Journalism in the public interest for Northeast Texas

From Texas to London, with love

in Travel by
Editor’s note: The following comes from what was commissioned as the first article of a travel series about the writer’s vacation in Europe. However, life and death work on their own time. And at the top of the horizon glares fear itself. On the other hand, however, to travel, to learn, to meet, speak, eat, drink, and make friends with people from all corners of this frigid and fragile cube of a world, is to save it from the fear that threatens to rip it into pieces. What weird things we should be, if we let ourselves be led into the madness of fear. Perspective and empathy drive the world forward, so carry on and stay strong.

During the late evening hours of Saturday, June 3, the United Kingdom experienced yet another terror attack, this time in London.

It began along the London Bridge when three men in a van drove directly into pedestrian traffic. When the van finally came to a stop, the men jumped out of the van and began attacking people with knives, near Borough Market. Eight people have died and numerous others were injured.

I was supposed to go to Borough Market, as well as the London Bridge the next day. My family and I have been on vacation in England for a week and we were on our way back from touring the northern part of the country when we heard the news reports.

As we made our way back to the city the following day, the reports coming in from American news websites cast a dreary picture of the town we approached. Words such as ‘reeling’ and ‘horrified’ were being used to describe the Londoners’ feelings about the terror attack from the previous night.

However, what I heard on the British news and what I saw on the streets of London were in direct contrast to the American suggestion that the people of London were apparently in shell shock from the horrifying incident. What happened was really quite terrible, but after what I saw the next day, the word I would use to describe them is resilient.

A bed of flowers and messages lays at a monument just south of the London Bridge in the aftermath of a terror attack where eight were killed and 48 wounded by men who rammed a vehicle into a crowd on London Bridge and then stabbed people in nearby Borough Market, CNN reported. (Jennifer Cullum)

As I walked along the road leading up to the London Bridge, there was an impromptu memorial set up for the victims. The memorial was adorned with flowers and as I stood there paying my respects, more people came by to offer flowers and quiet condolences. Also available at the memorial were grief counselors, free to anyone who needed someone to talk to. I saw two police officers attempting to comfort a woman who had obviously lost someone dear to her.

A man in front of me walked up to the memorial, laid his bouquet down, and silently walked away.

What I didn’t see during the days after the attack was any evidence of hate toward another Londoner. There weren’t any signs, indicating various people unwelcome. No slurs of hate, no acts of retaliation, no signs of permanent change to the Londoners’ lives.

Instead of allowing this attack to push the people toward hate and fear, the citizens of London are rallying against what the attackers wanted. All along London, I found signs asking people to turn to love.

One bar patron actually returned to the pub after the attack, to pay their bill. Multiple shop keepers shouted for people to seek safety inside their shop. Instead of running from the attackers, several people ran toward them. These are not people who are afraid. These are people who are fighting for the good in London.

The people are not in anguish, as some media outlets would portray.

London is resilient.

The moments of the terror attack were horrifying but these people allowed those moments to be what they were and then they moved on. They have to. They know that for as long as they remain stagnant in fear and hate, the enemy wins.

Three days of ICE raids across Northeast Texas and Oklahoma rounds up 70 foreign nationals for deportation

in Community/Crime & Courts by

In the past week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency conducted a series of raids across Northeast Texas and as far north as Oklahoma.

“A 34-year-old Mexican national, convicted of resisting arrest and search for transporting a deadly weapon, was arrested June 1, 2017 in Paris, Texas, by the Dallas Mobile Criminal Alien Team and Fugitive Operations Team. He is currently in ICE custody pending his removal,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a release Tuesday.

“Federal officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) arrested 70 criminal [foreign nationals] and others throughout the Dallas and Oklahoma areas during a three-day enforcement action which ended June 3,” the statement said.

According to ICE, 62 of those arrested originally came from Mexico, three from El Salvador, and one from each of the following countries, Cuba, Guatemala, Korea, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka.

“Of all those arrested, six were females and 64 were males ranging in age between 18 and 50 years old,” the release continued.

