Archive | News

Bracing for budget shortfall

By Dakota Wasson/J-Line Writer ~

The threat of budget cuts, teacher layoffs and program whittling is looming over Atascocita High School. It’s present in the faces of teachers, on the minds of administrators and in the fears of students.

“You see it in the teachers lounge and in the atmosphere,” said AHS Principal Dania Rovegno. “They’re worried.”

The budget worries stem from a $27 billion state shortfall, which is expected to result in cuts to public school funding. Humble ISD anticipates a $31 million budget gap.

Superintendent Guy Sconzo has said that 580 administrative and teaching positions need to be cut district-wide. About 350 first-year teachers, including 32 at Atascocita High School, have already been told that their contracts may not be renewed. The Humble ISD school board is scheduled to vote on the non-renewals on March 29.

If vacancies open up in the district, the 350 teachers will be the first ones to be rehired, according to Rovegno. AHS will only hire back teachers who have resigned on their own or those who are part of the 32 contract non-renewals.

Even with the stress and worry of being laid off or knowing they might not come back, AHS teachers have remained professional in the classroom, said Rovegno. The teachers still have a job to do, and students still in front of them, she noted.

However, AHS Associate Principal Ted Landry admitted that the learning environment, along with the way teachers teach, may be affected.

“The effects of the possible loss of teachers depend on the teachers’ strategies and teaching and different ideas,” said Landry. “Hopefully the quality of learning won’t be affected.”

 A rally on March 12 drew thousands of teachers, students, and parents to Austin, where they demonstrated against education cuts and urged legislators to dip into the state’s $9.4 billion Rainy Day fund.

Rovegno said she has been assured by Sconzo that no elective department or extra curricular activity program will be eliminated entirely. The cuts depend on the number of students signing up for a class and the number of teachers available to teach that subject.

“We trust our students, that whatever situation or environment they’re put in they will do their best, and it’s the teachers’ job to hold and deliver the information,” Rovegno said.

Some classes, such as A.P. or dual credit classes, may have a larger number of students to accommodate everyone who signs up. Other classes may stay the same, with an average of 32 students, according to Landry and Rovegno.

“It’s going to be difficult, but we have great teachers and employees,” said Rovegno. “We work as a team and I am confident that our teachers will find a way to make it work.”

Posted in J-Line Buzz, News66 Comments

School spending by the numbers

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~

Last year, Texas allocated about $75 billion for public school education, but the state remained below the national average in teacher salaries and per student spending.  Here is a look at education funding by the numbers.

Money Spent per Student in Texas 2009-10

Texas spends on average about $9, 000 per student each year — almost $1,500 under the national average.

Money Spent on Education in Texas

The money spent on education has been slowly climbing since 2002. The budget started out at $48 billion but has increased to $75 billion. There was a pretty significant jump from 2006-07 to 2008-09. The budget increased by about 26 percent.


Teacher Salary

Texas teachers are paid lower than the national average. The average salary for teachers in Texas is $48,261 versus the national average, $55,202.


Uses of Budget

Humble ISD has three major uses for its education budget. 86 percent of the budget goes to salaries for the teachers and other school administrators. About 9.5 percent is used for expenditures for almost anything. Humble ISD spends 4.5 percent on utility bills for all the schools.


Posted in News171 Comments

A department under pressure

By Ariana Yendry/J-Line Writer~

Danna Adkins had tears in her eyes when she talked about the Humble ISD budget cuts. Her English department at Atascocita High School will lose six first-year teachers whose contracts may not be renewed and two more who have decided not to return.

“We are losing really good teachers,” said Adkins, the English instructional coach.

In addition, English teachers who return next year may have more students, more work, and less time to spend with students in each class, Adkins said.

“If teachers have much larger classes, however, they will do whatever they can to help to student learn,” said Adkins, who noted that teachers next year may be teaching six classes a day, compared to the current five-class load.

Despite the stress on the teachers, and on the English department as a whole, Adkins said she has been fortified by her staff’s reaction to the crisis.

 “I’m impressed with the way teachers stay strong and hope for the best, even though their jobs are on the line,” said Adkins

Posted in News137 Comments

Challenges ahead for teachers who stay

By Mikaela Wall and Ashley Vance/J-Line Writers ~

Hillary Fortenberry is not worried about his job, but the Atascocita High School World Geography teacher is worried about grappling with bigger class sizes next year.

