Seventh Annual Bragging Rights 2013-2014

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Seventh Annual

Bragging Rights 2013-2014

Alief ISD Arlington ISD Bushland ISD Community ISD Goose Creek ISD Humble ISD Klein ISD Lovejoy ISD Lufkin ISD McKinney ISD Northwest ISD Salado ISD

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Seventh Annual

Bragging Rights 2013-2014

table of contents

From the Editor............................................................................................5 Alief ISD................................................................................................ 7 Elementary kids and their families thrill at the sight of Alief’s COMET Arlington ISD.............................................................................................11 School district ensures its voice is heard with Legislative Affairs Committee Bushland ISD..............................................................................................13 FIT program provides foundation for families in transition Community ISD.........................................................................................16 This district lives up to its name with community-building classes Goose Creek ISD.......................................................................................19 District continues to make history at state, national competitions Humble ISD................................................................................................22 Summer camps ensure a smooth transition to the next level Klein ISD.....................................................................................................25 Reading for pleasure is glamorous with the OSCAR program Lovejoy ISD................................................................................................29 Small district creates big splash with professional education program Lufkin ISD...................................................................................................33 Principal hosts weekly meetups to impart life skills to at-risk boys McKinney ISD............................................................................................36 High school students aim for the skies, thanks to flight instruction program Northwest ISD...........................................................................................40 Health and wellness center serves staff, families on insurance plan Salado ISD..................................................................................................45 Youth Leadership Council gets kids thinking beyond the classroom

Publisher Ted Siff | Editor in Chief Jim Walsh | Editorial Director Katie Ford | Advertising Sales Manager Lance Lawhon Design Phaedra Strecher | Director of Marketing and Customer Relations Stephen Markel | Office Services Ambrose Austin (ISSN 0563-2978 USPS 541-620) Bragging Rights 2013-14 • Volume LX, Issue 3 1601 Rio Grande Street, #455 • Austin, Texas 78701 • Phone: 512-478-2113 • Fax: 512-495-9955

© Copyright 2013 Texas School Business Magazine LLC

ISSN 0563-2978 USPS 541-620 Published monthly, except for July/August and November/December, and for the Best in Class issue published in August and the Bragging Rights issue published in December (12 times a year) by Texas School Business Magazine, LLC, 1601 Rio Grande Street, #455, Austin, TX 78701. Periodical Postage Paid at Austin, Texas and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Texas School Business,1601 Rio Grande Street, #455, Austin, TX 78701. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: $28 per year; $52 for two yrs; $72 for three yrs. Group rate: 10 or more, $18; single issues, $4.50.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


Seventh Annual

Bragging Rights 2013-2014

from the editor

From start to finish, Bragging Rights is always such a fun issue to produce. Every spring, we at Texas School Business invite school administrators and educators from across the state to nominate their brag-worthy programs for possible publication in this special issue. From those nominations, we select 12 school districts to feature in Bragging Rights, which comes out every December. It’s never an easy process, but somehow we manage. This year, I’m particularly proud to share the stories in this annual special issue for two reasons. First, it’s no secret that Texas school districts are feeling a financial squeeze, yet these stories illustrate how resourceful and resilient our public schools can be in lean times. In these pages, you’ll find story upon story of unique partnerships, innovative business models and good, old-fashioned sweat equity to make things happen, regardless of what the budget says.

Katie Ford

Secondly, I’m eager to share this issue because it seems to me that I’ve been hearing an inordinate amount of criticism toward Texas public schools lately in social media news feeds and through my colleagues and friends who have school-aged children. Their negative commentary is spoken with such passion and conviction that one would think their viewpoint is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Well, I have 48 pages here that show there’s more to the story — much more. So, perhaps the next time they get on Facebook or open their mouths at a social engagement to slam the entire Texas public school system, they’ll think twice and perhaps be more specific and constructive in voicing their complaints. At least that’s my hope as we release the seventh annual edition of this very special issue. I’m telling you: There’s no shortage of cool stories about Texas K-12 public schools, and we at Texas School Business intend to keep telling them!

Happy reading.

Katie Ford

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


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TASA Congratulates Texas Public Schools! Texas High School Graduation Rates Are Among the Highest in the Nation! n




Asian students in Texas have the highest graduation rate in the U.S. compared to their peers in all other states. Hispanic students in Texas have the second highest graduation rate in the U.S. compared to their peers in all other states, behind only Maine. African-American students in Texas tied the state of Montana for the highest graduation rate in the U.S. compared to their peers in all other states. White students in Texas have the highest graduation rate in the U.S. compared to their peers in all other states.

Sources: Friends of Texas Public Schools and SY2010–11 Four-Year Regulatory Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates TASA TSB bragging rights.indd 1

Texas Association of School Administrators 10/25/13 2:48 PM

Alief ISD

Elementary kids and their families thrill at the sight of Alief’s COMET by Bobby Hawthorne


ot long ago, a precocious fourth grader at Horn Elementary in Alief ISD heard about a program that he thought sounded pretty cool. Taking his future into his hands, he bounced up to one of the program’s coordinators and asked, “Can I be in your program? I really want to be in the program.” To which program coordinator Pamela Fulbright-Scheyer replied, “Well, sure!” The boy, Jesther, then proudly told FulbrightScheyer that he was the fourth grade student council president at Horn. “Well, then, we just have to have you!” FulbrightScheyer exclaimed. So, Jesther and his mom signed up for the program, and two or three days later, the ambitious boy told Fulbright-Scheyer he had just delivered an important speech to the entire school. He asked if she’d like to hear it — which, of course, she did. Fulbright-Scheyer recalls the topic was: “I love my school. It’s the best one I’ve ever attended.” By the way, Jesther had attended nine schools in four years.

A nomadic lifestyle is hardly unusual among the apartment dwellers in southwest Houston — where many Alief ISD schools are located. Children are shuttled from one apartment complex to the next each time their parents are offered a free month’s rent or a microwave oven or a $100 Walmart gift card. You can’t necessarily blame mom or dad for doing what they have to do to make ends meet, but the implications for their children can be devastating. Some — particularly the younger ones — fall behind academically. They become inattentive, hyperactive, depressed. They mope, yell, act out, hit. Their friendships are disrupted; their social skills stunted.

Superintendent H.D. Chambers

Add poverty to the mix. Add gangs, drugs and street crime. Add single-parenting. Add the fact that some parents speak little to no English and have no idea how to navigate the public school system and its resources.

See Alief on page 8

COMET kids having a ton of fun on the playground of their apartment complex.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


Alief continued from page 7

‘This is not your typical after-school day care program. There are plenty of those out there where kids come in to sit around and watch TV. This is not that. ... This is a structured extension of the school day where relevant teaching is going on.’ Superintendent H.D. Chambers

That’s why Alief ISD has partnered with churches, the YMCA, nonprofits like 5Works Inc. and apartment complexes to create Community Outreach Missions Education Team, or COMET. It’s also why Jesther, who is now president of the fifth grade student council, is a COMET junior volunteer, and why he and his mom haven’t moved to that 10th apartment complex. COMET is the brainchild of Alief ISD Superintendent H. D. Chambers, who took the reins there three years ago. “I didn’t come into the district with this idea in my head,” he says, “but I got a good look at the lay of the land.” This is what he saw upon first surveying the district’s needs:

• A congested community of apartment dwellers. The school district is spread over 36 square miles, yet it serves 46,000 kids — roughly 1,300 kids per square mile. By contrast, Aldine ISD has 65,000 kids spread over 111 miles. • An at-risk student population that needs support well beyond the typical school day; and • A fertile network of faith-based volunteers looking for ways to make a difference. Having surveyed the challenge at hand, Chambers approached community leaders and told them he envisioned a partnership that would encompass churches, nonprofits and as many apartment complexes as they could bring on board. Together, they would offer structured after-school programs at the apartment complexes themselves. The key was getting the churches to provide the volunteers and getting the volunteers trained. “The school district couldn’t provide all the individuals needed to teach the classes, but we could train the volunteers,” Chambers says. The district was able to get two apartment complexes to sign on initially. Two COMET pilot proExecutive Director Oralia Rios-Williams and Director of Ministry Relations Pamela Fulbright-Scheyer (left to right) are with 5Works Inc., a Houston nonprofit that trains individuals and organizations to provide Christian ministries in under-resourced urban communities. Alief ISD has leveraged the nonprofit’s expertise to make COMET a reality. 8

grams involving students at Chambers Elementary and Horn Elementary commenced in February 2013. Horn Elementary is located on the far east side of the school district in one of Houston’s worst crime areas. Kathleen Jahn was the school’s principal that year. She’s now a central office administrator. On the first day of the program, the students were issued special name badges and loaded onto a bus bound for their apartment complex. Jahn rode along with them, just to make sure the students arrived safely and that the introductions to the COMET volunteers went smoothly. “The children needed to know that there are people out there who cared about them and wanted to help them,” she says. “And they needed to know that they’d be in a safe place. Some of these children have seen things more than once that you or I may not have experienced in our lifetimes.” Another perk of being in the COMET program: Being in COMET automatically qualified the kids for a special summer YMCA swim and wellness program. “We wanted them to feel like they were part of something special, something privileged,” Jahn adds. “And, of course, the YMCA summer program was so much better than just hanging out all summer in front of a television or around a street corner.” COMET now serves approximately 50 students in grades K through fourth, and the district is working diligently to expand it to other elementary schools and apartment properties. If there’s been any criticism of COMET, it’s that it needs to grow — now. “One of the apartment managers said she thought we were too exclusive,” says Fulbright-Scheyer, who, in addition to serving as COMET program coordinator, is also the director of ministry relations at 5Works Inc., a Houston nonprofit that equips and trains individuals and organizations to provide Christian ministries in under-resourced urban communities. “She wanted us to serve more kids. And we said, ‘Great. If more parents are willing to put in the hours, we’re cool with that.’ We want to build communities and relationships, but it takes time,” Fulbright-Scheyer admits. COMET is free to families, but to participate, parents must attend 10 hours per month of classes on computer literacy, parenting skills, nutrition, household finance and relationshipbuilding. There are also classes that: • show how math is used in everyday life; • explain why reading and writing are essential; and • inculcate the importance of graduation and college. “All those simple things that many of us take for granted, we teach them how to do that,” Fulbright-Scheyer says. “At first, the parents didn’t like the 10-hour concept, but now, they can’t wait to get their hours done. They love the program.”

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

The kiddos adore COMET parent volunteer Scottie Taylor.

