, but this year, several other campuses also wanted their students to see what they may call the happiest place on earth.

Beaver ES water detectives on the case


Posted March 28, 2014


As water detectives, third graders at Beaver Technology Center for Math and Science are on a mission to make sure the world has a clean supply well into the future. Their work began last fall with a lesson on natural resources.


“We wanted to take something they had to learn and make it meaningful,” English language arts teacher Statia Paschel said.


Focusing on water, classes first identified its properties and where resources could be found around the world. Bonnie Patrick, public education specialist for the City of Garland’s Water Utilities Department, then educated students about conservation. She shared several water-saving tips such as running the washing machine less often and taking shorter showers. Patrick also brought conservation-focused items for students to take home, like a cup to use while brushing their teeth.


But classes walked away with more than just the tools to make changes. Beaver’s third grade teachers challenged them to put their newfound knowledge to use, tracking water habits at home. Students recorded shower and hand washing lengths, as well as the number of toilet flushes and laundry loads.


“This unit became more than we ever imagined,” Paschel said. “We always encourage students to be better citizens, and this gave them a sense of empowerment as well as an appreciation for what they have. We saw students proud to tell their parents to turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth or asking to wash the car at a car wash so the water could be recycled.”


And the detectives did not stop there. They widened their conservation views to include the entire world. After watching a video about The Water Project, students encouraged their parents to donate any water-savings they received.


“The most surreal moment for me was when they saw the video of children their own age walking 40 miles to get water,” Paschel said. “You could see in their faces how distraught they were to know that kids like them are suffering when we often take water for granted. It gave them a real-world connection, and that is what they will remember­–not the math, science or English skills they learned along the way.”


Culminating in a poster contest, students used persuasive skills to encourage others to join their efforts. They competed for a Kindle tablet and water conservation kits that were donated to recognize their hard work and dedication. Emnet Dargie received the first place prize, while classmates Juliana Sinclair and Chelsea Herrera Ariza took home second and third.


“I liked creating the poster so people can know they should conserve water instead of wasting it,” Dargie said. “I tell them not to only drink half a bottle of water. Drink the whole thing or use the rest some other way.”


Beaver students will continue to track and record their water usage throughout the end of the school year. Paschel also says this project based learning unit will be repeated for years to come.

Abbett ES planting day unveils newly-certified garden


Posted March 28, 2014


For the past three years, students at Abbett Elementary School have practiced the art of urban cultivation in the campus’ student-run, PTA-funded Abbett Patch. March 7 marked the first time they were able to plant seeds in a larger, nationally-endorsed garden.


Last fall, the National Wildlife Federation officially recognized Abbett and Garland ISD for creating a site that promotes wildlife protection. The garden was designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat because it successfully provides four important elements needed for wildlife to survive and flourish: food, water, cover and places to raise young. 


Fifth-grade science teacher Terri Tunnell spearheaded this scholastic, green project, which has grown every year. Educational tools, supplementary plots and even a Texas A&M-supported water harvesting system are all recent additions.


During the planting event, Tunnell used the garden as an outdoor classroom by discussing ecosystems, water conservation, organic composting and even food portions with students.


“Terri has spent a great deal of time making sure this endeavor has instructional value and meets the needs of students in all grade levels,” Principal Janine Fields said. “She has even provided TEKS-aligned activities for her colleagues to ensure the impact is meaningful. This is a great source of pride for Abbett.”


Planting day not only saw students using their brains, but their green thumbs as well. The young gardeners planted beans, fruits and vegetables, which included baby broccoli, corn, kale, peppers, pole beans, tomatoes and sugar snap peas.


Fifth-grader Macie Davis said she is looking forward to delighting in a snap pea-induced energy boost during recess. She enjoyed applying classroom-taught studies in a real-life, physical activity that she cannot practice at home.


“It is really fun to have this because I do not have a garden and we are making an outdoor science lab,” Davis said. “I think this school is a lot more hands-on, and we learn better that way. I am proud that we got the National Wildlife Federation award. It is just really cool to have this garden.”

