TSB—Bragging Rights 2018-2019

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Twelfth Annual




Brenham ISD Burleson


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Laredo ISD

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Spring Hill ISD Tyler ISD Texas School Business

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From the editor


nce again, we are happy to bring you another issue of Bragging Rights. Now in its 12th year, this special issue of Texas School Business serves to highlight 12 Texas school districts creating new methods and going above and beyond in their schools. We dug through many applications and narrowed it down to a diverse and inspiring group, with districts large and small, urban and rural, represented. It’s my hope that the stories on these pages inspire you. Everyone quoted is passionate about their districts and their programs, and it’s easy to see just how dedicated they are to their schools and their students. In my experience, this attitude is reflective of the Texas public education community as a whole, and I hope you will share the stories in this issue with you friends and colleagues, so that these districts can get the recognition they deserve. Nominations for next year’s Bragging Rights are already open, and I encourage you to visit texasschoolbusiness.com to submit a program from your district when you have some time. Thank you for reading, and congratulations to the 12 chosen districts. The work they are doing benefits all of us, and it’s our pleasure to be able to brag on them in these pages.

DACIA RIVERS Editorial Director

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Twelfth Annual


Texas School Business (ISSN 0563-2978 USPS 541-620) BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Volume LXV, Issue 7

Bastrop ISD........ 7 Brenham ISD....10

Burleson ISD.... 13

Drippin g Spring s ISD.... ... 16 Galv eston ISD.. .. 18

Grapevi ne-Colle yville IS D..... 21 Hillsboro ISD. ..... 24

Laredo ISD......... 27 D.... 30 S I e d i s North

Prosper ISD....... 3 2

ISD... 34 Spring Hill Tyler ISD...... 36

406 East 11th Street Austin, Texas 78701 Phone: 512-477-6361 Fax: 512-482-8658 www.texasschoolbusiness.com EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Dacia Rivers DESIGN Phaedra Strecher ADVERTISING SALES MANAGER Ann M. Halstead TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Kevin Brown ASSISTANT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SERVICES AND SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATION Ann M. Halstead DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA RELATIONS Amy Francisco Texas School Business (ISSN 0563-2978) is published bimonthly with a special edition, Bragging Rights, in December, by the Texas Association of School Administrators, at 406 E. 11th St., Austin, TX 78701. Periodicals postage paid at Austin, Texas, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Texas Association of School Administrators, 406 East 11th Street, Austin, TX 78701. © Copyright 2018 Texas Association of School Administrators




BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

▲ A student in Bastrop ISD browses the donated clothes offerings in Christian’s Closet.


From a tragedy comes an outpouring of help, hope in Bastrop ISD by Bobby Hawthorne


hristian Harman was a talker. Even as a toddler, he would waddle up to strangers and strike up a conversation, and if it seemed to Christian that the stranger might need something he could provide, then Christian would provide it because it bothered him to see people going without.

▲ Christian Harman, for whom Christian’s Closet is named, with his mother, Carmene, a math teacher at Bastrop Middle School.

He was a giver, too. When a classmate forgot to bring his lunch or didn’t have a lunch to forget, Christian offered

him half his sandwich. One chilly day, he gave his jacket to a boy who didn’t appear to own one.

Superintendent Barry Edwards

Christian was equally generous with his time. After his grandfather suffered a stroke and was later diagnosed with bone cancer, Christian stepped up. If his grandfather’s yard needed mowing, Christian mowed it. When his grandfather had a doctor’s appointment, Christian tagged along to help get him in and out of the truck. When cancer ultimately robbed his grandfather of his ability to drive, Christian would swing by after school, load him up and take him to the Dairy Queen in Bastrop or drive him over to Paige, where the family owns 77 acres along Pin Oak Creek. They’d sit and watch for deer and talk until dusk because he was a talker. Christian was probably talking when his heart ruptured in June of 2017. He had returned from

BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


a day of fishing out of Port O’Connor and was helping a friend’s mother move some boxes in a garage when it happened. Paramedics worked frantically for 45 minutes to revive him, but the autopsy revealed an enlarged heart and confirmed that he was essentially dead by the time he hit the concrete floor. Megan Hancock didn’t know Christian. He wasn’t a member of the Bastrop High Student Council, which she’d sponsored for two years, and he wasn’t in any of her leadership classes, but when she learned of his death, her stomach dropped. “Total disbelief,” she said.

Megan Hancock

A few days later, she contacted her StuCo officers and proposed to them a plan that, she thought, would not only honor the boy who, as a classmate noted, “would literally give you the shirt off his back,” it would also provide the shirt. The project — a care closet — would be an extension of a larger districtwide effort to encourage students to give back. It would be called “Christian’s Closet.” “They were immediately on board,” Hancock said. “Since it was their summer vacation, we communicated by text every day. Sometimes, all day. And we started getting processes in place. We asked Christian’s sister and Mom if they would be OK with the idea, and they said, ‘Absolutely.’” According to Barbara Gaona, a Bastrop High social worker, the district has about 400 homeless students, K-12. Around 85 percent of them live with someone else, due to financial reasons, and 4 percent are unsheltered. The rest, she said, are listed as “unaccompanied.” Barbara Gaona

“Some families lost everything in the fires and floods,” Ganoa said. “Some kids have nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Some girls share clothes with younger sisters, and if the clothes don’t fit, they get dress-coded. It’s not that they’re coming to school dressed like this because they want to. It’s because it’s all they have.” Martha Leal, a counselor at Lost Pines Elementary, said she sees this every day.

“Our school is about 89 percent economically disadvantaged,” she said. “We have students who don’t own a decent pair of shoes. The other day, a kid came in, and his pants were so small, he couldn’t even button them. The pants legs didn’t even cover his ankles.”

Martha Leal

This is a serious problem, and it’s not about fashion or bling. Inadequate clothing has been correlated to dropout and tardy rates, behavioral issues, poor academic performance, even instances of parental neglect and abuse. Now in its second year, Christian’s Closet has expanded from a single clothing rack inside a BHS portable to full-scale operations on four BISD campuses. The day I visited Bastrop High, jeans and shirts were neatly stacked on shelves or hung on metal racks, alongside a Dallas Cowboys hoodie, a rustic-looking serape, six or eight prom dresses and one spaghetti-strap pleated party gown the color of a Pecos cantaloupe. There was also a rack of jackets, coats and sweaters that will soon be in high demand. Lined up on shoe racks were high heels, wedges and loafers; athletic shoes of all sorts; one pair of brand-new black cowboy boots, size 7 or 8; and canvas sneakers studded with sequins for third- or fourth-grade girls. All of it is free. People talk about “shopping” at Christian’s Closet, but there’s no charge. If students were ever embarrassed to be seen carrying out a sweatshirt or a pair of khakis, they aren’t now. They may be skittish about over-reaching, but there’s no stigma.


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

“At first, we had to say to them, ‘If you need something, go get it. If you need two, take two,’” Leal said. “And the kids would say, ‘Oh no, Miss. I’ll just take this and leave that. Someone else might need it more.’ These are our neediest students, and yet they didn’t want to take more than what they think is their share.” Hancock is no longer StuCo sponsor. She is 34, the mother of four and will be the mother of five if the adoption of a 1 1/2-year-old boy she and her husband have been fostering goes through. They’re pretty sure it will. Last year, she accepted an administrative position as a communication specialist. It meshes better with her family duties, but she said she misses the day-to-day interaction with students. Either way, she’s still as gung-ho about Christian’s Corner as ever. “It’s grown so fast,” she said. “I can’t believe how much support we received from the community. It’s been amazing.” Carrie Paulo is the new StuCo advisor. She comes from an audio/ visual and technology background, and it didn’t take her long to embrace the program either. She told me about accompanying a girl who picked out the pair of shoes that her own son had donated a day or two before. The girl was so excited to have them, and Paulo made sure her son understood his own good fortune. Another time, Paulo said, a needy student seemed unable to believe that such generosity is possible. “People really do this for kids who aren’t theirs?” the student asked her. Well, yes, they do. And, speaking of good fortune, Paulo’s husband learned he too has a heart condition because he underwent a comprehensive physical exam. Again, Christian was a giver. Brad Brown, who’s in his third year as Bastrop High principal, said Christian’s Closet has further deepened a culture of caring on campus.

Brad Brown

“If someone has worn the same clothes several days in a row, a student might refer him or her to Christian’s Corner,” he said. “Or they might ask a teacher to keep an eye out for the kid who’s worn the same clothes for several days in a row. So, kids are often our biggest recruiters.”

Junior Zoey Croft is one of those kids. She’s a StuCo officer, and her best friend is Caitlyn Harman — Christian’s younger sister. “What I’ve learned from all of this is to care about something bigger than myself,” Zoey said. “It helps me understand that people are struggling, and even though I’m this young, I can help them. A good friend and I were organizing clothes in the Bastrop High pantry, and the next day, we saw a girl wearing the blouse we had just put out. So, I see it, first-hand, the impact Christian’s Corner is having.” I asked Carmene Harman — Christian’s mother who teaches math at Bastrop Middle School — what she believed the essential message of this story should be, and she replied, “Over and above Christian, it’s about the community. Any school can create a program like this. We started out very small, just a shelf in a corner of a tiny room, and it’s grown into all of this,” and there’s too much of “this” to discuss in this short article. Of course, she mentioned Christian again. He was planning to attend Blinn College for one year, then transfer to A&M to join another special culture of caring. “He was always concerned about other people,” Mrs. Harman added. “He was always willing to help, to get involved. He had such a big heart.” BOBBY HAWTHORNE is the author of “Longhorn Football” and “Home Field,” published by UT Press. In 2005, he retired as director of academics for the University Interscholastic League.

