AUSTIN — Marlin Independent School District administrators and representatives were hopeful Thursday after stating their case to the top state education official to keep the district open.

Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams asked fair but tough questions about student performance to Marlin ISD administrators during an informal review in Austin on Thursday morning, Superintendent Michael Seabolt said.

“(The commissioner) asked some tough questions, that was for sure. But I felt like we had some good answers for those questions,” Seabolt said. “He is very sensitive to the fact that closing schools is a tough thing to do, but he also understands that his duty is to the students of the state of Texas. But overall I thought it was positive. I thought the questions were good questions.”

The state revoked Marlin ISD’s accreditation this year after it failed four consecutive years of state accountability scores.

State law requires any district that fails academic or financial ratings four years in a row to be closed.

The district requested Thursday’s informal review in an attempt to stay the closure, and Marlin ISD’s parent representative, Minister George Stricklin, said he felt good about the meeting.

Marlin High School Principal Remy Godfrey; board of trustees President Roger Nutt; state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; and Stricklin and his son Jarice Stricklin, a senior at Marlin High School, were among the Marlin ISD representatives at the hearing.

Seabolt previously submitted a letter to the education commissioner outlining his plan to improve the district. It stated his focus would be on teacher development and raising classroom instruction primarily in the lower grades.

“Virtually no instruction has taken place in grades pre-K through second grades,” the letter said. “The classic term ‘Crayola Curriculum’ applied to the entire elementary campus, although coloring was a common activity in all grade levels pre-K through eight.”

Teachers must now use a set instruction methodology in reading, and a minimum of 20 observations are required from leadership each week, moves which are not popular among the staff. Teachers also now undergo coaching sessions, and Seabolt’s letter says the changes are already working.

“The observation process has had real and noticeable impact on instructional quality and classroom structures to include classroom management,” according to the letter.

The Marlin ISD group was not allowed to submit any other documentation during the closed meeting, and Seabolt wouldn’t specify what the commissioner focused on the most.

The commissioner plans to visit Marlin to further evaluate whether to keep the district open, but a date for a decision hasn’t been set, Birdwell said.

District officials have previously said they expect a decision by Christmas time.

Birdwell said he asked the commissioner to delay the closure until the changes Seabolt is implementing can take effect.

“I think he’s the right guy,” Birdwell said of Seabolt. “The hardest thing anyone has to do is to right a ship and do it in a very short time. Today’s meeting was about having some additional time.”

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