Marlin Independent School District’s superintendent said Tuesday that a state-appointed monitor fed district and state officials reports for years showing improvements in instruction that had not happened.

“We had some children years behind in education because adults chose to play games with reports rather than tell the truth,” Superintendent Michael Seabolt wrote in an email to the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday.

A former Texas Education Agency monitor sent in to help the district improve had misled the district’s former board of trustees for five years about the state of academic progress, Seabolt said.

“As a result, I am committed to hyper-transparency. The children deserve it,” Seabolt wrote in the email. “So, good or bad we will present factual data with no sugar coating. If the data shows no progress, that is what we will report.”

He made the claim during a meeting in which officials presented data showing student improvements in reading.

Seabolt wrote Wednesday that the former monitor’s alleged deception, along with other administrative and staff issues during that time, cost the district years of improvement and contributed to it continuing to fail state standards. He said he discovered discrepancies shortly after arriving in the district in September 2015.

Seabolt has brought up the issue before, around the time the district first learned its elected board of trustees would be replaced by an appointed board of managers in fall 2016.

The state replaced the board in lieu of closing the district. TEA officials declined to comment about the allegation at the time, but spoke against the claim Wednesday.

“Representatives of the Texas Education Agency, including its monitors and conservators, work to share accurate information on a regular basis to ensure the best decisions can be made for students,” TEA spokeswoman Gene Acuna wrote in an email Wednesday. “Marlin ISD is overseen by a strong board of managers appointed by the commissioner.

“These board members are familiar with the metrics to best judge effective student instruction in all subjects under the current district leadership. The district’s focus should remain on student instruction in the 2017-2018 school year.”

Responding to the TEA statement, Seabolt said Wednesday night he agrees with the TEA’s assessment of the current board, and added that board is the best unified board he has worked for.

He “is not trying to go to war” with the TEA and likes changes made under Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s leadership since he visited with the commissioner about the issue in February 2016, Seabolt said. He said he felt Marlin ISD’s first meaningful help from the state started after that meeting.

Transparency

Seabolt said he just wants the public to know the district is focused on being transparent and will not accept inaccurate data and information from any source.

The Tribune-Herald has asked for documents supporting the claim about the former monitor and is waiting for a response from the district.

Despite the nature of Seabolt’s allegations, he made the comments Tuesday while delivering news of improvements in the district.

With state testing season approaching in the spring semester, students are making significant progress toward reading on grade level, he told the board of managers Tuesday.

The presentation was the second public update about student progress in reading given this semester. Reading is one of the key areas the district has struggled with when it comes to meeting state academic standards, officials have said.

Marlin ISD has been on the state’s improvement required list for six consecutive years and has been working to stave off possible closure the past two years.

Morath announced earlier this year he had no plans to close the district, but TEA officials said in August that no official decision would be made until spring.

Student progress on reading now will impact how they perform on upcoming state tests, which wrap up in May, Assistant Superintendent Remy Godfrey told the board of managers Tuesday night.

Computer-based reading assessments and other resources are helping the district meet student outcome goals established earlier this year, Godfrey said. The district is aiming to have 53 percent of third- through eighth-graders meeting state reading standards by 2021, up from 37 percent.

That will require a 1 percent bump every quarter, and the district in on track so far for third- and fourth-graders, she said. Reading scores for fifth- through eighth-grade students have also improved drastically, she said.

“I can attribute that to basically the teachers staying on the reading in classrooms and making sure things are being done the way we talked about, with reading circles and reading workshops,” Godfrey said.

Marlin ISD’s current TEA representative, Brenda Marek, a professional service provider contracted with the district, said the progress is reassuring. Most students are within two grade levels of being able to read on grade level, she said.

“Your identification process is showing up which kids need the assistance,” Marek said. “There are a couple of grades where we see the affects of poor teaching back two or three years, and they’ve learned bad habits and we’re really having to try to break those habits and get them structured into taking responsibility for learning.

“The teachers are teaching. They’re engaging them, but they just haven’t accepted responsibility yet for themselves to do it. If I see a frustrated teacher, it’s because she knows she’s teaching them, but they’re not respecting it. But they’re working with them and we’ll get there.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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