West TX School District Spiraling Amid Myriad Issues

Midland ISD logo | Image by Midland ISD
Midland ISD logo | Image by Midland ISD

Lackluster academics, disciplinary issues, teacher shortages, and more appear to be plaguing Midland ISD in West Texas.

Various stakeholders within the district community have recently voiced their concerns, with people suggesting that some of the issues have been longstanding.

Academically, Midland ISD’s 27-week benchmark assessment shows drops in students’ interim testing results compared to the 2023 STAAR scores in all subjects and grades but one — English II. The executive summary minimizes the lower scores, stating that “many [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] have not yet been taught to mastery” at the time of testing. However, some of the discrepancies were quite alarming.

For instance, student performance was 6.64 percentage points below the 2023 STAAR test in eighth-grade science. Just 26.17% met grade-level expectations on the assessment, down from 33.81% who met grade-level on the STAAR test. Statewide, 46% of eighth-graders scored at “Meets Grade Level” in science on the STAAR test. In terms of math, 17.05% of seventh graders at Midland ISD scored at grade level on the 2023 STAAR — compared to the state average of 35% — whereas only 9.09% did so on the benchmark assessment.

Only 42% of Midland ISD students scored at grade level across all subjects on the STAAR tests in 2023.

Midland ISD District 5 Trustee Brandon Hodges, providing comment as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a trustee, explained to The Dallas Express that while the 27-week assessment was not necessarily meant to be “an apples-to-apples comparison,” it helps to identify areas of struggle. Yet, Hodges did not share the district’s optimism that the downward trend seen in the results could be curbed.

“You’re saying that you’re going to make it up in eight to nine weeks? Well, show me your plan on how you’re going to do that,” he said.

Hodges said that the only way to effect enough change would be to pull out students for individual or small group sessions with interventionists or subject coaches in areas like math or reading, which current staffing levels do not allow.

Midland ISD is currently 95% staffed and has a sizeable share of emergent bilingual students, who accounted for 15.3% of the student body in the 2021-2022 school year.

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, Midland ISD’s school board passed a motion last month to contract a Texas Education Agency-approved sponsor called J1X to help import foreign educators to teach in the district as part of the U.S. State Department’s J-1 Exchange Visitor Teacher Program. While some have touted the initiative for helping mitigate the nationwide teacher shortage and promoting cultural exchange, others have pointed to the lack of formal oversight of recruitment practices and work policies.

Dallas ISD officials went a similar route by launching a recruitment drive for foreign teachers after seeing a turnover rate of 13.8% for the 2021-2022 term. That same school year, only 41% of Dallas ISD students scored at grade level on their STAAR tests.

Hodges, one of two trustees to vote against the measure at Midland ISD, spoke against it during a school board meeting and in a previous interview with The Dallas Express.

“When we start focusing on Band-Aids and what appears to be an easy solution, it’s just noise and it takes our eye off the long-term goal of being focused on improving education for our local kids that should be our number one focus,” he said.

A Midland ISD parent, Veronica Montoya, told The Dallas Express that the district maintains an acceptable TEA score thanks in large part to an in-district charter arrangement for an elementary school for gifted and talented students known as the Carver Center — an “A” ranked campus. While considered a Midland ISD campus, the school has its own school board, which has created a bit of a “ping-pong” situation for parents like Montoya when they wish to address issues with administrators.

Montoya, whose son attends Carver and was diagnosed with ADHD last year, suggested that the school is only part of Midland ISD when it is convenient. She recently enrolled her son in special education, hoping there will be an increase in accountability and oversight through the federal legal protections of disability rights.

Her son, now 11, began having issues at Carver when he was 8 years old, which escalated when a teacher called the police on him for allegedly banging his head on things while he was serving a period of in-school suspension. In the weeks leading up to the incident, he had been removed from the classroom due to being off task — a manifestation of his disability.

“He had no bruises. He had no bumps on his head. He had nothing,” Montoya told The Dallas Express, explaining that it took her three weeks to negotiate his return to school.

She said the incident resulted in her son being treated as a disciplinary case ever since despite him being “twice exceptional” and thus requiring specialized care, which she does not think his teachers have been trained for.

“He’s basically been shamed or bullied by teachers and kids for three years in a row,” she said. “He used to really love school and now really hates school, and I’m afraid that if he stays in MISD with the bullying — even at the best school in the district — I’m afraid his love of learning and his curiosity will go.”

She noted that her son won first place in his category at regionals for the Texas State Science Fair in February.

Disciplinary issues have been an issue at Midland ISD, however, the district released a statement in January claiming the number of school fights had dropped nearly two-thirds between the final six weeks of 2022 and 2023.

A video of an altercation between two female students at Legacy Freshman High School circulated on social media in late March. It appeared to show one stabbing the other in the head with a pencil, with the former ultimately facing criminal charges. Nevertheless, the mother of the alleged victim told the Midland Reporter-Telegram that her daughter had been getting bullied for months, and her attempts to speak to Midland ISD administrators about the attack had been in vain.

“I have tried to contact the assistant principal,” the student’s mother told reporters. “I even tried to reach the principal as well.”

Roughly a month later, a student was allegedly caught with a firearm at Goddard Junior High, which is another in-district charter headed by the REACH Network. As Hodges explained to DX, the student in question had been enrolled in the alternative education program due to past behavioral issues. Yet they had been back on campus for Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing.

“This kid was unrestricted,” said Hodges. “I think that that’s irresponsible and needs to be corrected.”

There are no metal detectors at the school entrances. The student was searched by campus police, who had been alerted that the youth had acted suspiciously but not in a threatening manner, per a Midland ISD statement received by MRT.

Much like Dallas ISD, which has a history of gun-related incidents on district campuses, Midland ISD struggled to comply with the state law mandating that an armed security guard be stationed at every campus, according to Hodges.

“They actually tried to get a waiver because of staffing issues,” he said.

“Although there are some districts across the state of Texas where funding is a legitimate issue, it has not been historically our problem,” he added. “The root cause of our problem in Midland is not executing those finite financial dollars efficiently and usefully.”

Teacher misconduct has also been an issue at Midland ISD, with one teacher and coach at Midland High School getting arrested after allegedly being caught trying to solicit prostitution during a human trafficking operation conducted by Lubbock police. Earlier this month, another coach at Abell Junior High was arrested for public intoxication during an end-of-year sports banquet, leading Midland ISD officials to terminate his employment.

As covered by The Dallas Express, a number of scandals involving public school teachers and staffers across the state have come to light in the past year, including at Dallas ISD. Accusations of misconduct ranging from inappropriate relationships with students to possessing child pornography have led to calls for more transparency in state authorities’ handling of such reports, as well as improved background check procedures during the hiring process.

According to Hodges, changes need to be made at Midland ISD, beginning with increasing focus on the value of students’ education, the first step towards creating an informed society.

“As citizens, we’ve become increasingly more dependent upon each other,” he said. “It is absolutely imperative that each of us makes a concentrated effort to understand, respect, and appreciate others through a combination of innate and formally taught skills … [which are] necessary for leading a productive life as a citizen.”

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