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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Texas Tech forward Brittany Brewer (right) is guarded by Baylor’s Erin DeGrate (22) and DiDi Richards in the first half of the Lady Bears’ victory on Saturday.

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St. Louis-Reicher Catholic School embraces new era under new name, University of Dallas partnership
 Mike Copeland  / 

Waco’s historic St. Louis-Reicher Catholic School, fighting slumping enrollment, will change its name and offer students a more rigorous curriculum in collaboration with the University of Dallas.

It announced Monday a new “long-term and wide-ranging” partnership with the small Catholic university in Irving. The University of Dallas will not run the local high school, but it will have a say in developing a curriculum, training teachers and in hiring, university officials confirmed.

Meanwhile, the 373 local students will gain access to academic, athletic and fine arts camps at the University of Dallas, and to use its research resources and to take part in its nationally ranked study abroad programs.

St. Louis-Reicher Catholic School has officially become Bishop Louis Reicher, a name that will appear on all signage, documents, communication and, in some form, on school and athletic uniforms.

The transition will occur over months, meaning parents will not need to replace school-related apparel immediately, said the Rev. Ryan Higdon, pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church at 2001 N. 25th St., which shares the sprawling campus with Bishop Louis Reicher.

Higdon announced the new name and discussed particulars of the Bishop Louis Reicher legacy during a pep-rally-style gathering Monday afternoon in the school gym.

The biggest cheer from students went up when Higdon unveiled the new Bishop Louis Reicher logo featuring a snarling cougar, the school’s longtime mascot.

Louis Reicher in 1947 was appointed the first Bishop of the Diocese of Austin, which includes local parishes. In 1954, he founded Waco Catholic, a name that evolved to become Reicher High School and then St. Louis-Reicher Catholic School as a parish and grade school were added off North 25th Street. Now the merged campuses have become Bishop Louis Reicher, A Catholic School Community. The change was made, said Higdon, following months of prayer and consultation with stakeholders.

Higdon said response from parties involved has been positive.

He added during an interview the school will focus on providing a classical Catholic education, one in which topics are integrated as students progress from kindergarten through 12th grade. This approach includes use of Great Texts as source documents, said Higdon, who arrived in 2018.

Great Texts, as a curriculum, allows students to immerse themselves in the writings of great thinkers, according to a course description for Baylor University’s Great Texts program. Students are challenged to think critically as they pursue answers to the most basic questions of life.

“The biggest change will be academic rigor,” said Higdon, adding students will learn to apply moral and social justice considerations.

Higdon said school leaders became concerned the school was losing potential students, particularly those in high school, because its curriculum was not as challenging as that being offered elsewhere. He said enrollment was holding steady in the lower grade levels, declining in grades 8 through 12.

Blake Evans, hired by Higdon six months ago to fill a newly created position as St. Louis-Reicher Catholic School president, said the school now has about 110 students enrolled in grades 8-through-12, far fewer than the approximately 200 students in those grades six years ago.

“There has been a steady decline,” said Evans, during an interview.

“I think what we’re focusing on now is a better version of us, strong Catholic tradition in the areas of academics, the arts and athletics,” he said. “These steps were long overdue, and I feel good about where we are.”

The University of Dallas’ Waco ties include Thomas S. Hibbs, a former Baylor University philosophy professor and dean, who was appointed last March as university president.

“As both the new president of the University of Dallas and someone who spent many years in Waco as a parishioner at St. Louis Catholic Church and as a parent of children who graduated from St. Louis Catholic School, I could not be more delighted about this new collaboration,” Hibbs said in a statement.

University of Dallas Provost Jonathan J. Sanford said the university has collaborated in the past with public and private schools in Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but the involvement with the Waco school is unprecedented.

“Our involvement will be threefold,” Sanford said in a phone interview. “We will be helping them revise curriculum and working with them in acquiring new leadership, specifically in their search for a new principal. We also will assist them with training for teachers. They envision a dynamic approach, with a stronger emphasis on core texts. Teachers are going to need instruction in that area, and that’s where we are exemplary.”

He said the University of Dallas also will make available to students more dual-credit programming, and will assist in exploring college options.

“Students there will be given special consideration, as long as they meet our entrance requirements,” he said. “There will be a certain number of spots available. We have no financial control. President Blake Evans will remain in place. We’re not running the school. The leadership wants a more vibrant, traditional Catholic curriculum. I suppose you could say rigor, but not just for the sake of rigor, but for reclaiming a rich Catholic education.”

He added, “We think the curriculum will enable students to make better sense of their lives, and to have a successful future.”

