Written by Phil Cerroni
By Amanda Casanova
The Irving Independent School Board narrowly voted to extend Superintendent Dana Bedden’s contract one more year in a decision that signified the political divisiveness of the board just months before the election.
Board president Ronda Huffstetler and trustees Gwen Craig, Jerry Christian and Valerie Jones voted for the extension at the March 3 meeting. Trustees Steven Jones, Larry Stipes and Gail Conder Wells voted against.
Huffstetler said in a letter sent out before Monday’s meeting that consideration of the contract extension is “the exact same procedure (the board) has followed for years.”
“On the calendar, (consideration of an extension) always comes after the evaluation,” she said. “We follow the guidelines established by the Texas Association of School Boards for superintendent contracts, evaluations and extensions, which say, ‘Contract extension is a common and accepted practice.’”
But the vote, which came just two months before May’s election, became a political move and split the board.
Adding to the arguments at the meeting was news that one candidate in the race for the District 6 trustee seat had been disqualified and another had dropped out. By default, Norma Gonzales, who has said she is not confident in the current administration, will run uncontested for the board seat.
With Gonzales’ support, the board could form a majority of trustees who are critical of the district’s leadership.
Speakers told the board that the vote was too close to the election, and a change in board members could also mean other changes for the district that would be costly.
“If you vote to give him another year and something changes, it will cost the district more money to get out of his contract,” Andrew Goldsmith said. “Let’s wait until May when the election’s over, then vote on this extension.”
With Gonzales remaining the District 6 trustee, there are two open seats on the board. In Place 5, incumbent Gwen Craig is facing Lee A. Mosty and Manuel Benavidez; and in Place 7, Mike Gregory and Randy Randle are vying for a seat.
Early voting starts April 28 until May 7 and Election Day is May 11.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:22
Written by Phil Cerroni
Candidates for Irving City Council Place 2, Rene’ Castilla, Kensley Stewart and Francis Schommer choose lots from a basket to determine their name placement on the election ballot. Allan E. Meagher also running for Place 2 is not pictured.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:21
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
People rarely fix problems they don’t see on a regular basis, and they rarely do anything about problems they can ignore – a homeless dog will roam the streets, but a homeless teenager will shuttle himself from couch to couch, motel room to motel room – maybe that is why we have a $6 million animal shelter while teenagers catch a night’s sleep at the skate park. But people are working to change that.
In 2009, five women, calling themselves the Advocates for Homeless Teens, met with Irving Mayor Herbert Gears and were declared the official liaison for homeless teenagers. Since then they have worked tirelessly to help disadvantaged teenagers become the successful adults they have to potential to be. What separates the Advocates from most organizations that reach out to homeless kids is that they do not focus on all teens living on the street but only on those who are working to stay in high school and earn their diploma.
Of the roughly 1,000 homeless or “unaccompanied youth” who come through Irving every year, 200-250 of them are in the public high school system where classmates help as best they can, bringing them food and other necessities, but the efforts of a few well meaning kids is just a drop in the ocean of what could be done, however.
“Students that don’t graduate from high school have a high probability of being on welfare, food stamps, becoming incarcerated,” Dr. Lori Davis, one of the Advocates said. “We end up paying more through taxes after they miss the opportunity to graduate. It’s better to invest a small amount of money now to help them graduate and help them have a better future.”
The advocates’ first major success came only a year after their formation when the City of Irving awarded them a $246,000 grant to build a single family home for these invisible teenagers. It was to be a place where teens would have a stable home and all the security that comes along with it. This house was not to be a shelter. Residents were required to meet high standards including random drug screenings, part-time employment and full-time enrollment in school, even during summer vacation, in order to live there.
The project was received enthusiastically by both the City and local advocacy groups. IISD promised to partner with the advocates, and the City of Irving gave them an empty double lot on Maltby Dr. on which to build their house. The neighbors on the street were thrilled with the idea, but the people living one street over, frightened by phantasmal stereotypes, were less than thrilled, voicing concerns that these students were criminals.
“We had a neighborhood meeting at the elementary school. And the common denominator was that the boys in the residential center that we planned to build would be junior delinquents , disrupting everything in the neighborhood and [would] rape their daughters and their granddaughters,” Johnston, a member of the Advocates and director of the Main Place, another outreach for homeless teens, said sardonically.
After assuaging the neighbors’ fears, Johnson fumed at residents who still opposed the home’s construction. “[They said] that’s a great idea … go put it in somebody else’s neighborhood, not in our backyard,” Johnston related the residents’ final decision.
Although the Advocates could have fought the decision, Johnson knew it was a battle not worth winning. “Why do you want to put children into a neighborhood where all they’re going to face is rejection. That would benefit no one,” she said.
Chris Allen, Chairman of the board for the La Buena Vida Foundation, warned that residents squelched not only an important social service but a revolutionary way of tackling the affliction of teenage homelessness.
“This is actually a leadership program, Allen said. “We have a program and curriculum that take extraordinary young people who are in extraordinarily bad situations and allow them to reach their full potential.”
Unable to come to an understanding with the neighborhood, the advocates abandoned the idea of a house, for the time being. Instead, they began looking for multi-family buildings, where unconventional, high density living situations are more acceptable. This has proven to be as monumental challenge as finding building a house. The Advocates must now vie with various commercial interests who want to turn the apartment communities into cash cows.