Incidentally, the same apartment manager who complained about COMET’s exclusivity also wants a COMET program for the older kids — especially the junior high teens who are most at risk of being sucked into gang environment. “She asked us, ‘Can you do something with them? They’re not in school. They’re out on the corner. They’re hassling people,’” Fulbright-Scheyer recalls. “Apartment managers love the program because the kids are not just hanging around, causing trouble. “I was talking to an elementary schoolteacher, and she said in one of the schools, gang members have approached children as young as fourth grade and have asked them to do things for them as part of an initiation — like take a knife to school,” she adds. “It’s gotten to be an inner-city reality.” The need to bring COMET to more apartment complexes is palpable, but the challenge is finding properties that will buy into the program. To offer COMET programming, the properties must donate meeting rooms for classes and provide a free apartment for the on-site coordinator. “I have no doubt that we will work through it,” says Chambers, who admits that it’s a financial commitment, but the payoff is huge if they focus on the bigger picture. “Parents are choosing to stay in one place,” he says. “There’s a wait list now in these properties because parents want their children to be a part of the program.” Fulbright-Scheyer recalls an 11-year-old boy in the program. He had a parent in prison, and he was very angry about it. One day, unable to control his emotions, he caused a major disruption.

“I called the mom, and she came in and thought that we were about to kick him out of the program,” she continues. “I told her, ‘I called you to see how we can work together to help your son.’ She was so shocked. She just assumed that they were on their way out. “I told her, ‘We’re here to help you.’ And she said, ‘My son is 11 years old, and if I don’t do something right now, I’m going to lose him.’ That’s the reality out there. Moms are afraid of losing their children.” And that’s why Superintendent Chambers is so committed to COMET. “The program has exceeded my expectations,” he says. “This is not your typical after-school day care program. There are plenty of those out there where kids come in to sit around and watch TV. This is not that. And if it were, I wouldn’t be interested. This is a structured extension of the school day where relevant teaching is going on. That’s what takes time and effort. “It’s a special public-private partnership, and we are committed to making it work,” he says. It’s why Jahn is committed too. “It builds the child from the inside out,” she says. “It gives the child a perspective on how to build relationships with adults and how to trust people. This is an issue with many of the children in this community. They need to know that there are people who care for them and will look out for them. I can’t think of a better program.” BOBBY HAWTHORNE is a regular columnist for Texas School Business and the author of “The Radical Write,” “Longhorn Football: An Illustrated History,” and “UIL: An Illustrated History of 100 Years of Service to Texas Schools.” Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014



Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

School district ensures its voice is heard with Legislative Affairs Committee

Arlington ISD

by Terry Morawski


s the 83rd legislative session neared, leaders in Arlington ISD felt a keen desire to do more at the state level. After all, the Texas House and Senate would be voting on some significant education bills that would affect faculty, staff and, most importantly, students in public schools statewide. Arlington ISD wanted to make sure its voice was heard. In the past, the district’s involvement in politics was relatively limited. Arlington ISD would respond to legislator requests, if asked, and would handle most issues internally with little involvement from outside groups. When it came to governmental relations, Arlington ISD, like many other districts, simply encouraged its employees and parents to contact their legislators on key issues. Yet, 2013 and the 83rd legislative session would prove to be a new day for the district as it formed its first-ever Legislative Affairs Committee, whose mission was to build a legislative agenda and then communicate that agenda to the community at large and to legislators at the Capitol.

As a result, Arlington ISD became a “go to” district for members of the Legislature and the media alike when they wanted feedback on how proposed legislation might affect those at “ground zero.” Before starting the initiative, the school board and administration discussed the pros and cons of building an agenda internally or hiring a consultant to spearhead the process. The group ultimately decided to hire a consultant, and the business of building an agenda commenced. “By creating a legislative agenda and focusing on the elements of that agenda for all of our outreach efforts, Arlington ISD was able to impact legislation in five key areas,” explains Arlington ISD School Board President Bowie Hogg. “It was an excellent opportunity to help our district and to expand the board members’ knowledge on legislative issues.”

Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos

Arlington ISD’s legislative agenda focused on the following issues:

See arlington on page 12

Texas State Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, and Arlington ISD Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos (fourth from right) gather with members of Arlington ISD’s Legislative Affairs Committee, which also received integral support from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


arlington continued from page 11

1. Accountability and Assessment: Effective, efficient and equitable state academic and financial accountability systems are necessary to carry out the mission and objectives of the Texas public education system. Texas’ current accountability system is too complex for school districts to navigate effectively and provides confusing information to parents about the performance of their child’s school. The state accountability system should focus on how well all students demonstrate what they know and are able to do in core content areas.

Specific areas the district targeted included: adopting accountability measures that reflect student progress, removing state testing and accountability as the sole driver of the learning process, alignment of accountability measures and reporting, alignment of the Public Education Grant (PEG) program with state accountability ratings, and several specific changes to the impact of high-stakes testing on students.

2. School Finance: Legislation and an appropriation that provides funding for public education to meet the mission and objectives described in Texas Education Code, Section 4.001, should be passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature. The following is a sampling of the committee’s recommendations for finance-related legislation: •


restoring control of the local tax rate to the Board of Trustees, while providing equalized

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

• •

enrichment funding beyond the 6 cents currently authorized; providing relief from current unfunded state mandates and not adding additional unfunded mandates; funding career and higher education exploration courses for all eighth grade students; increasing state funding for transportation with an adjustment factor for inflation, as the current state transportation funding formula has not been revised for more than 20 years and the allotment covers less than 33 percent of actual operating costs; funding performance-based pay programs to reward campus and central staff for student performance improvements; enacting legislation that allows public education the same 20 percent discount given to universities, colleges and other upper-level educational institutions for electricity rates through the Texas Utility Code; appropriating funds to cover the costs of certification and licensure testing paid by school districts and state charter schools; appropriating funds to assist with developing and delivering online and electronic courses, as such offerings will expand opportunities for students statewide and reduce district operating costs; See arlington on page 15

FIT program provides foundation for families in transition

Bushland ISD

by John Egan


ne student’s journey from homelessness to hope illustrates the success — and importance — of Bushland ISD’s Families in Transition (FIT) program. The teenager lived in a hotel with his family. They didn’t have a house. They didn’t have a car. Life in their rural community just west of Amarillo was harder than most of us could imagine. But with assistance from Bushland ISD, the teen got on the right path. Stephanie Braddock, the district’s homeless liaison and FIT counselor, monitored and encouraged him. She bought clothing for him at Walmart. When the teen’s dad was hospitalized after a heart attack, Braddock helped secure temporary housing for the family at Amarillo’s Medical Center League House. Moreover, Superintendent Don Wood gave the teen access to a borrowed laptop so he could take credit-recovery classes. Last year, the teen graduated from Bushland High School. Today, he and his mother live in government housing in a small town about an hour from Amarillo. They’re both holding down jobs and working their way toward financial independence. Unfortunately, the father died two weeks after his son’s graduation. “His dad knew his son graduated. That means something,” Braddock says. “He has his education now and that cannot be taken away from him.” Dozens of students like this teen have benefited from Bushland ISD’s FIT program, which: •

identifies students who are homeless;

enrolls them in the FIT program;

urges them to attend classes regularly; and

encourages them to succeed academically.

During the 2012-2013 school year, 146 homeless students were enrolled. The goal “is to mold, develop and build young lives into contributing members of society — leaving no child behind,” Wood says. New and returning students fill out residency questionnaires every year, and Braddock uses these questionnaires to identify students who might benefit from FIT. If their housing situation is questionable, Braddock does some investigating to find out whether the situation is temporary and if economic hardship is the cause. Based on the information she uncovers, Braddock decides whether the student qualifies for FIT support services. She visits with qualified families in person or by phone to determine their specific needs.

Superintendent Don Wood

“Without programs like this, we know many children from these families will not graduate,” Wood says. “Without a diploma, these kids have a high probability of living a life in poverty, with little hope of ever climbing out of it. This can lead to despair and eventually a life of crime. Our mission is to intervene when we can, even if the family’s transition is short-lived, to give every opportunity to every child to be successful.” Aside from receiving additional academic support, FIT students — depending on their individual needs — may receive free breakfast and lunch, school supplies, transportation to and from school, See bushland on page 14

FIT kids in action: making plans during a game of Red Rover at summer camp; picking up trash for a community service activity at Cadillac Ranch; enjoying some time outside with sidewalk chalk at summer camp. Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


bushland continued from page 13

‘He has his education now and that cannot be taken away from him.’ Homeless liaison and FIT counselor Stephanie Braddock clothing, money to cover school-related fees or referrals to community resources. “If we can identify the homeless students, enroll them and help them with what they need, they will attend and succeed in school,” Braddock says. “Growth, no matter how small, is still growth.” Here are a few examples of that growth:

“Collaboration within our community has made a huge difference in what we can do to serve these students,” Braddock admits. “I truly believe that it takes a village to raise a child.” During her tenure with the FIT program, Braddock has observed “a melting pot of reasons” for a family’s homeless status. Sometimes it’s domestic violence or a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse that is causing the problem. But sometimes it’s due to a house fire, a parent’s illness or death, or longerthan-expected unemployment after a layoff. “In a nutshell, the general public views homelessness as a consequence of poor choices,” Wood says. “In reality, while we know many families and individuals do end up homeless due to poor choices, many more are caught in this dilemma due to circumstances beyond their control.” Wood says most of the district’s families in transition don’t actually live on the streets, as one might expect. Rather, they might be staying with other people while trying to regain their footing. Still, he says, they’re “living in transition.”

All of the homeless seniors in the 2012-2013 class graduated.

All of the homeless 11th graders who took TAKS tests during 2012-2013 passed them.

All of the homeless students in middle school during 2012-2013 were promoted to the next grade.

In talking with FIT students and their families, Braddock prefers not to use the term “homeless.” Rather, she refers to the McKinney-Vento act or “families in transition.”

The 2012-2013 attendance rate for homeless students in the district was 93 percent, slightly below Bushland ISD’s overall figure.

“I don’t want to stigmatize them,” she says. “Homelessness doesn’t define who you are. It is what you are in right now; it does not mean it is forever.”

Braddock has been guiding and nurturing homeless students in Bushland ISD for a dozen years. Under a federal law known as the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, each public school district must appoint a homeless liaison.

Braddock continues: “You may think they just need to get a job or whatever, but it is not like that. Every person has a story, and you have to listen and listen some more to truly understand.