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▲ Fifth-grade exhibitor Dellwen Henderson-Jackson needed little help showing his goat again this year.


Brenham ISD’s Champion Drive creates a special day at the fair for special needs by Leila Kalmbach


f you live in the town of Brenham, chances are good there’s one event you look forward to all year: the Washington County fair. And since 2014, Brenham ISD has had a role in making this event, which brings the whole community together, even more inclusive. The district’s Champion Drive Special Edition Livestock Show gives special needs students an opportunity to participate in the fair and show animals. The Champion Drive event occurs on Friday of fair week each September, and this year, 39 special education students ranging in age from nine to 18 were exhibitors, including nine from neighboring Burton ISD, also in Washington County. But to happen each year, the event requires the coordination of hundreds.


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

“It is truly a community-wide effort,” said Brenham ISD Superintendent Walter Jackson. “There is not one particular company or organization that can take full credit for the success of this. It’s a ‘we’ thing.” This year, for example, more than 75 general-ed 4H and FFA student “buddies” volunteered to help the student exhibitors and otherwise keep the event running; the Blinn College Ag Department prepared the animals before showing; a planning committee prepared for the event starting the previous school year; around 40 teachers helped out on the day of; and funds come exclusively from community members and local organizations. The Champion Drive program was started when Brenham High School alum Dr. Kyle Merten approached Director of Special Education Leslie

Superintendent Walter Jackson

Villere with the idea. Merten had worked with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for seven years, and in that time had seen programs around the state that he believed could benefit Brenham ISD students. Together, Merten and Villere presented the idea to the Washington County Fair Board, and the program was born. “Within probably two weeks of getting the fair on board, we had so many people that wanted to be involved with it,” Villere said.

Leslie Villere

In its very first year, fund-raising efforts produced $10,000; this year they reached nearly $20,000. Any leftover money after the event provides scholarships for some of the buddy students; this year, the district expects to give out at least five $1,000 scholarships.

Here’s how the day goes: On the day of the Champion Drive, the Blinn Ag Department starts washing and preparing the animals — rabbits, goats, pigs and calves — before 7 a.m. Meanwhile, volunteers and committee members set up the benches, bring in the prizes and begin preparing a meal for the exhibitors, buddies and their families. The student buddies show up at 9 a.m., and the exhibitors arrive between 9 and 9:30. The exhibitors and buddies have some time to get to know each other and visit with the animal they’re showing, which helps the students to feel safe and comfortable before the event begins at 10:30. And it’s a big one. “The entire community comes out to the rodeo pen for this,” Jackson said. “It’s huge. I mean, the mayor of the city of Brenham is here. The college president is here. The superintendent of Burton ISD is here, as am I, as superintendent of Brenham ISD. And the chairman and CEO of Blue Bell Creameries is here. There are some heavy hitters.” The event lasts about an hour. Rabbits go first (“We used to have the rabbits last, and they got really tired of waiting,” said Villere), and then students parade all of the larger animals through the arena individually. A judge receives a card with the student’s name, interests and whether or not the child talks, and gets a conversation going. With nonverbal children, he’ll ask the buddy to share some information about the child instead.

▲ Brenham Junior High exhibitor Riley Janes “hams it up” to prepare his pig for the event.

Champion Drive is important to Brenham educators because special needs students are often forgotten when it comes to extracurricular events and activities. Both parents and students appreciate the extra attention, and the community sees that these students are not invisible to the district. “It makes the community look at special ed in a different way because these are kids, too, and they may just not have the same opportunities as students that don’t have special needs,” Villere said. The benefits of the program extend beyond the special needs students involved. In fact, Jackson says it’s hard to tell who benefits the most, the special needs students or the 4H and FAA student buddies.

“He does a really good job of trying to anticipate what the child is going to say or changing up what he’s saying, because some of them will come out and talk about the Dallas Cowboys, and he’ll say, ‘I know, I love those Cowboys too!’” Villere said. “It’s not just about the animals.” Afterward, prizes are awarded: three belt buckles (valued at $150 apiece) for exhibitors and two for buddies. The reception has been fantastic. “My very first year, I had a young man who was chosen last-minute and was so excited about being a part of the fair,” Villere said. “When it was all over, he ended up getting a buckle and he said, ‘This is the best day of my life.’” Other exhibitors have gone on to show their own animals in the fair, including one girl with Down Syndrome who had a meltdown when it was her turn to exhibit during Champion Drive. “She was not going in that arena, she was not showing that pig,” Villere said. “And I was just fine with that. She just wasn’t ready to do it. But the next year she showed, and she’s been showing ever since. She just needed some time.”

▲ Fourth-grade exhibitor Leanna Cook’s physical constraints didn’t stop her from enjoying the fair experience.

BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


▲ Buddy Bethany Janner help exhibitors Kayleen Rogers and Joshua Younger prepare for the show.

“Everybody walks away feeling like they learned something,” he said. “Everybody walks away feeling like they really gained something that will last them a lifetime.” Take, for instance, the student who decided to become a specialeducation teacher as a result of participating in Champion Drive, and is now on the Champion Drive committee. Or the kid who had been showing animals for years, but told Villere that this event meant more to him than all the other times he’d shown. For other school districts interested in implementing a similar program, Villere recommends first figuring out who all will be involved and staying very organized. It takes a lot of collaboration, she says, and not just within the schools. But the benefits are worth it. Just look at Brenham student Alldyn Schroeder. He’s the quarterback of the Brenham Cubs football team, and participated this year as a buddy in the Champion Drive event. “When you’re the quarterback of the Brenham Cubs, you’re somebody in this town,” Jackson said. “And for that kid to stop and spend an entire day as a buddy, hugging and loving on and befriending and getting to know a student that otherwise in a regular school setting probably would not happen, that’s us teaching what we want America to be. “That’s us teaching what we want this world to be — more tolerant and more inclusive.” LEILA KALMBACH is a freelance writer based in Austin who currently travels full-time. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Reed College.

▲ Buddy Carsyn Hodde enjoys her time in the show arena with exhibitor Jakierra Cole.


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

▲ Cole Rose, Professor Milton Enderlin, M.S., Christian Steele, SSEP Co-Community Director Stacy Hughes and Danyel Archuleta do some hands-on work in the TCU geological sciences lab .


Students in Burleson set their sights toward space by James Golsan


he future of American space exploration resides in Burleson, Texas. If that sounds ridiculous or even impossible, spend a few minutes talking with Dr. Lisa Bender-Jutzi about Burleson ISD’s participation in the international Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. In just a few short years, the program has transformed the futures of many participating students, and Lisa Bender-Jutzi the entire city of Burleson along with it.

an effort to take the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs to “the next level.” SSEP is a program in which participating students design and execute microgravity experiments that, for winners of the international competition, will ultimately be sent to the International Space Station for real-world (or better, “real-space” execution). While the opportunity to engage in this sort of high-level science was a major draw for Jimerson and others in Burleson ISD’s leadership, Bender-Jutzi says the “community learning model” that SSEP incorporates was just as important.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) was adopted by the district in 2013, at the direction of Superintendent Dr. Bret Jimerson, in

“If (SSEP) is done correctly, both students and community have opportunities for engagement and learning,” Bender-Jutzi says. Burleson has taken

Superintendent Bret Jimerson

BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


▲ Christian Steele, Matthew Rose, and Cole Rose speak with Andrew Berez, Quikrete general manager, while touring the robotic Quikrete concrete plant in McKinney.

full advantage of that aspect of SSEP. While students are naturally the most directly engaged — SSEP principles are mapped to the entirety of the STEM program Burleson ISD employs in grades six through 12 — the community is fully invested. Bender-Jutzi points to Burleson ISD’s “Space Night” as evidence for as much. “It’s like a space carnival,” she says. Space Night provides an opportunity for parents and other community members to watch students perform all sorts of science experiments in Burleson High School’s cafeteria, see the stars through a multitude of high-powered telescopes posted outside the cafeteria, or interact with aerospace and astrophysics professionals. “It’s bigger than Friday Night Lights, and we’ve got a good football team!” she jokes. Of course, there’s a serious competition element in play for students who fully participate in SSEP. Each student-developed experiment is subject to multiple, intensive reviews as the students advance through the competition. The first is stage 1 or local review, and, per Bender-Jutzi, is a step Burleson ISD does better than almost anyone in the competition.

excellence (let alone a need to achieve as much to win at SSEP’s highest levels), student participation has grown and produced exactly the kind of excellence SSEP demands. “Five hundred students participated in ‘Mission 7,’” says Bender-Jutzi of a previous iteration of SSEP. “Between 1,000 and 3,500 students have engaged at some stage of the process of Mission 11 and Mission 12 [in which the district is currently participating].” Two of the highest achievers in Burleson ISD’s recent SSEP endeavors are Cole Rose and Gabe McCarthy, both of whose teams qualified for the prestigious national competition in Washington, D.C. Students in the SSEP program have a great deal of creative control in designing their experiments, and both Rose’s and

“It’s a very vigorous review process,” she says, and says the strength lies in the judges Burleson brings in to select the best experiments and coach the students through their scientific process. “We have professionals from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Bell Helicopter, TCU professors, Texas A&M University professors, MIT personnel, community members, cyber-security professionals, teachers and more [judging the contest].” Burleson ISD’s winners then move on to stage 2, or national review, where NASA experts and others engage with and coach the students as they work toward a “Go for Launch,” which is the final stage of the process and gives the students a chance to present their findings at the national SSEP summit in Washington, D.C., and ultimately a shot at the program’s international title. It should come as no surprise that with such an emphasis on


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

▲ BISD teacher Laura Smith, Ethan Moore, Ryder Huskins, Ian Ray, Kenneth Sanders and Gabriel McCarthy pose at a TCU biology lab.

