Thursday, February 21, 2008

Roots of Change Coalition in The Woodlands and Montgomery County aiming to change the environment for alcohol consumption in teens

I attended a meeting of “The Coalition of Change” today. This organization’s mission is to empower Montgomery County with the tools to have a drug-free environment, especially for our youth. I was quite surprised at the progress made over the past three years in this organization. The coalition has not only been advancing their cause, but has regrouped and restructured their organization to strengthen their position to make a difference in our society. Three years ago I believed this effort would wither up and die, as there were personal conflicts within the organization. Now there seems to be valuable momentum and more hope for change with active participation and support by law enforcement officials.

Albert Corona, the head of the group, stated that there has not been a general meeting for a year, but the group has been active with restructuring and task prioritizing based on information gathered on the advice of certain expert professionals on this topic. The Phoenix House Grant funds the activities. “In recent years, Phoenix House has expanded its focus to provide prevention and education programs for Texas teenagers.” 1

Willis Police Chief James Nowak stated some sobering facts about Montgomery County on alcohol consumption and its consequences. We live in the 6th worse county, of the 254 counties in Texas, for vehicle accident deaths in 2006. 25% of the deaths in our county are under-aged (less than 21) and 45% of all accidents on the road are linked to alcohol. These statistics are ranked relative to the county populations statewide. The problems exist in all areas of the county. The Woodlands should not think it is exempt from these issues or statistics. It is in fact part of the problem.

There is also a general issue with law support here, prosecution and in the courts. T.A.B.C. and local law enforcement departments enforce the law. However, the case load is high and the ability to jail offenders is very time consuming, so often those who commit offenses, are not held fully accountable. A fine is easier to levy for an offender, but the T.A.B.C. prefers to jail offenders, such as those who sell to minors.

Take one particular instance for example. There is a store in the county that has seven violations recorded from stings. Yes, it is not normal for citizens to complain when a store sells alcohol to an under-aged youngster. Law enforcement must run stings to find the offenders. This one store has been stung 7 times and law enforcement does not understand how the place remains in business. It is an issue with licensing by the state and law enforcement needs to have an exceptional case to convince the state that there is a really good reason not to renew a license. There is a process being used now to shut this place of business down, but it is a hard road to follow. There are sufficient laws to prosecute offenders but getting the prosecution, as a priority in our courts, is difficult at best. There are many excuses, like reading tobacco age for sales instead of reading alcohol age, not reading the drivers license carefully and others that are used to combat prosecution. The T.A.B.C. along with other agencies, have completed 337 stings. The stings use young people who are obviously young, youths who show real ID’s, not fake ones, and who do not try to cover up their intent. There is a clear process manual, which is followed. In the immediate future, the sting manual will be supplemented with a process manual for stings on people who buy alcohol for teens. This is also illegal and will be prosecuted.

Sometimes the store employees (and sometimes the owners) just disregard the law. For example, cash registers often require the date of birth of the buyer. The employee just enters some fake date that will pass right through the register. So the owner can claim that he has provided the method to prevent the sale whereas the employee disregards the store policy.

The objective of this coalition group is clearly to engage more organizations and to focus on young teens so that we have an integrated approach to education. So the coalition of various organizations who protect children from abuse and tragedy can understand and participate in the reduction of alcohol consumption, knowing that bad situations are often connected to consumption. Sexual risk taking is much more prevalent with those who consume alcohol than those who do not, so organizations protecting children from under-aged sexual victimization need to help with the alcohol problems. This group is engaged in all of this, working for a much larger coalition to remove the risk of pregnancy and HIV as a result of the alcohol induced promiscuity in teens and educating various organizations and government bodies of the root cause of other related risks and issues.

“We must change the culture using strategies to reduce those components in our society which are threatening our children’s welfare.” 2 Many Hispanics, for example, believe the parents should be deciding whether their children drink or not. This is a cultural component that threatens children beyond the Hispanic community. Where does that lead? It leads to cultural influence. Not only does the public need to be educated in the law but in the reasons for compliance and the consequences for not being in compliance.