“I really enjoy providing services to the families and listening to their stories and what they truly need,” she says. Grant money through the Texas Support for Homeless Education Program funds Braddock’s work. She says she has been able to stay relatively immune to state funding cutbacks by cultivating community FIT kids in action: going on a field trip; receiving a backpack filled with school supplies; and learning how to ride a horse.


teamwork. For instance, the Bushland Church of Christ donates Thanksgiving baskets for homeless families in the district, along with gift cards, clothing and emergency assistance for things like car repairs. Meanwhile, the elementary school’s PTO has helped provide school supplies.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

“Maybe it was divorce, maybe they don’t have an education, maybe they are disabled, maybe they lost everything in a fire. You can’t judge them. You can only help them. That is what I would want someone to do for me,” she says. JOHN EGAN is a full-time editor who also writes for CultureMap, and AllVoices. He is the former editor of Austin Business Journal.

arlington continued from page 12

• •

maintaining governance of virtual education at the local education authority level; and meeting the state’s financial obligations to fund the Teacher Retirement System and maintaining TRS as a defined benefits system.

3. Graduation Requirements: Texas requirements for graduation should align with college admissions requirements and workforce needs of Texas employers. Greater relevance for students drives higher completion rates. Highlights of the graduation requirement portion were: •

supplementing the 4X4 curriculum with additional choices for graduation under the Recommended High School Program; repealing the requirement for Texas students to complete the Recommended High School Program or Distinguished Achievement Program to attend a public four-year college or university; amending education code to authorize school districts to offer courses for state graduation credit that reflect local priorities; creating student testing and assessment requirements that reflect distinctions between College- and Career-Ready Pathway students; and directing the State Board of Education to develop essential knowledge and skills that are clear and concise.

4. Prekindergarten: Texas requirements for graduation should align with college admissions requirements and workforce needs of Texas employers. Greater relevance for students drives higher completion rates. High-quality, full-day pre-K is one of the most cost-effective investments that Texas can make. Access to quality pre-K positively impacts academic readiness and performance. Highlights of this section included: • •

providing sufficient resources to fund early childhood education; supporting initiatives to evaluate early childhood programs to ensure high-quality inputs and measurable student outcomes; increasing the subsidy rate provided to the Texas Workforce Commission so that lowincome families have access to high-quality child care options; and emphasizing quality over quantity.

5. School Choice: Arlington ISD is a district that offers choice for students and parents. While school choice is perhaps the most polarizing issue in public education today, a legislative review of specific school-choice proposals will help determine what is known and not known and provide direction for how Texas could learn more about choice options in public education. Highlights of this agenda item included examining current school-choice policies and practices, ensuring consistent assessment and accountability, and reviewing and revising statutory requirements for in-district charters to create greater flexibility for boards of trustees to establish charters.

‘Whether we contacted legislators or were contacted by legislators for feedback, we were recognized throughout the state for our keen analysis and knowledge of how pending legislation would impact our district and our students.’ Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos An agenda in action After completing the agenda, Arlington ISD representatives at all levels regularly communicated the terms with legislators and reported weekly to the Legislative Affairs Committee on any progress made. The district also created a bill-tracking spreadsheet to stay on top of what was happening in Austin. In addition, the Legislative Affairs Committee gathered letters of support from the community to further strengthen its agenda. The district also understood the importance of putting in face time with the decision makers at the Capitol. A team of Legislative Affairs Committee members and Arlington Chamber of Commerce members traveled to Austin to share the agenda with legislators. The district’s agenda was wellreceived at the Capitol, and district leaders were pleased to have the chamber’s support in the process. “Through our efforts with our legislative agenda, the district was able to influence key legislation in an effort to provide the best education possible for our students,” says Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos. “Whether we contacted legislators or were contacted by legislators for feedback, we were recognized throughout the state for our keen analysis and knowledge of how pending legislation would impact our district and our students.” Aaron Reich, board secretary and chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee, is especially proud of their work. All who were involved in the effort agree that this is an initiative that’s here to stay. “The legislative efforts conducted by the district and the board proved to be valuable for Arlington ISD students,” says Reich. “Through our visits with legislators, approximately 50 letters to legislators and a column that appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, we were able to position ourselves as a district that was knowledgeable about current legislative affairs and that was willing to work with legislators to ensure the best outcome for our students and staff.” TERRY MORAWSKI regularly writes the “Technology Toolbox” column for Texas School Business.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


Community ISD

This district lives up to its name with community-building classes by Elizabeth Millard


t Community ISD, children and teens aren’t the only ones who benefit from educational initiatives.

In a move toward creating a stronger connection between the district and the surrounding community, the district developed “Community U,” a seven-month course that educates local residents on district issues like special education, school funding and classroom technology.

Superintendent Cole McClendon

Now in its third class, Community U is taking off, says Superintendent Cole McClendon. “Through these classes, we’re seeing people become advocates for the district,” he says. “When they understand the types of issues that the district faces and how we handle them, they get a more realistic idea of how the district operates. And that can be powerful when they go back out into the community and talk to others.” Getting started Community U got its start when McClendon first joined the district three years ago. Just before his arrival, a tax ratification election (TRE) had failed, and he sought input on causes for that failure. The new superintendent discovered that the community had trust issues with the school district. In response, Community ISD held a series of town meetings about the TRE. The conversations were so valuable that McClendon wanted to keep them going. He envisioned an educational component as well. “As a small community, we’re always dealing with rumors, and we wanted a way to be proactive about getting the right information into the community,” says McClendon. “It was a difference between always reacting and being a force for change.” He and other administrators developed Community U, with a focus on major district topics like the school board’s role, accountability, instructional areas, school finance, iPads in the classroom, fine arts and other subjects. The first group, which McClendon calls Class 1, began during the 2011-2012 school year. It was comprised mainly of residents who were already strong school supporters, he admits. However, after they completed their classes, the participants were asked to recruit for Class 2. Of course, the recruit-


Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

ing process focused on attracting candidates who didn’t have much trust in the district or who had criticized the district’s decisions in the past. Mixing those individuals in with district advocates has proven a solid strategy. “People who went through Class 2 said their perceptions had changed; they felt more informed,” McClendon says. The curriculum Each class attracts about 20 to 25 people, and no admission request is declined. Classes start in October and run through April, meeting one day per month from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. To keep conversations and ideas flowing outside of those meetings, the district has established a listserv exclusively for Community U members. When a class meets for the first time, McClendon and other administrators lead a discussion to identify the topics that most appeal to the group. Although there’s a specific agenda of topics, more are added if the group shows interest in other areas, such as food service or transportation. In the last session, special education was covered through a series of breakout sessions that covered testing requirements, eligibility, district resources and services, and legal mandates. “Most people don’t realize the range of services we provide and what’s required of us as a school,” says April Estrada, director of special programs at Community ISD. “These sessions really helped to showcase what we do here and increased support for our programs.” Community U members also are asked to decide on a class project. This might be hosting a school supplies drive or a holiday toy drive or donating classroom volunteer hours. Not only do these projects help the district, but they also result in stronger cohesion among Community U members. McClendon says this dynamic creates a ripple effect into the community at large because people who previously might have never met or spoken to one another are now friends. Far-reaching results One tangible result of Community U was the eventual passage of a TRE, McClendon says. Program

participants became district advocates who were willing and able to speak about the TRE’s importance. “The climate is better now; we can see more community involvement at every level,” the superintendent says. “We have people who tell us that their faith in the district has been restored. That’s something they won’t keep to themselves.” Of course, Community U curriculum will evolve with every class, as feedback is given and new observations are made. For example, the format for Class 1 was a series of lectures delivered in a conference room, but feedback indicated that the participants would have liked the opportunity to see more classrooms in action. The result: Class 2 involved campus tours and classroom visits. “They really enjoy watching students in action, whether that’s seeing kids with iPads or visiting the agriculture barns,” says McClendon. “They appreciate being able to go beyond the conference room and watch what’s happening for students on a daily basis.” The work of Class 3 is likely to affect more than its participants and the local community. McClendon, Estrada and Jill Thomason, a Community ISD assistant principal, traveled to Dallas in September to the TASA/TASB annual conference to lead a breakout session on the Community U program. As a

result, Linden-Kildare CISD Superintendent James Cowley asked permission to attend the first session of Class 3. Other districts have contacted McClendon as well to learn more about the initiative. Based on the TASA/TASB breakout session and his district’s grassroots efforts, McClendon is optimistic that Community U will be realized in other districts.

See Community on page 18

Superintendent Cole McClendon (far right) and Class 2 graduates of Community U gather for a photo. A year after this class graduated, one individual became a school trustee and two others became board members of the Community Education Foundation. “I firmly believe that Community U provided a knowledge base for participants to learn more about the district and opportunities such as these that they could continue to pursue even after the program ended for them,” McClendon says.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


Ongoing process Being in such a small town can be a boon for community building, but it also can break a school district if rumors or negative perceptions begin to spread. Enlisting community members to squash gossip has become a powerful way to build goodwill within the district. Community U is definitely changing those conversations that happen outside the school walls, Estrada says. In the past, she would sometimes overhear disparaging remarks about school policies when she sat at baseball games, and she’d feel frustrated about the type of misconceptions being spread. Now, she sees former members of a Community U class correcting those negative comments with solid, correct information about how the district works. “As an administrator, being at school events can sometimes be dreadful, because you hear things

community continued from page 17

‘As an administrator, being at school events can sometimes be dreadful, because you hear things that just aren’t true or are very negative. It’s wonderful to see the tone of those events changing and watching people shift from spreading rumors to asking questions.’ April Estrada, director of special programs


Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

that just aren’t true or are very negative,” says Estrada. “It’s wonderful to see the tone of those events changing and watching people shift from spreading rumors to asking questions.” For the future, McClendon hopes that the program keeps attracting both supporters and doubters, creating a strong mix for community engagement. He’s even begun to see interest from local government officials and business owners who don’t have children in the schools. “We’re seeing more people who just want to learn more about the district, and we’re happy to watch Community U grow,” he says. “By pulling the curtains back and letting people see the ins and outs of the district, we’re changing the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that’s been here in the past. Together, we’re all bringing the community closer together.” ELIZABETH MILLARD is a freelance writer who also writes for District Administration.