Teachers facing deportation receive support


Kim Everett | March 26, 2014


Parents, students, and colleagues attended the March 25 Garland ISD Board of Trustees meeting to show support for teachers who face possible deportation.


Representatives from the North Texas Dream Team, an immigration advocacy group, held a press conference during which they said that GISD officials and the district’s former law firm were aware of mistakes in the teacher’s H-1B documentation and should assume responsibility.


Five of the teachers facing deportation addressed the trustees and superintendent during the public forum portion of the meeting:


Bernardo Montes-Rodriguez, who has taught at Hillside Academy for seven years, is married and has a daughter that was born in the United States. 


“When I was offered a job in Garland, I was told by the human resources director to only contact the lawyers that the district was working with,” Montes-Rodriguez said. “Otherwise, the district wouldn’t guarantee a good process. So I did everything the district asked me to do.”


He paid the fees for the H-1B visa for himself and H4 visa for his wife, but said his case was denied, more than once, because of inadequate documentation provided by the district.


When the second case was denied, the teacher said the district agreed to appeal and under the appeal his visa could be extended one year at a time. But after 15 days, GISD withdrew its appeal which ended the possibility of extending his visa. 


Alfonso Casares is the Foreign Language Department Head at Lakeview Centennial High School. He has been at GISD for seven years. Casares, who is married and has a son who was born in the United States, said this situation has been frightening and difficult for his family.


“We have been working honestly, doing what is right to become legal in the United States,” he said. “My human rights have been denied and those of my family.  I want to teach without pressure from the constant threat of the visa expiration.”


Francisco Marcano is a teacher and chair of the ESL Department at Jackson and was recently named ESL Department Teacher of the Year. He has taught in GISD for seven years.


Teacher Elizabeth Nino de Rivera is a GISD bilingual kindergarten teacher hired eight years ago at a job fair in Mexico.


“I was brought to this country legally…with the promise of being sponsored and guided legally to acquire my permanent residency, depending on job performance and abiding by all requirements from the district and assigned lawyers,” she said.


Nino de Rivera said that she has been denied permanent residency twice due to “unkept promises and numerous errors made by others.” She can only stay in the U.S. for two more months even though she paid all fees and upheld all requirements.


She asked the board to act quickly. “I have done my job. I have done my part. Now I expect you to do yours,” the teacher said.


Jacobo Luna-Cruz, another teacher facing deportation asked the district to do its part.


Several teachers who work alongside those facing deportation attended the meeting to speak on their behalf.


Tamera Bates, a third grade teacher at Hillside Academy said, “We can fight for these teachers…We have left them with no choices, no options and no time.”


Siobhan Bennett, also a Hillside teacher, said that it does not seem that the administration values its work force. 


“Our co-workers are sent away after years of service through no fault of their own,” she said. “The ISD created this debacle, whether or not it was under your watch, and you should rectify it. Or, is loyalty no longer valued here.”


Several Garland citizens urged the board of trustees to find a way to help the teachers:


“We have a moral and legal responsibility to these people,” Tony Torres said.  “They are not disposable commodities.”


Another Garland citizen, Carl Luna, offered his help to find a solution to the problem.


Mark Fowler, owner of Taco Casa, commended the board for acting on issues that he had brought up at a previous meeting and added, “Y’all [board members] would serve yourselves well by getting off the leather chairs and getting out from behind the desk and get out there and see what’s going on,” he said.


Superintendent Bob Morrison said that administrators are getting out and visiting the schools.


Board President Larry Glick added a personal comment on the visa issue:


“I am a first generation American. My mom came through Ellis Island. I hear what you’re saying. I’m affected by what you’re saying. It breaks my heart to hear you say this. And we are going to do everything in our power for you,” he said


A member of the North Texas Dream Team said that she had emailed Morrison and not received a reply and that she emailed Trustee Rick Lambert and did receive a reply.


The payment of the fees associated with the H-1B visa should be paid by the employer, but according to several of the teachers, they paid fees to the district’s former law firm themselves.


