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School district considers alternating school days to protect students from coronavirus

Jamestown School District may change the 2020-21 school year to an alternating schedule.

Schools would remain open from Sept. 1, 2020, to June 15, 2021.

Students would be assigned a schedule for specific days and times for courses.

Example: Schedule A would allow half of the a classroom's students to attend school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with Tuesdays and Thursdays using online methods from home or other locations off campus.  Schedule B would allow the other half of a classroom's students to use online methods at home or off campus on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and attend school in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"This is all to provide the six-foot buffer recommendation to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Superintendent Brett Hargraves said.  "This idea is the most cost-effective one the school board and administration have proposed."

The school district is small enough to divide class sizes in half for an alternate schedule.

The AB schedule would reverse in the spring semester starting in January, Mr. Hargraves said.

"I think it's doable, very doable," Martindale High School Language Arts Teacher Stephanie Maris said.  "We have to change the routine during this pandemic."

Birdstone Junior High Band Director Hal Phillips disagreed.  "Teaching band students, and perhaps other performing arts students, is not the same as a core subject like math and reading.  I would do a better job if I could see how each student is progressing at the same time in the band hall," he said.  "I suppose I could arrange for small ensemble and solo practice for half of the woodwinds, for example, teaching them online a few days a week while others are with me in the bandhall.  I just have reservations on how successful a band program could be with this kind of split, half the students at home online and the other live in the classroom with me."

Student comments were supportive of the new routine, but parents were skeptical.  "I don't like it at all," Maria Fugis, whose daughter attends Martindale High School but other children attend elementary schools, said.  "I have younger children who will be at home by themselves or if they're lucky will have my teen-ager to watch them while all of them are supposed to be doing their lessons online.  It seems a big mess."

"I agree," Beverly Salvo, whose children also attend the local public schools, said.  "I don't see how young kids can keep up with online learning even if by Skype or Zoom with the teacher far away in her classroom watching the children at home as they work on assignments."

"I don't know how we can solve this problem, but something has to be done, some arrangement made.  The kids have got to continue learning," David Patterson, with three children in the school district, said.

Beth Alias, whose daughter attends Martindale, was optimistic about the proposal.  "I would take my kids to work with me on their off days from school.  My boss doesn't mind at all.  Other parents have been doing this all along instead of leaving young children at home alone."

"I think we can do this," Birdstone 7th-grader Bill Smart said.  "Parents don't understand.  They don't know how we already work online in most classes anyway.  This way, we're at home a few days a week.  It's not so bad."

Martindale sophomore Kell Nunez has reservations about the AB schedule.  "I really need my teachers in certain subjects like math and science, or I might miss something if I'm not there in person every day."

Martindale Science Teacher Jose Oliviera said teachers will have to provide learning in various formats especially during the pandemic.  He said teachers can do the job online and in the classroom.  "We already do a lot of teaching online anyway," he said.  "The AB schedule is an affordable idea, allows our classrooms to maintain the six-foot distance between students, and without the district having to build new schools or place portable buildings on school property.  Some school districts will not be able to do what ours is considering.  We are most fortunate," he said. 



High school teens take principal's car on joy ride

North Mason High School students Warren Delaware, senior, and Marcus Riley, junior, are accused of taking Principal Marcia Stone's vehicle from the staff parking lot.

The incident occurred between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday, April 30.

The principal was attending the Drama Club's production of West Side Story.  The parking lot was packed with cars.

"My truck was found in a ditch off a dark road in the middle of nowhere with the lights on and engine still running," Ms. Stone said.

She is pressing charges against two students.  "They knew better than to do this.  Stealing a car is a felony," she said.

The students, both who can be prosecuted as adults, were charged and are out on bail, according to the police report.

The principal's 2018 black Cadillac SUV was damaged.  Ms. Stone's purse was found in the vehicle along with her cell phone and credit cards, police said.

"This is the kind of student prank we see a lot this time of year," Officer Don Patrick said.  "The boys may have thought it was just a prank, but in this case, it's very serious."

The two students and their families would not comment to The Dragon.

They were suspended from school.

"I can't believe they did that," senior Lan Shon said.  "I've known Warren since we were kids."

"I don't think it's such a big deal," Lisa Smith, freshman, said.  "No one was hurt, and they didn't steal her purse or money."

Damage to the vehicle is estimated to be more than $1,000, Ms. Stone said.  "Repairing a vehicle costs a lot," she said.

"The principal shouldn't have left her keys and purse in the vehicle," sophomore Billy Drake said.

The car theft is the third one reported at the high school campus this year.

The stolen vehicles, each taken by a student and recovered, belonged to faculty members.

"I'm afraid to park out here, but we have to," math teacher Helen Brink said.  "Maybe we should start taking the bus or train and then walk over here.  But sometimes I need my car."


World religion course to be offered

Algebra II teacher Kamon Anuwat will teach a world religion course in the 2020-21 school year.

Lincoln High School has never had a course on religion, Principal Thom Williams said.  "Mrs. Anuwat has convinced me that a brief one-semester course covering the world's great religions and their traditions would be enlightening and is indeed critical to understanding world affairs," he said.