McCarthy’s have significant application for real space travel.

Cole Rose

Rose’s experiment, inspired partially by a home improvement project with his father (the two built a new sidewalk for their home together), centered around testing the strength of concrete formed in space versus that formed on Earth. In addition to participation in the competition in D.C., an experience Rose described as “unique and cool,” Rose was afforded many exciting learning opportunities along the way, including a chance to visit a fully automated concrete factory.

McCarthy’s experiment centered around penicillium (best known as the mold from which the antibiotic penicillin is derived) growth in microgravity environments, a study he hoped would inform how well medicine could be produced in space. Much like Rose, McCarthy’s experiment opened many doors for him. He’s currently working as a research assistant for a Gabe McCarthy professor at TCU on Wednesdays after school, modeling cell growth and learning coding skills, and is in the process of writing his first scientific paper for potential publication. McCarthy is 12 years old.

While the futures of Rose and McCarthy are bright, the program is already bearing fruit at higher levels of education as well. Multiple Burleson High School graduates who participated in SSEP have received full college scholarships to build on the educational foundations they built in Burleson. As the program’s leader from its inception, Bender-Jutzi couldn’t be more proud, and is quick to share the success with all involved, including participating students’ parents and district professionals. “It’s wonderful to work in a school district where the board, superintendent, administrative and teaching teams are all aligned with a focus on college and career readiness and give them programs that meet their needs and prepare them with authentic learning experiences that promote learning and turn them into lifelong students. These students will help us grow as a community, as a nation and as humanity.” The pride Bender-Jutzi and the rest of Burleson ISD’s leadership take in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is obvious. A trip to the stars might not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Burleson, but with students like Rose, McCarthy and literally thousands of others, it will, and should, be soon. JAMES GOLSAN is a writer and education professional based in Austin.

▲ Kenneth Sanders, Gabriel McCarthy, Dr. Jeff Goldstein (Center Director, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education; Institute Director, Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education), Ian Ray, Ryder Huskins and Ethan Moore at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


▲ High school students in Dripping Springs ISD learn the ins and outs of brokerage in a new professional real estate course.


High school seniors in Dripping Springs develop real-world skills through professional real estate course by Dacia Rivers


career in real estate can be a lucrative thing,especially in Texas’ many booming areas. It can also be informative and preparative in other ways, and that was the goal for one teacher in Dripping Springs ISD who decided to bring his previous career as a real estate professional to his students. High school seniors in the district now have the chance to jumpstart a potential real estate career — or at least receive lasting knowledge that will prepare them for life in the real world.


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

One man’s vision Michael Lemonds, a teacher at Dripping Springs High School, had a vision. He had spent 13 years working in commercial real estate, but says that at the time, he felt like he wanted to do more with his talents. He felt the call to teach, so he took a leap Michael Lemonds of faith, got his certification and began teaching business education classes at the high school.

Superintendent Bruce Gearing

In his initial interviews at the school, Lemonds mentioned a vision of his: a senior-level course focused on real estate. “At the time, I really wasn’t thinking about it being a licensing class,” Lemonds says. “It was more about exposing these students to something they’re all going to have to deal with in their lives at some point.” The district was on board with this vision, and Lemonds began the work of seeking grants and creating curriculum for his dream course. “That’s one of the neat things about Dripping Springs, if you have an idea, and you’re passionate about wanting to see it through, they are all-in on supporting you,” he says. Lemonds went through a lengthy process of creating the course and getting it approved by TEA as a career and technical education innovative course while also making sure the curriculum fit the qualifying requirements of the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC). Through this tireless work, he created the first CTE real estate course for high school students in the state. During their senior year, students take the class, and by the time they graduate in May, they’re prepared to sit for the real estate licensing test, if they’re interested.

Community learning When the first real estate courses at Dripping Springs High formed in the fall of 2017, Lemonds had 40 seniors sign up to take the class, proof positive that he wasn’t alone in his vision. “The numbers we’ve had have been really impressive considering that seniors have a lot of extracurricular options,” he says. “Seniors sometimes get a bad reputation for having one foot out the door, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how engaged they are, and how they see the benefit of what this education is going to provide them in the future.” Part of the time seniors spend in the class is dedicated to the topics required by the TREC: principles of real estate, law of contracts, law of agency, promulgated contract forms, real estate finance and more. They’re the same lessons anyone seeking to get a real estate license would take, but in Lemonds’ class, students get an extra bonus in the form of community partnerships and informative field trips. In fact, Lemonds went out and got his bus driver’s license just so he could take his students on field trips, rather than sticking to inclassroom instruction, a testament to his dedication to his vision. “I tell my students I think it was more stressful to get my bus driver’s license than my teaching certificate,” Lemonds says. “I have four little daughters, and they’re more excited about the fact that I’m a bus driver now than anything else.” With a 90-minute block schedule and a bus driver’s license in his wallet, Lemonds is able to take his students on regular micro-field trips in the community. They might go out to see real estate listings, meet with a property developer on-site or visit a local model home. One day last year, the class took an all-day field trip that Lemonds coordinated with a group of local agents. The students visited eight different listings, meeting with the listing broker at each one. “They gave us background on how they got the listing, then walked us through the house as if we were a client,” Lemonds says. “It was a neat opportunity to meet a variety of brokers, too. I have really been blown away by the community support.”

Life skills After completing the course, and turning 18, students can sit for the licensing exam, and last year some of Lemonds’ graduates did, with two former students closing real estate transactions before the next school year even began. But that’s not necessarily the district’s goal for the course. “It was always my vision that this course was not for students to jump-start a career straight out of high school,” Lemonds says. “I was looking for them to have some kind of supplemental expertise that they could take with them to college and get a more meaningful job while working toward a degree.” Lemonds says that after completing the course, students could work for a surveyor or a brokerage firm, positions that offer more experience and often more pay than your typical college jobs. Even if his students never work in a real estate-related field, the course prepares them for other life events, from buying a house or signing a lease, something most of us do at some point in our lives. “Being able to sit down and read a contract and understand what it means is valuable to anybody, whether it’s a lease contract or a contract for your cellphone carrier,” Lemonds says. Students also get a strong foundation in real-world math in the class, including learning the ins and outs of home loans, amortization, annual percentage rates and returns on investments.

A friendly reception The real estate course is a popular one at Dripping Springs High, with 45 seniors enrolled this year. Lemonds says classroom discussions are lively and students are interested. One of his biggest struggles is not getting off track when his students ask question after question — and he sees that as a good problem to have. Bruce Gearing, superintendent in the district, says that the real estate course connects students to real-life experiences and allows them to test out potential future careers, something that’s a huge value to many students. “We have introduced several new courses at the high school in the past few years that provide authentic learning opportunities,” Gearing says. “The real estate course has been one of the most popular courses at Dripping Springs High School, and the preparation to those who wish to take their real estate license exam has great value.” Feedback from the local real estate community has also been positive, something Lemonds was a little unsure of at first. “I wasn’t sure how the real estate community would respond to teaching 18-year-olds and giving them the opportunity to get licensed, and I’ve been floored,” Lemonds says. “I’ve had so many people, brokers, in our community that have approached me about guest speaking, or asking if there are materials we need for our class. It’s been wonderful.” Since Lemonds did the legwork of creating the curriculum and having it approved, it would be a relatively easy process for other schools in Texas to follow in Dripping Springs’ footsteps. The teacher would have to have a real estate license, but if that requirement is met, Lemonds believes many students in Texas could benefit from a similar class. “I’ve just been so impressed,” Lemonds says. “When you work with a school district that wants to see teachers pursue things that they’re passionate about, it totally materializes in the classroom and carries over. I’m appreciative that I’ve had this opportunity.” DACIA RIVERS is editorial director of Texas School Business. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


▲ Students in Galveston ISD learn the workings of the human body with help from a synthetic cadaver.


5A Ball High School maintains a smallschool feel by nurturing four diverse “mini-magnets” within its walls by James Golsan


alveston ISD’s Ball High School (BHS) is as rich in history as it is in innovation. BHS is one of the oldest schools in the state of Texas, opening its doors to 200 students in the fall of 1884, under the motto “Best school south of St. Louis and east of the Mississippi.” More than 130 years later, BHS’s “Ball 4 All” Program might just have them living up to their founding mantra.

