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Victoria high schools call meeting to combat absenteeism, close education gaps

By KBell
March 5, 2012 at 9:04 p.m.
Updated March 4, 2012 at 9:05 p.m.

Steve Murdock, the former State Demographer for Texas, discusses shifting demographics at a meeting Monday. Victoria East and West high schools called the meeting of community stakeholders to address challenges in education.

Numbers flew around a community meeting Monday night: 65 percent of the population growth in Texas over the last decade came from Hispanics; 771,504 kids joined the Texas school system in the same period; 42.5 percent of Hispanics in Texas had less than a high school education.

And about 100 people showed up to learn about how they can navigate the statistics.

Victoria East and West high schools called a meeting of community stakeholders, urging them to brainstorm ideas that would make education a priority in the area.

"We feel that it is a partnership, and it's going to take all of us together, collaborating to change the dynamics of our community," West High School Principal Debbie Crick said. "We need to increase the desire of our students and their families to pursue education."

Steve Murdock, the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau and State Demographer for Texas, was on hand to provide a glimpse at how changing demographics in the United States, Texas and particularly the Victoria area prove a challenge for education and ultimately society.

"As population changes, if we do not change the socioeconomics that go with them, primarily through education, we will change the. very economy of Texas and the united states as a whole," he said.

Murdock ran through slides littered with numbers and charts showing shifting demographics, which earned more than a few "wow's" from the audience. Perhaps most notably, he touched on projections for Texas' future if education gaps are not closed.

By 2040, for example, the labor force could be made up of 30 percent of people without a high school education. Poverty would increase four percent, Murdock added.

But if education gaps are closed, the state's aggregate household income could increase by $300 billion per year. Consumer expenditures could increase by $224 billion per year by 2040, Murdock said.

His presentation led into a plea from Crick and Victoria East High School Principal Greg Crockett. They urged community members to brainstorm ideas to combat one of the high school's biggest challenges in closing education gaps: attendance.

Attendance rates at the Victoria high schools hover around 90 percent, meaning about 300 students are absent on a given day. With a block schedule that includes 90-minute classes every other day, missing a single class is like missing two days of instruction, Crockett said.

While the schools have implemented efforts to get kids to come to school - like making home visits, sending out automated phone calls, creating attendance contracts and taking families to truancy court - the principals asked those at the meeting to write down other ideas.

Ross Mansker, a VISD board member, suggested churches encourage their members to get into classrooms and make themselves available to the needs of the schools in their neighborhoods.

At another table, Lori Zamora, a member of Northside Rotary was discussing the Early Act First Knight program that teaches kids pillars of behavior, like responsibility, service and confidence. She said she thinks intervention is most effective at an early age.

Guests at her table also suggested businesses sending out public service announcements to promote education.

The conversation, at least, was started.

"This is a call for help. it's not a time for us to point fingers at any one. We're way beyond that in Victoria," Crockett said. "It's a call for help in Victoria and the community where education and business can flourish."



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