State Sen. Tommy Williams, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, stopped by Vincent Middle School in Beaumont on Tuesday, Oct. 30, for a first-hand look at the Communities In Schools (CIS) program in action. More specifically, Williams was there to observe the CIS drop-out prevention effort.
He met with a group of students, teachers and staff in the Vincent library. CIS coordinator Karen Moore described how the program helped students set goals and deal with stress brought on by life situations outside of the school.
Leonard Parfait, president of the Vincent PTA, said he is in the halls of the school every day before the bell rings to talk to the kids. “And if the girls don’t want to talk to me, my wife is here,” he said.
Both Moore and Parfait urged Williams to “save” the program’s funding. “I believe it is a benefit for these students,” said Parfait.
According to Williams, the Communities in Schools program and the Texas legislature are “partners in the future of our young people.” But the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said, “There are a lot of pressures on state funding” and described difficult decisions to be made on many government programs.
Williams declined specific comment on how incoming Senate Education Committee chair Sen. Dan Patrick might impact CIS. Patrick has said he opposes new school funding and is a proponent of charter schools and a voucher program for students who want to attend private and religious schools.
“Sen. Patrick and I both support strong public schools,” said Williams. “We just disagree on how you do that.”
CIS now operates in three Middle Schools and one high school in Beaumont. One hundred percent of the schools in Port Arthur are participants in the CIS program.
“Our goal is for every school to participate in drop-out prevention,” said Dr. Karen Newton, executive director of Communities in Schools Southeast Texas. “The future of our workforce and the well-being of our youth are inexorably tied to completing their education,” she concluded.
The CIS program develops public/private partnerships for dropout prevention by connecting appropriate human services with at-risk youth and addresses such critical issues as school attendance, literacy, job preparedness, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, teen suicide, and school violence.
Evangeline “Van” George, a retired teacher and CIS board member, was present during the Williams visit. “Education has been my life and I want these children to be educated,” said George. “This-drop out prevention program can help them regain the love of education.”
The visit was the senator’s first onsite observation of the program in Beaumont, and he commented very favorably on the deportment of the students and the general atmosphere of learning at Vincent Middle School.
“It was a privilege to see these fine young people receiving the encouragement and support they need to continue their education and earn their high school diplomas. Their teachers and mentors are doing excellent work and deserve our full support,” said Williams.
James Shannon can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 249, or by e-mail at james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.