Joseph Pillar


Per Principal Joseph Pillar, the Ball 4 All Program is designed to provide students a pathway to professional success in a career that interests them. Five years ago, in a tandem effort with Magnet Schools of America, Pillar began breaking up BHS, a large 5A high school, into

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miniature “magnet school” communities. This year, Ball High features four such communities: one for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), one for Biomedical Science, one for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and one for Media. “It’s kind of like Hogwarts houses,” Pillar jokes, and emphasizes that while the unique professional learning opportunities each house offers are a major draw for BHS students, the “small school” feel offered by the houses is just as important. BHS student John Brown, a member of the STEM community, agrees. “It’s a family atmosphere,” Brown says, and adds that the career-driven curriculum at BHS leaves plenty of room for students to pursue extracurricular interests

Superintendent Kelli Moulton

as well. “As an athlete, I was worried when I was a freshman that the work [in the STEM community] might be too much, but all the teachers are great about giving students all the help we need.” The learning pathways in Ball High’s STEM community are as diverse — Brown mentions robotics, civil engineering and aerospace engineering, among other available options — as they are practical; Brown was Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certified by the end of his freshman year at BHS, and that’s not a rarity at the school. Charles Blacketer, a student in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship community, was as well, and emphasizes the immediate workforce value of the skills he’s developed in BHS’s I&E pathway. “I’m taking a class that will allow me to become a certified welder later this year,” Blacketer says, and adds that while that certification would allow him to enter the workforce immediately, he does plan to attend college upon graduation. And while Blacketer will have two excellent paths forward to choose from when he finishes high school, some graduates of the I&E community opt for a different road: starting their own business. Per Pillar, all four communities at BHS feature a Capstone Course. For students on the I&E path like Blacketer, the Capstone is an “incubator course,” which allows students to learn entrepreneurship skills from local business and community leaders, all the while developing their own business or product idea. At the end of the year, students participate in what Pillar termed a “Shark Tank” setting with potential investors to secure funding for their projects. Several such initiatives, including a waterless, environmentally friendly car wash, successfully secured funding before the students responsible graduated.

▲ Students get ready for the annual IncubaTOR pitch competition by creating different products and preparing to pitch their idea to a group of investors.

For BHS’ I&E students hungry for a jump on promoting their business ideas, some coursework in the media community (Pillar emphasizes that “dabbling” across houses is highly encouraged) might provide the skills they’re after on that front. A fully functional TV studio, green screen room and computer lab are available to students in the media program, and the content produced is both extensive and 100 percent student driven.

▲ Two groups from Galveston ISD received funding from the investors judging the IncubaTOR pitch competition. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


field,” she says. “We have opportunities most students won’t have until medical school.” That’s not an exaggeration. Ball High’s biomedical house is its oldest, and features one of the only functioning cadaver laboratories in the state, allowing students to do hands-on work with synthetic cadavers. That’s far from the only unique amenity the program offers. Ball High currently has a cellular culture laboratory under construction that they hope to have up and running by year’s end, one more feather in the cap of a remarkable program that includes internship opportunities with the University of Texas Medical Branch and publication possibilities for seniors in the program’s Capstone course. ▲ Ball High School’s aquatic science class partnered with the Galveston Bay Foundation to build up more than 40 feet of new oyster beds.

“If a student has an idea for a show they want to do, they come to me with a pitch, and we work with them from there,” says senior Cooper Burleson, who serves as the media program’s executive director. He adds that BHS has an ongoing show with Galveston’s Chamber of Commerce, and three 24-hour-a-day radio stations. “What he’s not telling you is that he’s here from 7:30 in the morning until 9 at night, every day,” Pillar adds, in a nod to the passion and excitement Ball 4 All inspires in participating students. That passion is apparent in Claire Chaljub, a senior in the biomedical community. “We take classes that expose us to life in the medical

“We’ve had many students published in credible medical journals prior to graduation,” Pillar says, and adds that students also have the opportunity to present their research findings to doctors and other medical professionals at the end of their senior year. Ball 4 All is a remarkable program, and the good news is that as Ball High grows (the school is adding 20-30 students a year, per Pillar), Ball 4 All should grow with it. It’s remarkable what the program, and the students participating in it, have achieved in just five short years. Galveston should be proud of its only high school, and the Texas education community would do well to learn from Ball 4 All’s innovative, student-first approach to professional skills development and education opportunities. When Ball 4 All graduates begin joining the workforce en masse in just a few short years, all of Texas stands to benefit. JAMES GOLSAN is a writer and education professional based in Austin.

▲ Students work on their product idea in the IncubaTOR class. This group is working on different activities for children so that parents have more options in keeping their kids active and encouraging outdoor play.


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

▲ Mandy Alexander, learning liaison at Grapevine High School, works with a group of students to co-design their upcoming social studies unit.


Students’ voices offer valuable input for teachers, administrators by Dacia Rivers


nviting feedback from students can sound like a treacherous proposition for many teachers. After all, high school students can be mean. Younger students can ask for impossible things, like an extra hour or two of recess, or a suspension of homework. But in Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (GCISD), teachers and administrators have challenged that conventional wisdom and taken the charge of soliciting input from students at all grade levels. The results illustrate the extreme potential opening up to student feedback has for educators who are looking to keep their students engaged.

A voice, a choice The Student Voice Initiative in GCISD began in 2014 as a culmination of many factors. The superintendent, Robin Ryan, had visited another

school district in the state where he’d seen firsthand how student feedback was informing decisions on the campus in a positive way.

Superintendent Robin Ryan

At the same time, Suzanne Newell, who now serves as executive director of learning in the district, received some concerns about a teacher in the district from a parent. When Newell approached the teacher about the feedback, the teacher was shocked, completely unaware that any student had an issue. “We dug into it a bit further and realized that we didn’t have a mechanism for students to be able to share their perceptions or their input about how learning was going for them,” Newell says. “I did some introspection and realized that’s to some extent on me as a school leader for not putting in place any sort of practice that would routinely provide students the chance to say, ‘This is how it’s going for me.’”

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Suzanne Barker, a learning liaison at Grapevine Elementary School, has been involved in the process and says that crafting the right questions can help bring in the most valuable feedback for teachers. “We say, if you want to ask just one question, ask ‘What are we doing in class that you wish we could do more of?’” Barker says. “That way you’re Suzanne Barker not getting critical feedback that you might not be ready to hear, and you’re not getting a lot of suggestions that aren’t even possible for you to do.”

▲ Christina Hayes, a teacher at Glenhope Elementary, created a student voice display where students could reflect on how student voice had impacted them as a student.

At the time, some 20 teachers in the district were participating in a program called VALOR (The Vanguard Association of Learning, Observation and Reflection), which helps teachers who strive to improve their practice and reflect on their work with each other. The district invited the teachers involved to participate in a student feedback program, and 11 of them signed up. Those teachers agreed to survey their students over the course of a semester on any basis they chose — weekly, monthly or every nine weeks. Newell worked with them to develop student surveys, with questions ranging from curriculumbased and instruction-based to those that focused on the emotional or social culture in the classroom. At the end of the semester, Newell says every single teacher was thrilled at the difference the surveys had made in their classrooms. “Every teacher that participated said that it helped build trust with students and there was a very clear impact in the way kids invested in the class after they started doing it, because they were in a much stronger relationship with their teacher,” she says.

Some teachers have moved beyond surveys and now solicit feedback from Student Design Teams, groups of students who meet with their teachers to help form lesson plans. Involved students meet with teachers to discuss what activities they might enjoy in certain units and what they feel is the best way for them to learn the necessary information. Newell says this method has helped many students in GCISD develop a better understanding of how the entire education system works. “Not only do the kids buy into the instruction more but through the back door they also get a deeper understanding of what the content is that they’re trying to teach their peers and that they need to learn,” she says. “I sat in on one of those design sessions where we had a group of seventh-graders helping their Texas history teacher design the unit, and the kids were arguing about the verbs in the text and the best way to approach teaching it based on the type of verb it was. It was a surreal moment.” Across the district, teachers and administrators incorporate the Student Voices Initiative in many ways. Newell says she has solicited input herself from high school students when creating a course handbook to make it more user-friendly for them. On one elementary campus, some students are invited to sit in on teacher interviews during the summer and have a voice in who winds up teaching them. Some teachers offer surveys at the end of each unit to see how students feel about the methods used in class. Some pull together focus groups to discuss classroom issues. One AP teacher took his previous year’s class data and looked at it with a group of new students to see how he could improve the class for them. A principal at a high school in the district committed to having a one-on-one meeting with each of his students, more than

High school teachers in the group found that initially their students were unsure of the idea, but after their teachers had repeated the surveys and shown that they were taking the feedback to heart and not being punitive in response, the students warmed up quickly.

A life of its own From there, the program has continued to grow. The test group started to spread the word, and in the second year of the program, about 70 teachers opted into the Student Voice Initiative. This year, the district’s goal is for 100 percent involvement, in all grades and on all campuses. While the program initially began with student surveys, many teachers have expanded into having organic conversations seeking input from their students. As always, it’s up to each teacher to decide how they want to solicit feedback from their students. Newell and other administrators are always on hand to help teachers create feedback methods as well.


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

▲ A student and her mother participate in a student-led conference at Grapevine Elementary School.

▲ Students at Colleyville Middle School meet with school leadership Dr. David Arencibia, Marie Menard,and Jessica Heaton to review the first issue of the Colt Chronicle, a student initiated and created monthly publication.

670 kids in total, throughout the school year to get their feedback on their high school experience and how it could be improved. Incorporating student feedback has become such a natural process for students in GCISD, Newell says many of them don’t even realize they’re participating in Student Voices when asked because it feels more like a conversation than a formal evaluation. Superintendent Ryan is pleased with how an initial idea has grown into such a successful and valuable initiative. “We know that every student learns in a unique manner, similarly every adult works in different ways, so providing our students a feedback loop with voice and a choice in how they learn better prepares them for the world that awaits them after graduation,” he says.