In his statement, Hibbs said this is a time of “great challenge and enormous opportunity for Catholic education at every level.”

“All of our institutions need to work more closely,” he said. “We need to build institutions that are focused on the formation of young persons in intellectual and moral virtue, in the understanding and practice of the faith, and in the skills they need to participate in the worlds of work and politics. It is my hope that this collaboration will be grounded in deep and abiding friendship between our institutions and will become a model for other Catholic schools.”

Cameron Park Zoo fish exiled to Brazos ahead of lake leak repair
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

Bewildered fish found themselves scooped out of their pond in the Cameron Park Zoo and dumped into the Brazos River on Monday morning, as the zoo prepared to locate and fix a leak.

Zoo employees led by aquatics animal care supervisor Priscilla Duran waded three feet deep into the partially drained Gibbon Lake, which borders the gibbon and lemur enclosures. Those animals will be kept out of view in their night houses until the pond is fixed and refilled, likely in March, zoo officials said.

Two employees in kayaks entered the lake first to scare fish into the shallower waters, then employees wielding seines, wide nets with weights on one edge and floats on the other, to block off one side of the lake. Others used weighted cast nets to start pulling in fish.

“Once we push fish this way, we’ll block it off with the seines,” Duran said. “Then we’ll start netting, putting them in coolers, and we’ll start moving them along to our transport team.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Volunteer Aaron Lincoln places fish in the Brazos River. All the fish in the pond are native species.

From there, they used two water tanks mounted onto trucks to transport the varieties of sunfish, catfish and bass from to the Brazos River. The turtles in the enclosure were mostly picked up by hand, though many headed upstream when the excitement began.

Duran said the zoo secured a permit with Texas Parks and Wildlife allowing them to move the fish. According to zoo spokeswoman Duane McGregor, the lake is fed by raw water pumped in from the Brazos and the Bosque Rivers.

“All of these are native species,” Duran said. “We’re not introducing anything we’re not supposed to.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Cameron Zoo employee Isaac Burkhalter looks over the condition of the fish after removing them from the pond.

Joel Rodriguez, the security and facilities supervisor for the zoo, said the zoo’s maintenance department noticed something was wrong about six months ago, when the lake’s level kept dropping continuously.

“We have a fault line that runs along the side of Gibbon Lake, and we’ve identified a couple of spots where it may be leaking,” Rodriguez said. “What we’re trying to do is drain it and better evaluate where it is.”

Rodriguez said he suspects the leak is located in a three-foot hole hiding under the lemur exhibit’s observation deck.

“It was never maintaining a decent water level for our animals to go outside on exhibit,” Rodriguez said.

He said the fault line runs underground to an inlet near the zoo’s fence along University Parks Drive, where water is visibly leaking.

“They’re hoping to get this done by spring break,” McGregor said.

A group of about 30 employees from the grounds department, animal staff and aquatics staff worked together to corral the fish in three feet of mud, laughing and commiserating about the difficult terrain. Some donned waders and rubber boots to navigate the muddy banks.

Staff photos — Jerry Larson  

Claire Tackitt works to free herself from the thick mud as zoo workers begin to remove fish from a pond.

Claire Tackitt sank into mud that reached her thighs and had to be rescued by Kate Bommer, who extended a seine net to her and helped pull Tackitt free.

Manda Butler, animal care manager of mammals, said this is the first time the zoo has had to do anything like this.

“This is the first undertaking of us purposefully draining it,” Butler said. “We obviously want to conserve the fish. We want to make sure that they are able to be transported and have a healthy life. We don’t want to have any losses.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

A sign lets visitors know why the pond is empty at Cameron Zoo.

Leroy-Tours-Gerald water supply still on the fence on arsenic solution
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

A month after signing a contract for city of Waco water, the rural Leroy-Tours-Gerald Water Supply Corp. is still debating whether to go forward with the deal.

Customers of the water supplier last Thursday voted an opponent of the Waco water deal to the board, adding to others on the board who opposed it. Meanwhile, city of Waco officials have told the water supplier that the contract the board signed in December is out of date.

The water board for years has been debating how to bring down the concentration of natural arsenic in its water under a state order.

The options essentially come down to buying a filtration system or diluting the arsenic to acceptable concentrations with water purchased from Waco.

Neither the city of Waco or the water corporation has fulfilled the Tribune-Herald’s requests from last week for a copy of the proposed Waco contract and documentation of what water service would cost LTG. The newspaper is seeking the contract from the city under the Texas Public Information Act.

Board member Don Ramsey, who supports filtration, said signing a contract with Waco would allow for more growth, but would make current customers pay for it.