Fortenberry, who said he is confident that he will be back next year, is concerned that he will have trouble “keeping kids on task” and wonders how teachers will be able to handle so many students.

David Duez, who teaches Pre-AP World History, will also be returning next year – and also expressed concern about the obstacles that will face AHS teachers.

 “We are going to be challenged, there is no doubt about that,” said Duez, “There is potential to have 220 students per teacher.  Dividing that by six classes, you are looking at classes of 37 kids.”

Guy Sconzo, the Superintendent of Schools at Humble Independent School District, has said that 580 positions must be cut across the district.

“I am not an expert in school financing.  But, then again, who can be with this convoluted and ridiculous system they have designed?” said Duez. “Honestly, I am not sure how they can go district to district and divvy out cuts or monies. That seems like an impossible puzzle to put together.”

Despite the chaos and stress, Duez still has faith and looks at the bright side.

“We have amazing teachers at this school.  With absolute confidence I can say that this group of teachers will continue to work as hard as they can to support our student’s learning,” said Duez. “This budget crisis will knock us off our stride as a school, but I am confident we will keep on running.  We have a tremendous faculty and staff.  For that we are very lucky.”

Posted in News0 Comments

“I’m sort of sad”

By Bri’Anna Dilbeck and Camela Bluford/J-Line Writers ~

From freshmen to seniors, from Gold House to Red House, from classroom to band room, students at Atascocita High School are wondering and worrying how their education will be affected by potential budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

“I’m sort of sad,” said Daniel Orlas, a freshman, who voiced a sentiment shared by many students facing the loss of teachers.

About 350 first-year teachers have been told their contracts will not be renewed because of district budget woes. At AHS, about 32 teachers would be affected by the non-renewals. The loss of teachers could also result in larger class sizes, district administrators have said.

“It’s really stupid and sad. Really, it’s just sad and it’s hard for other teachers to find jobs,” said Betty Yifter, an AHS junior. “We won’t learn anything because everybody will make trouble and the teachers won’t be able to control the students.”

Like other students, Yifter was concerned that larger class sizes will make learning harder for students. “Education next year will be difficult,” Yifter said.

Sophomore Monica Garcia is also distressed by the possibility of losing teachers and having as many as 40 students in one class.

“It doesn’t feel right, I mean they didn’t do anything wrong,” Garcia said, referring to the teachers who may lose jobs. “One teacher and less students means a good education, but one teacher and lots of students means no education.”

Posted in J-Line Buzz, News135 Comments

District budget woes cut deep

By Dakota Wasson/J-Line Writer ~

The Texas budget crisis hit home this week when about 350 Humble ISD teachers on a first-year probationary contract found out that their contracts may not be renewed at the end of the school year.

More than 30 Atascocita High School teachers were told Thursday that Superintendent Guy M. Sconzo would recommend not renewing their contracts. The announcement came during an after-school meeting marked by tears, grim faces, and shock.

The non-renewals are a result of an expected $31 million gap in Humble ISD — one of the many Texas districts facing money troubles because of a $27 billion state budget shortfall.

To balance the budget, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Republican leaders in the Legislature have introduced bills to reduce education spending, according to a Feb. 14 article in the New York Times.  The cuts represent the largest budget cuts to public education since World War II, according to the New York Times article.

Each of the AHS teachers whose contract may not be renewed received a letter from Sconzo that read in part, “Humble I.S.D. will be facing the most devastating local budget deficit we have ever experienced … Unfortunately, preparing for the worst must include staffing reductions in all levels and in all functions in our district.”

The Humble ISD Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on Sconzo’s recommendation on March 29.

Humble ISD will have to reduce staffing by about 580 positions, according to a Feb. 7 letter from Sconzo to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.  In the letter, Sconzo outlined the possible impact of the staff reductions, including boosting high school teaching loads to as many as 220 students, “virtually eliminating” arts education electives, reducing coaches, and nearly doubling the loads of counselors and school nurses.

In addition, teachers will likely go from teaching five-period work days to teaching six out of seven periods with one conference period.

 “This level of reductions will result in taking leaps backwards in all we have tried to do to further student learning,” Sconzo says in the letter.

Worry about the budget cuts has been hanging over AHS for weeks, as teachers  wondered whether they would be losing their jobs or feared that some programs will be eliminated.

“I am concerned that our AG/FFA program could lose some funding that is important to our operations and travel,” said AHS Agricultural teacher and FFA staff Traci Hendrix.