“The [foreign nationals] arrested during this operation who have outstanding orders of removal, or who illegally re-entered the United States after being deported, are subject to immediate deportation after they complete any standing prison sentences imposed after their criminal convictions. Other [foreign nationals] arrested during this operation were entered into removal proceedings, or are currently pending travel arrangements for removal in the future,” ICE claimed in the release.

Silumations attempt to create context and undestanding of poverty in a community

in Community/Paris ISD by


“I started fights in school on purpose, so I would be in too much trouble to go on the field trip. I knew my parents didn’t have the $3 for the field trip and I was too embarrassed.”

“I felt so lonely. I was sitting by myself at work, knowing that my family was depending on that check. But when I got home, my family kept talking about what else had happened that week, and I felt left out. Even in my home, I felt isolated and alone in the world.”

This week, the United Way of Lamar County was invited to join Paris ISD in their end of the year professional development exercises. In this half-day experience, we conducted a poverty simulation that takes participants through a month in the life of a low-income family. Family groups are assigned roles to play and must work to keep their children safe, families fed, and housing and utilities paid.

With volunteers taking on the roles of case workers, bankers, employers, pawn shop employees and many others, the experience usually begins with nervous laughter and the air of it being a fun game. By the third and four weeks of the simulation though, the participants are panicked and near tears, frustrations reaching new highs as they feel a barraged of emotions tied to the chaos and stress of the situations.

Families are evicted from their homes, utilities are shut off, abandoned and neglected children are removed from their homes, and there are long lines to pay bills, cash checks, and search for employment or social services. Stress. The word pops up at the end of each simulation, being the cornerstone of the experience.

In the Paris ISD, the amount of children living in poverty reaches to 94% in some schools, but has an average of over 70%. The children and their families living day to day through these hardships and these affected students are walking the halls and filling the classrooms of our schools. Through these simulations, teachers and administrators are seeing how they can be a part of the solution to bringing these children’s lives out of the chaos with added attention, empathy and resources, reinforcing the importance of education as a mechanism to break the cycle of generational poverty in our communities.

“Day to day life was overwhelming and stressful. After a while, it was just easier to just sit there and watch the world pass by me. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I knew it would be coming to an end when the whistle was blown, but the families who are living in poverty – it never ends for them.”

Through our work in the community, building a larger and stronger pool of resources and tools for success, we strive to make the lives of Paris and Lamar County residents better each day.

If you are interested in hosting a poverty simulation for your organization or company or are interested in volunteering, please contact Heather Himes at or 903-784-6642.

School finance legislation is pronounced dead (Texas Tribune)

in Education/State by

Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor on Wednesday afternoon said that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House on a proposed school finance overhaul. “That deal is dead,” he said.

An effort to overhaul the state’s beleaguered school finance system has been declared dead after the Texas Senate Education Committee’s chairman said Wednesday that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House.

“That deal is dead,” Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said.

Taylor’s remarks come after his counterpart in the House, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, gave a passionate speech in which he said he would not accept the Senate’s changes to House Bill 21 and would seek a conference committee with the Senate.

HB 21 was originally intended to inject $1.5 billion into the state’s funding for the majority of public schools and to simplify some of the complex, outdated formulas for allocating money to school districts across the state. The Senate took that bill, reduced the funding to $530 million, and added what many public education advocates have called a “poison pill”: a “private school choice” program that would subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling for kids with disabilities.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pronounced the bill dead in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Although Texas House leaders have been obstinate and closed-minded on this issue throughout this session, I was hopeful when we put this package together last week that we had found an opening that would break the logjam. I simply did not believe they would vote against both disabled children and a substantial funding increase for public schools,” he said in the statement. “I was wrong. House Bill 21 is now dead.”

House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement Wednesday that the Senate has not prioritized school finance reform this session.

“We appointed members of a conference committee today because the House was willing to continue to work on public school finance immediately. Unfortunately, the Senate walked away and left the problems facing our schools to keep getting worse,” he said.