“Some folks don’t want the water, they don’t like the water, they don’t like the politics, they don’t like the price,” Ramsey said. “Some think we could do it for less than the price of filtration, but the figures we’ve seen in the past have shown that filtration has been quite a bit less expensive.”

Treasurer John Simcik, who supports the contract with Waco, said the Southern Trinity Groundwater Conservation District limits the amount of water LTG can draw from its aquifer to .81 gallons per minute per meter. He said the water supplier is already in danger of exceeding its allotment.

“We would wind up on Waco water anyway,” Simcik said.

LTG is one of many rural water companies in Limestone, McLennan and Falls counties under a state order to lower the concentration of natural arsenic in drinking water. Long-term exposure to the toxin has been linked to skin disorders and increased risks for diabetes, high blood pressure and several types of cancer, according to the EPA. The agency’s limit on arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion. Leroy’s level hovers around 11 parts per billion.

During a meeting in December, the water corporation signed a contract for Waco water, and budgeted $41,773 for the reserve cost in 2020. However, the city did not accept the signed contract, saying it was out of date.

Water utility services spokesman Jonathan Echols said the city of Waco sent the first contract over a year ago, but it was outdated by the time LTG signed and delivered it. He said the city sent an updated contract, which has not been signed and returned yet.

During a meeting last week, members elected Kurtis Gerath, an opponent of the deal with Waco, while re-electing directors Joe Summers and David White. They also chose Jonathon Davis as board president.

“Waco water does not taste good, but on top of that it’s a lot more expensive to go that route and we don’t need to,” said Gerath, who owns an electrical business. “We can do something cheaper and fix the problem right now.”

Gerath said he decided to run after water board meetings last summer turned chaotic. He said the water board presented different cost estimates for both Waco water, which would require construction of a new pipeline to serve the area, and the filtration system, which would require maintenance and a 30-day pilot study.

“One time, it was $1 million for filtration and $4 million for Waco,” he said. “Even the holding contract kept going up. We never really got anything concrete, especially on filtration.”

The water corporation consulted Duff Engineering about the cost of constructing a pipeline to connect to an existing 20-inch Waco line at the system’s Elm Mott facility, as well as a new station to pump water to Leroy. Project manager Rodney Adamek with Duff estimated that the pipeline and pump station would cost roughly $2 million.

Ramsey said the Waco rate of $1.95 per thousand gallons would break down to about $16 per water meter per month. The system serves about 560 water meters. In addition, Ramsey said the corporation would pay a $109,000 reservation fee.

In 2018, California-based water filtration company Filtronics estimated a filtration system at LTG’s Whiskey Hollow plant would cost $278,800 and a system at its Bode plant would cost $333,870. That construction cost does not include maintenance and operation costs.

Supreme Court allows enforcement of new green card rule

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to put in place new rules that could jeopardize permanent resident status for immigrants who use food stamps, Medicaid and housing vouchers.

Under the new policy, immigration officials can deny green cards to legal immigrants over their use of public benefits.

The justices’ order came by a 5-4 vote and reversed a ruling from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that had kept in place a nationwide hold on the policy following lawsuits against it.

The court’s four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, voted to prevent the policy from taking effect.

Federal appeals courts in San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia, had previously overturned trial court rulings against the rules. An injunction in Illinois remains in effect but applies only to that state.

The lawsuits will continue, but immigrants applying for permanent residency must now show they wouldn’t be public charges, or burdens to the country.

The new policy significantly expands what factors would be considered to make that determination, and if it is decided that immigrants could potentially become public charges later, that legal residency could be denied. Under the old rules, people who used non-cash benefits, including food stamps and Medicaid, were not considered public charges.

“The public charge rule is the latest attack in the Trump administration’s war on immigrants,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration expert at Cornell University’s law school. “It makes it harder for working class people to immigrate to or stay in the United States. This rule is another brick in the invisible wall this administration is building to curb legal immigration.”

Roughly 544,000 people apply for green cards annually. According to the government, 382,000 are in categories that would make them subject to the new review.

Immigrants make up a small portion of those getting public benefits, since many are ineligible to receive them because of their immigration status.

In a separate opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch urged his colleagues to confront the “real problem” of so-called nationwide injunctions, orders issued by a single judge that apply everywhere. In this case, even though the administration won rulings in two appellate courts covering 14 states, its policy could not take effect.

“What in this gamesmanship and chaos can we be proud of?” Gorsuch wrote in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, praised the high court’s order. “It is very clear that the U.S. Supreme Court is fed up with these national injunctions by judges who are trying to impose their policy preferences instead of enforcing the law,” Cuccinelli said.