District continues to make history at state, national competitions

Goose Creek ISD

by Jeff Carmack


or 22 years, History Day has been a part of the cultural fabric at Goose Creek CISD. And year after year, students hailing from this district claim trophies and ribbons at local, regional, state and national History Day competitions. And while this sort of recognition is nice, the students gain much more than mere trophies or ribbons. They graduate from high school armed with the skills necessary to succeed in college and in life — as well as to fully participate in a functioning democracy. National History Day (NHD) is an academic program for elementary and secondary school students that involves more than a half million students in the United States every year. Students choose historical topics related to a chosen theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research. They then present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. These works are entered into spring competitions at local, state and national levels, where profes-

sional historians and educators evaluate them. The program culminates in the Kenneth E. Behring National Contest, which is held each June at the University of Maryland at College Park. So, who heads up the district’s über-successful History Day initiative these days? The man responsible for taking Goose Creek CISD into the 21st century, of course. Wait. What? Yes. You heard right. Steve Koester, Goose Creek’s director of educational technology, plays a key role in helping students become masters in all matters of centuries past.

Steve Koester

Superintendent Salvador Cavazos

Koester, a 22-year veteran in the district, is himself a former history teacher. He worked his way up See goose creek on page 20

Sophomore Matthew Broussard won first place at the National History Day competition at the University of Maryland with his individual performance, “The Turning Point That Made America Forever Free.” Broussard has won first place at the state level for the past four years and also placed first at the national competition when he was in seventh and ninth grades.

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goose creek continued from page 19

through the ranks and served as assistant principal and principal before assuming his current role. Koester has accompanied students to the state contest 21 times and has driven the students’ projects to the national competition 12 times. Even though he is not officially part of the teaching staff, he recognizes the importance and value of History Day. He dedicates a week to helping plan for the regional contest in April and drives props to Austin on the Friday of competition to help students set up their projects. In June, he usually drives props and projects to College Park, Md., for participants who have made it to the national competition. The contest lasts about a week.

‘The biggest complaint we get from colleges is that students don’t know how to do research. And since this entire thing is research, it’s getting them college- and career-ready. Teaching them to do research is the important thing here, because it makes them lifelong learners.’ — Taunya Breaux, social studies coordinator Koester’s love for history and the competition is contagious; he has passed it along to at least one student, and that erstwhile student is himself now in a position to further History Day at Goose Creek CISD.

Maryland. Sophomore Matthew Broussard won first place in the performance category for his presentation: “The Turning Point That Made America Forever Free.” Broussard, who hopes to be a physician, took first place at the state level while in sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth grades. He also took first at the national level when he was in seventh and ninth grades. He caught the eye of representatives from New York University and Columbia University, and both schools have offered him scholarships. Taunya Breaux is social studies coordinator for the district, and she also coordinates History Day for Goose Creek and Lee College Regional History Day. At the district level, she coordinates campus history fairs. “Each campus holds a fair, and the coordinator takes students to state competition in May. I also arrange travel and also take winners to national competition in College Park, Md., in June. “Going to national is quite a feat; you have to place first or second in state to go to national,” Breaux says. “Moving on from state is an accomplishment, but getting out of a state as big as Texas is huge. There is so much competition, and the competition is fierce.” She says sound research is the key to success. “We don’t let them use Wikipedia; we make them use good sources. And we teach them the difference between primary and secondary sources, and how to tell a good source from a bad one,” Breaux explains. Students can’t get by on rote memorization, either; they have to know their subjects inside and out. In addition to their projects, they also have a 10-minute interview with their judges, during which they have to prove their work. “The judges really dig into the kids’ heads and find out just how much they really know about their subject,” Breaux says. The students’ hard work pays off in more ways than a first-place ribbon. Koester points to a Goose Creek student in the early 1990s who was a fourtime state winner and four-time first-place national winner. That student received offers from Harvard University and The University of Texas at Austin. “Due to his advanced research skills,” Koester says, “UT told him they’d create a program just for him. He ended up going to UT.”

“The first student I took to state – Matt Warford – is now principal at Harlem Elementary here in Goose Creek, and he’s a supporter,” Koester says. “We also have several other teachers who went to state and national.”

Donna Britt, who teaches at Sterling High School in Goose Creek CISD, says that student was Jon Guillam – now a successful attorney in Houston.

Koester caught the History Day bug from his mentor teacher, Pat Kana (now retired), during his first year of teaching. He has remained involved ever since.

Today Guillam is involved with the NHD organization and has established a scholarship for history students.

Recently six Goose Creek students took part in the 34th annual competition at the University of

“Jon was one of our superstars,” she recalls.

Getting students engaged in History Day is never a problem, Koester says.

“Students in grades six through nine who are enrolled in pre-advanced placement classes are required to do a History Day project,” Koester says. “When they find this out, the competition kicks in and they really dig in and get competitive. They’re required to compete, but it’s up to them how much they want to put into it.” Both Koester and Breaux say the basic skills honed in History Day competitions prepare students to excel in college and in the working world. According to the NHD website, more than 5 million students who have participated in competitions have gone on to careers in business, law, medicine and countless other disciplines where they can put their newfound skills into practice. The competitions help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills; research and reading skills; oral and written communication skills; presentation skills; self-esteem and confidence; and a sense of responsibility for and involvement in the democratic process. Breaux says: “The biggest complaint we get from colleges is that students don’t know how to do research. And since this entire thing is research, it’s getting them college- and career-ready. Teaching them to do research is the important thing here, because it makes them lifelong learners.”

While some students are already history buffs when they come into the program, others don’t necessarily have this slant. The trick, Koester says, is to learn their aptitudes and passions and direct those into excelling at history. “Some students are great writers, some are great at computers, and some are great performers. We just find a way to wrap history around that skill and it kind of goes from there,” he says. “We take things they enjoy, put a spotlight on history and it just grows.” Superintendent Salvador Cavazos says participation in NHD is not only embraced at Goose Creek CISD, but also promoted and encouraged. “In our district, participation at a different level is an expectation. Our district has a long history — if you will pardon the pun — of participation, so it’s now a part of the fabric and the culture of Goose Creek.” Koester is very much a part of that culture. “I know I’m helping spread the love of history and getting people involved who might not otherwise be interested. And I know they’re going to spread that. I love history and I want others to as well,” he says. JEFF CARMACK is a freelance writer in Austin. He blogs at

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


Humble ISD

Summer camps ensure a smooth transition to the next level by Autumn Rhea Carpenter


here was a time when transitioning to the next level of schooling meant questionable hazing rituals, moments spent inside lockers and trash cans, and suffering from very real fears of inadequacy. Yet, these traditionally troublesome times in a teen’s life are becoming much easier to navigate now that Humble ISD offers summer transition camps for incoming middle school and high school students.

Superintendent Guy Sconzo

Last summer, Kyle Armour completed eighth grade at Atascocita Middle School. As Atascocita High School loomed in his immediate future, he admits he was nervous about entering the ninth grade and carrying the freshman label. His older sister had shared some of her experiences and had Kyle Armour warned him about the homework load. Yet, Armour had a weapon at his disposal that his sister didn’t have: Camp Keep Calm and Lead On. The weeklong summer camp — the brainchild of Lesa Prichard, director of student support services — was launched in August and designed for incoming ninth graders. The agenda focused on leadership, career planning and community involvement, with the ultimate goal of encouraging students to become catalysts for change at their new campuses. Camp Keep Calm and Lead On is an offshoot of Camp Nobis Est (Latin translation: ‘It’s up to us’), which Humble ISD launched in 2010 for sixth graders. Camp Nobis Est teaches incoming middle school students how to study, build peer relationships, and increase their college- and career-readiness. “Our department noticed that there was a decline in attendance, a rise in failing grades and an increased number of discipline referrals for students who had not been challenged in elementary school,” says Bethanie Wheeler, Humble ISD behavior facilitator. Bethanie “Our team brainstormed ways Wheeler to counteract what was happening and decided that a transition camp would help students make the changeover easier.”


Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

In Camp Nobis Est’s initial year, elementary counselors nominated the students who might fall through the cracks or who lacked a sense of connection to their school. Since then, the district has moved to an open online-enrollment process. According to Wheeler, the district has eight middle schools and can accept up to 16 students from each school, allowing 128 sixth graders to attend camp. Twenty students per each of the five high schools are accepted to Camp Keep Calm, giving 100 ninth graders the opportunity to attend. Since the program’s inception, 191 sixth graders have attended Camp Nobis Est and 42 ninth graders have attended Keep Calm and Lead On. Student counselors, adult volunteers, and project coordinators Wheeler and Deanne Moore manage the two camps. Each high school nominates four students (one male and one female sophomore and one male and one female senior) who exemplify leadership abilities. The campus Deanne Moore votes, and 10 sophomores and 10 seniors are chosen to lead camp that year. Each session also includes a lead teacher and an adult volunteer. Camp Nobis Est has four adults, and Keep Calm and Lead On has three adults. The first two years of Camp Nobis Est were entirely funded through the Education Foundation. In 2013, an attendance fee of $25 was required, which covered transportation, supplies and snacks. The district, which has been awarded grants through organizations such as Jack and Jill of America and H-E-B to fund the camps, also receives a portion of funds from the Education Foundation every year. The camps are designed to challenge the students mentally, emotionally and physically, while providing a supportive and fun experience. Multiple activities are taught each day. For example, on day three at Camp Nobis Est, students participate in “Why Try?” This exercise examines the students’ support systems. They determine the five key people in their lives who help them become successful. Wheeler explains that students are asked to identify who in their lives motivates them to try and then make a “go to” flip chart of these important people.

“When they are struggling in life, who will be in their corner to talk them through the decision?” Wheeler explains.

says Moore. “They discover how to provide help without hindering their own progress.”

Camp Nobis Est also offered a Reality-Oriented Physical Experiences (ROPES) session this year, which focused on bullying — something most every student fears or encounters. The course addressed how to ask for what you need and give others what they need in response to bullying — whether you experience it as the victim, the bully or the bystander.

A stellar track record

Confidence is a huge issue for incoming sixth graders and freshmen, and both camps offer opportunities to boost self-esteem. “Throughout the week of camp, both groups spend a great deal of time working on confidence,” says Wheeler. “Students actively participate in group discussions and student-led activities. We encourage them to share freely and participate wholeheartedly. In order to get over a fear, you must face it. These camps are all about allowing students to practice leaps of faith.”

Humble ISD has collected data to track the success rate of both transition camps. For each control group, there are between 16 and 18 students depending on the year. The information is collected through e-school, the district’s data-tracking system. Every nine weeks, the district monitors the control and variable groups. “We see how many days the students missed instruction, how many failing grades they have, and how many office referrals they got,” Wheeler says. “Based on that data, the students who attended camp are at school more often, fail fewer classes, and are sent to the office less frequently.” Humble ISD principals have seen the benefits of these camps too.