HB 21 was the first time in years that the Legislature has taken up major school finance reform without a court mandate.

“Members, some of your schools will be forced to close in the next year based on the committee substitute of House Bill 21,” as passed by the Senate, Huberty said, before moving to go to conference. “I refuse to give up. I’ll continue trying. Let’s at least attempt to rescue this bill.”

The House voted 134-15 to request a conference committee with the Senate on the bill.

Huberty chastised the Senate for carving out the funding for schools as well as the fixes to the formula intended to make the system more equitable.

“The new version contains no method of finance,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, the budget is closed. There is no money in the budget for that bill.”

Taylor has said he would not agree on a version of the bill without the “private school choice” program.  “There won’t be a conference committee,” he said.

Taylor contested Huberty’s statement that the Senate hadn’t considered any method for funding the bill. He said he had talked with Huberty on Tuesday about creating extra money by deferring payments to management care organizations through Medicaid. “There was a source of funding,” he said. “Unfortunately, what was said on the House floor was not true.”

The Texas Supreme Court ruled last year that the state’s system for allocating money to public schools was constitutional but fundamentally flawed, or “lawful but awful,” Huberty reminded the House. “Over the first month of the session, we tried to work with every interested party to craft a plan that would help every school district.”

He said the “private school choice” program the Senate stuck in his bill would not help students with disabilities, because it would provide each with about $8,000 of state money to attend specialized private schools that cost much more: an average of $15,000. Huberty had tried to get the Senate to include one of his own bills, creating a $20 million grant program for schools helping students with autism, instead of the voucher-like program for kids with special needs. Taylor ultimately included both in the version voted out of the Senate.

House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, made a nonbinding motion to prevent House members of the conference committee from including any voucher-like programs in the school finance bill. That motion passed 101-45.

The motion upset Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who authored the only “private school choice” bill in the House, which would subsidize private school tuition for students with special needs. “You’re saying you don’t want the conference body to even consider having any kind of special-needs school choice? I know all of you have a place in your heart for these children,” he said.

Simmons made a motion to allow House conferees to consider voucher-like programs for kids with disabilities. The motion failed 47-89.

“It’s really amazing to me that our body is so afraid from helping out special-needs children with education choice that they wouldn’t even have the conferees discuss it,” Simmons later told The Texas Tribune.

He said Texas would probably never be able to get school finance reform unless both chambers passed some form of “private school choice.”

“As long as the Senate is as it is going forward, every school finance bill will have some kind of a choice attached to it. So either the House is going to say, ‘We never want any more money,’ or else they’re going to say, ‘We want some type of choice system that works,’” Simmons said.

Patrick had offered to barter for the “private school choice” program with a bill that tweaks the state’s A-F grading system for districts and schools. He said he would delay the system’s implementation to 2019. The Senate is expected to take up that piece of legislation, House Bill 22, Wednesday — and it won’t include a delay of the system’s implementation, Taylor said Wednesday.

School superintendents really want that delay to the A-F grading system, but not enough to concede on any type of voucher-like program, which they said would suck money from public schools. More than 40 public education advocacy groups sent letters to all Senate offices asking them not to vote for the bill, before the Senate voted to approve the bill.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Texas Senate voted to approve a bill that would simplify funding formulas for public schools and let parents use state money to send their kids with disabilities to private schools or pay for homeschooling.
  • A Senate committee passed the House’s major school finance reform bill, after adding a controversial provision subsidizing private school tuition for special needs students — a move unlikely to go over well in the House.
  • The Senate Education Committee discussed a bill that would radically simplify the state’s school finance formula, stripping it of some antiquated provisions. Parents and educators who testified wanted a few new provisions added in.

The article above comes from The Texas Tribune. Aliyya Swaby reports on public education for the Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

NLISD names teachers of the year, recognizes dozens of others

in North Lamar ISD by

An appreciation banquet for North Lamar ISD employees was held Monday night to honor those who make a difference to students and co-workers throughout the year. Superintendent John McCullough and District administrators recognized employees for their years of service to the district, honored those retiring, and presented special awards to those who have gone above and beyond assisting students and colleagues.