The environment itself is influential to produce more risk. Here in this county, we have 14.99 liquor licenses to every 1000 people. There are 700+ licenses granted in Montgomery County. The rest of the state averages 2.11 granted licenses per 1000. That is a huge breach of normalcy that we must contend with. Our culture needs to back off of our “need” for alcohol presence and availability. This group believes we must change the environment.

The next step this year for the coalition is to have a clear strategic plan to execute. That will be produced soon. Included in it will be a plan to form a better coalition with the judges of the county, with awareness presentations and discussions.

This could be an election issue. Ask the prosecutors and judges running for office this year to explain their positions on alcohol for minors.

1 Phoenix House Texas: http://www.phoenixhouse.org/Texas/
2 Oscar Williams, T.A.B.C., http://www.tabc.state.tx.us/
The statistics presented in this meeting were derived from research in various locations. For the sake of brevity, I am not including the list, but if someone wants additional resources on this subject, I will be glad to provide what I have.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Woodlands Association 2008 Election Results

There were 1,482 votes cast in this year's association election, of which, only about 38% were cast on the Saturday election day, with the bulk of the voters showing up during the two week "convenience voting". Saturday was an extremely light turnout, attributed partially to the weather, partly to the dominant attitude here about the association elections and to an additional added blocking agent this year - no signage on the streets. There has been an effort by some to remove the signage policy from The Woodlands after years of success with controlling it. This was primarily a result of the law passed late last year in Montgomery County outlawing the signs on county maintained roads. Signs help the residents to remember to vote on election days. However, this year the traffic was light on the roads due to the weather, so it is doubtful the signs had much impact, but theoretically they could have made a substantial impact on results due to the very busy lives of our population.

During convenience voting, I went to the association's office several times. Each time I heard something from voters about the support of the propositions. It was obvious what the results were probably going to be. Those candidates who challenged incumbents who did not support the propositions were all ousted. Those candidates who challenged incumbents supporting the propositions did not oust their opponents. One person commented to a polling solicitor outside the building, who was seeking votes for their candidate, "Did your candidate support the propositions?" The reply was "no". "Then I will not listen to you. We do not need people in office who did not support the propositions." I thought that was a bit strong, but it was that person's perspective. Another commented entering the building, "I do not see how anyone can vote for candidates who did not want the government that we voted for in November." But some did in fact vote for them. Incumbents Cheryl Crandall Tangen(39.4% of the vote) and Karen Booren (37.9%) both made fairly strong showings, but not even close to call it a contest. Although there was a moderate attempt to get the voters out and an equally strong campaign for candidates who supported the propositions, it appears that the dominant view might have been that those seeking to support the coming changes would be elected, and there was really no need to get out and vote. Where there were significant challenges for positions having the most influence, the turnout was higher. Panther Creek and Cochran's Crossing were examples. Indian Springs only had 90 voters and three were from my own family! By far, Panther Creek generated the most voting interest with 539 residents casting their votes. Also to note that the voters did vote for the non-contested positions, showing their support for those candidates as well. For example, Lloyd Matthews received 86% of the votes that were placed in the ballot box for Indian Springs West, and Claude Hunter received 89% of the votes cast in Alden Bridge. College Park has a surprisingly low turnout, the lowest number of votes cast of all the villages. See Woodlands Association website)

So now we have the players from the association who will be charged with execution of the agreement between the association and the Township.

Next on the agenda is the Township election in May. That should be a heavily contested election and is shaping up to be a similar contest between those who supported the propositions and those who did not. There will likely be some significant politics involved in a struggle for a successful transition to the new government and to establish a consensus of voters’ values, much more so than the association election.

Wishing my best to those elected. Now put it to the grind. Let's get on with business!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tomball school district for the Village of Creekside Park, The Woodlands Texas

Over the years we residents have grown accustomed to the quality of education provided by the Conroe School District (CISD). The reputation of the Conroe School District schools in The Woodlands has generally been excellent. With the advent of the new Village of Creekside Park come new issues and new hopes. Now begins a new era of change with a different school district, TISD (Tomball School District). Many potential homebuyers and incoming families are asking questions such as “what is this district and who has experience with it?” From educational quality to transportation, people are seeking answers.

