Arlington school district expects to receive first recognized rating

ARLINGTON -- Preliminary spring TAKS scores indicate that the Arlington school district could achieve its first-ever overall recognized rating, school officials said late Thursday.

The final state accountability rating will depend on graduation and dropout rates and other data, and won't be announced by the Texas Education Agency until later this summer.

But school officials said they are confident.

"We're pretty darned accurate with our predictions," said Wally Carter, director of accountability and testing. "In my 15 years here, we've never been able to predict recognized."

Superintendent Jerry McCullough mentioned the test results at Thursday night's school board meeting, touching off a brief, upbeat discussion. He had notified trustees of the raw numbers several days earlier.

Board President Gloria Pena said she was stunned by the news.

"It took everything I had not to scream, because my husband was sleeping," she said.

Trustee John Hibbs credited McCullough's leadership during his 18 months as superintendent.

"You came in and you set a goal, and you achieved it," Hibbs said.

A recognized rating is the second-highest bestowed by the state: below exemplary and above acceptable. Districts and individual schools with unacceptable ratings face losing their accreditation.

Generally, 90 percent of students must pass all portions of the TAKS for an exemplary rating and 80 percent for recognized. Acceptable ratings have various passing requirements for different subjects, Carter said.

Among Arlington's 70 schools that are subject to accountability ratings, the preliminary TAKS scores were exemplary at eight schools, recognized at 31 and acceptable at the remaining 31. No schools had unacceptable scores.

The TAKS scores also indicated a comeback in the making for Hutcheson Junior High, which has been a low-performing school for two years and is working under a state-mandated reconstitution plan. The scores improved from unacceptable last year to acceptable this year, and Carter said the school has a "good shot" at a recognized rating next year.

'Green' buses

Also at the board meeting, trustees approved a deal for a $508,000 grant to help pay for 24 propane-fueled buses the district has ordered to start replacing some of its aging fleet.

The "green" buses are the first of 120 authorized in the $197.5 million bond program approved by voters in November, and transportation director Jimmy Womack said he is working on more grants to help buy more.

The board approved an interlocal agreement with the Texas Railroad Commission that will provide grant funds from the American Recovery and Investment Act -- the federal stimulus bill -- through the Texas Propane Fleet Pilot Program.

The district bond program, which will pay for a variety of building and equipment upgrades, allotted $13.5 million for the propane buses to be bought over five years. The district can use $392,000 of the grant to reduce the $2.5 million cost of the first 24 buses, and apply the rest to building a propane fueling station.

Womack said he hopes to have the station built this summer and the buses in service by September.

The district now has 223 buses, all diesel, to shuttle 10,000 students to and from school, logging more than 3 million miles a year. Because of tighter budgets, worn-out buses have not been replaced.

"I would prefer to replace them after 14 years, or 200,000 miles," Womack said.