A rewarding process The rewards of the Student Voices Initiative are numerous. Teachers get valuable feedback from students, something they say actually saves them time and energy in the long run, as they can focus on

▲ Students at Timberline Elementary meet with their principal, Shelley Ingram, to share their thoughts and create an action plan on how to help their community.

methods that actually work for their students. Meanwhile students have a voice in their own educations, get a deeper understanding of why teachers work the way they do and learn effective communication and collaboration skills in the process. Barker stresses that for a student feedback program to be a success, teachers must respond to the feedback they receive and administrators must be a source of support. “It’s important for administrators to create an environment on their campuses where teachers feel comfortable taking some risks and for teachers to see that their leaders are doing the same things,” Barker says. “And you have to come back and talk to your students in some form or fashion and never make them feel like [your response] is punitive.” When she saw how positive the initiative was in the district, Barker suggested that her daughter, now a second-year teacher, solicit feedback from her students. While her daughter was initially afraid, Barker suggested starting with a simple survey, and was pleased when her daughter reported the results. “She was like, “That was incredible!’” Barker says. “Her kids told her, ‘You’re too nice letting us turn in late work. We need you to be harder on us.’ She said, ‘Here I thought I was trying to be nice, but that’s not what they’re wanting.’” Newell suggests other teachers and administrators who want to solicit input from students start slow and let the movement grow naturally. “It’s the kind of initiative that really generates its own momentum, as long as you start it in a way that feels safe for participants,” she says, adding that the program doesn’t have to cost money or take much time. She says the main factor for success is that students know their opinions are valued and reflected through the learning process, no matter what form that takes. “I would much rather have an environment in which kids are selfaware as learners and able to be kind of metacognitive about their learning environment and what’s working, what’s not working and how they can be part of the solution, than to have a school district where you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit, and you’re just expected to be passive.”

▲Example of a student voice survey given in Erin Donohue’s kindergarten classroom at Colleyville Elementary School.

DACIA RIVERS is editorial director of Texas School Business. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


▲ Vernon Beavers, Hillsboro High School class of 1937 and a World War II veteran, talks with current students while his picture is placed on the military wall of honor.


Military wall of honor teaches students about selfless service by Autumn Rhea Carpenter


n Texas, sports programs reign king. There is no shortage of accolades for players who make careers of their chosen sport. In Hillsboro, athletes who played collegiately and professionally are recognized on a prominent wall in the school, called Hillsboro High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame (AHOF). In 2015, the head athletic trainer and AHOF curator John “Doc” Robertson decided it was time for former Hillsboro High John “Doc” School (HHS) students and Robertson Peabody High School (PHS) in the military to receive the same recognition with their own wall and called it the Military Wall of Honor.


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Robertson was inspired while attending a basketball tournament in 2014 at Hamilton High School where an extensive wall of veteran photos was displayed in the cafeteria/gym entrance. “I have always had a soft spot in my heart for veterans. My father, grandfathers and several other family members served their country,” said Robertson. “This project helps me honor both my family and other men and women that served.”

The research and design process In 2015, Robertson asked the superintendent and previous principal if the idea could be pursued. They both agreed and research began. Two books, “Men and Women in World War II from Hill County”

Superintendent Vicki Adams

and “Heritage of Hill County, Volume II,” were vital to Robertson’s research. “Heritage of Hill County” also proved useful in providing contact information. In 2017, after two years of collecting photos and facts, the current superintendent Vicki Adams and principal Keith Hannah gave the green light to purchase frames and photo paper. Since the initial start-up process, the AHOF sponsors have funded the project with donations. The Military Wall of Honor contains several patterns according to the person’s wartime experience. Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice (killed in action or died while in service), were missing in action, or became a prisoner of war are honored with a large poster. Those who received a Purple Heart are honored with a slightly larger photo than most on display. Photos of all known veterans of HHS and PHS are displayed in 8 1/2- by 11-inch photos. HHS also groups siblings together. The school includes as much information on the photo as possible, including: name, year of graduation, branch of service, rank and honors and awards. There are many events, ranging from class reunions to banquets, held in the cafeteria, making it the best spot for the wall.

▲ Vernon Beavers poses with his photo, which hangs on the Hillsboro ISD wall of honor. Beavers passed away in 2017.

The wall currently features approximately 300 individuals. There are 14 Purple Heart recipients, two prisoners of war, five missing in action, four who died while in service and 16 who were killed in action. There are approximately 150 veterans without photos. HHS has the medals of one veteran who was killed in action, and there is a photo of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Two veterans are Texas celebrities: Dr. “Red” Duke and Bob Bullock. “It is military history. It is community history. It is a history about those students that once attended school in Hillsboro,” said Robertson. “One of our staff members has an uncle on the wall; he never knew of his uncle until we discovered the photos and stories about him.” According to Executive Director of Innovative Learning Sheila Bowman, one of HISD’s goals is to “broaden and strengthen the capacity of the school district as community builders to ensure a common understanding of the needs and interests of those we serve …” “This is a great way to show that students from Hillsboro have always cherished service in all capacities,” said Bowman. “The wall gives a sense that Hillsboro ISD honors duty and selfless service.” The project has had a great impact on the community. “Even though I thought the Military Wall of Honor was a great idea, I had no idea the impact it would have on students, staff and the community,” said Superintendent Vicki Adams. “Doc has had such great response from the community, that he is already running out of wall space. It is important to showcase veterans because our young people have no idea what those who went before us endured so that we may enjoy our freedoms. No other country was founded on democratic principles, which our veterans have protected for us.”

Deep community connections According to Bowman, many families have lived in Hillsboro for generations. Many kids walk the hallway with parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles represented on the wall. There are former administrators and teachers whose photos hang on the wall. Former students see their classmates and their children on the walls. “Shortly after the wall began, a gentleman attended a basketball game,” said Robertson. “He began reading one of the posters and ran into the gym and brought back a lady that I presume was his wife ▲ Local veterans visit the Hillsboro ISD military wall of honor to reflect and pay tribute. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


saying, ‘I was there!’ He was at the battle where one of our graduates was killed. I still tear up when I think about the emotions of that man. There is a story in every photo,” said Robertson. The constantly evolving wall, managed by Robertson, also includes a website (https://sites.google.com/hillsboroisd.org/ honoringourmilitary/hillsboro-high-school) and a Facebook page where further details are constantly shared.

Advice for building a military wall of honor Adams shares Robertson’s enthusiasm, recommending that other school districts create their own honor wall. “I absolutely would recommend this to other school districts, especially where the mobility rate is fairly low,” said Adams. “They may want to start out small and with the most recent veterans to whom students can relate. However, some of our oldest veterans have moved staff and students. One gentleman wept when he was presented a picture of his brother that he had never seen who had been killed in WWII. This was moving for staff and students. The gentleman passed away not long after the presentation.”

▲ A WWII veteran holds photos of himself and his brother from the Hillsboro wall of honor. His brother died in the war.

“Every school should do this. I have visited with several schools about them starting up this project,” said Robertson. “While everyone likes the idea, it can be difficult to find someone to take it on. The person needs time to work on it. I work on it when I have time, between my job and the other projects we do to honor our graduates.” AUTUMN RHEA CARPENTER is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon.



2018 TASB Superintendent of the Year Brian Woods • Northside ISD-Bexar County

2018 TASA Outstanding School Board in Texas Grapevine-Colleyville ISD

Thank you for your superior service to Texas public education! 26

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▲ A Laredo ISD student poses with his award-winning science project.


Grant enables students in challenging circumstances to embrace challenging STEM opportunities in Laredo ISD by Merri Rosenberg


uan Garcia, a teacher at Dr. Joaquin G. Cigarroa Middle School in Laredo ISD, is delighted that the district’s robotics classes have been growing, and that they attract a large number of girls. One of his students, in fact, is a cheerleader who now leads a team of five girls in the class’s competition track.

Juan Garcia

Similarly, Nancy Ramon, the only robotics teacher at Louis J. Christen Middle School in Laredo, is gratified that her students have responded so eagerly to the robotics classes that are offered.

“I see how motivated the students are with STEM,” said Ramon. “When you see them advance in the

STEM curriculum, they have an idea of what’s out there. I’ve seen a drastic change in enrollment. Last year there were 33 students. Now there are 146 taking robotics.”

Nancy Ramon

Superintendent Sylvia Rios

Such enthusiasm is a welcome byproduct of the $1.6 million, fiveyear grant that American Electric Power (AEP) has given to Laredo ISD.

“This initiative is designed to enhance STEM-related opportunities across our service community,” said Tony Arce, Jr., external affairs manager for AEP in Laredo. “This initiative is designed to enhance STEM-related opportunities across our service community. We want to increase the amount of

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machines, and in the long run, will have forensic science and Claymation. We’re building the curriculum for the next four years, eventually, every sixth-grader will be taking it.” For additional motivation, the grant enables students to take field trips to places such as the Space Center in Houston, as well as the Lamar Bruni Vergara Environmental Science Center Rocio Lopez at Laredo Community College. During the trip to the environmental center, 540 students participated in a specific curriculum that included a scavenger hunt along the trail. “Some of these kids were never exposed to a field trip, or even travel,” said Ramon. ▲ Students in Laredo ISD take STEM lessons thanks to a grant from American Electric Power.

participants studying STEM subjects, and we want to create a program that offers opportunities for the average student.” Laredo is the only Texas school district to receive this grant; the AEP Foundation is based in Columbus, Ohio, and has provided similar grants — the actual financial amount may vary, depending on the district — in six other states. The grant, now in its second year, provides funding for STEM courses in middle and high schools, including tutoring and field trips; tuition support for 400 Laredo ISD scholarships for ninth- and 10th-graders in the dual-enrollment program; 135 scholarships during a three-year-period for dual-enrollment high school graduates; $1,000 tuition reimbursement for 14 high school dualenrollment STEM teachers each year toward a master’s degree in STEM fields; and activities for families. The concept is simple. Just because students come from challenging circumstances (in the 24,200-student district, 85 percent are economically disadvantaged) doesn’t mean they can’t meet academic challenges. “We’re about creating opportunities for students in career-relevant studies,” said Dr. Sylvia Rios, superintendent of Laredo ISD. “We’re an economically disadvantaged school district, so we were looking a few years back at what was the market asking of our students to be able to compete.”

