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Ninth Annual

BRAGGING RIGHTS

2015-2016

Alamo Heights ISD

Alief ISD

Uvalde CISD Calhoun County ISD

Chapel Hill ISD

Pine Tree ISD

JaytonGirard ISD Denton ISD

Huffman ISD

Hereford ISD

College Station ISD

El Campo ISD

Texas School Business


Register at www.TASBOCON.org Relevant Learning | Collaboration | Solutions | Leadership Development Featuring: Stephen M.R. Covey Keynote & Workshops 98% of 2015 attendees surveyed would recommend the TASBO Annual Conference to their colleagues.

ALSO FEATURING 2016 Fast Growth School Coalition Conference

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From the editor

e are thrilled to bring you the Ninth Annual Bragging Rights 2015-2016 special issue. Congratulations to the 12 featured districts!

We had a record number of nominations — close to 170. The nominations came from all over Texas and from districts large and small. It was simply remarkable to see the diversity of programs and success stories. The one commonality among all nominations was the passionate people behind the programs — people who are passionate about nurturing the minds, bodies and hearts of children.

In the nine years we have been publishing Bragging Rights, it feels, to me, like there is a growing recognition among Texas educators that if we are to be “successful” in educating today’s children, we need to be more holistic in our approach — that is, encouraging academic, social and emotional intelligence in our children. The days of teaching to the test are quickly fading into the background. I hope you find these stories as inspiring as we did. I encourage you to reach out to these 12 districts if they are doing something that you want to see happen in your district or on your campus. Collaborate. Educate and mentor each other. Uplift one another. Give us something to brag about in next year’s special issue.

Katie Ford Editorial Director


Ninth Annual

BRAGGING RIGHTS

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Hereford ISD

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Uvalde CISD

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Alamo Heights ISD


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Chapel Hill ISD

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College Station ISD

(ISSN 0563-2978 USPS 541-620) BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-16 Volume LXIII, Issue 3

Calhoun County ISD

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EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Katie Ford DESIGN Phaedra Strecher

Huffman ISD

ADVERTISING SALES MANAGER Ann M. Halstead TEXAS ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS

Alief ISD

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Johnny L. Veselka ASSISTANT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SERVICES AND SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATION Ann M. Halstead

El Campo ISD

DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA RELATIONS Amy Francisco

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406 East 11th Street Austin, Texas 78701 Phone: 512-477-6361 Fax: 512-482-8658 www.texasschoolbusiness.com

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. Š Copyright 2015 Texas Association of School Administrators


Photo © CCSSO

What’s one thing Texas’ brag-worthy schools have in common?

Top-notch teachers! “To me, the title of Teacher of the Year is a way for me to talk about what teachers do for our kids. And I am exceedingly proud of the honor of representing men and women who pour themselves into this, the most important job there is.”

Shanna Peeples, Amarillo ISD 2015 Texas and National Teacher of the Year

TASA

Texas Association of School Administrators Proud Administrator of the Texas Teacher of the Year Program tasanet.org/TXtoy


Alamo Heights ISD

◄ At White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Alamo Heights High School rocketry students prepare to unload the rocket they have crafted over the course of a school year and well into the summer. The 22-foot, 630-pound rocket is loaded with nitrous oxide and built to travel at three times the speed of sound.

District offers students a chance to build a rocket — and learn a wealth of skills along the way by Elizabeth Millard

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he students at Alamo Heights High School in Alamo Heights ISD don’t just aim high. They’re focused on breaking the sound barrier.

“You can’t even imagine what it’s like for these students — especially those who claim they hate math and science — to be watching the launch of a rocket that they built,” says Alamo Heights science teacher Colin Lang, who started the rocketry program three years Colin Lang ago. “For many of them, it’s lifechanging, and what it does for them is amazing. It goes beyond just learning science and engineering.” Lang first dabbled in rocket construction after teach-

ing physics to eighth graders and noticing that they weren’t engaging in the lessons. After attending a conference at NASA that demonstrated how to build a small rocket launcher, Lang decided to build one with his class. The effect was immediate.

Superintendent Kevin Brown

“They loved it. They asked what was next,” he recalls. “That’s the fire that gets kids learning.” When he came to Alamo Heights High School nine years ago, he was determined to go beyond small-scale rocket projects and build something with his students that could really make a difference in their lives. “The more I saw how students responded to these projects, the more I understood that the way I was teach> Alamo Heights ISD, page 8 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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ing before wasn’t applicable to kids in today’s society,” he says. “Telling them how a rocket is built is one thing, but letting them do it on their own? That’s real education.”