Mrs. Anuwat was born in Thailand.  She has taught algebra and advanced math classes for 20 years.  She has been at Lincoln for five years.  Her math teams have won several state awards in competitions.

"For many years I have studied Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam as well as Judeo-Christianity.  I took several religion courses while in college, and in my high school world religion and philosophy was a required course," Mrs. Anuwat said.

"What I've found living in America for some time now is Americans truly need to understand the teachings of the world's major religions," she said.  "Understanding another's religious beliefs and practices goes hand in hand with understanding other people's culture, life and worldview.  Ultimately what we find is how connected we are, how similar we are by learning our differences."

Bolton Heard, Lincoln senior, plans on taking the course.  "I am looking forward to hearing about other religions especially Islam.  My dad knows a lot about it and has taught me some Arabic words," he said.

Luci Lu also is interested in the world religion class.  "I like Mrs. Anuwat a lot," she said, "and I like the way she presents things.  She's very open minded and makes you think about things you don't know anything about."

Mrs. Anuwat had started a weekly world religion club after school when she first came to Lincoln.  Matt Simmons, Lincoln graduate now in college studying engineering, remembered the club, saying it changed his life.  "World religion opened my mind to other philosophies and concepts, why people in other parts of the world think the way they do," he said.  "I've gone on to take college courses in Asian religions and Islam.  I would not have done that if I hadn't known Mrs. Anuwat."

Some parents have expressed concern with the course being part of the elective curriculum next year.  A group spoke to Principal Williams.  "They would like to see the curriculum and objectives prior to the course being offered," he explained.

Sheri Flores, whose daughters attend Lincoln, said she does not object totally to the world religion course but is concerned.  "I think if religion is supposed to be left out of our schools, then none of it should be studied as a class.  There should be a Bible class, too," Mrs. Flores said.


Businesses seek high school juniors/seniors

Local business and industry leaders want to train high school students.

The program, called Business Leaders of Tomorrow (BLT), is sponsored by the Madison Chamber of Commerce.

"We want to encourage our young people to stay in our community," chamber president Don Steele said.

The chamber of commerce is concerned about the high numbers of young high school and college graduates who leave Madison, population 12,000.  "They say they want good-paying jobs," Steele said.

The chamber surveyed all high school juniors and seniors plus students at Madison Junior College.  Ninety percent indicated plans to leave their hometown.

"I just want to explore," Nan Merchant, MJC student said.  "I always wanted to live in a big city just to see what it's like."

Nan's mother Liz Dawson feels differently and supports the business community's plan to provide young people with viable training before they graduate.  "I know she's got to spread her wings, but I'd also like our young adults to give this community a try.  It takes years to build a career and a life," Mrs. Dawson said.  "Madison is a wonderful community to be a part of."

"It's nothing personal against Madison," Madison High School senior Jilt Timberlake said.  "I want to get out, too.  But if I had training for a factory job and got paid city wages right out of graduating high school, I'd probably stay for awhile."

The BLT program will provide skills and training in the following business and industry departments: administration, human resources, management, entrepreneur, and various local factory skills such as welding, electrical, heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing and maintenance.  "Building maintenance is not janitorial," Bill Sykes, building engineer for M&S Industrial, said.  "It requires skills in electricity, HVAC, plumbing, welding.  And all of this is based on high-tech computer acumen."

High school prom theme top secret

This year's prom theme at Donald High School will be a secret to be announced only at the dance.

The prom, which will be Saturday, May 5, 2020, at the Grand Ballroom in downtown Saritone, is being planned by the high school prom committee made up of three juniors and three seniors.  "We thought it would be fun to plan the prom without anyone knowing all the details," prom committee Lucinda Moralez, senior, said.

The committee is planning decorations, food, activities and music according to the secret theme.  Prom goers will know nothing: theme, colors, flower, or music.

"I don't get it," high school senior Mike Cassidy said.

Lucinda said prizes will be awarded to individuals and couples who happen to dress in theme, color and prom flower as well as perform the best moves on the dance floor.

"We don't even get to choose the music," Terri Alexander, junior, said.

Prom faculty sponsor Julia Carter explained the 'blind' prom was the idea of the student committee.  "It'll be fun, really," she said.  "The committee is having a lot of fun planning it and keeping it secret.  I think when all the students show up, it will be an evening they'll never forget, a wonderful high school memory.  It's unique."

Previous prom themes have been based on the hit song or movie of the year with colors and corsage flower announced in advance as well as either a live band or DJ.  "Last year Aaron Rodriguez was the DJ, and he had the floor rocking," LaShonda Nixon, junior, said.

Rodriguez was a senior at the high school who had been a professional DJ for a couple of years.

Some parents, who often pay big bucks for dresses and suits, expressed concern.  "I like to know my money is being spent wisely," Tania McCullen, whose daughter is a senior, said.

Other parents are willing to go along with the new idea of a secret prom theme.  "I think it'll be fun for the kids," Don Simmons, whose son is a junior, said.  "Everybody's talking about it, trying to get the committee to spill the beans.  I'm OK with it.  Sounds exciting."