The overwhelming task of having larger classes and more students also concerns teachers. Science rooms, meant to hold 24 students, are already holding 30 or more students without budget cuts and teacher reductions, according to dual credit chemistry teacher James Simms.

“Larger classes lead to more discipline problems, make it harder to work with struggling students, and make it harder to teach overall,” said Simms. “In science, larger classes are going to create a much greater chance of an accident happening.”

Posted in Education, J-Line Buzz, News0 Comments

Fake trees aren’t all they’re cut out to be

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~

More and more people are turning to artificial Christmas trees rather than live ones, but fake trees may be more naughty than nice – containing dangerous chemicals and produced in factories where working conditions are poor.

About 48 percent of United States households had artificial trees in 2002, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture. That number is growing as American consumers discover that the work of keeping up with a real tree just doesn’t fit into their busy schedules.

 Some people buy artificial trees because they have allergies to pine, but it’s not pine they should be worried about. Some fake trees have a warning label that says they contain lead and other chemicals. These chemicals can cause birth defects or other reproductive harm, according to the small print on the back of many artificial tree boxes. However, most people don’t pay attention to the little red square in the corner of boxes when they buy their holiday decorations.

Most fake Christmas trees are foreign-made, with about 85 percent of trees in the United States imported from China, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

A 2003 Washington Post article offered this description of the conditions at a Chinese tree factory: “On the concrete floors of Zhang’s Shuitou Company factory, migrant workers, most earning about $100 a month, squat in front of hissing machinery as they melt chips into moldable plastic.”

Some fake trees claim that they are “fireproof,” but that isn’t always the case. In 2004, the Farmington Hills Fire Department of Detroit performed a test to see how artificial and real trees react in a house fire.

After conducting the experiment, the artificial tree resisted the flames for a certain amount of time, then caught fire and projected a significant amount of heat and toxic smoke into the air. On the other hand, a well-cared-for real tree remained mostly intact after the blaze.

Posted in News0 Comments

“My life is bigger than myself”

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~

This is Kap McWhorter’s philosophy: “Not simply to train young adults to be good students but to provide opportunities for them to become great people.”

McWhorter, whose philosophy is stated on his teacher web page, is a social action teacher at Atascocita High School. He and his students will be holding a toy drive at Atascocita High School to help local families during this Christmas season through Humble Area Assistance Ministries (HAAM).

HAAM is a non-profit organization that helps families in need. They started 20 years ago when many different churches and organizations came together to make their efforts go further. Last year, HAAM helped 3,700 children receive toys for Christmas.

The toy drive will be going on until Friday, December 10. On the last day of this semester, McWhorter and his social action students will go to the toy warehouse and help parents in need pick out toys for their kids.

“They get to put a face to an issue,” said McWhorter.

The social action class does a lot of talking about the issue of poverty, but when the students get to go to the warehouse they actually get to see their efforts in action. It’s truly a “life altering experience,” said McWhorter.

 The class started when McWhorter grew tired seeing how students were being taught. It was all about the students getting good grades and having above average test scores. McWhorter wanted to start a class that made the students think, “my life is bigger than myself.”

When students bring in toys for the toy drive, they can drop the gifts in big decorated boxes at the front of each house, and attach a slip on the toy saying who they are and who their advisory teacher is.

At the end of the toy drive, the advisory that brings in the most toys will be able to go with the social action class to the toy warehouse and help the parents shop. The PTSA will supply a pizza party to the advisory that brings in the most toys in each house.

“I would feel horrible not being able to provide my kids with presents this Christmas,” said McWhorter.

And that’s one of the reasons he does what he does — to help families eliminate the burden of not providing gifts for their children this holiday season.

Posted in News1 Comment

Achoo! … Flu season is here

By Kelly Rubalcaba/J-Line Writer ~

This is the season for the outbreak of swine flu.

Health officials state that approximately two billion could get the swine flu from 2009 to 2010. The swine flu is a disease caused by Type A influenza viruses.

The swine flu has been widespread in the United States since since 2009 and is expected to continue.  In August 2009, according to the Center Disease Control, more than two million people had contracted the swine flu.

But the swine flu has not been much of a problem at Atascocita High School. At least, not so far.

“Last year, we were seeing signs of flu in early September,” Denise Cleary said. “Most cases of the flu were not confirmed as swine flu.”

 Swine flu is spread by coughing or sneezing of people who are sick with the virus. It is also spread by touching infected things and putting your hands near your mouth.

“I do not know if they would close school for the flu since there are many variables,” said Cleary.