Stratospheric learning The first rocket class at Alamo Heights High School attracted 17 seniors. It created such a buzz that the program expanded to all four grade levels at the school. For the 2015-2016 school year, 150 students are in the program, and Lang expects closer to 200 next year. Although some of the students have engineering skills, many have never used a tool larger than a nail file. Yet, in this program, they learn to construct a highly intricate, complex piece of machinery that requires advanced knowledge in things like metal composition and aerospace tactics.

‘They loved it. They asked what was next. That’s the fire that gets kids learning.’ Colin Lang, science teacher

The class focuses on building a 22foot, 630-pound rocket that’s loaded with nitrous oxide and is projected to travel at three times the speed of sound. Last year, the program launched two rockets, with the second reaching 34,100 feet. However, Lang says he believes that, with enough enthusiasm and commitment, they can build one that hits 100,000 feet when they launch it this summer. “There isn’t a university in the country building rockets this sophisticated,” he says. “And now we have goals to make them even better.”

The construction process, which also draws on skills from the district’s machine shop, takes hundreds of hours of in-class time, weekends and summer days. But the students wouldn’t have it any other way. “They come to class eager to jump in and work,” says Lang, joking that his family doesn’t see much of him during rocket builds. “Everyone is so passionate about this project, even the people who aren’t in the class.” As a top example, he cites a school fundraising group called the Rocket Boosters that aims to get more rockets built. Each rocket costs about $10,000. Even smaller ones can be pricey, at around $3,500. Rather than asking the district to foot the bill, students and the school foundation work with the Rocket Boosters to raise the funds. Perhaps what is most impressive about this program is where it culminates: the White Sands Missile Range, a U.S. Army testing facility in southern New Mexico. Under the supervision of the military, the students launch what represents months of hard work. It’s an awe-inspiring moment, Lang says, and not just for the thrill of seeing science in action. “The final, valuable product of this program is not the rocket,” he notes. “It’s seeing kids living up to the best of their abilities.”

Changing lives Only about 3 percent of high school students choose engineering as a field, Lang says. The demand for more STEM professionals has never been greater; yet, many districts are struggling to get kids interested in these topics.

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“The only way to turn this situation around is to develop the next generation of innovators,” says Lang. “To do that, we have to teach them how to think, problem-solve and collaborate. To be successful with STEM, you absolutely need project-based learning.” He recalls one student who was in his very first rocketry class. She admitted at the start that she detested math and science so much that she was eager to be done with those topics for life. The rocket project changed her mind. She recently graduated from the University of Washington with a double major in aerospace engineering and geology. She told Lang she wants to be the first female astronaut on Mars. Another recent student who planned to drop out during his sophomore year was convinced by Lang to stick around long enough to build a rocket. The student not only ended up graduating, but he now works at NASA. Says Lang: “Those stories give you an idea of what this program can do. Even if the students don’t go into STEM careers, they have the skills and confidence they need to take on whatever they want.” But many, like the students in those examples, do feel inspired to keep the momentum going into science and engineering fields. Former rocket class students now have career tracks like robotic surgery, nuclear power plant construction and aerospace engineering. Patti Pawlik-Perales, the district’s communications coordinator, says that students who go on to STEM tracks in college often send emails to Lang about their first months on campus. “They talk about the shock and amazement they hear from their professors regarding the graduate-level work experience that these freshmen bring with them,” she says.

Fresh approach Kevin Brown, Alamo Heights ISD superintendent, adds that part of the program’s appeal is how Lang teaches it — with a Socratic method of posing strategic questions, rather than giving lectures on the finer points of rocketry. He also brings in aerospace experts who volunteer to hear design ideas from the students. The process results in students receiving concrete feedback and gaining experience in giving technical presentations. Students also are encouraged to call scientists at NASA for advice, and those professionals are always happy to talk through problems or ideas, Lang says. Those kinds of exchanges offer students valuable insight on their projects and to how professionals in the field work and think. “It is the most ‘real world’ application of learning I have ever seen, and the students in the classes represent a cross section of our student body,” says Brown, adding that it’s inspiring to see students so excited about their work. He says it’s not uncommon to overhear conversations that sound like graduate-level discussions in college. “This is exactly the type of program and learning experience we want to create for all children in every subject area.” Cordell Jones, principal of Alamo Heights High School, says the rocketry class is like a team sport. “No one individual can do all that it takes; they realize that, to be successful, it takes a team working together,” he says. “This is a true 21st century skill.” ELIZABETH MILLARD also writes for the American City Business Journals.