Teachers of the Year

Kelly Moore, 8th Grade Language Arts, NLISD Secondary Teacher of the Year
Wendy Peek, 3rd Grade ELAR, NLISD Elementary Teacher of the Year

Announcing the 2017 North Lamar Teachers of the Year were Lisa Denman, last year’s Elementary Teacher of the Year, and Kenny Sanders, who stepped in for last year’s Secondary Teacher of the Year Dennis Hodgkiss, who was at the state UIL meet. Kelly Moore, eighth grade Language Arts teacher, was named Secondary Teacher of the Year while Wendy Peek, Aaron Parker Elementary third grade English and social studies teacher, was named Elementary Teacher of the Year. Nominees from all six campuses spoke about what teaching has meant to them. Others representing their campuses and who were interviewed for the district’s high honors were Angela Shannon at North Lamar High School, Brittany Moreland at Bailey Intermediate, Cathey Scheffel at Everett Elementary, and Penny Stutsman at Higgins Elementary.

Faculty & Special Awards

Recipients of the district’s special awards were: Maintenance Supervisor Tommy Funderburgfor Auxiliary of the Year; NLHS librarian Debbie Basden for Support Staff of the Year; Stone secretary Launa Doyal for Paraprofessional of the Year; and NLHS Resource English teacher Jacie Vaughn for Special Educator of the Year.

From left to right: Tommy Funderburg, NL Auxiliary of the Year (Retiring); Debbie Basden, NL Support Staff of the Year; Launa Doyal, NL Paraprofessional of the Year
NL Staff and Faculty retiring at the end of the 2016/2017 school year.


Retiring from the District are (beginning front row left) Larry Beall, Tommy Funderburg, Carol Sherwood and Drethia Parsons; second row, Claire Anderson, Roxan DeRosier, Duanna Ewell and Lesa Bulls; back row, Julie Green, Leslie Ewell, Billy Copeland and Robert George. Not pictured are Marilyn Elmighalajughi, Misty LeFlore, Pam McNabb, Paula McVay and Teresa Williams.

25 years and beyond

Long-time Stone Middle School educator, Science teacher Kenny Sanders stands with his appreciation pin after serving the North Lamar district for 50 years.

Honored and receiving pins for their years of service were: 50 years – Kenny Sanders; 40 years – Vivian Hicks; 30 years – Nancy Beall, Michelle Easton and Carol Newberry; 25 years –Ronnie Lester, Julie McNeece and Angie Pulsar; 20 years – Michelle Brazeal, Wendi Burton, Keith Carpenter, Christi Coe, Sara Hess, Kara Lane, Debbie Manjane, Jackie Moseley, Jeanne Self, Deborah Sherwood and Georgia Thompson.

15 years

Fifteen year pins were given to Lisa Archer, Shelly Bivens, Kristen Blanton, Loy Dean Clark, Jenny Davis, Dale Freeman, Kim Johnson, Glynese McNabb, Lindsey Miller, Debbie Moore, Patty Moss, Liz Russell, Kelli Stewart and Cheryl Thrasher.

10 years

Receiving 10 year pins were Janet Anderson, Tammy Crutcher, Roxan DeRosier, Jenny Dority, Wendi Fleming, Homer Garner, Miranda Hale, Lacey Jordan, Angelia Kennedy, Melissa LaVoy, Kerri Layton, Pat Mason, Cindy McCully, Renee Noble, Cynthia Pharis, Bailee Ray, Julie Romans, Doil Tingen and Celeste Withers.

5 years

Others receiving their 5 year pins were Patricia Arnold, Shawna Brown, Amy Chennault, Laura Christian, Carolyn Hiller, Angela Holdeman, Joel Hutchison, Josh Jordan, Stephen Keenum, Cynthia Koontz, Sherry Kuhl, Rebecca Liesman, Drew McKnight, Marlyn Moore, Lydia Nichols, Lindsay Owen, Rainey Parson, Bill Plumb, Johnnie Powell, Sierra Radford, Jared Reaves, Hailey Sharrock and Linda Tidwell.