Connecting what students are doing in the classroom to future careers is another key element of the program. For the engineering aspect of STEM, students had a field trip to the Toyota robotics assembly plant in San Antonio, said Garcia. With grant support, they’ve also launched a birding club with the local Audubon society and taken field trips to local ranches to participate in birding activities. And to encourage teacher buy-in, Lopez developed full-blown lesson plans for the robotics course, “to take the guesswork out of it.” To ensure student success, the district also provides tutoring for the TSI Trailblazer College Assessment Testing preparation for 200 eighth-graders from three middle schools and 200 ninth-graders from Cigarroa and Martin high schools. Such intentionality also provides for continuity as students move through the district’s schools. “We’re going to have students who are very prepared for science and math careers,” said Rios. “They’ll go further and faster, in a much more structured way. People know what lies ahead after each grade level. It’s a model of where we want to go and instills the idea that higher expectations are possible. It’s very purposeful, and aligned to specific skills.” As Lopez said, “Now we’re tracking the ninth-graders who participated as eighth-graders.” At the high school, monitoring

What’s particularly significant about this initiative is that it’s meant to target students who might not usually be tapped to pursue ambitious and rigorous academic material. Even ESL students and special needs students participate, with the district providing extra support as needed. Added Dr. Nora Garza, vice president for resource development at Laredo Community College, which partners with the district, “We want to focus on children who are not advanced. Many children in Laredo are needy and disadvantaged.” At the middle school level, 500 students are working with robotics and preparing to enter the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 competition, with 30 robotics kits available in each classroom. Beyond the classes, Ramon also has 23 students in a robotics club. “There are drones, and students doing algebraic equations,” said Rocio Lopez, science dean for Laredo ISD. “We have 3D printing


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▲ Laredo ISD students learn to program robots through the district’s STEM initiative.

▲ Students in Laredo ISD perform hands-on science experiments as part of the district’s STEM initiative.

The connection between Laredo ISD and the local community college was also key to making the grant successful. By introducing middle school students to the STEM curriculum, Garza said they’re on track to enroll in the dual-enrollment program when they reach high school. “They have a cohort to take robotics and math,” said Garza. “The idea is that by the time students are in upper level high school years, they’ll be able to enroll in the dual-enrollment program with Laredo Community College.” “We want to get them college-ready,” said Lopez. “If a student has been in an AEP grant program, as a senior, he or she can apply for scholarships.” One of the Laredo Community College professors goes to the school district three days a week, not only to teach classes to those participating in dual-enrollment in high school, but to also offer office hours. ▲ Administrators in Laredo ISD say that the district’s STEM curriculum will help prepare students for careers in the math and science fields, among others.

student progress and helping them succeed in courses such as biology and pre-algebra means that there is tutoring available, too. At Cigarroa High School, where there is an engineering magnet program, students who had taken robotics in middle school have “boosted enrollment in the engineering magnet,” said Dr. Garza. “Before, there were only 30 students. Now there are 100.” Beyond those immediate gains, what matters is “all of them will go to college,” said Garza. “Maybe not as engineering majors, but it will change the culture of the community. We’re very excited and appreciative [of the AEP grant.]”

One of the most significant aspects of the grant is the focus on teacher development. As much as the district appreciates the relationship with the Laredo Community College professors who work in the high schools, “we have a high need to build capacity with our teachers, to take away the need for outsourcing,” said Lopez. “Teachers can receive a scholarship with a stipend if they get a master’s degree in a STEM field.” Ultimately, “The AEP grant opens students’ eyes to opportunities,” said Dr. Rios. “It’s about enthusiasm and encouragement.” MERRI ROSENBERG, a New York-based freelance writer and editor specializing in education, is a former freelance education columnist for the New York Times Westchester section.

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▲ Northside ISD students take learning outside through the district’s ACORN program.


One teacher’s passion cultivates a district-wide commitment to local environment by Dacia Rivers


rom a tiny seed can grow a mighty oak, and from one teacher’s good idea can grow a multi-campus movement — and that’s just what happened in Northside ISD, in the San Antonio area, when one teacher started making an effort to get his students outside more. Kent Page was a science teacher at Carnahan Elementary School with an extraordinary passion for environmental science. In 2011, in an effort to get his students engaged in lessons, he started taking them outside to plant native plants on campus grounds. Each year since Page’s initial idea, the program has grown to include more campuses. Now, seven years later, his effort has expanded into Project ACORN (Alamo-Area Children Organized to Replant Natives), which involves 38 campuses in Northside


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ISD. Thanks to grants and local partnerships, the program is now a districtwide initiative involving more than 675 students and 75 teachers maintaining 19 community gardens in addition to the 38 campus grounds. “Kent’s passion is around getting kids out into their local community to appreciate the environment and what they can learn from it,” says Nancy Kreth, an instructional specialist who focuses on elementary science education in the district. Nancy Kreth “And he has a real passion for replenishing our local community environment with local plants.”

Superintendent Brian Woods

Some Project ACORN campuses focus on replacing native species trees, while others plant gardens that attract and feed pollinators, since San Antonio lies in the monarch butterfly migration pathway. Students’ efforts in these areas have earned the district many grants to help with the associated costs of such a big program — they’ve also resulted in several beneficial partnerships with local groups including the San Antonio River Authority, Our Lady of the Lake University’s STEAM Center (whose director happens to be the namesake of Carnahan Elementary, where the program began), the City of San Antonio, Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension, the Alamo Area Master Naturalists and the Texas Department of Agriculture. Many of these groups offer no-cost professional development to Project ACORN teachers so they can learn more about native plants, pollinators and environmental data collection. While the district helps with some structure and plenty of support, each participating campus and teacher can decide how they want to approach the project. On some campuses, Project ACORN functions like a club, with students meeting after school or on Saturdays to complete plantings on their campus or in a nearby area. At Carnahan Elementary, students gather on bicycles on Fridays and ride to an adjacent pond where they plant trees and compile data on their efforts in a partnership with the city’s parks and recreation department. “We give it enough structure so it stands on its own, but enough flexibility where a campus can adapt it to what works for them,” Kreth says. “At each campus there’s usually at least two teachers involved, if not four or more, and there’s always something surrounding a community event, whether it’s a planting event or getting an area cleaned up.” Each year students from Carnahan Elementary host an Arbor Day planting at the green space near their campus. On other campuses, students use apps such as iNaturalist or eBird to observe and learn more about the local environment on field trips.

Amalia Sollars

Since lighting the spark that began Project ACORN, Page now serves as a environmental education teacher at the district level, and travels to every elementary campus in the district to teach lessons to each fourth- and fifth-grader. Amalia Sollars serves as Project ACORN coordinator in the district and works daily to stay in touch with program partners and keep the project running smoothly. “We realize the benefits of students being outside,

not only the health benefits, but the socialemotional benefits,” Sollars says. “Having the students engage in real citizen science projects like these not only equips them with skills that they can take to higher grade levels, but also gets them thinking about different career pathways.”

▲ Students in Northside work to replant

Sollars says students in native species in the areas surroundNorthside enjoy Project ing their schools. ACORN activities, and watching them participate makes that evident, from seeing the smiles on their faces to hearing them plead for just five more minutes when working in their gardens. Brian Woods, Northside ISD superintendent, concurs that Project ACORN is an excellent opportunity for students in the district and the community as a whole.

“Project ACORN gives students the opportunity to get their hands ‘dirty’ as they engage in science and environmental learning to improve their own community,” he says. “What better way to secure our environmental future — not by counting on policymakers in Austin and Washington, D.C. — but by teaching young people what they can do close to where they live.” Positive feedback about Project ACORN doesn’t come just from involved students. Kreth says feedback comes pouring in from the community, including from administrators, parents and community partners. The Master Naturalists who work with Project ACORN are excited to be more involved with the program every year, according to Sollars. “It gives them a great place they can volunteer that’s near their home,” Sollars says. “They can be involved in their neighborhood school, even if they may not have kids at that school. A lot of them are past educators, so they’re wanting to be in that service area, and this gives them a chance to use their teaching skills and abilities in a different capacity.” Project ACORN grew organically, from the ground up, and Kreth suggests that other schools or districts looking to create a similar program seek out passionate participants. “I think part of why this has grown so much is that the teachers who have been involved and on the ground floor of this at their campuses have a real, deep passion for gardening or the environment,” she says. “They aren’t always able to pursue [that passion] as educators because they’re so busy, so we’ve built it into their work at their schools.” Kreth also stresses the importance of community partnerships to aid similar programs, and says that the district’s grants department has been instrumental in getting Project ACORN funded, which in turn benefits Northside students in many ways.

