SAISD Board of Trustees discuss a $450 million bond proposal and 13-cent increase during its Aug. 1, 2016 meeting. Photo by Daniel Kleifgen.
SAISD Board of Trustees discuss a $450 million bond proposal and 13-cent increase during its Aug. 1, 2016 meeting. Photo by Daniel Kleifgen.

San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) earned a mixed report card from the State, according to the district’s 2016 accountability report. For a district making big plans to pull itself out of chronic underperformance, varied accountability ratings shed light on the need for change and the path forward.

The report was presented to the SAISD board on Monday by Theresa Urrabazo, SAISD executive director of accountability, research, evaluation and testing. The State uses the STAAR tests as the primary measure of accountability.

The district saw improved passing rates in science and social studies, as well as an increase in the number of 8th graders taking the Algebra 1 exam. In 2015, 577 students took the exam at a 99% passing rate. In 2016, 730 students took the exam at a 97% passing rate.

Accountability is measured across four indices: 1) student achievement, 2) student growth, 3) closing achievement gaps for the lowest performing demographics, and 4) post-secondary readiness.

For a district to be considered “met standard” it must meet the requirements for either student achievement or student growth, as well as achievement gaps and post-secondary readiness. Across SAISD, performance fell slightly on student achievement and post-secondary readiness. Student growth increased, and the achievement gap remained the same. 

Before getting into the work that needs to be done, Urrabazo recognized the campuses earning distinctions in one or more area.

To earn a distinction, campuses are compared to schools with similar demographics. Those who score in the top 25% of similar schools earn a distinction. Distinctions can be earned in reading, math, science and social studies, student progress, closing the achievement gap, or post-secondary readiness.

Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Baskin Elementary School, and Huppertz Elementary School earned distinctions in every category.

Three schools earned five distinctions: Travis Early College High School, Gates Elementary School, and Japhet Elementary School.

The following schools earned three or four distinctions: Burbank High School, Edison High School, Arnold Elementary School, Forbes Elementary School, Kelly Elementary School, Smith Elementary School, and Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

Another 20 schools earned one to two distinctions.

Principals from the 34 SAISD schools that earned distinctions were recognized at the board meeting.

Three principals were asked to present the innovations that led to their success. Sonya Mora is the principal at Gates Elementary School which earned five distinctions and nearly doubled scores from previous years.

“It’s so hard to put into words what we did,” said Mora, “We started with a culture change.” 

Professional learning communities (PLCs) were a large part of the school’s success. Mora said it allowed teachers and staff to create a team atmosphere for the benefit of the students.

“Ms. Mora has come into a situation at Gates, and has changed the entire mindset of that community,” said Trustee James Howard (D2).

Young Men’s Leadership Academy is already one of the district’s highest performers in its first year.

“The conversation and the learning takes place through the students. They always talk about what they are learning,” said YMLA Principal Derrick Brown.

Brown also visits each classroom every day, and gives teachers a half-day planning period once a month.

“Mr. Brown represents the level of innovation we’re doing in our district,” SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said.

Davis Middle School, coming out of four years of improvement required (IR) status, earned a distinction in science this year. Principal Julio Garcia said he sat down with community and staff to evaluate the needs and possibilities for his school.

“We’re the reflection of the community. If you want to improve your community you have to start in your school,” Garcia said. 

Innovations at Davis included gender classes, early release Tuesdays to allow teachers to meet with PLCs, and project-based learning.

In SAISD, 20 schools fell into IR status. Their test scores did not meet standards on the student achievement index. This particular index relies solely on STAAR test scores. The district also did not meet 25 federal safeguards for student performance. Each campus with IR status or missing a federal safeguard will be required to demonstrate plans to improve.

SAISD plans to appeal 10 of the 20 IR ratings, based on materials mismanagement and other factors. The district has been successful in appealing the rating in the past.

Campuses that failed to meet standards on student achievement and student growth are considered to be among the bottom 5% of schools in the state, Urrabazo confirmed.

The ratings set a low benchmark for Martinez, who is beginning his second year as superintendent.

“We see the 2015-16 school year as our baseline year,” Martinez said.

Though he came in with specific goals for the district, Martinez said that with a handful of urgent exceptions, he deliberately delayed implementation so that he could triage the district’s issues effectively. Rather than beginning with a predetermined strategy for reform, he spent his first year listening, observing, and learning.

“Everything that we did was really for this year,” he said.

Most importantly, Martinez wants to see a stronger focus on academics. He wants to shift the district paradigm into college-focused high achievement, where teachers are given the resources to teach at truly ambitious levels.

‘We have a long, long, long way to go, but we have already implemented changes that are addressing these deficiencies and fundamentally transforming the district,” Trustee Steve Lecholop (D1) said in an interview before the meeting.

Some of those resources will be human capital, and others will be long overdue systems. Teachers will no longer have their days “scripted.” Using the TEKS Resource System, teachers will be able to build their own lesson plans to fit their particular classrooms.

“(Scripting lesson plans) doesn’t work in an urban district with high poverty and mobility,” Martinez said in an interview before the meeting.

Throughout the year Martinez plans to reveal more new initiatives aimed at giving teachers adequate time and resources to enhance instruction time. He wants talented teachers to be able to do what they do best.

“I’m very excited about the talent we’re bringing in,” he added.

In addition to academic coaches, many campuses will have new leadership. Urrabazo will present a more comprehensive report on the district’s academic progress in October.

Lisa Riggs, SAISD associate superintendent for academics, presented district-wide plans to improve professional development, curriculum development, instructional practices, and instructional resources.

“We found that there were was not access or equity in the resources that were out there,” Riggs said.

The district plans to streamline the allocation of resources and support so that every campus can benefit from district initiatives.

The board expressed its hopes for more improvement as changes are implemented.

“I’m already excited to hear the report for next year,” said Board President Patti Radle, who attended the meeting via Skype.

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

Top image: The SAISD Board of Trustees discusses a $450 million bond proposal and a 13-cent increase during its Aug. 1, 2016 meeting.  Photo by Daniel Kleifgen.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.