Paris ISD names Rhodes, Hooten teachers of the year

in Paris ISD by

Michael Rhodes was named Secondary Teacher of the Year and Amy Hooten was named Elementary Teacher of the Year for the Paris Independent School District at the staff recognition reception, an annual event recognizing teaching excellence as well as honoring employees for their years of service. Both will represent Paris ISD in the 2018 Region VIII Education Service Center Teacher of the Year competition.

Michael Rhodes, CTE & SkillsUSA, PISD Secondary Teacher of the Year

Prior to entering the field of education, Rhodes was employed as an automobile technician. He is completing his Bachelor of Science degree this year. He began his teaching career at Paris High School in 2012 in automotive technology.   During his tenure, Rhodes has taken competitors to the state level in SkillsUSA and earned three state championships.  His students’ accomplishments in SkillsUSA include: First year – 1 student was second in district; second at state; Second year – 2 students first and second at district; fourth and sixth at state; Third year – 1 student first and 1 student second at district; 1 student first in state then competed at national level; Fourth year – 5 students first and third at district; 1 tenth and 1 first at state and competed at national level; 5th year –  2 student were first in district, 1 was first at state and will compete at national level; 2 students second in district, 5 students third in district; on student elected as District 5 state officer.

Rhodes embraces the instructional methodologies of Sean Cain’s Fundamental Five.  He presents the methodologies and shares what he does with SkillsUSA during department meetings. He has convinced eight teachers to participate. He is co-lead teacher in the department.

Amy Hooten, 2nd Grade, PISD Elementary Teacher of the Year

Amy Hooten holds a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from TAMU—Commerce.  She has taught each of her 23 years at Thomas Justiss Elementary School. She is certified in elementary self-contained, early childhood education, and reading recovery. She is currently a second grade English/Language Arts teacher.  She has served on the District Wide Academic Committee, School Effectiveness Team, Grade Level Representative, mentor to student teachers and new co-workers on her grade level, technology mentor, and has presented in-service training for reading strategies.  She was the Outstanding Read 180 Educator in 2014.

Hooten has been inspired by a quote by Uri Bronfenbrenner, “Every child needs at least ONE adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.”  She finds that special child each year.  Mrs. Joel Casey was that person to her when she moved to Texas from Minnesota in third grade.  She knew at an early age she was meant to be a teacher despite being surrounded by a family devoted to the medical field.

Texas lawmakers: State needs to act after black teen’s death by police (Texas Tribune)

in State by

In the aftermath of a police officer killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards near Dallas, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus called on state leaders to work with legislators on police interactions and accountability.

Days after a Dallas-area police officer shot and killed a black 15-year-old in the passenger seat of a car, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and other lawmakers made an emotional plea to state leaders Thursday morning to act to prevent police shootings.

Jordan Edwards, an honor student at Mesquite High School, was shot in the head with a rifle by Roy Oliver Saturday night as the teen’s brother drove away from officers. Oliver, who had been at the Balch Springs Police Department since 2011, was fired on Tuesday.

“There is nothing that we’re doing … in terms of the Legislature that is more important than eradicating this disease that is taking out these young, unarmed black men whose only crime seems to be being black in Texas and in America,” said Black Caucus chairwoman Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, at a news conference at the Texas Supreme Court Building.

Giddings and other Democrats called on Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to speak out about the shooting and push for changes in state laws on police interactions and accountability. Abbott released a statement to The Texas Tribune Wednesday, and Straus and Patrick sent statements shortly after the news conference Thursday morning.

“My heart goes out to the Edwards family during this incredibly difficult time,” Abbott said in his statement. “No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child, and the Edwards family deserves a fair and full investigation into this tragedy.”

In Patrick’s statement, he placed emphasis on the current investigative process for police shootings.

“I expect the Balch Springs police department to fully investigate this incident and I have faith that justice will be served,” he said.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s public integrity unit are conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting. The Balch Springs Police Department concluded its internal review with the firing of Oliver.

