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‘Mother Howell’s’ State of the District report

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera ISD Superintendent Regina Howell, left, and Tracy Thayer, director of federal programs and communications, received school supply donations from the Bandera County Republican Women, from left, Howell, BCRW SecretaryAlma Baker, Evelyn Snyder, Thayer and BCRW School Supply Drive Chairman and Secretary Gwenda Tschirhart.

Regina Howell, superintendent of Bandera Independent School District, delivered what might be described as a State of the District report to members of the Bandera County Republican Women during a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 1.
The meeting culminated the club’s annual school supply drive. Tubs of supplies and $750 in donations will be divided among the area’s three school districts with 50 percent going to BISD; 35 percent, Medina ISD; and 15 percent, Utopia ISD.
Prior to beginning her discussion, Howell revealed to those assembled that she felt less like an administrator and more like a “mother” to the students under her charge. “I worry all night about them, the buses, the weather. When school starts, I can relax because I know where all the students are. After school ends, however, I start worrying again.”
BISD demographics
Once that was clear, Howell shared BISD demographics, noting the district encompasses 400 square miles and draws students from Bandera, Tarpley, Lakehills and Pipe Creek. Breaking statistics down further, she said, “Of the 2,246 district students, 689 attend high school; 514, middle school; and 1,043, elementary school with 544 students at Alkek and 499 at Hill Country.”
Howell added, “Eighty percent of our students qualify to be bused. Not all are, but that many qualify.” The split between male and female students is surprisingly close with 1,100 or 49 percent girls and 1,145 or 51 percent boys. Racially, Caucasians make up 64 percent, 1,437, of the district population, and Hispanic students, 32 percent or 718. Bi-racial students number 90 for 4 percent of the population, with Asian, African American and Native Americans making up a scant portion of the overall population.
‘Doubling up’
Nine percent or 202 district students are enrolled in special education classes while 4 percent, 90 students, qualified for the gifted and talented program. Additionally, 3 percent, 67 students, do not speak English, while 27 students are said to be homeless or “double up” with grandparents.”
“‘Doubling up’ is common throughout the Hill Country,” Howell said. Coined by the federal government, the term refers to students who live with their grandparents.
According to Howell, in post secondary education, data indicates that the majority of BHS graduates in colleges or universities are not required to take preliminary classes. “Those are classes you have to pay for, but do not receive credit for,” she explained. “This says a lot about our teaching staff.”
Howell continued, “On the ACT test, our students exceeded both the state and national averages. In 2016, BHS students averaged 22.1 while the state average was at 20.06 and national average at 20.8. This was in math, reading and all categories in general.” A college admissions test, ACT measures what students learned in high school to determine their academic readiness for college.
After noting that BHS boasted a number of signings for college athletes and achieved back-to-back state championships in cross country, Howell said, “Bandera is more than athletes.” She cited a prestigious Gold Seal award for sculpture won at the state level by Stratten Morris, who also served as tight end for the varsity football team. “This is the perfect-sized district for a football player who also wants to do art,” she said.
Not wealthy district
However, the district also struggles with inequalities. Fifty-two percent of elementary students qualify for the federal lunch program – free or reduced cost meals. That percentage equates to 1,100 students.
“We also have a large mobility rate in Bandera County. Throughout the year, an average of 24 percent of our students come into the district while the same number leaves the district,” Howell explained. “Each campus stores school supplies, along with clothing and other necessities, that are distributed to students in need all year long. So many stories break our hearts.”
She went on, “BISD received a ‘homeless grant’ that funds some school supplies, but mainly is used for shoes and clothing. Other grants provide hygiene supplies to students and ‘Blessings in a Backpack’ provides food for students to take home for the weekend.” The latter is accomplished through local donations and the United Methodist Church.
“We’re so grateful to the group. ‘Blessings in a Backpack’ was begun in Boerne and we’re thankful they’re helping Bandera students,” Howell said. “Other groups seemed somewhat self-serving and we were leery of how to market this need for our school district. Our goal is to protect the dignity of our families. We have poverty, but our parents have great heart and great pride.”
Giving credit
She gave great credit to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bandera County for assisting to alleviate inequalities in the county. “The cost to join is low and the clubs provide tutoring and even meals to their members,” Howell said. “In the Partnership for Literacy program, BGC personnel apply for grants and partner with the school district.
Noting that the county educational system is comprised of an amalgamation of public, private and home-schooled students, Howell said, “I want the students of Bandera County to have the best education possible – regardless of the format. At the end of the day, it’s about the kids and our respect for each other.”
In conclusion, Howell finally acknowledged the thunder that had been crashing overhead through much of her presentation. She fretted, “There’s a football game over there and I’m worried. I hope they cancelled it.”
Not to worry, “Mother” Howell, with the combination thunder, lightning and downpour, the game was cancelled, leaving your students safe for another night.