It’s definitely not a happy story, but maybe I was a little too negative about the eventual outcome. Coach Jackson told me today via email that the appeal may be won and that the school COULD stay open, but be absorbed by neighboring district (Maybe putting the school in a better place than it is now).
LA MARQUE _ It’s Monday morning and Mike Jackson is still working.
Now in his fourth year as the athletic director and head football coach at La Marque, Jackson is sitting at his desk. A crowded email inbox is on display on his computer screen, and assorted papers rest on his desk.
He’s heard the same news everyone else has – the Texas Education Agency sent notice to three school districts including La Marque last week, ordering their closures by the summer unless the district successfully appeals.
But by the afternoon, Jackson and his staff have the Cougars going through their offseason workouts. They’re coming off another 11-win season, their fourth in five years, and are locked into getting better.
“Part of what football teaches you is you’re going to get knocked down, you’re going to have setbacks and there’s going to be obstacles put in front of you,” Jackson said. “So what are we going to do on a daily basis? Are we going to lay down, curl up and hope everything is all right? Or are we going to take a step back, take a deep breath, evaluate what’s going on and then go back to work?
“Really, that’s the only thing I know how to do.”
At a special town hall meeting Sunday, La Marque superintendent Terri Watkins said the district plans to file its appeal Tuesday.
There haven’t been any announced plans on what would happen to students should the district close. More than likely, a neighboring district or districts would take over.
That was the case with North Forest ISD, which Houston ISD took control over on July 1, 2013 after the beleaguered district went through years of trouble and multiple attempts to stay open. North Forest High School is still in use, as are the athletic facilities.
But North Forest didn’t have the athletic tradition that La Marque does — few schools do — and that’s what made Friday’s announcement by the TEA so different.
La Marque’s football program has five state championships since 1995 and 10 finals appearances since 1986. The Cougars were in the state finals as recently as five years ago. The boys basketball team reached the state tournament in 2011.
But Jackson acknowledges sports aren’t the starting or ending point in an ordeal that isn’t done.
“This is way bigger than football,” he said. “When you first hear it, you hear shutdown. But there’s a whole process that has to play out.”
This didn’t happen overnight at La Marque. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams planning on revoking the district’s accreditation and closing it down comes after years of academic and financial struggles.
It received the state’s lowest academic ratings in 2011 and 2013-14 (no ratings were issued in 2012). It also earned a substandard financial rating for the 2011-12 school year.
The district has also dealt with shrinking enrollment. A number of Galveston County school districts have open enrollment, so it isn’t unusual for students living in La Marque ISD, for example, to attend schools in Dickinson, Hitchcock and Texas City.
“We have operated with distractions and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of here,” Jackson said. “We’re 41-11 operating with distractions for the past four years. It’s one of those things where you assume it’s La Marque, so on the outside looking it, it might be easy to win games over here when in fact, it’s incredibly hard in the environment that we’ve operated under.
“That’s why I’m very proud of the men that have been here the last four years.”
And for now, Jackson and his staff are still coaching, and the Cougars are still working. (Jackson declined to have his players available for interviews on Monday.)
“If my son was playing and in this program right now,” Jackson said, “I would want the person sitting in this chair to do right by him and make sure that he’s not only the best player, but the best person he can be for the 2015 football season and get him prepared for that. So in that vein, nothing’s changed – you don’t just stop and feel sorry for yourself.
“You dust yourself off, you keep moving forward and you see what comes around the corner.”