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Appendix A
PUBLIC FORUM AND FOCUS GROUP COMMENTS
Public Forum and Focus Group Comments
Part One
Part Two

The narrative comments below are the actual comments from the public forum held on March 3, 2003 and focus groups held on March 4, March 6, and March 10, 2003 in Venus Independent School District. The comments do not necessarily reflect the findings or opinions of the Comptroller or the review team.

DISTRICT ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT

  • Members don't attend site-based decision meetings (many listed). Curriculum meetings - no teachers attending (many listed).
  • New superintendent working hard to get district straightened out.
  • New business manager.
  • Board is doing better with the new superintendent. Developed a long-range facility plan. But there is a lot to be addressed.
  • New superintendent is 100% improvement. School board motto "no excuses." Gives 110%. Very pro for the new superintendent.
  • School board meetings use to last until 1:00 a.m. They are getting better now and ending at 10:30 p.m.
  • Superintendent has long-range goal for building program. It is good to purchase accessible land and land restrictive property.
  • Look at the primary school building. We decided to spend $1 million on an athletic program before we replaced a primary school building.
  • Back when TSPR was free, a board member asked for it but the superintendent did not want it. The board needs to be more proactive when major concerns surface. Checks and balances are eating our budgets. It's like planning a trip and putting all our energy into planning so when we finally take our trip it last one hour and we never even leave our driveway.
  • Our superintendent has done more with this board. We've seen a lot of positives with Dr. Pfiefer. We have seen a huge difference.
  • The superintendent is very supportive.
  • The superintendent's door is always open. If she doesn't know the answer, she will find the answer.
  • She will break her neck to find the answer. We feel like we see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • She increased state funding by selling WADA and she applied and was awarded the ninth grade initiative grant.
  • Not everything is done in closed session.
  • It is more open and receptive.
  • We get copies of what the board gets.
  • We are impressed that Venus ISD teacher aides get training here for the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Checks and balances are robbing us of our greatest natural resource, our children. How big do we want the head to be away from the body (the people)?
  • Timeliness of communication. Received a letter that was dated a week before and it was requesting information due the next day.
  • We now see the light at the end of the tunnel with Dr. Pfiefer. She now answers our questions where before we didn't get answers. As for as the school board, we can improve.
  • We have a school board member that misses lots of meetings, is there any recourse for voters? We have a board member that from August until this past month has been ill and has not been to board meetings.
  • What about board members doing business with the district? Is that legal?
  • We feel like there has been no bidding process. I have been to a lot of school board meetings and I don't recall any bid or contract being awarded at the school board meeting for work being done only.
  • If they do say something about a bid, they only bring one to the board. It is not competitive. They only advertise it in the local paper and not that many businesses will read the local paper.
  • Campus administrators - who are they responsible for? Cafeteria people? They are trying to reorganize the district to some degree. We have a cleaning service, Faulk, yet we have two employees who are custodians. Why are we dividing it up? It doesn't seem to be cost effective?
  • Everything is run on the buddy system. Children of board members are not held accountable as other students. For instance, if a school board member's child acts badly on the bus we cannot write a discipline request or anything on them.
  • School employees are not allowed to voice any objections to policies at school board. If you do it could cost your job.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