At Camp Keep Calm and Lead On, “Who are the Heroes?” is a standout activity. It’s designed to get incoming freshmen thinking about what challenges heroes face, how to overcome them, how they can partner with these heroes, and what is needed to better understand a situation. “It gets kids to step outside of the rescue model of saving others and learn how to help themselves,”

A group of Keep Calm and Lead On campers pause for a photo during a service project at a rescue animal shelter. The incoming high school students broke into groups and spent an entire day volunteering with different community organizations.

Thyrun Hurst

“I would definitely recommend this camp to freshmen because it starts the school year with a great vibe,” says Thyrun Hurst, Summer Creek High School principal. “Getting connected and feeling part of the school’s atmosphere is essential for a successful transition.” See Humble on page 24

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


Canon Baker, a sixth grader at Woodcreek Middle School, navigates his way across the ropes, an activity that helps to foster teamwork and team building, during a ROPES session at Camp Nobis Est.

‘Research shows that students who have a clearly defined sense of the expectations are more likely to meet them than those searching to uncover both the overt and hidden rules of middle school and high school.’ Superintendent Guy Sconzo

Humble continued from page 23

week earlier in the summer to avoid conflicts with middle school campus activities.

According to Superintendent Guy Sconzo, the transition camps are designed to help students navigate uncharted territory.

“Our goal for next year is to provide more information to students about the camps prior to open enrollment,” he continues. “One of our high school tech departments is creating an informational video for each camp to be shown on campuses prior to the open enrollment period.”

“Research shows that students who have a clearly defined sense of the expectations are more likely to meet them than those searching to uncover both the overt and hidden rules of middle school and high school,” he says. “Students are also more successful if they have organizational tools and a sense of belonging. The goal of Camp Nobis Est and Keep Calm and Lead On is to provide those essential pieces of the puzzle for our transitioning students in Humble ISD.” Through data tracking, student interviews, parent input and surveys, Humble ISD will continue to improve upon the transition camp experience. “Changes to Camp Nobis Est have included providing transportation from all elementary campuses versus only middle school campuses to provide greater access and opportunity for students,” Sconzo says. “We now include parents as active stakeholders too, and we moved the camp up one


Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

The transition camp opened Armour’s eyes to the community as a whole and gave him an opportunity to interact with people whom he might not otherwise have met. “I loved the volunteering part of camp,” he says. “We visited a retirement home for Alzheimer’s patients, and I taught several of them how to use an iPhone. My favorite adult volunteer, Mr. McWhorter, told us cool stories and made the experience fun. “This camp also gave me the confidence to try tennis at school, and now I have a good support group there,” Armour says. “It was such a great experience, and I hope to become a counselor when I’m older.” AUTUMN RHEA CARPENTER is a journalist, web content writer and friendly ghost-blogger.

Klein ISD

Reading for pleasure is glamorous with the OSCAR program by Jennifer LeClaire


underlich Intermediate had a single goal: Make reading fun. But reaching that goal required changing the Klein ISD school’s culture to one that encourages independent reading across all grade levels, creates a joy for reading among the students and, ultimately, increases STAAR scores in the process.

The school accomplished this cultural shift through the Our Students Care About Reading (OSCAR) program, which launched during the 2012-2013 school year. The acronym refers to a key component of the initiative: an Oscars-style awards ceremony at the end of the year. Just like the star-studded event you see on TV, students dressed up in their finest, walked the red carpet, had their photos taken and won awards. They were stars among the literary crowd for a night. A committee of teachers, administrators and the school librarian got the ball rolling last year by brainstorming an eclectic list of books they thought students might enjoy reading. The only missing ingredient was funding to buy the materials and awards program — but the group found support fast: $25,000 from the Klein ISD Education Founda-

tion and an additional $50,000 in Title 1 funds. “The books were placed in ELA and math classrooms, and students were given 15 minutes of independent reading time in both classes,” says Jessica Berberger, Wunderlich’s ELA department chair. Students were asked to draft summaries for every book they read. They also were challenged to create “movie trailers” that encourage others to read the book. The kids took photos of their own or found existing pictures, imported those images into movie-making software, developed scripts, added soundtracks and applied any number of creative touches they felt inspired to incorporate.

Superintendent Jim Cain

“We scheduled time during the school day for students to work with teachers who are skilled in digital technology,” Berberger says. “Those teachers helped the students learn everything they needed to know about using the digital camera — how to convert files, how to create a photo store or movie. Some students did it at home.”

See Klein on page 26

Former Wunderlich Intermediate Principal Brian Greeney leads the opening presentation at the OSCAR awards ceremony.

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Klein continued from page 25

Gaining community support

The OSCAR committee created a competition among all grade levels and used some of the foundation money to organize a celebration to reward students. The competition had several categories: best book trailers, best costume, best script, best musical score, etc.

In its first year of operation, Wunderlich reached out to local organizations like Bridging for Tomorrow, Faithbridge Church and Chick-fil-A to sponsor the awards ceremony. Faithbridge allowed the school to rent out its facilities for the ceremony. Bridging for Tomorrow provided for transportation and facility usage as well, and Chick-fil-A provided food and entertainment.

The OSCAR celebration program was held in May. More than 950 students completed a book summary and qualified to go to Faithbridge. More than 220 book trailers were submitted for judging in several genres. Teachers reviewed and voted on their favorite trailers. A group of more than 55 finalists emerged, and the overall winners received free iPads.

‘In my 44 years in public education, I have never seen a better program at the intermediate and junior high level than the OSCAR program.’ Superintendent Jim Cain

“We learned that we need to make sure we celebrate the fun aspects of reading,” says Berberger. “The OSCAR program gave students trophies and iPads. We had so many wonderful ways of celebrating reading.”

“What stood out most to me is that teachers were reading the books students were interested in,” says Judy Rimato, associate superintendent for communications and planning. “Some students were reading books about vampires or other subjects adults wouldn’t usually pick up. This forged connection between the teachers and students. It empowered the students and made them feel important because the teachers took interest in what interested them.”

At the OSCAR ceremony, students performed skits about the books they read.

Since the program’s inaugural year, other supporters are emerging. The Barbara Bush Library even contacted the school to see how it could get involved. “One of the most important parts of this story is the fact that we did all this in less than a full school year,” says Ruggerio. “We didn’t actually implement OSCAR until three months into the year, and yet we gained phenomenal participation and results.” A new look at books Students completed surveys at the beginning and end of the program to document their progress of independent reading. The shift in percentages is impressive. During the summer of 2012, prior to OSCAR’s implementation, more than 35 percent of students said they had read either no books or just one book over the summer. Moreover, only 26 percent of the students said they had read four or more books that summer. By the end of the 2012-2013 school year with the OSCAR program in full swing, the percentage of students who only read zero to one books decreased to 7 percent, and 59 percent reported reading four or more books. “In my 44 years in public education, I have never seen a better program at the intermediate and junior high level than the OSCAR program,” says Superintendent Jim Cain. “The students loved the program and could not stop talking about what a wonderful event it was. “I am absolutely convinced that the goal of improving reading and literacy was met and that the excitement created by this event will have positive repercussions in all subject areas,” he says. Eighth graders had the highest participation rates in the school, boasting more than 450 students actively reading and creating book summaries. Eighth graders experienced an increase of 26 percent in students who stated they now read “frequently.” This grade level also reported an 11 percent increase in students who now read at home “always” as a direct result of the OSCAR program. They also had a 10 percent increase in reporting category 2 of STAAR reading data from seventh grade to eighth grade. Another winning benefit of the OSCAR program is the library of “book trailers” Wunderlich is now ac-


Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014





COUNSELORS REINFORCING EXCELLENCE FOR STUDENTS IN TEXAS The CREST award recognizes schools across Texas that appropriately utilize their professional school counselors and demonstrate a continuous commitment to building a campus team and programs based on the Model Comprehensive, Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program for Texas Public Schools, endorsed by the Texas Education Agency. These award-winning campuses effectively engage their professional school counselors to provide students with the classroom guidance, career exploration and social development tools that they need to be academically successful and well-prepared for life.

Congratulations to the CREST winners for the 2012 - 2013 school year! Barksdale Elementary - Plano ISD Billy Ryan High School - Denton ISD Birdville High School - Birdville ISD Boswell High School - Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD Boude Storey Middle School - Dallas ISD Central Elementary - Dallas ISD Clifton Middle School - Houston ISD Crownover Middle School - Denton ISD Deer Park Junior High - Deer Park ISD Denton High School - Denton ISD Dr. Sue Shook Elementary - Socorro ISD El Dorado 9th Grade Academy - Socorro ISD El Dorado High School - Socorro ISD Elfida P. Chavez Elementary - Socorro ISD Gaston Middle School - Dallas ISD Green B. Trimble Technical High School - Fort Worth ISD H. Grady Spruce High School - Dallas ISD Haltom High School - Birdville ISD Harpool Middle School - Denton ISD Haun Elementary - Plano ISD H.D. Hilley Elementary - Socorro ISD Hillcrest High School - Dallas ISD

Hunt Elementary - Plano ISD John Drugan School - Socorro ISD John F. Kennedy Learning Center - Dallas ISD John H. Guyer High School - Denton ISD Mary M. Boals Elementary - Frisco ISD McNair Elementary - Denton ISD Obadiah Knight Elementary - Dallas ISD Plano West High School - Plano ISD Polytechnic High School - Fort Worth ISD Richland High School - Birdville ISD Schell Elementary - Plano ISD Sgt. Roberto Ituarte Elementary - Socorro ISD Shannon Learning Center - Birdville ISD Skyline High School and Career Developmental Center Dallas ISD Snow Heights Elementary - Birdville ISD Socorro High School - Socorro ISD Specialist Rafael Hernando III Middle School - Socorro ISD Sunset High School - Dallas ISD T. C. Marsh Middle School - Dallas ISD Thomas Jefferson High School - Dallas ISD Wedgwood Middle School - Fort Worth ISD A division of the Texas Counseling Association Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


More than 900 Wunderlich Intermediate students qualified to go to the OSCAR ceremony.

cumulating. All the book trailers produced by last year’s finalists were saved to a network drive with QR codes corresponding to each book trailer. The school purchased code-scanning technology so that students can go to the campus library, scan the back of a book and view the book’s trailer.

“We are hoping to get more grant money to include our social studies and our science programs. We want to include historical fiction and then also possibly do a documentary piece,” Berberger says. “We believe we’d see even stronger results if we got other core content areas involved in this journey that we’re on.”

