Rendering of the entrance corridor inside the new elementary school in Fall Creek to be completed in 2020. Photo by Bruce Olson

At its November meeting, the Humble school board approved adopting a retention plan giving more than 2,900 Humble ISD employees a special payment. The district will pay eligible full-time employees two $500 retention stipends, with the first stipend added to the Dec. 13 paycheck and the second stipend added to the May 15, 2020 paycheck. These employees are those not already included in the stipends already approved June 11 for over 6,000 teachers, librarians and other classes of employees under the state education reform bill known as HB3. Eligible part-time employees will receive a proportionate amount of each stipend payment based upon their work schedules.

Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen said, “Our school board consistently puts students first and knows that our extraordinary staff is most important to our students’ success. All Humble ISD employees in every job category contribute to the growth and development of every child. Humble ISD wants to retain the best staff for our students.”

The board also officially named Elementary School No. 29, currently under construction in Lakewood Pines, “Centennial Elementary School” in honor of the district’s recent 100th anniversary. During the board’s discussion, several trustees commented that the name was a diversion away from naming the schools for places like groves, creeks and woods but was a welcome reminder of the district’s long and proud historic past.

There were two comments from the public requesting the trustees review the district’s cell phone policies and practices.

Nicole Brown said, “I am a parent of four students in the Humble School District. I want to preface that I am speaking on behalf of many students in the district and we are not anti-technology. We absolutely support it. Our objective is to share research-based evidence on cell phones and devices used on school campuses. And then we are asking for a district-wide, uniformly applied, researched-based best practices.”

Brown explained research showing the use of cell phones and other personal electronic devices can have a damaging effect on student learning.

“Multiple studies have concluded that between students taught with devices present and students taught without devices present, the students taught with the devices present scored 13% poorer, even regardless of whether they used them or not. They scored one-half grade letter lower on exams. They performed more poorly compared to students not dividing their attention,” she said.

Brown noted even the attention needed to make the effort to not check a phone or its alerts seems to cause a brain drain. “Their mere presence reduces cognitive capacity,” she said.

Brown concluded by noting the policies at Humble ISD are inconsistent within the district and there are five out of nine middle schools that now have some kind of “no cellphone” policy while others do not. The policies also vary by class and when out of class in general campus areas, all of which is why she and her group are asking for a district-wide, research-based set of best practices. She thanked the trustees for listening and provided a handout of the information to each of the trustees.

Amy Smith followed Brown and said, “On Nov. 9, a group of Humble ISD parents shared an informal survey of other parents, asking about the use of cell phones in the classroom.”

Smith described responses in general and said, when asked whether personal devices are being used in the classroom for only academic purposes, one parent reported, ‘My child tells me he has free time to play on their phone often.’ Another parent said, ‘My son watches YouTube and Netflix in the classroom.’”

Smith explained a frequent response was that once the student’s work was done, they were allowed to play games on their devices in class. They were also allowed to use them frequently during “free time.”

Smith said, “My daughter is a sixth grader and I have been surprised that they use phones as an incentive. For example, use your phone on Friday, or get a pass to play on your phone. As if peer pressure wasn’t enough, I wasn’t expecting the school environment to reward having a phone.”

Although the Humble ISD Board of Trustees by regulation and public meeting rules cannot officially respond to specific public comments at the meeting because they are not on the published agenda, it was obvious that every trustee and Fagen paid close attention to the comments and concerns expressed. As the meeting ended, Trustee Keith Lapeze requested cell phone policies be made a topic for future board meetings. All concurred and expressed the need for it to be included for the December or January meeting.

The board approved the results of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) that must be reviewed and approved annually for the previous year. Representatives from the independent auditors, Whitley Penn, LLC, summarized the overall findings as a “Clean Report” for the year ended June 30, 2019, which is the best rating they can assign. Following the approval, Trustee Robert Scarfo thanked the school administration for the way it is handling the district’s financial requirements.

“I just want to say thank you for all your work and your staff’s. To get these kinds of opinions year after year and the other awards for financial achievement and others along the same lines, those don’t just happen. You don’t have to look too far away to know there are some other districts that have gotten into serious trouble because they didn’t have the people who were paying attention and keeping everything where it needed to be,” said Scarfo.

In other business the trustees:

- Received a presentation of architectural renderings for the additional new Elementary School No. 30 in Fall Creek. The school is scheduled to open by August 2022.

- Received a presentation on the status of a proposed long-term flood mitigation project for Kingwood High School that will qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) joint funding.

- Received architectural renderings that depicted the road access, maintenance work areas, bus parking areas and the buildings that will make up the new 12-acre North Transportation Center on Ford Road in Montgomery County.

School board meetings are normally held at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at the Humble ISD Administration Building, 20200 Eastway Village Dr. and are open to the public. Agendas are posted on the district’s website at humbleisd.net.

Bruce Olson
Author: Bruce OlsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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I have been married since 1970 to Kerry, my best friend and a great Australian woman. I served and survived Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force. I fought forest fires in the summer while in college, where I earned a B.A. in economics from Oklahoma State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas. I retired from Continental Airlines. I have a son and two granddaughters in Kingwood, and a daughter and two grandsons on a farm near Mazabuka, Zambia. I am now enjoying life as a grandfather, Tribune correspondent and Humble ISD guest teacher when not traveling to Zambia or Australia.

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