  • Open house - nothing mailed out, not posted. Community not informed of what is going on in the district. District asks for community involvement, but hard to be involved if you don't know what is going on.
  • Website not updated.
  • Hardly any community involvement. Information on the public forum was not posted on the marquee, although a letter was sent out on the forum. The marquee did not have notice of the open house tonight at the school. No letter was sent home notifying parents of the open house.
  • Parents work in Dallas and Ft. Worth, so unless you meet on Saturdays, it is difficult to get parents involved. Administrators and teachers do not want to meet on Saturdays.
  • My wife volunteers a lot of time in the school. She is certified to do screenings for eyes, ears and scoliosis, and never gets compensated by the district or offered a lunch, drink, etc. or shown any type of appreciation for her volunteer work or time in the district.
  • We don't have the parent participation we really want because the parents work in Dallas or Ft. Worth and cannot attend meetings at night. We would have better participation if meetings were held on Saturdays.
  • Suggestion - how about communication. A lot of parents do not receive advance communication about what is going on. There is a lack of money for mailing. In elementary school the kids are anxious to bring the flyers home but the middle school and high school students don't want to bring things home. Maybe if we got things in the mail or email we would know what was going on.
  • What about the Venus Community Calendar Sign on the corner - it is usually blank. Last night the high school marquee did not have the open house on it. No one came to the open house. But if it were sports related, it would have been on the marquee. Everyone would have known about it.
  • On the communication note, the three week notices have a signature line, but are there any consequences for not turning it back into the school. Does the school follow-up for not turning it in. Parents are working and making a living and may never see the notice. To my knowledge, report cards aren't even followed-up on. Sometimes the teacher will follow-up - the teacher will give a 100 on an extra grade or and extra credit if the student returns the report card.
  • I have heard people make comments that the parents in this community don't care. Last year there was an event where every kid would receive an award if the parent were there and they showed up - parents do care.
  • If a parent has a child participating in a program, they show up.
  • I don't really think you can expect the teachers, with their overload, to have the time to follow-up on the kids' report cards.
  • The district has a website. The website is not kept up. The open house was not on the website.
  • I think the community supports school pretty good. I do PTO work and we have pretty good support.
  • We have a community library that is supported by the community. We don't have as much support in the summer as we would like to see.
  • No community involvement in schools. They go to football games.
  • I have seen them at middle school band concerts.
  • I had three parents at the open house the other night.
  • I had four parents at the open house and I gave extra credit.
  • The school is a baby-sitting center.
  • I had a four year old on my bus route and he was almost communicating at the end of the year.
  • Most do not have books at home
  • The community was not encouraged under the old superintendent. I was never asked to contribute to the district for three years under the old superintendent. I know a lot of businesses would be glad to help if asked.
  • When they do the annuals they do not contact the businesses for advertising. If you look, they are people from other places like Midlothian. I don't know what they think, if they think people don't want to help. You never get responses from any one. It's like a lot of people want to do as little as they can.