In an attempt to carry their mission forward in one way or another, the Advocates rented a series of apartments, letting teenage boys stay there with much the same regulations as they had for the house. Although the project lasted only 2 years, the Advocates consider it a remarkable success – only one of the four boys who entered the program did not finish, and the others graduated with commendations – one, after raising his GPA from 1.7 to over 3.0, was offered a full scholarship to UNT. Although a success, after adding in rent and utilities, acquiring individual apartments not only has lesser impact than owning a property but is very expensive as well.
As it stands now, the Advocates still do not have a house, and their attempts to find a small apartment building still prove futile.
In a time when Irving strives to become a steward of the environment and an advocate for its people, we cannot forget our responsibility to those who never knew they had a voice. Until then, advocates are as hopeless as the teenagers they serve, and their talents and energy are buried, like the teens’ treasures, in coffee cans on the side of the road.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:17
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Derek J. Main, P.hD.
The Arlington Archosaur Site (AAS) begins its 10 year anniversary dig season this spring with an opening dig celebrating Darwin Day followed by a string of busy digs this spring. The AAS will host digs nearly every weekend in March (2, 16, 23 and 30) followed by an equally busy month of digs in April. The AAS spring dig season will end with a celebration of Earth Day on April 20.
The AAS occurs within the Cretaceous (95-100 Million year old) sediments of the Woodbine Formation in Arlington. The sediments of the Woodbine Formation preserve an ancient delta plain swamp environment and coastal ecosystem from a peninsula that projected out into a shallow interior seaway. The ancient North Texas peninsula is called Rudradia. This surprises many North Texans, as the AAS, and its ancient swampland ecosystem lies with a short drive of the ever popular Six Flags and Ranger’s Ballpark. Who would have known that an ancient coastline with giant dinosaurs and prehistoric crocodiles was so close!
The AAS has proven to be an important site to science in that numerous fossils of a primitive herbivorous dinosaur called Protohadros, several carnivorous dinos (theropods), a new turtle, a new species of lungfish and a new giant super-predator croc (& her babies) have all been discovered at the site. These fossils are rare in North America and represent a unique chance to study Cretaceous coastal ecosystems. Our duck billed dino, Protohadros in particular is a transitional species, or "missing link", in the evolution of iguanodonts into hadrosaurs (commonly called duck-billed dinosaurs). In fact all of our fossil animals are dynamic examples of evolution in action! Of equal interest, numerous coprolites (excrement) representing nearly every animal within the ecosystem have been recovered. It is also an interesting site as it is among the few major dinosaur excavations to occur within an urban setting (the DFW Metroplex).
The public are welcome to help with the dig. However, no private fossil collecting is allowed, as all of the fossils found at the site are returned to UTA campus for curation and study. We take adult diggers and work most weekends. We provide the tools and training, it’s fairly simple work, but tedious and requires some heavy lifting (not appropriate for children under 12). We usually begin the day with free geologic tours of the AAS to first time diggers to help them understand what we have found and why. Come out to the AAS this spring and spend an afternoon hiking along the ancient Cretaceous coast.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:16
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Amanda Casanova
The Coppell City Council agreed to contribute about $900,000 for the construction of the long-awaited Nature Biodiversity Center with the condition that the City assumes management of the project. Supporters touted the Feb. 26 meeting as a “make or break” day for the project, in which the Council decision would let donors know if construction was viable.
While the Friends of Coppell Nature Park worked for nearly a decade to build the facility, the contractor hired for the project recently discovered that many financial pledges had fallen through, amounting to more than $100,000.
Total construction cost is estimated at about $1.6 million. Minus donations and a $300,000 contribution from the Coppell Independent School District, there is an $840,468 shortfall for the project, according to a memo from the Friends of the Coppell Nature Park.
The Council voted 4-2 for the funding after spending about 15 minutes in executive session. Council members Bob Mahalik, Wes Mays, Marvin Franklin and Aaron Duncan voted for the resolution. Council member Billy Faught and Tim Brancheau voted against.
With the additional funding, construction could start April 1.
The facility will provide hands-on environmental education with applications of solar power, rain water capture, green construction and composting. Elementary students will have an opportunity to study rock and fossils. Middle schools will be able to use labs for conservations studies and high schools will be able to see real world applications of engineering. The building could also be used for civic gatherings and meetings.
“Research showed that students wanted to be involved in meaningful activities in the community,” said Vonita White, nature park board member and retired assistant superintendent. “The park has been their place to make a difference and get involved in their community. It has really been a philosophy of meaningful involvement for students, teachers and the community.”
The center will be built within the Coppell Nature Park, located off Freeport Parkway.
“This type of facility will allow students to become really engaged in environmental science in a place where they can see plants and animals interacting,” said Sid Grant, Coppell ISD assistant superintendent for business services. “Instead of Internet and textbook learning, students will learn hands-on.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 07 March 2013 11:25
- Partnership funds available for façade improvements in Heritage District
- VP of Commercial Development updates Rotary Club on airport progress and visions for DFW Airport
- Airport Freeway one step closer to much-needed congestion relief
- Proposed bridge on former stadium site opens up possibilities for new district
- League of Women Voters prepares for upcoming election season
- Bond election may improve school district, raise taxes