As home development accelerates and expands, there is an understandable concern by newcomers. However, I have found some really nice things about this school district and have concluded that it is worth sharing, especially with newcomers. I have taken the initiative to dig into the situation with the possible effects to those contemplating moving to the new village and to those already living in The Woodlands. At the initial writing of this post, more than 111 homes had been sold in the Village of Creekside Park. Just this past week, one homebuilder had a grand opening for 1700 additional homes in the new village. TISD buses have been transporting students to their respective schools in Tomball since school began in August. To put things in perspective, high school students are not transported any further than in other villages of The Woodlands. Currently, the elementary school is quite a bit further but less than the higher grade schools.

Available 2006-7 Comparative Data
HAR's assessment gives all three school districts the same rating - 2 stars on a 1- to 4-star system. Two stars signify "acceptable".

There are ten schools in CISD considered to be outstanding by HAR (Houston Association of Realtors). They are Collins Intermediate (5-6), Deretchin Elementary (K-6), David Elementary (K-4), Bush elementary (K-4), Buckalew elementary (K-4), Galatas elementary (K-4), Mitchell Intermediate (5-6), Sally Ride elementary(K-4), Hailey elementary (P-4), and Tough elementary (K-6). All are located in The Woodlands. Why mention this? CISD is recognized primarily for excellent schools in The Woodlands, so the role of parents and the community are shown to contribute a very significant part of the educational quality received here. This quality is not expected to be any different in the new village.

HAR statistics do not indicate any significant difference between the school districts themselves, yet when you look at the schools independently, there are quality differences between the individual Tomball and Conroe ISD schools. In searching for excellence, I reviewed all the schools in the Houston area for a rating of high excellence. I did find one Tomball elementary school achieving an outstanding rating by HAR - Lakewood Elementary (K-4). This school is in an area with similar demographics as The Woodlands. It is located close to 249 and Louetta. Two schools have a four star (highest) rating by HAR - Lakewood and Willow Creek elementaries. Willow Creek is in the same general area as Lakewood. As stated by Joel Deretchin, Vice-President of Public Affairs, The Woodlands Development Company, “Demographics seem to play more of a role in distinguishing the performance ratings of the schools than any difference in administration by their districts.“

The Tomball Independent School District is relatively small and is challenged with huge growth as the Northwest regional area of Houston explodes in population. In 2007, a bond was passed to finance the 5-year anticipated student growth. Based on performance change over the past two years and plans for the future, I am inclined to believe that TISD will be an excellent school system for The Woodlands. Its schooling of our children in the new village will make a major contribution to the overall success and quality of life there.

I made a comparative study of the school districts serving The Woodlands and included a neighboring district, Klein Independent School District and came up with the following data. Klein has also been growing over the past few years, and the demographics are similar to that of Conroe ISD and Tomball ISD. Note that "schools recognized" comes from an independent source, measuring educational quality on different criteria than HAR which uses TAKS as a basis for rating the schools. Also note that this represents 2006 data. I have added a 2007 update for TISD later in this post.

School district

# schools 
 recognized

ELA Math Science Soc Studies Writing SAT Avg
Conroe 8 93% 85% 82% 94%  95% 1081
Tomball 0

 91% 

83% 81% 93% 93% 1048
Klein 4 91% 82% 80% 91% 93% 1047

The following table is for links to HAR and other relevant sites referenced for information in this document.The sites are handy to do your own research and are updated now and then as new data becomes available

Online References
1 HAR 2006 statistics for Conroe (CISD)
2 HAR 2006 statistics for Tomball (TISD)
3 HAR 2006 statistics for Klein (KISD)
4 Texas Monthly Magazine, Dec 07 "The Best Public Schools" article
5 Type "Conroe", "Tomball" or "Klein" in school district to view schools meeting criteria for "best"
6 Type school name or district to view National Center for accountability ranking and educational gaps. Just for Kids.
7 Tomball Magnolia Tribune, January 28,2008
8 Conroe ISD
9 Tomball ISD

In December 2007, Texas Monthly magazine recognized the best public schools for their educational quality. Among them were schools in Conroe ISD and Klein ISD, yet no schools were recognized from Tomball.

