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Goose Creek public voices objections to Superintendent Cavazos’ management

Overflow crowd at board meeting Monday

BAYTOWN – Parents and educators filled the board room of the Goose Creek district Monday night, as the board conducting their regular meeting, and heard public comments in the Citizens Participation section.

For several weeks, stirred by print and social media, opposition to the superintendents style of administration, and his appointment of new principals for 2014-2015 school year, has been growing in the Baytown and Highlands communities. Cavazos announced new principals in 12 schools including two new ones. This followed a similar purge in 2013, when 8 principals were reassigned, many to lower rank and pay.

The crowd of over 200 persons filled the board room and spilled out into the hallways. Most of the group seemed to come to air a grievance, and 21 persons signed up to make public comments. As each speaker listed what they perceived as Cavazos’ poor management decisions in district personnel, they were roundly applauded. Also voiced were criticisms of the board, for lack of oversight and allowing the superintendent to make wholesale and widespread reassignments of principals, and support staff. Some questioned recent decisions to spend $14million on new facilities at Lee High School, when much of it is unused.

His policy to change teaching contracts to one year terms, effective in the next school year, was viewed by most as another move to remove large numbers of teachers in favor of new ones he helped select. Parents questioned the need for reassignments, noting that their children needed a stable environment to learn properly. They also felt that too many new principals and teachers would affect the state rating of schools.

One example cited often was the situation at Highlands Elementary, where two years ago the school had three principals in one school year.

The seven board members listened and took notes, and Dr. Cavazos also listened without comment.

Superintendent Cavazos has been head of the Goose Creek district for two school years. He was previously superintendent at the district in Alice, Texas. His management style there, and here, has been to make frequent reassignments, terminate long term teachers, and bring in many new teachers.

Highlands Chamber of Commerce president Jessica Woods, a mother of two GCCISD children, noted that the Junior School in Highlands lost 33 teachers in one school year.

She stated to the Baytown Sun, “When you wind up with a junior high campus that loses 33 teachers in one year – in one nine-month period – that’s pretty dramatic, especially considering that so many of them have been there for so long. I don’t know how long it is going to take for Highlands Junior to recover from the mess that was created,” she said.

New principals for Highlands students include:

B. P. Hopper — Beatrice Baca

Highlands Elementary — Edward Villanueva

Highlands Junior — Deborah Aucompaugh (formerly at HES)

Goose Creek Memorial High — Susan Jackson.

Woods was only one of the 21 speakers that addressed the board, but echoed the sentiments of most.

Others included Al Richard, a respected principal at Goose Creek Memorial High until he retired, moving to a similar position at Baytown Christian Academy. Mr. Richard criticized the reduction of 16 personnel to one year contracts, effectively notifying them they will not be asked to return in 2015.

Also speaking was Tim Vaughn, fine arts director, who recalled in detail a confrontation he had with Cavazos, who threatened his job he thought, while demeaning him in the interview.

Educator Brenda Boyd told of the change in atmosphere after Cavazos came, and the loss of respect and pride that the staff had. She noted that her husband, head football coach at GCM did not have his contract renewed. Late word to the Star-Courier indicates he has a new position in Anahuac. Boyd made the point that the children are suffering the most, in the unstable environment.

Another educator who spoke was Debbie Himsel, sho has become known for her letters of criticism in the paper. A teacher at GCM, she cautioned the board she was protected by the Texas Whistleblower Act when she spoke out. She said that instead of good communication between staff and administrators, “our top administration doesn’t practice what is preached because relationships… are non-existent.”

Cavazos listened to all these comments, but did not respond. Observers feel that he was unmoved, and would not change his approach. He told others that many of the presentations were “lies”.

Only one of the school board has openly criticized the administration, and this has not always met with approval from some of the community. Jenice Coffey, an educator, looked for support from the other six board members, but only found one other that was moved by the comments at the meeting.

Observers felt that changes to the administration and board will not come until an election in May 2015, when four of the present board are up for re-election. Then it will be seen what the public at large feels about the situation, and whether they support the present leadership.

One community member noted, “It’s hard to admit a mistake, and make a change,” a reference to the hiring of Cavazos two years ago and the support of his policies by the action or inaction of the present school board.

The whole meeting can be heard at the district website, www.gccisd.net.