HS students receive arts awards


Posted March 25, 2014


Beating out competition across North Texas, three Garland ISD students received awards in the 2014 Texas Visual Arts Association High School Art Competition.  Garland High School’s Aurora Brown and Jose Yepez, as well as North Garland High School senior Monica Moncada, were among just 30 winners recognized during the March 16 closing reception at the University of Texas at Dallas.


This year’s competition featured 893 pieces of student-made artwork submitted from dozens of local high schools. Entries ranged from jewelry pieces to sculptures and photography compositions. Only 141 pieces were accepted to be judged and selected to be displayed in UTD’s Visual Arts Building.


North Garland Fine Arts teacher Lee McBride said the judging panel includes local artists and university-based art professors. McBride believes earning an award in the competition is quite a feat considering the large competition pool.


GISD students were recognized in three categories. Brown received an Honorable Mention for her photography piece, Haunting. Moncada snagged the Outstanding Sculpture award for her papier-mache creation, Pink Fatty Stripy Canard. And, Yepez won the Imaging on the Square title for his photography work, Dribbles.


For more information on TVAA, visit the organization's website.

Read Across America, Texas Independence Day celebrated


Posted March 25, 2014


Tall hats, blue hair and wacky costumes all made an appearance as several Garland ISD elementary schools commemorated Dr. Seuss during Read Across America Day. But Parsons Prekindergarten School put a special twist on this year’s celebration.


Librarian Beverly Combs decided to commemorate the famous writer’s birthday and Texas Independence Day—both of which occurred March 2—all week long. She invited district employees to read books to Parsons students and even created a special dress code to emphasize reading and the Texas holiday.


“We always just skip Texas Independence Day because of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, but this year I thought we need to talk about Texas,” she explained. “In the past, we have done Wacky Wednesdays and things like that. I just thought if we are going to be talking about Texas, they should all be Texas-themed days. Tuesday the kids wore boots to ‘kick off’ Read Across Texas week and hats to say ‘hats off to reading.’”


Instead of featuring green eggs and ham like several other schools, Parsons prepared Texas-shaped quesadillas for students. Visiting readers also received a treat—sweet cookies in the shape of the Lone Star State.


Primary ELA Coordinator Doris Montayne donned a red and white striped hat when she stopped by the campus to read to a group of four-year-olds.


“Read Across America week is important for students of all ages because it is important to instill a love of reading,” she said. “We want them to be lifelong readers, to love picking up books and learning about words, other cultures and real-life situations. The more excited we are to get our hands on a book, the more often we will read. And more reading means learning more words and becoming better at comprehension.”


Jupiter Chevrolet Teacher of the Month announced


Posted March 22, 2014


In a pre-Spring Break surprise, Kara King from Hillside Academy for Excellence was named Jupiter Chevrolet’s Teacher of the Month March 6. Her kindergarten class along with fellow co-workers helped reveal the prize—a new car to drive until April.


“This is so fun,” King exclaimed when she learned of the title. “I am thrilled and honored to be named Teacher of the Month. I cannot wait to zip around in the car.”


Every month, Garland ISD students, staff, parents and community members are asked to vote for their favorite educator on Jupiter Chevrolet’s Facebook page.


“I would like to thank everyone who took the time to vote for me,” King said. “This school is full of teachers who love the students and who love learning. I would also like to say, ‘thank you so much Jupiter Chevrolet.’”


If you would like to see your campus represented, cast a vote before the end of the month. You can choose from GISD’s 2012-13 Campus Teachers of the Year or write in your own entry.

GISD students to be honored by Texas PTA


Posted March 22, 2014


Five Garland ISD students will soon be recognized by the Texas PTA for their creative ingenuity. The quintet earned awards of excellence and merit, as well as an honorable mention, in the state-level round of the annual Reflections competition, which saw 1,005 student-created entries.


The honorees were among 20 GISD students who qualified for state competition in January. Campuses all across Texas submitted their best student art pieces in six categories: dance, choreography, film production, literature, musical composition, photography and visual arts.


