No phony figures in Galena Park ISD
The Galena Park Independent School District and in turn Dr. Shirley Neeley, can and should be proud of the many significant accomplishments of the district during the nine years that Dr. Neeley was superintendent. This is particularly true even in light of the recent criticism of accomplishments of the district that appeared in an editorial in the Austin American Statesman titled Troubling questions about education chief’s record on April 2. The negative press was generated as a result of statements Governor Rick Perry made while introducing Dr. Neeley around the state.
Governor Perry, in praising the work of Dr. Neeley, stated that during her tenure the number of Galena Park ISD students taking college entrance exams (the SAT and the ACT) doubled and that 80% of Galena Park graduates attend college after graduating from high school. While neither of these statements taken verbatim is accurate, these minor inaccuracies should not take away from the actual accomplishments of the district during the last nine years.
When comparing the numbers of students taking college entrance exams from the year before Dr. Neeley became Galena Park ISD’s superintendent to those taking the exams in 2003, the number taking the ACT remained virtually flat while the number taking the SAT (considered by many to be the more difficult test) more than tripled. Statistics show that 72 students took the SAT in 1995. By 2003, the number of GPISD students taking the SAT increased to 274. Also, while Governor Perry’s statement that 80% of Galena Park ISD graduates attend college was not accurate, 56% of graduates in 2003 indicated that they were going to attend either a junior college or a four-year college and another 25% indicated that they were furthering their education by attending a technical or business institute. The result is that over 80% of Galena Park’s graduates in 2003 intended to further their education beyond high school.
It should be noted that during this time span, the proportion of Galena Park ISD students who are classified as economically disadvantaged increased from 39.5% in 1995 to 66.8% in 2003. While economically disadvantaged students have historically not performed as well academically as non-economically disadvantaged students, the district overcame these challenges and improved academic performance as measured by the state accountability tests. Dr. Neeley took a district with a low-performing campus and turned it into the largest Exemplary district in the state of Texas.
While it is true that average SAT and ACT scores declined somewhat, this can be explained in part by the increased proportion of economically disadvantaged students making up the test taking population. The district recognized this trend during Dr. Neeley’s tenure and refocused academic improvement efforts to address the improvement of higher level skills measured by college entrance exams. For example, the “Princeton Review” program is now offered on both high school campuses and the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes has increased from 66 in 1995 to 563 in 2003. Over 80% of high school students are now enrolled in the state’s “Recommended High School Program.”
In addition to these accomplishments, in 2002, the Texas Education Excellence Project – a study conducted by Texas A & M University and the University of Texas at Pan America – found that Galena Park ISD is ranked number one in educating African American students and number three in educating Latino students in Texas districts larger than 15,000. The district also customizes instruction with programs such as PRE-AP, AP, dual credit, dual language classes and the New Arrival Centers.
The job of improving education in Texas is a continuing challenge and Galena Park ISD cannot rest on its accomplishments. We must continue to improve and we will because that is the culture that has been established in our district. Our teachers and administrators are dedicated to this goal and our school board and community are committed to providing the support to allow that to happen. Yes, we have a right to be proud and so does Dr. Neeley.
Dr. Michael Say
Galena Park ISD