▲ Project ACORN serves to foster an understanding and appreciation of the local environment for students in Northside.

“One of our goals in Northside has been to increase student engagement and really offer kids lots of pathways in elementary to explore what they’re interested in, so I feel like Project ACORN is one of our programs that is all-encompassing,” she says. “It’s a real banner program for us, and we’re very, very proud of it.” DACIA RIVERS is editorial director of Texas School Business. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


▲ Roshounda Ellerbe, a fourth-grade RISE teacher in Prosper ISD, uses a service learning pedagogy in her classroom.


Teachers drive innovation through personal passion in Prosper ISD by Dacia Rivers


sk any school administrator in Texas to name some of the biggest issues facing education today, and somewhere on that list, they’re going to mention two things: teacher retention and keeping their classrooms innovative. In Prosper ISD, a growing district north of Dallas, one teacher has come up with an idea that tackles both of these issues at once.

Seth Rutledge


The RISE program (Research Impacting Student Excellence) started as a spark in the mind of Prosper High School English teacher Seth Rutledge back in early 2017. He sat down with Holly Ferguson, then the curriculum director in the district, to discuss his wild idea — a way to help teachers go above and beyond, and be honored for it.

BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

Holly Ferguson

Rutledge, who now serves the district as an advanced academics coordinator, had a proposal — one that would allow teachers to seek out, research and pilot innovative programs in their classrooms with the hopes that the new methods could grow and evolve, eventually reaching other areas of the district.

“My belief was, we can really do something here that puts a little bit more freedom and a little bit more autonomy and responsibility on the teachers,” Rutledge says. “Especially the teachers who have wonderful ideas that maybe we can’t think of because we’re not in a classroom every single day.” Administrators were on board with Rutledge’s idea, because one of the main goals in Prosper ISD is to offer “cutting-edge instructional strategies, teaching styles

Superintendent Drew Watkins

or new educational approaches,” as a response to exponential growth in the district. Through the RISE program, teachers in the district are now able to pilot new programs in an environment that is protected and supported.

A testing grounds The process for participating in RISE is focused, with constant support and feedback provided. This isn’t a teacher spitballing a new method to a classroom and administrators going, “Sure, OK, go for it.” This is a step-by-step hands-on process that begins with an extensive research phase. For starters, only teachers who have a T-TESS rating of proficient or better can participate in RISE. As a perk, they will be exempt from T-TESS evaluations during their time in the RISE program, and instead will be evaluated via a different district evaluation method that takes into account the innovation they’re adding to their classrooms. For eligible teachers, the application process for introducing a new method takes a semester. It starts with a teacher submitting an idea at the start of a new calendar year. From there, teachers meet with RISE liaisons, a group made up of curriculum folks and teachers who’ve been through the program. They hold meetings three or four times during the semester to check in with the teacher’s research, see how the idea is progressing and discuss how the teacher expects the new method could affect student outcomes. Toward the end of the semester, the full application process begins, which includes interviews with students, administrators, parents and other teachers. During these interviews, teachers explain their research, what their new strategies will look like and the impact they will have on students. “All of the stakeholders here in Prosper have an opportunity to hear what’s happening, but also to give feedback,” Rutledge says. “Everybody in the interview process has a say.” The RISE team uses a student rubric and an adult rubric based off the district’s graduate profile to make sure submitted programs hit the tenants administrators want a child to experience in the district. Even if an elementary school music teacher is asking for ukuleles for his classroom, the RISE liaisons take that graduate profile into account when making their decision.

A wide array So far, most of the RISE educators in Prosper who have gone through the application process have had their programs approved. Rutledge says this is largely due to the extensive research and feedback process — once an educator has put that much thought and work into an idea, success is all but guaranteed. “We believe in supporting them throughout the process,” Rutledge says. “We don’t want someone to try something and feel like they’re isolated. That can’t happen.” One approved program is a gamification design program in world history classes at the high school level. RISE teacher Samantha Cates has worked to generate more interest and fun in her history class, a subject many students think of as boring. Her efforts are paying off, as students now enjoy hands-on, exciting learning opportunities in the class. Ferguson points out that this isn’t just an advanced class or one offered to higher performing students — RISE classes include all students, including 504 students and special-needs students who benefit from the innovative format. Roshounda Ellerbe, a fourth-grade RISE teacher in Prosper, introduced a service learning pedagogy in her classroom. Her students wrote books that were based on the science TEKS and delivered them to a local children’s hospital, so the students in the hospital can continue learning, even when they can’t make it into a classroom.

▲ Alejandro Juarez, a RISE music teacher at Light Farms Elementary School, inspires young musicians with informal music learning in his classes.

This gives students the bonus of working on essential skills while also fostering community engagement. The possibilities for RISE teachers are wide open, Ferguson says, and the Prosper Education Foundation is on hand to cover expenses whenever they’re needed to support programs. “Our job is to make [teachers’] jobs easier, and finance funding should never get in the way of innovation,” says Ferguson, who now serves as associate superintendent in the district. “Our education foundation is extremely supportive of our innovative programs, so we’ve tapped into that resource.”

Rise across Texas With the RISE program providing innovative learning opportunities for students and encouraging and retaining top teachers, Rutledge and Ferguson believe a similar program could be a boon to school districts across the state. Drew Watkins, superintendent in Prosper, feels that the program has had major benefits in the district. “When you remove the shackles and allow creativity and innovation to be unleashed, students and teachers are energized and more enthusiastic about the learning process,” he says. “We are in a time where public education truly needs to be transformed, and the PISD RISE program is a small step in that direction of looking at teaching and learning through a different lens.” To districts looking to implement a program like RISE and reap the rewards, Ferguson stresses that it’s not something to take lightly. First, you have to take a step back and listen. “If you’re not listening to your teachers and educators about what they are saying they want, that’s the first step,” she says. “We have to take time to stop and listen as leaders.” From there, Ferguson suggests looking at what innovation means to your district, and signing on to collaborate with teachers and work to support them through the innovation. She recommends a systematic approach, like the one used in Prosper, so teachers can feel supported. It’s a lot of work and a big risk for teachers to take a leap toward innovation, and they need district support if they are going to step outside of the box and deviate from the old rules. Rutledge agrees, and stresses that trusting educators is the key to the RISE program’s success. “All of our teachers have their own passion and their own desire,” he says. “It’s only when they truly chase those that they really come alive. That’s when they show our kids what it takes to be an adult who is trying to change the world.” DACIA RIVERS is editorial director of Texas School Business. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


â–˛ Spring Hill ISD Superintendent Steven Snell shows a group of at-risk students how to tie a tie as part of the SRO Student Leadership Program.


A revolutionary way to mentor atrisk students creates a much-needed family support system by Dacia Rivers


hen Roger Askew began his career as a school resource officer in Spring Hill ISD, more than 12 years ago, he immediately saw a problem. At the junior high school where he worked, he noticed how groups of boys would segregate themselves, lashing out at anyone outside of their selfcreated groups, feeding on their hatred in a downward spiral that was leading nowhere good.

Roger Askew

The situation created a tension on the campus, one not at all conducive to learning, so Askew went straight to the assistant principal and asked for help. He felt something had to be done to change the atmosphere on the campus, before something bad happened.


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

The assistant principal suggested Askew teach a class for at-risk boys, and the rest is pretty much history.

A father figure Every year, the principal and counselors at Spring Hill Junior High, located east of Tyler, just an hour’s drive from the Louisiana border, give Askew a list of eighthgrade boys who are labeled as at-risk for numerous reasons. Sometimes these students have discipline issues, sometimes they have trouble with their grades or attendance. Whatever the case, when they end up on the list, Askew takes charge, spending the rest of the school year working to turn things around for the kids. The program, known as the SRO Student Leadership Program, is now in its 12th year. Askew says targeting students at the eighth-grade level happened by chance

Superintendent Steven Snell

initially, but he feels it’s the best time to make the most difference. By eighth grade, students are mature enough to deal with serious topics, while they’re also more reachable before they enter high school.

For many of these students, these are the only dress clothes they own, and Snell says some of them wind up wearing the same clothes when they participate in other events, such as band performances.

More times than not, Askew says the students who wind up in his class don’t have any kind of father figure in their lives. Students with absent fathers are at greater risk for many things, from homelessness and behavioral issues, to a higher dropout rate and even suicide. For these students in Spring Hill, Askew steps in as not just as a law enforcement agent, but as a father figure, from attending teacher conferences to teaching them right from wrong.

“That makes me proud because we’re able to help them out in that way,” Snell says.

A place to belong

Snell says discipline referrals are down exponentially in the district, but more important to him is the way the program helps at-risk students grow into productive citizens.

