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My First Semester as a CIS Project Manager

Alfi Thazhathel is a new Project Manager serving in Crowley ISD.

I joined Communities In Schools in fall of 2013 as a Project Manager, eager to begin my career in Social Work, especially working with students at a school.

The training sessions were intense–it seemed like there was so much information to absorb! My fellow co-workers encouraged me along the way, reassuring me and empowering me as I moved toward my first day working inside the school.

On my first day at North Crowley 9th Grade Campus, I was introduced to the school staff, a friendly group who welcomed me with open arms. I truly enjoy working with each and every staff member. They make me feel as if I am making a difference and a vital part of the school’s team. Similarly, the students at the school are very respectful and understand that I am there to help them succeed. In just a short time, we have developed strong relationships–they view me as someone who is always there for them.

Even in a short time, there have been many successes to celebrate.  I have coordinated school-wide events, class field trips, and other activities for the students. I have provided effective individual services and case management, with many students showing improvements in grades, attendance, and behavior. Low self-esteem and anger are prevalent at my school, and group sessions with students who struggle in these areas are already proving very successful at addressing the issues.

As with any job, there are some challenges, mainly paperwork! It can be difficult to keep up with intense documentation as time flies by each day. However, a critical part of the CIS model is accountability and tracking the effective and performance outcomes of our program. Student data allows us to analyze our practices, improve where needed, and monitor students’ progress throughout the year. Another challenge is finding adequate time to meet with the students, to provide them with the in-depth support we desire for them. We are constantly trying to strike a balance between providing them with the support they need for individual or group sessions without interrupting classroom time.

Despite the challenges, I truly enjoy going to work every day. I can see the difference I am making. Seeing students come in to my office with a frown and leaving with a smile truly makes my day. The dream I had of making a difference in the lives of young people is slowly coming true. I am thankful to be a part of the CIS team.

Alfi J. Thazhathel, LMSW

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What Can Be Done?

In December, the nation reeled in horror at the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and 6 adults were murdered inside an elementary school.

 People’s minds are flooded with questions as to how and why such a tragedy could occur. What demons possess a young man’s mind that would lead him to destroy innocent lives? Why wasn’t the storm brewing inside Adam Lanza detected earlier and addressed before it escalated into disaster?

 Now we are witnesses to a national mental health conversation and questions about whether there is adequate mental health support for young people available at the school level. Have enough resources been allocated to the early identification of the root causes of such destructive behavior?

 Indeed, many school psychologists and counselors report they are already overburdened…So what more can be done?

 Communities In Schools recognizes the critical need for more social workers inside local schools. Tell us what you think.


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Look for the Nike Swoosh!

Allan Porowski from ICF International and Heather Clawson from Communities In Schools (CIS) recently completed a five-year, comprehensive evaluation of CIS and discovered some compelling takeaways we wanted to share!

One of the main lessons learned is that “sometimes, you have to catch falling knives.” The students working with CIS were selected because they were on fast, downward spiral concerning to grades, behavior, etc. Contradictory to the old stock market adage, CIS must “catch falling knives” everyday to ensure their services are going to the kids who need help most.

Student’s behavior patterns can be easily visualized by “looking for the Nike swoosh.” At-risk youth generally follow this pattern: “an initial downward slide followed by a longer, more protracted period of improvement.” Changing students’ initial negative behavior and turning their lives around takes time…so patience is a must to allow kids enough time to show improvement!

For the full article, visit: http://aea365.org/blog/?p=6718


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Transitioning from School to Summer

As the last days of school approach, some would say “it’s winding down”.  How wrong they are! Students are growing excited for summer and starting to itch to be free from school.  Faculty and school staff hurry to finish their last teachings of the year and prepare for the summer.  As a CIS social worker, closing paperwork is just beginning.  We have attended training to learn how to finish all of our paperwork and are now ready to begin the process of closing our students’ files by collecting their final report cards and progress reports on improvements they have made throughout the year. 

