Parents and students from a small friendly town in Texas woke up Mother’s Day Sunday, May 12, 2013 to experience meaningful lessons about ethics, honesty and leadership.
Citizens of La Vernia, located about 30 minutes southeast of San Antonio, realized that after years of being disregarded by their controversial school board, that uniting was good. Similar to the recent election of President Donald Trump, they successfully ignited the power of the American right to vote.
On May 6, 2017 citizens will have the opportunity again. Three of the trustees have formed “TeamLVISD” to promote their re-election and continue their successes.
“It’s been disheartening to go to school here, but we are excited and hopeful,” said one 18-year-old female student in 2013. “We have grown up feeling disregarded by the school board and knowing our married principal was having an affair with a married policeman.”
During Trump’s Joint Address to Congress in February, he expressed the same type of scenario La Vernia had been to in 2013, except on a local scale:
“Then, in 2016, the Earth shifted beneath our feet,” Trump remarked. “The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds — families who just wanted a fair shot for their children and a fair hearing for their concerns.”
“But then the quiet voices became a loud chorus as thousands of citizens now spoke out together, from cities small and large, all across our country. Finally, the chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first. Because only then can we truly make America great again.”
In the city of 1,200, where most elections see no more than 200 voters, the LaVernia 2013 voting was historic. Particularly significant was the lesson of leadership and accountability. Mom Janette Chall beat out the incumbent board president by a landslide, 887 to 237.
Voters “sent a very clear message to the school administration that they want positive proactive change in our district. Trust and transparency need and must be rebuilt in our district,” advocate mom Jennifer Moczygemba stated at the time. “Teachers and staff need to feel empowered to work with the new school board to affect these much needed changes for our district. Thank you voters for your support.”
Susan Reinhard, who whipped the Place 3 incumbent John Bilicek 723 to 182. “My role as a school board trustee will include encouraging input from the teachers, staff, parents and students,” Reinhard said. “I look forward to being a link between the community and schools and am excited about this opportunity to give back!”
“My first priority is to work to ensure that our employees feel free to express concerns and needs without fear of retaliation,” said Dr. Cody Miller, who beat the Place 4 incumbent 641 to 414. “I have heard many employees tell me that this is a big problem and I want to work to resolve this quickly.”
Kimi Kravitz won the Place 2 seat over the incumbent 842 to 219. “We have many wonderful people in La Vernia that have great ideas which need to be heard and shared, ” she said.
The notable election of Chall, Kravitz, Reinhard, and Miller brought about immediate changes. They introduced a very different format to the school board meetings which allowed for the transparency the community was seeking. The new board started recognizing more students and made students their main focus at the beginning of each regularly scheduled meeting. Additional administrative changes came soon after, including the appointment of a new superintendent, Jose Moreno.
“In 2013 only 38% of English Language Learners were meeting STAAR standards,” Miller observed recently. “Last year 62% of ELLs met the standard. LVISD has committed to knowing every student by name and need and it is particularly evident with this group of students who were underperforming. We’ve come so far and have more work to do.”
In 2016 the Board increased the wages of hourly employees to a minimum of $10 per hour. This resulted in a more stable “work force among our hourly employees,” Miller said. “It impacted teacher assistants, office staff, custodians, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and our maintenance teams.”
A highlight of their achievements since their 2013 elections was increasing the focus on academics, increasing opportunities for students, and ensuring accountability to provide a high quality education. Other achievements include:
A soccer program was established for LVISD students.
Through debt refinancing and use of district savings, LVISD debt was reduced.
Librarians at Every Campus
Through board action, librarians were hired for each of our four LVISD campuses.
Created a dual language program through which students learn English and Spanish starting in Pre-Kinder.
Additional Career Options
Working with administration, they significantly increased options for students in high school.
Partnership with Alamo Colleges
The creation of a partnership with Alamo Academies increased opportunities for students to gain skills for life.
Improved Meeting Transparency
With changes to meeting formats, the public is able to see and hear what is going on at each meeting.
Made students the front and center priority by starting each regular meeting with student recognition.
Supported the Creation of the Education Foundation
The board voted to use district funds to assist in the creation of the La Vernia Education Foundation and to support this partnership once established.
Improved Student Academic Performance
Even though state standards increased, LVISD students improved from 79% passing in 2013 to 84% passing in 2016. Students reaching Advanced performance on STAAR increased from 12% to 22% in the same period.
Major Gains for English Language Learners
English Language Learners improved from only 38% passing STAAR in 2013 to 62% passing in 2016.
In 2013, Moczygemba described the school board by “…..embezzlement, a questionable land purchase by the ISD from the ISD’s director of finance, misuse of state grant funds, suicide of an assistant principal, a classroom teacher with a methamphetamine habit and her subsequent arrest, teacher who slapped a student, rampant nepotism, recurrent intimidation by a superintendent and other district leadership, reprimands for teachers and staff that speak out or question the ethics of district practices, and lastly, patterns of declining annual test scores.”
Janette Chall, Susan Reinhard, and Dr. Cody Miller have formed TeamLVISD, to promote their election in May 2017.
The current Board of Trustees are President, Janice Gimbel; Vice President, Dr. Cody Miller; Secretary, Susan Reinhard; Kimi Kravitz, Janette Chall, James Barnett and Dr. David Cribb. Dr. Jose H. Moreno is the Superintendent.