PERMONT, TEXAS – Eliminating high school athletics during a school year is unusual, especially in a sports-loving state such as Texas.
But that’s exactly what’s happening in this small ranching community where the school district is taking desperate measures to prevent a state-mandated closure due to poor academics. The Premont Independent School District is even deploying its superintendent, a constable and high school principal to the homes of truant students in an effort to improve dismal attendance.
The actions announced this week are not only part of a last-ditch effort to save the school district, but perhaps the entire community — which some parents already plan to leave because of the uncertainty surrounding the schools’ future.
“The school shuts down in this town, the town dies,” said Frank Davila, a Jim Wells County constable who also works as the school security officer and grew up here. “This is all we have.”
The town of 2,700 people in South Texas has been on edge since the Texas Education Agency placed it on probation nearly a year ago and then last fall ordered that the school district close by July 1. The order has since been put on hold as the district gets one last chance to meet the state’s criteria. Failure would force Premont ISD to be annexed into another district 35 miles away and eliminate one of the town’s largest employers — costing Premont 90 jobs.
With so much on the line, Superintendent Ernest Singleton decided drastic action was needed to show the state immediate improvement at Premont High School. The school failed to meet certain adequate yearly progress requirements since 2007 under the federal No Child Left Behind program.
To make time for extra tutoring and test preparation — and to save some money — Singleton decided sports at the school will have to wait at least until the next basketball season. That means no baseball, track, tennis or football.
“Sports is sacred ground in the state of Texas,” said Singleton, who has been on the job barely seven months.
“But because we’re so far behind with student performance I wanted an environment that was academic only.”
The problems at Premont are numerous. The buildings are outdated and in need of repairs. The enrollment is dwindling — 570 students this year compared to about 800 students from five years ago — and a startling percentage of those who are enrolled regularly miss classes. The district decided to combine its three schools into two last year and only recently broke a five-year string of operating with a deficit.