The H1N1 virus is known for its name because of its similarities to viruses in North American pigs. Children, the elderly, and pregnant woman are more likely to get the seasonal flu. Between 250,000 and 500,000 people, die each year from it. So, health officials warn parents, teachers, and students to stay alert for warning signs.

“It is not too early to see signs of the flu,” said Cleary.

Posted in News0 Comments

Studying the scene of the crime

By Edgar Galvan/J-Line Writer ~

Walk up the stairs into White House, past red painted walls, and to room 2317. There, the door reads “MRS. WELCH FORENSIC SCIENCE.” Inside the room, tables are lined up behind each other and the scene resembles a science lab.

This is where Cindy Welch teaches forensic science at Atascocita High School. The unique class introduces students to the techniques and science behind crime scene investigation.

So far this year, the class has welcomed three guest speakers: a sketch artist, a Houston Police Department crime scene officer, and a photographer. They have also done some minor projects, including looking at maggots and taking fingerprints from the teachers.

Welch, who is from Ohio, worked as a Houston police officer after moving to Texas. After the birth of her first son, she went back to work, but her schedule started to get out of control so she decided to become a teacher.

To Welch, class shouldn’t be a breeze for the students.

“I like to put a challenge on the kids I teach,” said Welch, “so if I had to teach something other than forensic science, I would teach chemistry.”

She has taught chemistry in the past for two years.

Posted in News0 Comments

The wheels on the bus don’t go round

By Lexie Cooper/J-Line Writer ~

Dozens of students sit yelling, talking, texting, singing, sleeping. At each jerking halt, a group of bodies clambers out the narrow doorway. To many high school students, this is a very familiar scenario. It is the every day routine of taking the bus to or from school.

However, due to budget cuts, Atascocita High School only offers busses to students who live outside a two-mile radius of the school.

“I think two miles is reasonable,” said AHS Vice Principal Ted Landry.

Humble Independent School District, not the individual school, sets the bus routes. Landry supported the decision, saying “83 to 88 percent” of a school’s budget is staffing.

Although the vice principal seems to agree with the two-mile radius policy, not everyone is happy about it.

“I don’t like the school for doing this,” said junior Joe Rees.

The National Academies of Science produced a study last year that said about 800 students die each year going to and from school. Only 20 of these deaths are bus-related.

Jerrisue Peters, a mother of AHS students, expressed concerns about her daughter’s safety when walking.

“I don’t know the reasons,” she said. “But they had better be pretty darn good for them to put the safety of students at risk.”

Landry, however, mentioned the Mark Twain quote, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics,” in response to the National Academies of Science study.

“You can manipulate numbers,” he said.

Landry explained that he feels it is easy to make statistics say exactly what someone wants them to. Regardless of the statistic, parents’ views of the school are influenced when their child doesn’t have a bus available to them.

Many parents, such as Peters and Rob Brady, feel that two miles is too far to ask a student to walk.

“It’s wrong to have a child walk almost two miles to and from school because their house is just under two miles from the school,” said Brady. “In fact one mile is too far for a child to walk, especially considering how early school starts a child would have to leave by 6 or 5:45 depending on how far they are and they most likely would be late.”

The cutback has had an impact on some of the students’ and parents’ opinions of the school, even if the faculty agrees with the reasoning behind it. Some guardians feel there are other places, like clubs and sports teams, the school should try to save money before deciding to expose students to the dangers of walking in the street.

“I pay tax dollars to the school,” Peters said. “And I should be assured of her safety instead of having to worry about whether some driver is going to be careless or some other problem arise.”

Posted in News1 Comment

Pink cause nets green

A month-long campaign to raise breast cancer awareness, spearheaded by Atascocita High School teacher Monique Zibi and the French Club, raised $3,294 — about $700 more than last year’s fundraising drive.

The money was raised through the sale of tee-shirts, baskets, and participation in the “Race for the Cure,” according to  Zibi.

The campaign culminated with a “Wear Pink” Day on October 28, when hundreds of staff members and students donned pink attire to support the cause.

“It is so exciting to see the way that the staff, students and parents have responded to the campaign,” Zibi said in an email thanking school employees for their participation.

Zibi also appplauded Blue House 1 secretary Patti Stevenson for overseeing tee-shirt orders and delivery.

Posted in J-Line Buzz, News0 Comments

December 2017
« Mar    

Do you have a tip for AHS J-Line?

Send story ideas to