EDUCATIONAL SERVICE DELIVERY

  • I have two students in high school. They need to offer more in high school. A lot of kids are put in elective classes they are not interested in, but that's where they are placed. The have blocked scheduling so they must make choices between advanced classes and electives. Pre AP geometry and Pre AP biology are offered at the same time and there are scheduling conflicts.
  • I have two children in G/T. The high school does not do anything about G/T. They say they are addressed in AP classes but they do not do anything about G/T. They are supposed to do a portfolio but they have never been shown how to do that.
  • Lots of teachers are non-certified in the district.
  • An aide runs the district-learning lab and there is an aide that does credit recovery.
  • The district does require more credits than the State does to graduate.
  • This year, the district did not offer Spanish III and no notice was sent to inform the parents.
  • I am very concerned about the history that is being taught in the district. Three kids had the same history teacher and one called it video 101 because they watched VCR movies ("Saving Private Ryan," "Tora, Tora, Tora"). I am concerned because of the new TAKS test and I do not see that the district is doing anything to prepare the kids.
  • Our migrant program has lots of kids that are being qualified that don't qualify. They have been here all their lives. They started school with my kid, do not go, and are still here.
  • I wanted this visit to happen when the last superintendent was here.
  • Things have gotten better since this superintendent came, but it is an uphill battle. She has worked real hard. She came into a big mess. We were supposed to have a big fund balance, but it wasn't there.
  • My daughter has gone to her English teacher because she will be gone to FFA or tennis, but the teacher never knows what they will do the next day. I am concerned. Are they doing lesson plans? If they are, why don't they know what they will do from one day to the next?
  • Wish they had more foreign language than Spanish and with they spent as much on Fine Arts as they did on sports.
  • Have they or are they implementing any type of program to address the TAKS test for Venus ISD students?
  • Look into the migrant program. Review the records to see if we have the proper documentation to place a child in the migrant program.
  • Out of date material. Wrong information. One-sided information. Misleading information. We want to get the children up to date with materials and equipment, PC's, Internet, software, purchasing, who is really profiting? The school board's friend sells PC's software, etc.
  • One of the biggest problems is teacher turnover - we train teachers and they leave. It is a result of low salaries. The newness of the teacher is an issue - they are fresh out of school. They don't have the maturity they need - it effects class planning.
  • Staff development - We have the same alignment in terminologies in middle school and high school, which helps.
  • As a parent, I'm concerned about course offerings. We would like to gain a distinguished diploma. We need three classes of foreign language. We are having a problem offering that third course in Spanish III.
  • I think we all want our schools to get our campuses to go from acceptable to recognized status. I think if you can get more parents involved you can make more improvements. I've lived here for 21 years and haven't been involved until the last few years. I am a grandparent. Too many parents push their kids on to the system, but they need to get involved in the system instead of just giving them the money for whatever they need in school.
  • I've seen kids in classes with five kids and other classes with kids of twenty. It doesn't seem that the classes are leveled.
  • At high school, education is not first, sports is.
  • I don't treat athletes any differently.
  • We get budgets, but most of the money goes to athletics.
  • There are so many special education students in our district; they are dragging the rest of the kids down. You cannot set the bar high. The kids should be able to achieve as much as they can. The needs of the college bound kids are not met. I have kids that are gifted in math and I have kids that can't add in the same class.
  • I have a senior who can't read.
  • We don't get to give any input on material. We had presentation on the new pre-k adoption but we didn't get to choose the book. It was chosen before we met with the representative.
  • Someone is spending money on the career technology programs and the kids are not finishing these classes - they are ARD into these programs and they don't finish. They get these opportunities and it is wasted. We don't have distributed education where you could work half a day and get credit like we use to. Instead they are working 30 to 35 hours a week and going to school.
  • Do you have curriculum guides? We have a curriculum guide for the mathematics department.
  • Our libraries are well run. The librarian does a wonderful job and tries really hard to provide what we need in our libraries.
  • Drop out prevention is horrible. We lose so many kids right now. No one is encouraging these kids to come back. They are telling us that there will not be a summer school this year because there is no money.
  • They told us there would be emphasis on summer reading in the elementary school.
  • We were told there wasn't money for summer school.
  • The community library runs an extended day summer reading program.
  • At the high school the teachers really rely on each other. It is wonderful. I help with band uniforms and choir uniforms; I'm home economics.
  • I have a daughter that is a senior and she was filling out a college application and she needed her GPA and it took her several days because it had to be figured out by hand. It is not in the computer. It just seems like things are not very organized in that respect. We never have any meetings on financial aide or colleges. My daughter was told it was a waste of her time to take her SATs and ACTs. Just take what you need and get out.
  • No encouragement except for the teachers' kids and the principal's son, or the volleyball kids.
  • The girls' volleyball team was stealing from the other school and nobody thought it was a big deal.
  • The G/T program is not being done to the standards in the high school. The district is getting money but they are not doing anything.
  • The field house cost about $90,000 of district funds.

PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT

  • Most of the teachers are good teachers.
  • Nurses are very important and are paid so. Teachers are more important because they have the power to prevent harm, sickness, ignorance, pregnancies, suicide, and drugs. Give the teachers more power to make change in our children's lives. Big business and big government will rob us of our assets.
  • They hire too many uncertified teachers.
  • My grandson was taught by an aide his entire kindergarten year. I did not know until the end of the year. The law says they have to report that to the parents.
  • I know when an uncertified teacher taught my daughter I received a letter and was told that if I had a problem that I could come to the school and discuss it. I believe hiring qualified teachers is a must, but you must have the money to back it up.
  • There is no reward for superior teachers.
  • There is little done for inferior teachers.
  • I don't think that is the case on the middle school. I don't think we have many inferior middle school teachers.
  • I think we have good math teachers in high school.
  • Overall I think we have good high school teachers.
  • We have large turnover. We lost 8 teachers. Usually they go to somewhere better for $10,000 increase in pay.
  • Are district salaries competitive? No, district salaries are not competitive.
  • We don't have enough substitutes.
  • Substitutes don't get paid anything here.
  • It's not competitive either.
  • You can't get a degreed teacher. Maybe a high school graduate.
  • At the high school, because of the money situation, usually teachers are covering for absent teachers during their conference periods. It makes for a very long day.
  • They still hire subs.
  • ESL only has two teachers that share an aide. Usually I don't count on having an aide.
  • Health insurance is terribly high priced. It is the state plan and they shouldn't have ever accepted that plan.
  • It's a government issue.
  • Employees with mediocre performance are not counseled.
  • Aides do not have contracts so if a problem occurs in a classroom with an aide and a teachers, the teacher is kept on till end of contract and the aide is immediately released (fired).
  • We have begged them for two years to quit hiring uncertified teachers. An aide taught my son and I did not know about it.
  • I know they went and spent a lot of money traveling on recruiting but I didn't see a lot come out of it.
  • I know our administrator's salaries are in the top ten and our teacher's salaries are in the bottom ten. I'm not sure what we pay our maintenance people. I know they were hauling garbage to the central office. It seems like you see the maintenance people driving around town a lot. They did build a new maintenance building.

