There’s a rating Texas schools do not want – improvement required. Under a new state law, schools that have received this rating at least two years in a row have to come up with a plan that explains how they will get better. Schools are trying creative ways in the hopes of turning things around.
The Dallas Independent School District has 24 campuses that have been rated improvement required at least two consecutive years.
Billy E. Dade Middle School is one of them.
Tracie Washington, who just completed her first year as principal there, says one part of the school’s game plan to turn Dade around? Reach out to parents.
“How do we get our parents involved? How do we meet their needs so they can be a part of their child’s life in whatever ways deemed necessary, via text messaging, via special activities in the afternoon. Some parents work at night so what do we offer during the day?” Washington said.
Dade is trying to get more parents on campus to get them more involved. The school offers GED and English-As-A-Second Language classes.
Another strategy? Home visits. School staff focus on visiting students who may be having problems at home.
“Or we’ve been reaching out maybe in in one form of communication and we’re not getting a response, so let’s actually go by [the student’s home],” Washington said. “Let’s see if someone’s sick or maybe their hours are different. Just letting them know, you know, this is where we are and we want to bridge that gap. And what do you need from us as a support?”
Under the new state law, campuses like Dade had to submit initial turnaround plans to the state last month and school boards have till June 17 to approve the final plans.
Districts are required to get community input and that’s why the Dallas school board recently held a public hearing.
At this hearing, only a couple of people showed up to voice their concerns. One of the speakers, Paula Harrison, said she wanted schools to pay more attention children who have dyslexia.
“Children who are not being successful in class, who are frustrated because they are unable to learn to read, can be behavior problems in class,” she said. “Conversely, some students try to stay very quiet so they will not be noticed and asked to read.”
Over in Fort Worth, 11 campuses are rated improvement required. Part of the district’s strategy? Pairing teachers with mentors.
Karen Molinar is chief of elementary schools in the district. She says new teachers need the extra support, especially at a troubled school.
“Being a new teacher versus being a teacher for 10 or 15 years differs,” Molinar said.
The district assigned mentors to campuses that have large numbers of new teachers – just one example of what the district is doing to improve its struggling schools.
“This year, our human capital management department also worked with doing a job fair that was just for our turnaround campuses and the job fair is just not for new teachers,” Molinar said. “It’s for teachers who are ready for a challenge, who really want to make a difference in our students’ academic achievement.”
Molinar says the district needs teachers who want to work in the schools that need more help. This can combat high teacher turnover rate at these schools.
Lauren Callahan, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, says Education Commissioner Mike Morath has to give final approve to the campus improvement plans. He’s expected to get back to districts next month.
“Every plan’s gonna look different, because every campus is different, and what’s working on one campus might not be working on another campus,” Callahan said.
If campuses on the list don’t turn around after five years, the commissioner will have to make some tough choices. He can choose to install new leaders at the schools, or shut them down.