In its second year of the program, Wunderlich has purchased additional novels and is seeking more community involvement. The goal is to support and strengthen the literacy culture created during the inaugural year.

Congratulations to the winners of TASB’s 2013 Student Video Contest

JENNIFER LECLAIRE is a freelance writer who also has written for The New York Times.

n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n n

First Place: Jess Harben Elementary School, Richardson ISD

Second Place: Northside Elementary School, DeSoto ISD

Class Favorites: Enge-Washington Intermediate, Groesbeck ISD

Malakoff Middle School, Malakoff ISD

North Shore Middle School, Galena Park ISD

Snyder Junior High School, Snyder ISD

Guthrie High School, Guthrie CSD

Jersey Village High School, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD

Canyon Lake High School, Comal ISD

To view the videos and learn more about the contest, go to 28

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

Small district creates big splash with professional education program

Lovejoy ISD

by Raven L. Hill


hen Lovejoy ISD decided to add secondary schools in 2005, administrators knew that one of the toughest jobs would be building a common culture around teaching and learning. For decades, the 96-year-old Dallas-area district only offered kindergarten through sixth grade. Middle school and high school students attended neighboring Allen ISD. Expanding to offer the full K-12 experience provided an incredible opportunity for Lovejoy ISD — if done the right way. For Moore and his leadership team, high-quality professional development was a top priority as they prepared to hire new teachers and staff. “It was like being handed a blank sheet of paper,” Superintendent Ted Moore says. “We were all about setting new norms. We decided as part of that blank sheet, we would offer professional development that was second to none.” The quality of professional development can vary greatly. There are occasions when employees are sent to workshops or events that simply don’t match their interests or needs. And oftentimes, districts can’t afford to send more than a handful of staffers to the most noteworthy conferences, making it hard to get a critical mass of well-trained staff.

“When you send people out to hear a nationally known speaker and they try to replicate it for staff, I think it loses its integrity,” says Jennifer Beimer, director for professional learning. Though Lovejoy ISD is small, the district decided to think big when it came to professional development. If the district couldn’t afford to send the entire secondary school faculty and staff to national conferences and trainings, why not host a highcaliber conference right there at home? A program is born The district rallied to create Learning @ Lovejoy, an annual summer conference that features nationally recognized expert speakers. The Lovejoy ISD Board of Trustees shared the superintendent’s commitment to create a top-notch event. Board President Ann Casey, a former teacher, said she has attended her share of bad professional development.

Superintendent Ted Moore

“This way was much easier for an entire department to get on board because they all got touched by the same expert,” she says, recalling the inaugural conference. “Learning @ Lovejoy was a way to do things right, use best practices and break a mold. From the beginning, everyone was able to speak the same language and learn about core values and curriculum alignment.” See LOVEJOY on page 31

Janssen Sports Leadership Center founder and President Jeff Janssen leads a session called “How to Build a Championship Culture” at the 2013 Learning @ Lovejoy summer conference.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014



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LOVEJOY continued from page 29

Now going into its eighth year, the annual summer conference has grown to include nearly 100 workshops with smaller, more focused sessions during the year. Learning @ Lovejoy 2013 was a nine-day event that attracted 4,800 people. The New York Times best-selling author Chip Heath (“Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard”) headlined the conference. His sister, Susan Hays, who works in College Station ISD, led a workshop modeled on Heath’s book. Her session featured “bright spots” on campuses that share teaching methods and ideas. Attendance in 2013 was up from the previous conference, which attracted more than 3,120 people over 11 days and offered 65 sessions. Workshop topics in 2013 covered an array of topics: academic rigor, state accountability and assessment systems, flipped classrooms, STEM, classroom management, and counseling, to name a few. Aside from academically oriented workshops, the conference also offered leadership training for student-athletes and coaches. Plans already are underway for next year’s conference, which will feature teaching effectiveness expert Robert Marzano. Conference organizers try to include a mix of speakers from inside and outside education. They look at “where we are and where we want to go” and pick the most prominent speakers in those areas, says Dennis Muizers, deputy superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment. For instance, Daniel Pink, another best-selling author, was the keynote speaker when the district wanted to take a deeper look at student motivation. Beimer says the district tries to tie in conference themes throughout the school year. “We do a lot of work up front to prepare the staff,” she says. “We’re using a lot of the same words and vocabulary that the speaker will use.” Grants and private funds cover about half of the overall conference costs. The district’s education foundation is a big supporter. Registration fees cover the rest. Lovejoy ISD staff can attend for free. As an incentive, Lovejoy teachers pick up an additional comp day to use the following school year for each day of the conference they attend. Nearly all Lovejoy ISD teachers and administrators attend annually. More to learn Since 2005, the district’s enrollment has grown from 1,100 students in two elementary schools to 3,800 students in three elementary, one middle school and one high school. Three high school classes have graduated. Meanwhile, Learning @ Lovejoy has expanded through word of mouth and shrewd marketing.

DIY conference tips For districts wanting to enhance their professional development offerings, Lovejoy ISD administrators offer the following advice: Customer service is key. “Make sure that you have every possible scenario covered. Focus on customer service from the registration process all the way until you tell them to have a good afternoon as they are walking out the door,” says conference coordinator Stacey Dillon. Learning @ Lovejoy includes free child care, great meals and snacks, and upbeat music. The timing of the conference allows attendees to experience back-to-school excitement without taking too much time away from their summer vacation. Content matters. “Listen to what teachers and administrators say they want and need in terms of their professional learning,” says Dennis Muizers, deputy superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment. Give prospective attendees a voice in the development of the program. “It’s important to get a healthy balance between what we need and what we want,” Superintendent Ted Moore adds. Good professional development means good teacher retention. “Teachers want to work in places where there is great opportunity for learning,” Moore says. In the early years, Learning @ Lovejoy was a way to attract teachers from other areas, says school board President Ann Casey. “I am so proud of the high quality of the program and the response from teachers. They have embraced it. I think they are appreciative of the opportunity that Learning @ Lovejoy offers them.”

After the first conference, the district allocated money to pay someone to organize and market the conference, which now has its own website, www. The district partners with local businesses, hotels and restaurants to offer presenters a quality experience. Last year, the district worked with the local chamber of commerce to promote Hays’ appearance. In addition, staff does in-person pitches to neighboring districts and sends mailings to private and charter schools. The superintendent and deputies provide information to their networks. Curriculum specialists do the same. Each Valentine’s Day, the new conference website launches. Most people do not attend all nine days of the conference. The first day of the conference is typically the largest. Both the conference and training sessions are open to other districts and teachers at private and charter schools. “We decided early on that we weren’t going to keep our doors closed,” Moore says. “We wanted teachers from everywhere to join us. Children benefit no matter where a teacher happens to work.” RAVEN L. HILL is a freelance journalist and former education reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014



Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

Lufkin ISD

Principal hosts weekly meetups to impart life skills to at-risk boys by Lauren Modery


rookhollow Elementary lies in the quaint East Texas town of Lufkin. Nestled between the beautiful Angelina and Davy Crockett national forests and only a stone’s throw from the Louisiana border, this town of 36,009 inhabitants is known for being the birthplace of oil equipment manufacturer Lufkin Industries and the popular and nostalgia-inducing candy Chick-o-Stick. Like many small Texas towns, Lufkin boasts an old Main Street flanked by turn-of-the-century architecture and a vintage movie theater. Even though the town is modest in size, Lufkin ISD boasts 12 elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. So what makes Brookhollow Elementary, which serves third through fifth grade students, so special? Within the halls of the one-story, green-roofed school is a group of boys known as the Young Businessmen. Armed with dress ties and an openness for learning and growth, these young men, ages 8 to 11, meet every Wednesday to master the rules of society and discuss what it means to be a stand-up citizen. Founded by Brookhollow Principal Don Jackson in 2009, Young Businessmen is aimed at helping

at-risk students with grade and disciplinary challenges. Principal Jackson modestly sums up Young Businessmen this way: “We try to take some time with the children who are making wrong choices and teach them the right way — to show them what the right way sounds like and what it looks like.” However, these weekly meetups facilitated by the school principal are so much more. According to Jackson, Brookhollow Elementary has a 77 percent student poverty rate. The devoted principal designed the program to encourage the school’s young males to receive and accept positive feedback.

Superintendent LaTonya Goffney

“Simply calling them young businessmen helps change their outlook,” he says. By “dressing up and stepping up,” these young boys are taught how to handle situations that might come their way. Jackson focuses on areas such as manners, proper language and good citizenry. For these dedicated boys to learn how to be strong citizens, their leader expects them to dress the See Lufkin on page 35

Principal Don Jackson and the Young Businessmen dress for success.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014



Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

Lufkin continued from page 33

Every Wednesday, the Young Businessmen wear neckties and spend some quality time with their principal.

part. During the week, members of Young Businessmen can dress in their typical school attire. But come Wednesday, the boys don their best neckties before coming to school. “Your body language, your appearance and how you speak — these are all important aspects of life,” says Jackson. Setting up a new framework Jackson is a fan of Dr. Ruby Payne and is a trained presenter in her “A Framework For Understanding Poverty” platform. According to her website, Payne’s acclaimed book and workshop have “helped students and adults of all economic backgrounds achieve academic, professional and personal success.” With the economic challenges the students of Brookhollow face, it’s apparent that Jackson is determined to help ease their struggles with programs such as Young Businessmen. “My dad passed when I was 8 years old,” says Jackson, “and I know that many children lack having a positive male influence in their lives. My goal is to fill the gap as much as possible and set up our children for success.” Jackson gave an example of a lesson at a recent Young Businessmen meeting, in which they discussed how to treat members of the opposite sex. The discussion led to more conversation on how to behave when speaking to adults in general. “For example,” Jackson says, “we always say ladies first. We talked about holding doors for people coming and going — things they might not know. Holding their head up and making eye contact when speaking to an adult. The importance of ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ and ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’” Field trips are also a popular component of Young Businessmen. Last year, Jackson took the boys to several places of business, such as a local bank. The boys particularly enjoyed their visit to a fitness club, where Jackson explained the importance of healthy living and taking care of one’s self. “We take them on trips to meet area businesses and to talk to businessmen who can show them about the middle-class life,” says Jackson. “We show them different things they can do as they get older. We try to change their thought processes.” However, the Young Businessmen meetings aren’t always all business. Sometimes Jackson lets the kids play football or basketball — a safe and healthy haven where they can relax, be themselves and flourish around positive male role models.

