Marlin ISD

Marlin ISD remains on the state’s “improvement-required” list for the sixth year, despite its most significant improvements on STAAR accountability ratings to date.

The Texas Education Agency no longer recognizes Marlin Independent School District as a Texas public school system, following consecutive years of deficiencies in academic performance, the state agency announced today.

Marlin ISD was one of four school districts in Texas to receive a “not accredited — revoked” status for the 2017-18 school year when the TEA released accreditation ratings for school districts and charter schools across Texas on Friday. The status will not affect students this school year, including graduating seniors. District officials have said another agreement with the state that would allow operations to continue is being developed and could be approved this month.

“Due to academic accountability ratings assigned to Marlin ISD, I find I must assign the district a 2017-2018 accreditation status of ‘not accredited — revoked’ and order closure of the district effective June 1, 2018,” Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath stated in the letter to the district about the status dated Jan. 22.

Despite the ominous wording in Morath’s letter, Marlin ISD officials say it is procedural and the district will continue to educate its students beyond June 1. In fact, this is the second such letter the district has received since the beginning of 2016.

“At the local level, it will have no impact on the students. We will continue teaching, and students will continue learning,” Marlin ISD Superintendent Michael Seabolt said.

The district has ranked as “improvement required” for the last six years and has been fighting off districtwide closure for the last few. It has been rated “improvement required” longer than any other district.

Marlin ISD and the three other districts that were given the status will have the chance for a review at the Texas Education Agency, and ultimately the opportunity for a review at the State Office of Administrative Hearings, according to a TEA press release.

Marlin ISD received notification about the status about a week or two ago and has opted for an informal review by the state, but won’t send anyone to Austin to represent the district — only documentation, TEA spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said.

“I knew about this status in September of 2017, so it is of no surprise,” Seabolt stated in an email to the Tribune-Herald Friday afternoon. “Indeed I have been in close contact with Deputy Commissioner A.J. Crabill and have been working on this process since mid-January of 2018. My reaction is we continue teaching and students continue learning.”

Seabolt has had several discussions with Crabill by phone and sending only documentation is sufficient, he wrote.

“Again, the TEA has known about this since September 2017. There is no surprise here,” Seabolt said. “I know A.J. well enough that if bad things were going to happen, he would have called me in September.”

The hearing will be Monday, Callahan said. It will be conducted by a panel of TEA staff, not including Morath, she said.

Ultimately, Morath will have the final say in whether to keep the district open, but the panel will advise the commissioner on which path to take, Callahan said.

“A decision will come after that hearing takes place,” Callahan said. “There’s no time frame for a decision, staff will take as long as they need to review what’s presented and they’ll go from there.”

This is the second time Marlin ISD has faced a “not accredited — revoked” status from the TEA, Callahan said. The district first received the status for the 2016-2017 school year, Callahan said.

District officials pursued a hearing at that time, but no final order was issued by the state, according to the TEA. Instead, the district ended up with an abatement agreement between the two parties that if the district could meet state academic and financial standards, it would remain open.

“That is the same thing TEA has said since my arrival in 2015. We get an abatement agreement and the official designation becomes ‘not accredited — revoked’ under review,” Seabolt wrote.

Under state law, a district must be given the status if it has failed to meet state standards for four consecutive years.

Despite making significant gains, the district ranked “improvement required” for a sixth consecutive time when state academic accountability ratings came out in August 2017 and did not appeal the rating, the letter states. The district’s financial performance is in good standing, according to the TEA website.

“TEA is aware that Marlin ISD is making significant improvements, hence the decision to allow the improvement progress in Marlin to continue,” Seabolt wrote. “The high school earned a distinction from the state in math last year. The middle school would have earned a distinction in math, but reading scores were too low and therefore the campus was still ‘improvement required.’ Distinctions are not granted to IR campuses even if they are earned. The quality instruction at Marlin ISD is simply superb, and that is even according to our TEA PSP (professional service provider) Brenda Marek.”

The district’s governing body was also taken over by a state-appointed board of managers in February 2017 to help get the district on the right track. And district officials went into this school year with a new focus and strategies on academic accountability to stave off closure.

Seabolt said the board is aware of the status and another abatement agreement has been approved at the state level, but might not be ready for the district for another week or two. If the abatement agreement arrives by next week, it will be put on the school board meeting agenda for approval Feb. 19.

“As of now, we continue on. The TEA is going to allow the improvement process to continue,” Seabolt wrote. “As long as we keep demonstrating improvement, we are good. So, it will have no impact on me or the board.”

Marlin ISD serves more than 800 students, and 98 percent are economically disadvantaged, according to TEA data.

The three other districts that received the same rating have already had their hearings, Callahan said.

“It’s too early to hypothesize with you what will happen,” Callahan said. “They’ll have a hearing Monday and then we’ll take steps from there.”

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