Although the talented students will not advance to national competition, all five were invited to be recognized at a Texas PTA award ceremony April 12 at the University of Texas campus. GISD’s Council PTA will also recognize the winners during its Spring Luncheon May 1 at the Curtis Culwell Center.


Honorees include:


  • Allison Cain (Walnut Glen Academy for Excellence) - Award of Merit for visual arts, Dreaming of Animation
  • Deanna Haynes (Garland High School) - Honorable Mention for literature, Believe, Dream, Inspire: Spreading Compassion to all Living Things
  • Kiri Luckey (Classical Center at Brandenburg Middle School) - Award of Excellence for dance choreography, Being Free
  • Landon Girdler (Beaver Technology Center for Math and Science) - Award of Excellence for film production, Worth the Wait
  • Makayla Mathis (Watson Technology Center for Math and Science) - Award of Excellence for dance choreography,  If You Can Dream Dance


For more information about the Reflections program, visit Texas PTA online.

NFHS teacher studies with distinguished scholars


Posted March 21, 2014


Last month, a Garland teacher traveled to Austin to participate in a one-day workshop focused on the literature and history of the Harlem Renaissance.


Tammi Stewart, who teaches English at Naaman Forest High School, attended the workshop, which offered teachers the opportunity to work closely with leading scholars, studying authors and artists such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Miguel Covarrubias. The workshop also assessed the Harlem Renaissance as a whole, targeting specific teaching methods that will be useful in teaching students about this important period in American history.


During the morning, participants attended dynamic lectures and presentations. In the afternoon, they joined faculty in small workshops to examine primary sources and develop effective strategies for classroom instruction.


Faculty members included Cary D. Wintz of Texas Southern University and Brian A. Bremen, Shirley E. Thompson and Jennifer M. Wilks, all of The University of Texas at Austin.


The workshop, which was held at the Byrne-Reed House in Austin, was sponsored by Humanities Texas.


“Humanities Texas is delighted to include an exceptional teacher from Garland in this educational endeavor,” said Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette. “Bringing teachers together to learn from leading scholars and from each other is an effective way to ensure that Texas students continue to receive the best possible educational opportunities.”


The workshop was made possible with support from the State of Texas, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston.


Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, sponsors programs promoting heritage, culture and education throughout the state.


FAFSA workshops help Latino students plan for college


Posted March 21, 2014


Nearly 200 students and parents attended the Garland ISD FAFSA Workshop Saturday, March 1, at Richland Community College.


Organized by Hispanic Community Liaison Javier Solis, as well as financial aid officers from Eastfield and Richland community colleges, the informational meeting aimed to help Latino students prepare for college by offering English and Spanish financial aid sessions.


Nearly 100 FAFSA applications were completed at the workshop, which was the first of two scheduled this spring.  


Richland College Rising Star Program Coordinator Hilda Della Sera helped Solis set up the advantageous event, offering her assistance because she believes the workshop is vital to Latino students.


“The role Javier's program plays in our Hispanic community is very important as it is one of the few programs created with them in mind,” she explained. “Reaching out to parents and providing them with information that can help their child complete a college education is an essential part of my job. I know that we would like to help all of our students, but if one was able to succeed, the work we have done is not in vain.”


The second Garland ISD FAFSA Workshop will be held at 9 a.m. April 12 at Eastfield Community College. Students and parents should come prepared with their Social Security or Tax ID number, as well as their 2013 income tax report, W2 and tax transcript. For more information, contact Javier Solis at 972-487-3262.


Photos courtesy of Javier Solis.

NFHS hosts annual Professional Business Day


Kim Everett | March 17, 2014


The Naaman Forest High School Business Department recently hosted its annual Professional Business Day which introduces students to various careers. Speakers from various fields visit with them, share where they began and where they are now.


“It was a collection of different professionals,” Jenifer Zihlman, CPA and NFHS business department teacher said. “And they shared with students that no matter where they came from, they are capable of achieving greatness through discipline and hard work.”