So who will acclaim that the village is attractive to families and to the children's educational quality that we have grown to expect here in The Woodlands? Mr. Deretchin stepped up and said, “We will”. “We have been working with Tomball ISD for five years. At first, we met with officials from both districts, Conroe and Tomball. Tomball ISD promised to build schools in the village, so we did not see any reason to seek a change in their jurisdiction. We concluded that the Tomball ISD would serve the families moving here very well.”

The 2007 $198 million school bond is expected to fund this 33% growth in student population within this district over the next five years. The cost per added student is a whopping $66,000 but then again, the bond also covers renovations in other schools and technology upgrades.

The Good News in TISD
Alas! What has been happening behind the scenes is much more promising than I expected. Instead of a reactive means to building new schools as demanded by population growth, Tomball ISD has agreed to plan and build inside the village near the onset of development. Being proactive to avoid over crowding and strain on the educational system, Tomball ISD is eager to be there for the youngsters before they arrive. I find this district to be innovative and forward looking. Early in 2008, new statistics were released indicating a continued rise in performance from the TAKS tests of 2007. “The percentage of all TISD students who met the standards on the ’07 TAKS test increased from 77% to 80%… The district as a whole saw increases for all students tested in all categories. In Reading/Language Arts, the percentage of students meeting the TAKS standard increased from 91% in ’06 to 94% in ‘07.” (Tomball Magnolia Tribune, Jan 28, 2008). It was also noted that there was a 1% increase in Math and Writing scores, 2% in Social Studies, and a 3% increase in Science. The Tribune made a note of the change in Hispanic population from 18.3% to 19.1%, but the limited English proficiency students still made a huge performance improvement in Writing skills, from 70% in 2006 to 86% in 2007!

Tomball ISD provides bus service with just the few families currently occupying their homes. In the fall of 2009, the first elementary school will be opening near Gosling to make the commute very short up through the sixth grade. This school year and next, the children must commute to the three schools near the Tomball Freeway (249) and 2920, a distance of about 10 miles.

Current Homeowner Situation
Current Tomball ISD schools for The Woodlands:
a) Maps on the TISD website.
b)TISD Website link.
1. Tomball Elementary (P-4)- Google Map Website
2. Tomball Intermediate(5-6) - Google Map Website
3. Tomball Junior High (7-8) - Google Map Website
4. Tomball High (9-12)– Google Map Website
Please note on these maps that the Village of Creekside Park is to the east (right) between Gosling and Kuykendahl, where Carlton Woods Fazio course is located. Another section of the village is to the west of Kuykendahl in the undeveloped space on the map.

Three tracts of land in the village have been sold to Tomball ISD for future schools. One is located near Gosling, another near the eastern side of Kuykendahl and another on the western side of Kuykendahl. Both elementary schools are planned as K-6 schools. They will be built on the two tracts on the eastern side. There may be a Junior High (7-8) built, but no definite plans have been formulated yet. There is a need to have another Junior High School in the district and there are funds available from the bond to build one. “The Woodlands would be a good place to put one”, Mr. Deretchin exclaimed. “Plans for the first two elementary schools have been approved. Tomball High School is only 20 minutes from the village. It has been totally renovated.“ As reported by TISD in Jan 2008, the first school has been designed and is out for bids. An artist drawing is available on the TISD website. Select The Woodlands K-6 #1.

“This new K-6 campus is Tomball ISD’s first school to be built in The Woodlands. Located at Creekside Green Drive and Creekside Forest Drive, this 112,170 square foot school will serve approximately 730 students in grades kindergarten through six. The preliminary schematic design includes classroom wings that are arranged as “super-pods.” This configuration allows for flexibility, collaboration and the ability to expand grade levels within the same area of the building. In addition, the building will allow for the separation of the grade levels. The administrative offices are located near the entrance. The design also features a cafeteria, a centrally located library, art rooms, a science lab, a computer lab, choir, band and music rooms, a teacher workroom, a gymnasium, and a drop-off/pick-up loop. The new school is scheduled to open in August 2009.”

Hopes and Expectations

Therefore, transitions to new elementary and junior high schools are expected, but the high school will remain as is.

