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EMC Judge who jailed habitually truant students honored for his work

The New Caney Independent School District honored Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts at their Tuesday night school board meeting recognizing his contribution to improving attendance in the district.

Metts began working with Attendance Liaison Cynthia Fontenot about a year ago, after the district hired her to improve their overall attendance numbers. According to the NCISD board, their efforts have been successful.

The board presented Judge Metts with a plaque that read “In recognition for your dedication to the success of the students of New Caney ISD, 2008-2009.”

Metts made headlines starting in March when, after exhausting all other efforts, he began sentencing habitually truant students ages 17 and up to three days in jail. Only students who ignored court orders to attend school and made multiple court appearances were considered for the jail stay. Initially, 21 students found themselves behind bars.

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The judge also introduced an innovative new program to the district known as “AIM” which requires children to carry a device with a GPS inside that can pinpoint their location to determine they are in school or wherever they are supposed to be. The device allows two-way communication and students are required to send text messages to the monitors several times each day and to communicate with a “coach” over the phone in the evenings. After considerable research and consideration, Metts chose AIM over the traditional ankle monitor. He said the AIM program taught responsibility and the two-way communication provided a show of concern and encouragement some troubled students have never known. Every child participating in the AIM program had positive results, Metts said.

The measures taken by Metts, sometimes considered drastic, sometimes innovative, propelled the low-key and usually media shy judge into the spotlight, including a front page article in the Houston Chronicle.

Three school districts, and about 15,000 students are within Metts’ jurisdiction, including New Caney ISD, Splendora ISD and a portion of Conroe ISD. The two districts with the most students in Pct. 4 and the most in Metts’ court regarding truancy are NCISD and SISD. Both of those districts honored the judge at the end the 2008-2009 school year for his efforts to combat truancy.

Metts said he never intended to get recognition from what he simply considers doing his job by serving the public.

“I have a deep desire to work with kids and to help them,” Metts said. “I have a background prior to being elected judge of working with kids, working with youth groups, and churches.”

“Education is very important to me,” he said. “I believe in my heart that there is no reason for any child in this community, not to get a high school diploma.”

Metts examines each case individually and allows parents and children to address him personally before making a decision.

“I tell them in court, you’re not my children, but you are important to me and I simply want you to have the very best that we can give you,” Metts said.

NCISD officials said Metts had improved their attendance rate “tremendously” in the past year.

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