Straus also expressed grief for Edwards’ family and community, and responded to lawmakers’ pleas for action.

“Some very critical questions about Jordan’s death need to be answered fully and transparently,” Straus said in the statement. “All of us should be deeply concerned about these tragedies and their frequency, and I will work with any of my legislative colleagues who are interested in preventing similar tragedies in the future.”

A 2016 Tribune investigation into police shootings found that in 656 incidents where police shot at a person in Texas from 2010 through 2015, almost 17 percent of the people were unarmed. Of those where the race of the individual was known, almost half were black.

At the news conference, lawmakers said there is pending legislation that could help address police interactions and accountability that needs to be pushed to the chamber floors. The Sandra Bland Act, which was approved Tuesday by a Senate committee, would require training for officers on limiting use of force and understanding implicit bias. And Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pointed to a bill passed unanimously by the Senate that would instruct police and high-schoolers about police interactions.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said her House Bill 2044, which would also limit use of lethal force, is floundering in a House committee. For action, “it’s going to take the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker to take their heads out of the sand,” she said.

“Instead of muted responses, we need full-throated responses to deal not only with this situation but…with the broader problem,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, chairman of the Legislature’s Mexican-American Caucus, at the news conference. “There are bills in the Legislature … that should be immediately moved to the floor so these things don’t happen again.”

Read related Tribune coverage: 

The article above comes from The Texas Tribune. Jolie McCullough develops data interactives and news apps and reports on criminal justice for the Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Meals On Wheels is a program that matters: A letter from LCHRC Executive Director Shelly Braziel

in Community by

More than 20 years ago, I volunteered my first hour for a local non-profit. At the time, I had no idea the path it would lead me on, but it laid the cornerstone for what I would become.

When I was 25, I made the decision to dedicate my life to public service.  I knew the money would not be great. I knew the hours would be long. What I didn’t know was how huge the reward would be.

I spent the next few years working for a large Oklahoma non-profit, Oklahoma State University, and the state of Texas. Then I arrived here, at Lamar County Human Resource Council. When I was offered the job as executive director, I screamed, I yelled, I jumped but if I’m being honest I had no idea what I was getting into.

I’m not going to lie, the first few months were scary and bumpy but before the end of my first year I settled into a groove, and I knew this was where I was meant to be.

The agency has been lucky these last three years, growing more and more as each year passes. We are serving more seniors and disabled individuals than we ever have before.  In fact, the number has nearly double from when I started. In the for profit world that means dollar signs; to me that means fear. The senior population is at an all time high and by 2020 it’s expected to significantly increase. My job is to serve every single person in need — every person that needs a meal. Find the money. Somewhere. But what if the money isn’t there? What if the money we have been counting on is gone. Then what? How do we serve every single senior living in hunger?

This is the current threat I face, but I’m not facing it alone. The people we serve, our board, staff and volunteers are there with me, searching for a way to keep people fed.

Non-profit’s are used to possible budget cuts but this one seems more real, more of a threat. Why? Its not just a proposed budget cut. It’s not the funding that bothers me. Its someone, who doesn’t see what I see, standing on a hill, saying We Don’t Matter.

That led me to this point. We matter.  We are screaming from the rooftops. We do matter. I matter. The staff matters. The board matters. Our volunteers matter. Every donor and sponsor matters. But most importantly, the people we serve matter. The more than 1,000 people we serve hot meals to five days a week. They matter.  

So this campaign, this letter, it isn’t about money. It’s about us. Everyone of us, those that would lose their jobs, those that would have to volunteer elsewhere, those that could no longer donate to Meals on Wheels, lastly and most importantly those who will go hungry. These meals mean something to every single one of us.  

I am standing up. I’m speaking out. I’m calling on you to join me, not just May 5, not just by wearing blue, not just by coming out Friday night, but every single day from this point forward, to show Washington that We Matter.



Shelly Braziel
Executive Director
Lamar County Human Resource Council


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