So opens a new rivalry among our High Schools. This will gradually develop as the population grows and our youth begin to realize that they have sports and academic challengers also living in The Woodlands but down south.

We look forward toward very high quality schools with top recognition for our schools in the Village of Creekside Park. It will be driven by the expectations and actions of new residents, by quality administration and excellent teachers. I do not see any reason for alarm and every reason for families to flock to the Village of Creekside Park.

Additionally, for higher education, Lone Star - Montgomery College has purchased a satellite campus site for expansion of the local college system. It will be located adjacent to the new YMCA. This should provide an option for other villages including Indian Springs, Panther Creek and others, due to improved proximity. With the issues on the 242 campus such as parking, I would expect many students wanting to attend this school instead of the campus on 242.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Woodlands Association 2008 election - two distinct views

There is a clear polarity of opinion in this year's election for The Woodlands Assocation board. On one hand, we have the views of those who opposed the new governance propositions last November. They are concerned about representation of the residents in the villages and generally have distrust about the motives and interests of those of the former TCID board who now form the base of the Township board. There is a view that the board is more concerned about commerce than resident issues. On the other hand, those who have the highest stake in completing the consolidation of the association and the township prefer to elect association members who have the skills and the background to complete the tasks with the maximum of team spirit and cooperation. They are not exclusively interested in the consolidation, but to some it appears they are.

Looking at the overall work to be done, we must not forget that there are constantly new issues, not always insignificant, to work out for the residents, as well as the consolidation of government functions.

As a resident, I am looking to balance all of this. So it is imperative that the association board spends considerable effort on productive consolidation and dedicates considerable time to resident's issues as well. This will demand a lot of work from our candidates, whoever is elected.

When you go to the polls, consider this in your candidates’ selection. Since this is the week of early voting, I urge residents to take advantage of the opportunity to go down to the association facility on Lake Woodlands and cast your vote before Saturday, Feb 16th. Otherwise, you must vote at your designated village location on the 16th. However, cast your vote after researching the candidates. You can find a statement by each candidate at:
The Woodlands Community Association website.

You can find a sample ballot for your specific village: Woodlands Association Ballots

I have also published a related press release of Nelda Blair, chairman of the Township board:
Nelda Blair press release

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Woodlands Association Election is Imminent

Balloting occurs starting tomorrow: February 4 through 15

I hope you as well as I have been at least reading the qualifications for board members in the coming election. Remember that every resident in good standing can vote, whether a registered voter or not. In this article, we review what to look for in the political arguments brought forward by the two coalitions of candidates and consider the real needs of the community in light of their statements. There are only three contested positions, yet we have the ability to write-in candidates if we so desire. If there is someone to be written-in, make sure that person is willing to serve. The candidates posted by the association have already nominated themselves and are seeking your vote.

The two coalitions are derived from the previous election for self governance. My suggestion to voters is to consider this in your selection of a candidate, yet look beyond it for the real meat for our mutual benefit. Their platform is foremost and their alliances is only secondary to the good of the community.

When I cast my vote on the ballot, it will be for the candidate, not an alliance. This is what I want my candidate to be:
1. Stand for the values of this community. I use my own measuring stick.
2. Be a doer, not an obstacle. What energies do I see in this person that I percieve will help this community? Does this person have a history of accomplishing things outside of business?
3. Be a team player. To get things done, one must be able to work with people. The person should be able to respond to questions and be open to everyone in the community.
4. Be a thoughtful person. Consider the feelings, thoughts of others. Be able to bring forward alternatives and present them to peers.
5. Not be a person riding on the coat-tail of another, but an independent person looking after the will and good of the public, as well as the values of the community.
6. Have fresh ideas on current issues. We cannot afford to be totally focussed on government transition and cannot afford to be totally committed to reducing costs. Let's make progress in all areas of services, from reforestation to garbage pickup and recycling to enforcement of law, safety and local rules.
6. Be a person fully committed to making the new government transition work successfully.

With these, the association could be near perfect. However, this world is imperfect and reality will not likely meet such high expectations. Let's do what we can and elect the right people to get the job done as close to right as feasible.