It should come as no surprise that Young Businessmen is a popular program at Brookhollow. Boys clamor at the opportunity to join. In fact, Jackson has found the popularity challenging. “If the program gets too big, it will be ineffective,” he says. “We try to keep the program at around 30 students, but it’s hard to turn away children who want to join.” Looking ahead For now, he reserves the program for children who need it most. But there has been some growth. Due to the popularity of Young Businessmen, school guidance counselor Sonjua Deason has created a similar program for the young women of Brookhollow. After all, the workplace is co-ed territory! Jackson says he has received positive feedback from parents and teachers alike. “Most of the comments that I have received are from faculty members bragging on the appearance and attitude improvements,” says Jackson. “The parents just appreciate having someone spending time and taking time with their children.” The program doesn’t exist beyond Brookhollow, so once the kids graduate from fifth grade, they’re on their own. Jackson says he wishes he had a tracking system to see what influence his efforts have on his students in the long run, but, for now, only time will tell. “My plan for the program is to continue it at Brookhollow and try to make a positive difference in the life of a child,” says the principal. LAUREN MODERY also has written for The Guardian, AOL Travel and Austin Monthly, among others. She was named Austin’s Blogger of the Year at the Austin Blogger Awards in 2010. “Loves Her Gun,” a film she co-wrote and co-produced, won the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award. Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


McKinney ISD

High school students aim for the skies, thanks to flight instruction program by Shelley Seale


n high school, most kids are getting their drivers’ licenses for the first time. But at McKinney North High School, some students are aiming even higher than that — they’re taking to the skies.

Superintendent J.D. Kennedy

McKinney ISD is into its second year of a flight instruction and aviation program that has been so successful that it increased more than fivefold after its first year. The program gives students an opportunity to earn a pilot’s license before graduating high school. It also prepares them for jobs in the aviation industry, such as air traffic controller, mechanic or other aeronautical positions. Jobs in the aviation industry are in high demand, and there is a particularly high concentration of opportunities in North Texas. With 300-plus aviationrelated employers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the region has more than triple the national average of aircraft manufacturing and air transportation jobs, according to the 2011 Texas Aerospace and Aviation Industry Report. Becoming a pilot is an expensive undertaking, and McKinney ISD wanted to create a program that would make that goal accessible for any student. The aviation program was spearheaded by Tamy Smalskas, director of career and technical education and special projects. Smalskas has been in her current position for a little more than a year; she attempted to start such a program previously as associate principal at McKinney High School, but issues with curriculum, instructors and other concerns kept it from getting off the ground. In her

new position, however, Smalskas pursued the idea again and, this time, the program took off. To make it happen, she rallied a team that included the McKinney Economic Development Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the city of McKinney, Collin College, pilot Fritz Mowery and Patrick Arnzen, owner of US Sport Aircraft and an FAA-designated pilot examiner. “I put everybody in a room and said, ‘This is what we need as a district.’” Smalskas recalls. “The first thing was to be able to sustain the program by ourselves, make it affordable for our kids and keep it within McKinney boundaries to work with the regional airport there. We all looked at who could offer what.” The city of McKinney was pleased to hear that the school district was offering a program that would help keep aviation businesses at the local airport. To generate interest, the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Council and school district advertised the new course. The first year, in 20122013, 44 students signed up. Now in its second year, there are 244 students enrolled. “For me, the question was: How can we make this affordable for all kids? We did a lot of negotiation with different piloting schools,” says Smalskas, who adds that US Sport Aircraft provides the district with “very fair, reasonable rates” for flight instruction. The Addison-based company also helped Smalskas apply for grant money — which she was awarded — to land the first-ever Redbird LD simulator provided to a public school. The high-tech simulator features 180-degree wraparound visuals, realistic flight controls and a cockpit configuration. The current rate that McKinney ISD students pay per hour for flight lessons is about $150, but the FAA-approved simulator will trim those costs, allowing students to earn flight hours with a certified pilot instructing them. McKinney North High School is the only high school in Texas to have access to the advanced simulator. Moreover, only a handful of high schools nationwide offer instruction with a Redbird LD simulator.

McKinney ISD high school student Kolby Barsy was the first flight soloist in the district’s aviation program.

“That’s going to help offset costs for our students who might be from an economically disadvantaged background,” Smalskas says. “The students are liking the hands-on opportunity, because not only 36

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

are they getting the opportunity to fly, but also to have real-life experiences working on these planes. I’m very excited about how far we’ve come with this program and where it’s going to go. It’s really gotten hold of not only the community but our students as well.” Stella Uribe, director of community affairs and educational grants, says the program is inclusive for all McKinney ISD students. She says the program has attracted a very diversified cross-section of students in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic levels. “That’s important because we want to create a program that is available to all, and the opportunity is there for them,” she says. “Money is just an object — for students who know this is truly what they want to do, they just need to put their minds to it and we will make it happen.” Enrollment increased so much in the second year that the district was able to fund and hire a fulltime instructor and another part-time position, so no student had to be turned away. Now that the program is taking off, the district is seeking more female students; there is a ratio of about 60 percent male and 40 percent female. Students start the four-year program their freshman year with one semester of classroom instruction. As sophomores, they receive more instruction and have the opportunity to take discovery flights. At the start of their junior year, students are required to undergo a medical exam and background check prior to continuing their flight hours. As seniors, they log more flight hours to prove they can operate safely before getting approval to fly solo.

To obtain their private pilot certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, students must log 35-40 flight hours. While only 2.5 hours of simulator time can count toward those hours, students receive all the additional training they need to prepare for the test in the simulator. They also log hours in the simulator for an additional qualification in instrument rating. “A lot of students want to do it just to test the waters and see if it’s what they like,” says Arnzen of US Sport Aircraft. “Some students will go on to be career pilots, and some will use their knowledge in other careers.” Arnzen’s company already has hired three McKinney ISD students from the aviation program. Several other students have benefited from the school district’s partnership with Collin College. The partnership is for students who want to work in the logistics side of aviation, perhaps in a factory or warehouse, with companies like FedEx or UPS. This past summer, eight McKinney ISD students completed the two-week Collin College program and seven of them are now employed as warehouse operators. “It’s not just about earning a pilot certificate; they’re learning about the airline industry,” Smalskas says. “We are truly creating an opportunity for our students to go into that career choice. Some of them want to be the tower controllers, mechanics or go into the aeronautical space field. We have students who want to apply to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.” See McKinney on page 39

Instructor Todd Curtis takes charge in the Redbird LD simulator. McKinney ISD is the only Texas school district to have such a simulator.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


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McKinney continued from page 37

She is now talking to Collin College about setting up a dual-credit program for McKinney high school students. “The closest [aviation] college for these kids to feed into is Tarrant County, which is about a two-hour drive away, or Embry-Riddle,” Smalskas explains. “I’m working to see if Collin College will open up the opportunity to consider offering an associate’s degree. We would like to bring that into our dualcredit system.” As it stands, McKinney ISD’s aviation program has attracted attention from the local media, businesses, aviation associations and pilots. “What we’re working on now is opportunities for our students to earn scholarships to help them obtain their flight hours,” Smalskas says. “Many of these businesses have indicated a willingness to come forward and sponsor a kid.” Superintendent J.D. Kennedy says that the district’s career and technology programs ought to reflect the needs of the community.

Superintendent J.D. Kennedy

Kennedy adds that the program has definitely made the school district more competitive: “It has attracted residents to McKinney; they choose to come here because of the program. I just really like the direction we’re headed right now.” “What’s been rewarding is to see the number of our kids who are earning their pilot’s license, who are soloing, who are going on to get their mechanical certification,” Smalskas says. “McKinney ISD will have the best CTE program in the nation if I have anything to do with it. I want this to be available for all kids.” SHELLEY SEALE is a freelancer journalist and author of “The Weight of Silence” and “How to Travel for Free (or Pretty Damn Near It).”

Image ©

“We felt that there was a growing need in the aerospace field. I’m very pleased with the proactive approach that Tamy Smalskas has taken, involving industry and our community,” he says. “It’s beneficial for the students and beneficial for the community.”

‘It has attracted residents to McKinney; they choose to come here because of the program. I just really like the direction we’re headed right now.’

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


Northwest ISD

Health and wellness center serves staff, families on insurance plan by Shelley Seale


t’s a common problem in school districts around the country: shrinking resources combined with increasing needs. While districts look for new ways to provide the best education possible for their students, it’s also vital to provide quality staff benefits to enhance recruitment and retention — and, ultimately, student success.

Superintendent Karen Rue

At the Northwest ISD Administrative Services Department, the employee benefit that came under scrutiny was health care. The district is different from many in that it self-funds an insurance program. Northwest ISD administration is always seeking ways to control health insurance costs and provide better services to staff members. Gary Gindt, assistant superintendent for administrative services, says that as his staff assessed the district’s existing health plan for areas of improvement, they learned of businesses that were opening their own employee wellness clinics and providing services to their employees at a low cost, or even for free. “We thought that would be a neat thing to do,” Gindt says. “We wanted to investigate it to see if

Northwest ISD employee Briana Nail gets an exam from Dr. Natalie Hull at the NISD Health & Wellness Center.


this was something that was financially feasible for us to do. How can we offer free medical care, free prescriptions, and free lab work to our employees and save money? How can we do it for free when the industry is charging a fortune? Is this even possible?” Kitty Poehler, executive director of personnel services, set up meetings to visit and analyze other organizations that were doing this. The team looked at several other entities, including the city of Carrollton, the city of Pasadena and Mesquite ISD. “In order to sustain the self-funded medical plan, we needed to look for ways to reduce costs, retain employees and treat the whole employee,” Poehler says. “We did not want the center to be just an urgent care; we wanted a place that would be an extension of NISD’s climate and culture.” During the research process, a vision was created for an employee wellness center designed to serve district employees and their dependents who participated in the district health insurance program. The center would be staffed by a medical doctor, registered nurses, and physician assistants and provide medical services and specific generic prescriptions to participants at no cost. Employees would be able to access these services throughout the day. Appointments would be scheduled and patients would be seen on schedule to provide employees the opportunity to receive medical services and prescriptions quickly, allowing them to return to their jobs or classrooms without inconveniencing instructional time with students. The district then conducted a survey to determine employee interest in such a clinic. Gindt says that the investigation revealed to the team that employee wellness clinics do work and that it was a feasible plan.

Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

The district renovated a decommissioned building with approximately $20,000 in seed money. The center is funded through employee payments into the district’s self-funded health insurance program. The wellness center is accessible to staff and their family members who participate in the insurance program. The district was able to break even after the center was in operation for 13 months.

“We discovered that there are ways to save money through your insurance costs, to help your employees’ premiums and provide excellent service to them,” he says. “At that point, it was a matter of being able to convince everybody within our organization that it was a wise move.” That convincing process entailed getting past some “this is too good to be true” resistance, Gindt admits. “Everybody was excited about it, but they wanted to make sure it wasn’t something where we would spend a lot of money, then have to make it up later by increasing the premiums,” he says. “If we lost this endeavor, it would cost us about a million dollars a year to operate our own employee clinic. Worst-case scenario, if no one shows up to use the clinic, we’ve just burned up a million dollars of our employees’ health insurance money, which would negatively impact the future.” The wellness center would be funded from employee payments into the self-funded health insurance program, with no funding coming out of the district budget. After several meetings, members of the insurance committee began to feel confident in the funding mechanism and were prepared to make a recommendation to the board of trustees. The school board had many questions, but fortunately one trustee with experience in the health care industry verified the soundness of the concept. The board approved the NISD Employee Health & Wellness Center, approved the use of a portion of a decommissioned building and provided approximately $20,000 in seed money to help renovate the facility. The wellness center services are open to employees and their dependents who are on the health insurance program. Once established, it took Northwest ISD 13 months to break even — which

was far sooner than the projection of a two-year break-even point. Gindt says the district was able to do this because the employees adapted to the new program and quickly began taking advantage of the services it offered. “Communication was a major piece of this,” says Gindt, adding that the district took care in communicating the education piece of how the center would work, how it could help employees on a personal level and how it could help them as consumers of the district’s health insurance program.” According to the district’s research on health care costs, the most expensive place for employees to go to receive health care services is the hospital emergency room. “We had a lot of employees who had been going to the emergency room for their medical care, and that cost barrier is higher than anywhere else,” Gindt says. “Helping the employees to see that they are the owners of our health insurance — that they can help the system and help themselves at the same time — created a situation where everybody wins.” The multitude of quick-care clinics opening up and succeeding across Dallas-Fort Worth gave the district’s research committee hope that a wellness center was something the employees would utilize. Employees can continue to see their personal physicians and use the district wellness center for only certain health care needs. Also, the center makes a practice of collaborating and communicating with area providers. “Participants have the choice to have the best of both worlds; they can continue the relationship with a current provider along with utilizing the cenSee northwest on page 43 Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


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northwest continued from page 41

ter as they deem appropriate,” Poehler says. “The center allows employees the ability to access medication and care at zero cost, [with] no insurance paperwork required.” Encouraging more preventative care and promoting a healthy lifestyle are also important goals of the wellness center. “Many people, including myself, are changing the way we use medical care,” Gindt says. “One of the things that hammers us is the cost of medical conditions because people don’t go to the doctor early enough to get treatment. If you’re taking care of yourself, you’re going to be healthier, which is going to save us money in the long run.” Since the wellness center was established, there have been significant improvements in employee preventative health care and early treatment of medical issues. Employees are taking a more proactive approach to their health care with positive results. Persons covered under the district’s health plan are encouraged to get a free annual health assessment, which includes a general exam and blood tests to monitor cholesterol and other benchmarks. Everyone who completes the assessment receives a $25/month reduction in their insurance premiums. Gindt says that before the premium reduction incentive was offered, about 30 percent of insureds were scheduling annual health assessments. This year — the first year of offering the incentive — that percentage has risen to around 78 percent. While the details on each assessment go directly to the individual, the district does receive general information, such as the number of employees suffering from high cholesterol or health-threatening levels of obesity, for example. This enables the district to customize its educational and preventative programs to address specific issues for a healthier workforce.

‘We did not want the center to be just an urgent care; we wanted a place that would be an extension of NISD’s climate and culture.’ Kitty Poehler, executive director of personnel services

clinic’s medical staff. The peace of mind in knowing that you can take care of your health needs without having to clear your schedule for a day is amazing. In Northwest ISD, we care about our teachers and their health.” Poehler says that the benefits of the center fulfills the district’s No. 1 priority: Kids come first. “As a parent, I have the ability to take my child to the center without being charged leave time,” she says. “But, more importantly, I get to be a mom and a professional. I don’t have to make a choice between my job and family.” SHELLEY SEALE is a freelancer journalist and author of “The Weight of Silence” and “How to Travel for Free (or Pretty Damn Near It).” An employee checks in at the NISD Health and Wellness Center.

District employee Mike Conklin and his family have visited the center for their health care needs. “Each visit has been a positive experience. It has been very easy to schedule an appointment, and we have always been able to get right in to see Dr. Hull with little to no wait,” Conklin says. “It has been a great concept, and I hope it is a resource we will continue to have in the future.” Each appointment and/or prescription reduces the cost to the district insurance plan and ultimately to the employees. The NISD Health & Wellness Center also has had a positive influence in the areas of employee recruitment, retention and student performance. “The wellness center provides invaluable services to our employees,” says Superintendent Karen Rue. “Staff members have the opportunity to address medical needs quickly and with confidence in our Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014


CONGRATULATIONS 2013 TASB Superintendent of the Year

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Texas School Business . Bragging Rights . 2013-2014

Salado ISD

Youth Leadership Council gets kids thinking beyond the classroom by Nettie Reynolds


magine you’re a newly hired first-year superintendent. As most administrators know, the first year is the toughest as you earn the trust of staff, teachers, parents and students. And then imagine kicking off your first year with something big, something that hopefully will continue as a legacy well beyond your tenure. That’s just what Salado ISD Superintendent Michael Novotny did with the launching of the Salado Youth Leadership Council. “Several years ago, I was in Leadership Plano as a high school principal, and I felt it was very powerful. I was inspired by what it did for the adults who participated in it,” says Novotny, who has participated in several citywide leadership councils during his career, which spans from classroom teacher to principal to superintendent. “It really brought together a fantastic, diverse group of citizens to learn how their community works.” When Novotny became superintendent of Salado ISD, he joined the Salado Leadership Council.

“The city had a leadership program and there were 16 of us,” he explains. “For our year class project, we wanted to ask and answer the question: ‘What if kids had the opportunity to experience their potential as leaders at a younger age and apply it for the positive over their entire lifetime?’” With that premise, the adult council launched the Salado Youth Leadership (SYL) Council. The adult council built the curriculum, created the application and then invited Salado ISD high school students to apply. “When we developed the program, we really wanted to instill a live, active conduit for the students to grow in both their civic commitments and — just as importantly — we wanted the community to see how dedicated and altruistic young people could be if they were fostered by leaders in the community,” says Cindi Plasek, who served with Novotny on the adult leadership council.

Superintendent Michael Novotny

See Salado on page 46

Salado Youth Leadership Council members Kristin Oakes, Katy Croftcheck, Elizabeth Garcia, Anna Kathryn Fort, Maegan Cunningham and Julie Craig prepare to zip line as part of a team-building exercise.

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Salado continued from page 45

Novotny and his fellow council members had ambitious goals for the startup program, but Salado ISD and the adult council were committed to it being a long-term success.

Goals of the Salado Youth Leadership Council: • train students in leadership techniques and community awareness; • familiarize students with current issues, community resources, opportunities and other factors influencing the direction of Salado’s future; and • prepare students to make a positive impact on the quality of life in their community.

“The thing that most struck us in reading [the application essays] was how the students who were applying truly seemed civic-minded,” Plasek says. “They actively wanted to be a part of the larger community and do their part as young people.” Salado ISD implemented the SYL council in 2012-2013. Eighteen high school students were selected to attend monthly meetings on a variety of topics. The first session, held in September, was an introduction to leadership. The students heard from several community leaders, including a city council member, the school board president, the chamber of commerce president and Salado’s director of tourism.

In October, the students visited Peaceable Kingdom Retreat Center in Killeen, where they learned how the center serves children with disabilities. The council members also participated in team- and trust-building exercises — to include a rock-climbing wall and zip line — and a chance to interact with some local creepy critters, such as snakes, spiders and centipedes. Perhaps one of the bigger challenges posed to the leadership council was the opportunity to organize and host a College Night at the high school in November. The teens courted and coordinated with admissions officers from eight colleges and universities to make it happen. Participating schools included Central Texas College, Concordia University, Georgetown University, Temple College, Texas SYL member Drew Van Winkle stirs up the courage to befriend a creepy crawler as his fellow council members look on. The teens were participating in exercises that build trust and team spirit.

A&M at Central Texas, Texas A&M at College Station, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and The University of Texas at Austin. The admissions officers made presentations about their schools and then participated in a speakers’ panel, where students had the opportunity to ask questions about the college experience, applications, admissions and financial aid. In December, the council participated in Bell County Day, traveling to Bell County offices to see how the county supports the city. The young leaders also were introduced to the intricacies of the municipal government. In January, the students learned about Salado’s social services and the many opportunities to volunteer and help community members in need. The young leaders were introduced to the Salado Family Relief Fund, Communities in Schools, Central Texas Youth Services, United Way of Central Texas, Body of Christ Community Clinic, Children’s Advocacy Center, and the Salado First Baptist Church Food and Clothing Pantry. The teens headed to Austin in February for State Government Day, where they toured the Capitol and watched both the House and the Senate in action. The students had the chance to visit with Sen. Troy Frasier’s chief of staff, as well as with House Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, who took time to talk with the teens about how political leadership affects community. In tandem with Spring Break, the SYL members visited Scott and White Hospital in Temple, where they listened to medical professionals who have treated injuries resulting from car accidents caused by drinking and driving or texting and driving. The Salado Youth Leadership Council wrapped up the year with a celebratory graduation dinner. Since then, two of the founding council members have continued their journey of servant leadership by becoming board advisors to support students in the 2013-2014 leadership council. Novotny and the SYL program must be doing something right. Salado High School recently earned a Silver Award from U.S. News and World Report, ranking it in the top 8 percent among U.S. high schools. Newsweek ranks the small Central Texas school in the top 5 percent. “It is compelling as a superintendent to experience this with the young people,” Novotny says. “I also serve as the bus driver for the [SYL] trips, so it enables me to be with the students, which is something you often miss as a superintendent. “I loved all the experiences with the kids. The students gave that gift to me and continue to give it because they are so willing to step up and embrace these opportunities,” he says. NETTIE REYNOLDS is an Austin-based freelance journalist, content strategist, social media consultant and certified laughter yoga teacher.


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