The students in the program meet twice a week as a group, with Askew at the helm. Once he’s met individually with each student to learn their unique situations, Askew kicks off the school year by watching the movie “Remember the Titans,” a true story about a coach integrating a high school football team back in 1971. “My method is to show them that we’re all alike, we all have problems and issues in our lives, it doesn’t matter who you are,” Askew says. “I also use it as an opportunity for them to get to know me as a person and not as a cop.” Class time focuses largely on life skills, starting with how to be a gentleman. Askew teaches the students how to meet someone, look them in the eye, shake their hand and try to remember their name. Students fill out job applications and participate in mock interviews. They learn how to write checks, save money and keep accounts balanced. Going even deeper, Askew teaches his students to be men of their word, to be respectful, to be helpful without being asked. Askew goes into full dad-mode with his students, and he says no topic is off-limits. “These are my boys, and I’m dad, and if they don’t learn it from me, they’re going to learn it from somebody,” Askew says. “Basically anything I would teach my son at home, I bring to school and do that with these guys.” As a result, the atmosphere in Askew’s classroom often turns familial. Like any parent, he disciplines his kids when they need it, and rewards them when they deserve it. At the beginning of the year, Askew and the students set the class rules, and they stick to them. For instance, if any student receives a detention or an in-school suspension, the entire group has to do push-ups together, with Askew himself dropping to the ground to do his penance. Askew is just as quick to reward his students. Sometimes they’ll stay after school for a game night, or they’ll go to a basketball game together. Sometimes they all just run down the street for milkshakes. These are rewards any kid would enjoy, but for this special group, Askew says even the little things mean so much more. “I have to be very careful what I tell them, to change their mindset that this is really going to happen, because these kids have been promised stuff their whole life, and nobody has ever come through with it,” Askew says. “These aren’t the kids that get on the bus and go to the zoo for a field trip. They’re in trouble; they get left at school. To be rewarded is new for them.”

Lasting rewards On Mondays, the members of the SRO Student Leadership Program dress up. They wear nice shirts and ties, which Askew taught them to tie and which are donated and cleaned weekly for the students. Just this visual difference, this attention to appearance, benefits the students, as it attracts adults to comment on the boys in a positive way — a first for many. Superintendent Steven Snell has been at the district for four years and is so grateful for Askew’s work, he took the lead on having more clothing donated for the boys. He talked to some local businesses, and someone from JCPenney came to the school, measured the students and donated modern-style dress wear for the kids.

Of course, getting some new clothes and a milkshake or two aren’t the greatest benefits for students in the program. Askew says that as the school year progresses, he watches his students’ grades improve. They have fewer discipline issues. They show up for school more, and on time.

There are huge benefits at the district-level, too. Askew’s students tend to either have discipline issues or know those who do, so being in a close, trusting relationship with an SRO helps prevent incidents. “By holding them accountable, staying on top of them, and conferencing with their teachers, it’s like they can’t breathe without me knowing about it,” Askew says. “I think our safety is probably 10 times better because they feel comfortable talking to me. I’m a cop, but I’m dad.”

Beyond Spring Hill Askew is a man of his word, just like he mentors his students to be. And that means when they move on in their own lives, he stays in contact. Some of his former students still call him to check in, long beyond graduation. He’s gone to some of their children’s birthday parties. His support doesn’t stop when the bell rings, or ever. “My first group of boys is 26 now, and they still occasionally drop by and see me,” Askew says. “It’s real cool because now they come back and they teach the kids I have now.” Snell says he appreciates the way the program isn’t a one-time deal, where students are lectured and then sent away with a “Good luck!” He sees these students go through their high school years more confident, willing to walk up to him and say hello, something not every high schooler is eager to do with an authority figure. “I think the biggest lesson Roger teaches these kids is that they have self-worth and value,” Snell says. “He gives them a way to thrive in the situation they’re in so that they have the skills to better themselves and make themselves successful beyond school.” The SRO Student Leadership Program in Spring Hill has received attention from schools across Texas and beyond. Askew has been invited to many schools to share how he started the program so that others might start something similar. It’s a conversation Askew is happy to have, as he feels these types of programs can work anywhere, even if they look completely different. “When I speak about this program, it’s not to necessarily go back and do exactly what I do, but go home and do something,” Askew says. Though he focuses on at-risk male students, Askew recognizes the need for a similar program for at-risk girls as well, and encourages female SROs and other mentors to get involved in groups that serve the unique needs of young girls. He says that anyone who cares can find a way to reach kids through their own niche, such as a video game enthusiast who starts a video game club for at-risk kids. The point is not the method, but the message. “Use the concepts of getting to know the kids, loving on them, holding them accountable, and showing them that you care,” Askew says. “You don’t have to do what I do, but do something.” DACIA RIVERS is editorial director of Texas School Business.

BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


▲ Tyler ISD senior Gracie McCaskill installs a desktop printer in a classroom.


Student-led tech support team works to solve technical snafus on campus by Dacia Rivers


hen those of us born before technology was ubiquitous run into issues with our phones or computers, we often look for help from a tech-savvy youngster we know: our kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. In Tyler ISD, the teaching and learning department is taking this homegrown tech support to a new level, by training and preparing students to serve as on-site support for teachers and students alike. The tech support team, which the students involved named the SWAT team (Students Who Advocate Technology) was formed last year at Robert E. Lee High School. The district’s teaching and learning team had gone on a professional development opportunity where they visited a school in Prosper ISD that ran a student technology team, and they


BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

instantly saw the potential for a similar setup in Tyler. “After that trip, we came back as a department and we’re like, this is something that we could do in Tyler,” says Hunter McConnell, an instructional technology specialist in the district. “I think there’s a need for it, especially at the high school level, because there are so many teachers at the high school and not necessarily technology support day to day.” The program began as an internship available to seniors with a free period during the day. Administrators and teachers vetted the list of available students and wound up with 60 potential tech team members. About 20 of those students were interested, and they then had to fill out an

Superintendent Marty Crawford

application and submit to an interview, just like they’d do for any other job. Once the SWAT team was formed, students began training in all of the potential things that could go wrong with the many technological systems used on the campus, from learning about hardware, how to uninstall or reinstall RAM on teachers’ laptops, and troubleshooting for the programs teachers use most, such as Google Classroom and Quizlet. Team members were also coached in customer service in preparation for being sent into classrooms so that they assist teachers in a courteous and professional manner. After a successful first year, the teaching and learning team that supports the SWAT team made a few changes this year. Rather than an internship, the team is now part of a CTE college credit Principals of IT class, so students earn CTE credit as they participate, an added perk to the technological knowledge and experience they gain in the class. This also allows more students to take the class, as a free period is no longer required, and both juniors and seniors can participate. The way the SWAT team responds to support requests is pretty straightforward. For now, teachers send a request via email to one of the program’s coordinating instructional support staff members. Those staff members can connect to SWAT members through a messaging app, sending along the info on who needs help, when and where, and what the issue is. They’re taking that process a step further this year and using one of the staff member’s phones as a call-in SWAT team request hotline that teachers can use. The SWAT members are being trained on how to answer the phone and take down the necessary information to get the troubleshooting process started. As an example, one teacher last year had issues logging a student into Quizlet Live on an iPad. No matter what the teacher tried, the student was repeatedly logged in as the wrong person. Enter the SWAT team, who came to the classroom without any accompanying teachers or support, discovered the cause of the login issue and fixed it right then and there. After completing a tech issue for a teacher, the students fill out a Google form that explains what the issue was and what they did to help. Then, a survey is sent to the teacher who had the issue, asking them to rate how the team performed, if they were respectful and if they managed to solve the issue. This kind of start-to-finish setup allows the students to see the entire tech support process from initiation to feedback, providing invaluable experience. The program continues to expand, and this year involved students are also working on creating training materials for teachers related to various tech systems used on campus. The SWAT team is creating a

▲ Gracie McCaskill troubleshoots software errors for an REL teacher.

website full of information for teachers, along with handouts and virtual presentations. For instance, one student is focusing on Quizlet, looking into how teachers at the school might best use the program, then creating examples and materials for anyone looking for more information on how to use the software effectively. Students are also creating a video presentation that teachers will be able to watch on their own time if they’re looking to increase their own technological know-how. Feedback from teachers who have called on the SWAT team has been positive, McConnell says. In the spring semester last year, the first semester when the team was actively servicing support tickets, at least a dozen teachers called on the team for support. Tyler ISD Superintendent Marty Crawford agrees that the program is beneficial to teachers as well as students, and adds that it offers financial benefits to the district, too. “Deploying these native and early adopters takes the strain off our tech service center and is a prime example of how Texas school districts find creative ways to stretch dollars,” Crawford says. “And what better use of existing talent in our school system than to call upon our students to help with technology? After all, they are agile problem solvers, way more experienced than any of us can imagine.” The SWAT team is in its infancy in Tyler, but it’s rapidly growing. The team is also beginning to assist other students with tech issues, not just teachers. Administrators plan to expand the program to other campuses soon. “This program at Robert E. Lee is still kind of a pilot program, but it is something we eventually would like to send to our other high schools and campuses as well, depending on their need.” For McConnell, the sky’s the limit, with the potential for the SWAT team to travel to middle and elementary school campuses to help teachers there as well. He also believes that this kind of program could work on any high school campus in Texas. His advice for getting started? Go see a team in action, just like he did. “The best thing for us was going to see a campus that had this in play already, that’s how this all snowballed,” he says. “And don’t be afraid to jump in. You’ve got to start somewhere, so start it, get the ball rolling, and it can only get better.” DACIA RIVERS is editorial director of Texas School Business.

▲ Taylor Easterling helps her classmate install a software application. BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business


Congratulations The Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) congratulates the 12 Texas school districts selected for the 12th Annual “Bragging Rights” issue of Texas School Business.

Bastrop ISD Brenham ISD Burleson ISD Dripping Springs ISD Galveston ISD Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Hillsboro ISD Laredo ISD Northside ISD Prosper ISD Spring Hill ISD Tyler ISD

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BRAGGING RIGHTS 2018-2019 Texas School Business

March 4–7, 2019 Austin, Texas

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