Closing files sounds like only doing paperwork, but it also means saying goodbye to students that you have worked with for at least a year or maybe more.  It means seeing students through their great times and their rough times, being there for them and helping them grow in numerous areas, which differ for every student.  As excited as I am for summer, I am also sad I will not be there for some students who rely heavily on a smile and encouraging words each day.

I will watch my students walk out the door on the last day of school and wonder how they will do over the summer and even the rest of their lives.  Will they have food to eat? Will they be safe over the summer? What kinds of choices will they make in their lives?  Summer resources, like a summer feeding program, food banks, and summer camps for kids, have been made available to families to help bridge the gap for those in need during the summer holiday.  I can only hope that I have helped them develop the tools necessary for them to succeed in their lives. 

Azle ISD is blessed to have a CIS in every school above lower elementary.  Starting in 5th grade, CIS is available to students through the 12th grade.  This means they will always have an adult who cares about them to help them break down whatever is barring them from success. Knowing this helps me feel better about the well-being of my students.

Along with being sad to see students go, it is also a joyful time to celebrate each of the student’s successes like new friends made or achieving A honor roll.  CIS is an amazing place where each employee gets to change the lives of our youth.  We have the opportunity to foster relationships with students and help them succeed.  Every day we celebrate because our students are making strides, big and small, but overall huge in an era where lack of education is a growing epidemic. 

So yes, I will be sad to see my students leave and yes, I will think about them over the summer and hope that they are all doing well; but this summer I will also be celebrating the success of another great year working for an agency that makes a difference for so many as I look forward to another awesome year to come! 

Sarah Wagle


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A Starry Night at AM Pate Elementary

As I entered the hallway, it felt like the elementary school vibe had been replaced with an art museum-like quality- creativity floating throughout the building. It was Family Art Night at A.M. Pate Elementary and an exciting energy could be felt from the smiles and laughter of the students and their families. Family events after school are not rare at A.M. Pate. The staff works hard to provide enriching activities, free of cost to families, and as the CIS social worker I am proud to be a part of the excitement.

Family Art Night was unique because of the variety of activities and involvement of each staff member. Mr. Cruz was teaching salsa dancing lessons in the science, Ms. Arrieche was creating an original painting by the cafeteria, Mrs. Layton and Mrs. Ambrose were furiously face painting in the hallway, and I was with Ms. Soncrant by the library encouraging students to create their own rings made from buttons and glittery jewels. Not only were the students lining up at the different stations, but their parents were, too, eager to take part in the activities. I felt privileged to meet my students’ parents and family members, and even better to have them be a part of what became our very own “art museum.”  As an outsider from Dallas (which to individuals from Fort Worth is a different world), this event made me feel like a part of the A.M. Pate community.

My journey at A.M. Pate has definitely had its ups and downs because of the complex issues facing my students (which on some days seem to just multiply). Yet, my students demonstrate an amazing resiliency when given the opportunity to shine and when they are encouraged to be unique. Family Art Night was just the type of event needed to showcase the potential of my students who are sometimes overshadowed by others. Even if it was for just one night, the hallways (and permanent student handprints on the outside mural) still reverberates the exciting energy of the school community reminding students to “Keep Your Eyes on the Rise.”

Blanca N. Garcia, LMSW
AM Pate Elementary, Fort Worth, Texas
School Motto: “Keep Your Eyes on the Rise”


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Fiscal conservatives seek more state budget cuts

By Chuck Lindell

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Published: 9:36 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An improving economy may be lifting some pressure from a strained state budget, but an influential coalition of fiscal conservatives gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to press for additional cuts to government spending.

Much of the $15 billion in budget cuts implemented during last year’s contentious legislative session were one-time accounting gimmicks that are no longer available and merely delayed costs until the next budget fight begins in the 2013 session, said Talmadge Heflin, a former state representative and fiscal policy director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Legislators must begin working now, he said, to form a smaller government that requires no new tax money or other revenue.

