Waco ISD’s STAAR scores showed us that some schools are still struggling. Looking forward, the district is trying to improve behavior and college readiness at some campuses. The district has secured some big grant money to try and do that.
The STAAR scores for JH Hines Elementary and Indian Spring Middle School were in the bottom 5-percentile of scores across Texas. Because of that, Indian Spring qualified for a $4.8 million grant and Hines received a &3.6 million grant that goes to continuously low-performing schools. That money comes from the Texas Education Agency.
Waco ISD administrators say that schools like JH Hines struggle with students who have behavior problems. Dale Barron is a Resource Development Facilitator with Waco ISD. He helped write the grant. He says this money will help hire behavioral counselors and community members to help those students.
“What we’re trying to do is intervene with the behavior and get a handle on it and help the child be able to manage that better," said Barron. "So they’re spending less time out of the classroom with behavioral issues.”
The grant money going to Indian Spring Middle School will help the school get students ready for college or a career. It’ll also go towards professional development for teachers. Students will also receive electronic tablets to assist in the classroom. And they want to establish a community center in the school where parents and students can spend time before and after school hours.
“They’re creating this environment and school culture that is just exciting. A fun place to be. They like going to school. They’ll have a sense of pride.,” said Sharla Garcia with Waco ISD's Grants Management Department. She says the funding is good for three years. And they’ll be tracking the student progress throughout that time.
Earlier this month the Texas Education Agency released accountability ratings for school districts state wide. Waco ISD as a whole met standards – but 10 out of the district’s 22 schools still garnered an “improvement required” rating.
To address that, Waco ISD is trying to give teachers a more solid framework for their curricula this year. One thing that’s going to happen is teachers will be put on something called “pacing calendars.” Lessons will be broken down into six week chunks to make sure students are staying on top of the lessons. Kim Ellis is Waco ISD’s Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction. She says teachers are on board with the changes.
"We're seeing a ray of hope that we've not seen before on many campuses," said Ellis. "And that focus and determination to make it happen. That positive nature. The climates on campus and the whole learning environment. I think we're going to see some strong changes in that."
The district will also be looking even more closely at students who require more individualized teaching – whether it’s more one-on-one time with the teacher or getting put into a small group.
Administrators hope that if students are feeling excited about coming to school, feeling confident in themselves and their subject strengths -- behavioral referrals will drop and performance will get better.