School teacher resigns

Mark Hightower resigned following a closed door school board meeting April 15, 2019.

Hightower was a coach at Johnston Middle School where he worked for eight years.

Calls to the former coach for comment were not returned.

A male student accused Hightower of inappropriate activity, according to a lawsuit filed by Mort Nash.  "Teachers like Hightower should not be working with our kids," Nash said.

The lawsuit names Hightower along with the school principal Lee Grigsby and the school district as co-defendants.

Superintendent Marcia Wallace would not comment on the resignation or the lawsuit.

A police report was filed April 10, 2019, by the student's parents.  According to the report, Hightower posted lewd photos of himself to the student's private email account.  The student's parents saw the photos and called the police.

Hightower has been charged with two felony counts of sending obscene material to a minor.

"I think it's gross," Natasha Williams, 7th-grader at Johnston Middle School, said.

"Coach Hightower was great at his job," Ravens' football player Tad Stevens said.  "This is absolutely shocking to the entire team and everyone at our school."

The parents filing the lawsuit commented through their attorney.  "They want everyone to know that their child is going to be OK and that if anyone else has further information as to the moral turpitude of Coach Hightower, they should come forward to the appropriate authorities," Nash said.

"This is just awful," girls basketball player Dulce Villa said.  "It seems like we hear about this sort of thing between teachers and students all the time."

Principal Grigsby called on letting the courts have the final say.  "It's best to not judge someone until proven guilty," she said.


Former U.S. President Obama will visit high school

President Barack Obama will visit Stonestreet High School

The visit will be 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 4, 2019

The President will promote his new book, Interesting Times, a memoir about his presidency

He chose Stonestreet because of the almost 100 percent voter support he got from the community of Maple Leaf, Mich., in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns

"Maple Leaf was one of our most ardent supporters," Lynn Martin, a spokesperson for the president, said.

Ms. Martin served the president during his two terms in office as a White House staffer.  She is now his publicity agent as he promotes his long-awaited presidential memoir.

The presidential visit will take place in the school auditorium, recently renovated with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment

Security will be tight, Ms. Martin said, and explained anyone wanting to see the president's speech must have security clearance three days in advance of the event.  The auditorium holds 2,000, which will seat mostly the student body and school staff.  The rest of the public will be standing room only.  Anyone entering the auditorium prior to the president's arrival will remain for 30 minutes after his departure.  "This is standard procedure," Ms. Martin said.

The president will speak for 20 minutes and open the floor to questions but only from students.  The event will last one hour.  The band will perform  prior to President Obama's arrival.  "This will be the highest honor of my career," Band Director David Phillips said.

The former president, who left office in January 2017 as President Donald Trump began official duties, has been criticized for not speaking out against policies that he supported or created as well as his lack of public involvement in supporting the Democratic Party in subsequent elections.

"I'm thrilled that Barack Obama is coming to Maple Leaf and to our school," Wanda Spokane said, adding, "I think we should roll out the red carpet!"

Even high school students are excited about the president's visit.  "We have heard about him all our lives but never dreamed of seeing him in person," Melissa Gilliam said.  "He was so popular and admired.  I just can't believe I'll be in the same room with him."

Not all residents of Maple Leaf hold the former president in high esteem, as Ron Brewer said, "I was never a fan of his politics, but I respect the office of the U.S. president.  So yes, I'll try to be there," he said.  "It is exciting for our small town."

President Obama's visit will likely attract the mass media from across the nation and world.  "I hope to ask him one question," Stonestreet High School reporter Malcolm Thornton said.  "I want to know what he thinks about President Trump dismantling his legacy."


Fatal car crash

Saturday, June 3, 2019

11:30 p.m.

Mother, Ruth Morton

Sons, Josh Newsom and Payton Littlefield

Family drove a 1988 Ford minivan

Texas Department of Public Safety report: Ms. Morton was driving west on U.S. Highway 852 when at the intersection of Speck Street, the driver crossed the median at a high rate of speed.  The vehicle hit a street pole.

Ms. Morton was pronounced dead at the scene.

Josh and Payton were thrown from the vehicle through the front windshield and died on impact, according to the initial investigative report.

Ms. Morton age 40

Josh age 13

Payton age 18

"That section of highway is problematic at night," Trooper Derrick Smythe said.

Family had attended Payton's high school graduation ceremony and party and were heading home, Sheryl Morton, Ruth's mother, told reporters.

Ruth Morton had worked as the school cafeteria supervisor for 20 years.  "She just retired and was looking forward to rest and relaxation," Fawkner ISD Superintendent Max Stone said.

Payton graduated Scenic Valley High School with honors and a football scholarship to Southern Methodist University.

Josh attended Blankenship Middle School.

"Josh loved art and theater.  He was a very fun-loving boy with lots of friends.  It's so tragic," Principal Melissa Rowlins said.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

An autopsy has been ordered; investigators suspect the driver was incapacitated.

This is the fifth fatal auto accident in the past three years at the highway intersection with Speck Street, according to Texas Department of Public Safety reports.  All the crashes occurred at night.



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