“We’ve been looking at writing the budget, at funding state government, as a math issue. And now is the time when we have to start looking at it as a governance issue,” Heflin said.

The coalition, Texans for a Conservative Budget, worked during last year’s budget debate to fight tax increases and keep the state’s rainy day fund intact amid a massive budget shortfall due largely to the economic recession.

This time around, the coalition is recommending that state agencies, colleges and universities cut at least 3 percent from their 2013 budgets, estimated to save $1.1 billion, and 7 percent from their 2014-15 budgets for savings of $8 billion to $10 billion.

Some recommendations were broad: cut overregulation, reduce social-welfare spending, shift transportation money from rail to other congestion-relieving projects.

Specific cuts were suggested as well, such as eliminating funding for eight agencies, offices or boards, including the Commission on the Arts and Texas Historical Commission, with essential services shifted to other agencies.

The coalition also suggested eliminating two economic-development funds prized by Gov. Rick Perry: the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund.

Budget writers must examine every state agency with only one question in mind, said Julie Drenner with the Heartland Institute, another coalition member: “Do I reform it, or do I eliminate it?”

Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans, said the coalition is proposing cuts that ignore the needs of a fast-growing population.

“They’re trying to starve the future,” Lavine said. “We need to focus on things like investments in education that are going to pay off big-time for us — if we are willing to make the investments now. We will make back that investment many times over in terms of a more prosperous state and a more skilled workforce.”

Texans for a Conservative Budget was successful last year in persuading legislators to pass a two-year state budget that did not raise taxes or tap the rainy day fund to meet shortfalls in the 2012-13 budget.

Expecting the budget fight to be even more intense in the 2013 legislative session that begins in January, the coalition re-formed this spring to offer Tuesday’s broad outline of budget priorities, with more specific recommendations expected in the coming months, said Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Michael Quinn Sullivan with Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, another coalition member, said failing to heed the call for cuts could jeopardize legislators’ election hopes. “Raising taxes and seeking new revenue sources is off the table for Texas taxpayers and voters, and so it needs to be also for lawmakers,” he said.

The coalition also includes American Majority, Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform.

Contact Chuck Lindell at 
912-2569


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Texas High School Graduation Rates Rising

Report: Texas high school graduation rates rising

WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press

Updated 12:12 a.m., Monday, March 19, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ graduation rate for high school students increased 1.9 percent since 2002 to just below the national average, according to a new report by a coalition of education groups.

The report found that high school graduation rates rose from 73.5 percent to 75.4 percent between 2002 and 2009— and pulled almost even with the 2009 average nationwide of 75.5 percent.

The national graduation rate, though, increased faster than the state’s, climbing 2.9 percent over the same 7-year period. The biggest gains nationwide came in Tennessee, where rates jumped 17.8 percent, and New York, which increased 13 percent, between 2002 and 2009.

The report did not provide a state-by-state ranking, but comparing results showed that Texas and Colorado are tied for 28th, just behind Oregon and just ahead of Michigan, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Wisconsin led the nation with a graduation rate of 90.7, while Nevada was last with 56.3 percent.

The report will be presented Monday in Washington at the Building a Grad Nation summit sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, a children’s advocacy organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It was authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce of Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm focused on social change, and Robert Balfanz and Joanna Fox of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

The authors used the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, which tracks first-year students through all their years in high school, since they said it was the best and most-recent data available nationwide.

More good news for Texas came in the state’s percentage of 4th graders testing at or above proficient in reading, which increased a single percentage point to 28 percent between 2003 and last year. The percentage of 8th graders testing at or above proficient in math also jumped from 25 percent to 40 percent over the same period.

Texas is in the first year of implementing a new standardized testing system, and some districts have drawn criticism for spending more time preparing kids for statewide exams than they do on actual classroom instruction. But Robert Scott, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as head of the Texas Education Agency, has maintained that students statewide are improving in reading, math and science — and that their high school graduation rates have increased — despite more-strenuous standardized testing.

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