FACILITIES USE AND MANAGEMENT

  • The campuses have broken electrical outlets and broken thermostats around the schools. They have uncovered electrical outlets like that one on the wall over there in the cafeteria. Repairs don't happen around here for a long time. The light switch (high school cafeteria) didn't have a cover for a long time. The vending machine over there was broken into today and the kids took all the candy out of it during a passing period. It is a result of no supervision during passing period.
  • Hot running water is not available in middle school or high school or soap to wash hands. No soap in restrooms. Water takes a while. Most of the time paper towels need to be replaced.
  • Problems with water and sewers flooding the rear of the high school.
  • It doesn't seem that the (high school) building is kept clean.
  • I don't think we plan enough. The softball field is a prime example. When the lights came they rebuilt it and moved it. They put up a fence and within six months they were moving it.
  • Up until the new superintendent came there was no facility plan. Now we have one in the working.
  • For the small staff in the maintenance department, they do a great job.
  • The girls' locks in the bathroom in the cafeteria have been broken since the beginning of the year, and probably won't be fixed until the door falls off.
  • Are there standards for toilet paper and soap?
  • The students throw the toilet paper in the toilet and the soap on the ceiling and they rip the paper towel dispensers off the wall. The toilet paper and soap cannot be kept in the rest rooms because it is abused.
  • Maybe we need stronger discipline in the schools.
  • We also need hot water.
  • Open up our school grounds for summer use - baseball fields, for summer use - get kids off the streets during the summer.
  • Mine are terrible. (Condition of classrooms)
  • In my classroom, I have tables and chairs for 30 students and I have a huge problem with mouse droppings on the counters and roaches. And they do try to keep up with it. (High school)
  • I clean my own boards.
  • I have my students do my repairs.
  • The arm that shut the door fell off and grazed a kid the second day of school. This is the fifth six weeks and it still has not been fixed.
  • My room produces mold. That is a problem. On the mold, was it remediated? Had the cleaning ladies remove the tiles and I cleaned the rest.
  • I'm wondering about the air conditioning unit. I've had a cough that won't go away.
  • Have you checked the filter?
  • I've wondered about the air condition unit in the library. It blows out black specks. Maintenance says it is not their job; it is the cleaning crew's responsibility to clean the vents.
  • No soap in the bathrooms.
  • The maintenance truck was kept running for thirty minutes while they were talking instead of turning off the truck. This is a problem with the cost of gas.
  • As primary school gets improved, it will help our district.
  • We have a security system that we no longer use (high school). Our building is open and we have a kids running through the building. A candy machine was broken into over the weekend. When we used the security system, it would tell me which door was ajar before we left. It was my responsibility to check the door.
  • I think they have done a good job with our primary campus with security. The primary campus is the most secure campus. The elementary campus is secure. They could control access at the high school, but they don't. There is no way at the middle school.
  • Two years ago I went to a board meeting and requested that they fix the clock in the gym and they removed the clock.
  • The light on the flagpole was burned out for four months. They finally fixed it after four months.
  • The facilities are really beginning to be run down.
  • As parents, we are not being invited to the schools. I had been asked today if I had been in the new part of the high school. This gentleman told me that the new part looks worse than the old school. It has been abused by the kids.
  • The carpeting has been pieced - put down in strips.
  • We know that the new bathrooms were shut down at the beginning of the year because the boys destroyed it. The principal just shut it down.
  • My son complained that there was never any toilet paper in the bathroom.
  • My son in the middle school says there are no doors in the bathroom. No privacy. He has a medical problem. I have complained