Athens Review, Athens, Texas

August 23, 2013

And so it begins

HC schools optimistic about coming year

Jeff Riggs
The Athens Review

ATHENS — When school districts go back to class Monday morning, teachers and administrators across Henderson County say they’ll be ready.

One of the big things about Athens Independent School District this year is its growth over past years.

According to Superintendent Blake Stiles, Athens High School had 878 students last year.  This year, it has grown to 1,010. The second-highest growth was Bel Air Elementary with 565 last year and 600 this year.

But, it would appear growth of students was taken care of through new hires.

This year, Stiles said, 47 new teachers were hired to replace teachers that left before school began this year due to retirement and some “moving closer to home.

“The district is large enough now that there are several you have to replace every year,” Stiles said. “We don’t have all our official enrollment numbers in yet, but we’re thinking our enrollment will be way up.”

Stiles stressed that security has been a main project of the district.

“Students should be safer when they come back with an additional security person and additional security fences. We also secured the vestibules at the high school and middle school,” he said.

The 2013 school year marks the second year for Stiles with AISD. He arrived in Athens in 2011 as assistant superintendent. He became superintendent in December 2012.

Cross Roads Independent School District will come back with a few new personnel. Three of these are Leland Hand, the new district superintendent, and his wife Dr. Natalie Hand, who will serve as districtwide counselor. Also among the new personnel is the new Cross Roads High School principal, Mack Lowe.

But there are many other expectations this year that have nothing to do with a change in personnel.

“We’re really excited about implementing a new UIL academic program. We feel like we have highly-intelligent kids at Cross Roads and we expect success with this program after we get it established.”

Hand said the district is experiencing a high degree of looking at the future.

“Everyone senses a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about FFA and athletics and other programs,” he said. “We’re going to expect a lot out of our students. And we’re in the initial building stages of the FFA animal facility and construction of two new science labs.”

Hand said he anticipates students being in the buildings next year. Construction will begin this year.

Hand said one of the important additions to the district is an all-state honor wall of historic achievement.

“We’re creating the wall to honor the people in Cross Roads history that were all-state with UIL extracurricular activities,” he said. “Our activities could be sports, FFA leadership, UIL at one time, basketball, all-state in shot putt, rodeo, writing and journalism, and others.”

Mabank Independent School District Superintendent Russell Marshall said he is satisfied with the quality in his district, but there will be at least two changes during the next year that are very positive.

“We will start an archery program at the intermediate school, 5th and 6th grade,” he said.  “Archery is part of the PE program.”

It all started through the interest of archery from the intermediate school principal, James Pate.

“He wanted to broaden the interests of the kids,” Marshall said. “Not everybody plays football or other sports.”

Marshall believes that just these two new programs will make the students happier.

“We think these are great, especially for kids with diverse interests,” he said.

Marshall said the district will also install a greenhouse for the agriculture program. This is expected to be ready by the second semester.

“We had an opportunity for a donation from a hospital in Dallas, Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, and we took it,” he said.

With these changes, Marshall still believes there is one classic characteristic that make school districts great.

“We have outstanding academics,” he said. “We will continue to strive for the top. We will continue to do what we’ve done and partner with parents for the greatest education for their children.

Marshall, who has been superintendent of Mabank ISD, going into his 11th year, said the district with about 3,450 students, “will continue to work hard.”

“I believe that if there is one thing that really stands out about us, it’s our quality in our teaching force,” he said.