Professional Business Day is a great fit for NFHS because it will become the School of Global Business, Language & Leadership beginning with the 2014-15 school year. The magnet program will offer course options in business, marketing, and finance, and according to the Garland ISD website, will help students be more competitive in applying for college.


This year, because our Business Department is becoming a Global Business Magnet next school year, I opened it up to all students in the Business Department,” Zihlman said. “We are thrilled to have the Magnet coming to our school.”


Various professions, including accountants, doctors, detectives, firefighters, IT programmers, real estate agents, human resource managers and recruiters, spoke to the students this year.  


“The aspect I so appreciate is that these people are willing to take their time to volunteer at NFHS, for the betterment of our business students.  One company, Grant Thornton, LLP is an international CPA firm,” Zihlman said.  “Mr. Pat McCown is a partner with Grant Thornton and is on the NFHS Business Advisory Board. Being a CPA myself, Grant Thornton, LLP is a firm that I would be proud to work for.”


The event gives the students networking opportunities and they gain confidence seeing people who started out in their same situations who have become successful. “It opens their eyes to companies and positions they may not have thought about and gives them various parameters so they know what they need to achieve in order to work out in the business world,” Zihlman said. 


The students were asked to dress in business casual attire for the event and many of the speakers complimented them on their appearance and explained that it makes a difference during the interview process. The professionals also talked about Facebook and how it could harm the students when they post inappropriate or unprofessional information.


“It was a terrific two days in which the students were very appreciative to have had the opportunity,” Zihlman said. “I look forward to having the third Professional Business Day next year, which will be exciting because of the Global Business Magnet.”  


According to the GISD website, requirements for entry into the magnet program are:


  • Student must be in 75th percentile or higher on reading and math achievement tests.

  • Student must pass all subjects on the report card.

  • Student must pass all STAAR/EOC exams.

  • Student must have no serious discipline issues.

GISD alumna helps create educational animated show


Posted March 15, 2014


A Garland ISD alumna is using the talent she practiced at district schools to help create a children’s animated series that will air on preschool network Sprout this summer.


Garland High School graduate Rita Yeung is a storyboard artist for the award-winning, Boston-based animation studio Soup2Nuts. The 24-year-old is currently working on the outer space-themed show Astroblast!, which was created by Sprout and Scholastic Media.


Walnut Glen Academy for Excellence art teacher Kathleen Hodges taught Yeung during her elementary years. Hodges saw Yeung unleash her artistic abilities as a child, which led to a long-lasting connection between the two.  


“When Rita was a student at Walnut Glen, she had two art classes with me every week. We often have former students come visit or get back in touch with us after they leave. She remained in touch with me during her years at Garland High School and the University of Southern California,” Hodges said. “Rita is such a fun person with an endearing, quirky sense of humor. I am not the least bit surprised to see her doing so well as an artist and as a young woman conquering her dreams.”


Making it in the world of animation is not easy, but Yeung credits GISD for helping her focus on the future.


“Every school [I attended] had very good teachers who were enthusiastic about helping kids learn,” she said. “I think GISD gave me a well-rounded education, which gave me a bit more flexibility and freedom in picking what I wanted to do for college and my career.”


For more information on Yeung’s project, read an online article by the Hollywood Reporter.


Photo courtesy of Rita Yeung

Pearson ES students add extra performance


Posted March 11, 2014


The Pearson Elementary School Honor Choir was invited to perform at the Youth Baseball of Rowlett’s opening day ceremony Saturday, March 1, at Rowlett Community Park. 


The fourth- and fifth-graders were asked to showcase their vocal talent after a parent contacted the organization.


“When they approached me with the idea, I knew our spring calendar had already printed, but I could not resist giving the students the opportunity to participate in such a fun event,” music teacher Sarah Siburt said.


The students, who are currently practicing concert and competition sets every week, sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame before enjoying the event’s exciting attractions, which included bounce houses and concession stands.


Siburt said the performance was both validation and encouragement for her and the kids.

“The Pearson students are beautiful singers, and I knew this would give them another great opportunity to share their talent with the community,” she said. “They work very hard every week, and getting to provide them with an opportunity to show the product of their work to others in a fun environment was motivating for me as a teacher and for the students as well.”


The Pearson Honor Choir’s next performance will be Tuesday, March 18, at the Rowlett Choir Festival.


Photo courtesy of Pearson Elementary School.

Centerville ES students receive gift from Colgate


Posted March 11, 2014


Students at Centerville Elementary School now have brighter smiles thanks to a contribution by Colgate. The dental hygiene-focused company surprised the campus with a donation of 500 toothbrushes Feb. 21.

School Nurse Clarice Segala said students enjoyed receiving this unexpected gift.


“It was a great surprise to receive such a large, unsolicited donation of such a nice and useful product. The students were smiling and thrilled to receive them,” she said. “I usually receive only enough for one grade level, so this was much appreciated.”


Segala valued not only the tangible aspect of the delivery but the practical one as well.


“This was very appropriate during Dental Awareness Month since I had been giving daily oral hygiene tips during morning announcements,” she explained. “This donation will also reinforce instructions that a dental hygienist gives to kindergarten and first-graders.”


The donation was made as part of Colgate’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures campaign, which has benefitted more than half a billion children worldwide.


Photos courtesy of Centerville Elementary.

Austin Academy robotics team raises funds for world championship


Posted March 10, 2014


For the second year in a row, Austin Academy for Excellence’s robotics team will compete at the middle school World Championship.


Team 7504E: VEX Robotics is made up of two seventh-graders, Samuel Barbee and John McKelvey and eighth-graders Evan Anderson, Jonah Johnson and Tien Tran.


They have won 7 awards in four tournaments including three Excellence Awards and have qualified to move on to the World Championship in Anaheim, Calif. in April. The group will be one of only three Texas-based middle school teams competing at the event.


Corey Bankston, seventh-grade science teacher is the proud sponsor of the robotics team. “These guys have been working hard since August, dedicating more than 800 hours of time to this,” he said.

The students will be raising funds for the trip and would appreciate the community’s help. All contributions or sponsorships will help as they must raise money for airfare, hotel, food, and shipping equipment. Visit http://www.gofundme.com/6k8110.


Following is a list of the team’s accomplishments so far this year:


Greenville VEX Tournament – January 11

·         Won the Excellence Award for Middle Schools. The Excellence Award is the highest honor given at VEX events. It is given to a team that has an outstanding design, consistently high scoring, well built, innovative, and they have one of the top engineering notebooks.

Berkner High School Tournament – January 18

·         Finished with a 7-1 record against some of the top high schools in the area

·         Won the THINK Award for their use of autonomous programs during match play

Garland ISD VEX Tournament:

·         Won four awards

·         Tournament Champions, Excellence Awards

·         Programming Challenge winner (an award given to the team that can program the robot to score as many points as possible in one minute)

·         Robot Skills winner (given to a driver who can score the most points in one minute)

Dallas Regional State Tournament:

·         Won third Excellence Award

·         Mixed tournament of high school and middle school teams

·         This award qualified them to move on to the World Championships

NEXT UP:  VEX World Championships – Anaheim, Calif. (April 23–26)


They will compete against teams from around the world. Only 120 teams out of several thousand worldwide make it to the World Championship in the middle school division

Hudson MS teacher gains rock star status


Posted March 10, 2014


Hudson Middle School teacher Earnest Kelley recently performed for students at a Black History Month program. Kelley, aka "The Earnest," performed an inspirational spoken rap/poetry piece that he had written about black history and the students went wild.


“They loved his performance and he is now on "rock star status" at school,” School Nurse Katelyn Nieboer, RN, said.  “Every student he passes in the halls wants his attention.”


Kelly is a great example of a teacher who loves and cares about the kids and reaches them in a way that is familiar and applicable to them. He is an excellent role model for our youth no matter what their race or ethnicity, but particularly during black history month he is an outstanding example of a successful man to these kids.