Alief ISD

◄ Senior citizens, students and staff shake a leg at the Alief ISD senior prom. A 2013 national survey found that the desire among American senior citizens for connectedness outweighs their financial concerns.

District nurtures connection with generations past at annual senior prom By John Egan

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arie Lee knows the thrill of being invited to the senior prom. She’s been invited nine times.

For nine consecutive years, the 84-year-old Lee has attended Alief ISD’s “senior prom,” an annual social event for community members ages 65 and older. Dancing, music, dinner and camaraderie are what draw roughly 300 senior citizens to the district’s annual dance. Lee went to the inaugural prom in 2006 and hasn’t missed a prom since. “This is a neat event that allows senior citizens to get out of the house and to socialize with other people our age,” she says. “It’s good to reconnect with so many people that you don’t get to see on a daily basis.”

It’s also a good way for Lee to engage in some funfilled exercise.

Superintendent HD Chambers

“Dancing is great exercise and, as you know, many people my age don’t have a chance to get enough exercise,” she says. In March, during the 2014-2015 school year, students from Elsik and Hastings high schools joined Lee and her senior friends on the dance floor at Alief Middle School’s cafetorium. Student deejays from Taylor High School spun the tunes, and students from Elsik and Hastings snapped photos. Students also created the prom backdrop, artwork and table decorations, as well as prepared and served the evening’s meal. > Alief ISD, page 10 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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“Students have gained valuable experience in working with community members from many generations back,” says Craig Eichhorn, public relations specialist for Alief ISD, in Houston. “It’s hard to tell who is having more fun — the senior citizens or the students who are dancing and chatting with them.” Alief ISD Superintendent HD Chambers says the senior prom has become one of the district’s most anticipated events of the school year. Past prom themes have included western, mardi gras, spring fling and sock hop.

‘Building relationships with community members is key to a successful school district.’ Craig Eichhorn, public relations specialist

“So many different groups come together to put on this enjoyable event for those who have given so much to our district and our community,” Chambers says. “I enjoy socializing with those who attend, and I always learn such interesting information about the Alief community. What puts a smile on my face is watching the student volunteers enjoy themselves so much as they dance, talk and laugh with the senior citizens.”

What also puts a smile on the faces of district officials is how little money it takes to put on the prom. With the food prepared by culinary arts students, the music supplied by student deejays and the door prizes donated by local businesses, the costs are very low, according to Eichhorn. The payoff, however, is quite high — for the seniors, the students and the district. “Building relationships with community members is key to a successful school district. It’s also a great chance to give back to so many who have made the Alief community the great place it is,” Eichhorn says. “I spoke at a community event a few months after the prom, and a member of the audience stood up and told the crowd about how much he enjoyed the prom. That makes it all worthwhile.”

A national trend According to A Place for Mom, a service that advises families on senior-living options, the senior prom trend is catching on. Figures for Texas aren’t available, but a 2012 survey by the New Jersey School Boards Association found that 46 percent of the responding districts cited social events that promoted interaction between older citizens and students as a top strategy for community engagement. If your district would like to boost its community engagement by hosting a senior prom, the following are some tips from Senior Living Rockies, a resource for seniors and caregivers. Pick the right theme. Make sure that the theme will resonate with the seniors. Hollywood themes always are on point, as are Mardi Gras themes, which are “timeless and can be enjoyed by all who attend the event.”

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Play appropriate music. Include tunes from previous decades that the senior attendees will recognize. “Encourage the guests to request the music they would like to be played. This can be done in advance and at the event.” Don’t be exclusive. Be sure to let the seniors bring family members. Also, consider inviting local youth groups that are seeking community service projects. “By keeping the event open to all ages, it allows for more interaction and keeps the event fun for everyone involved.” Remember the punch and cookies. What’s a prom without these two standbys? To put a twist on the snack lineup, set out popular candies from earlier eras, like Bazooka bubble gum and saltwater taffy. Be creative. For instance, collect photos of the seniors from their younger days and put them in a yearbook. Give out copies of the yearbook at the prom, and let the seniors compare pictures and share memories. It’s important to ensure that seniors who aren’t physically able to dance can enjoy other activities. Have fun. This is a time for the seniors and everyone else in attendance to let loose. In New Jersey, West Orange High School has hosted an annual prom for local senior citizens since 2007, with the school’s orchestra providing the music. “This intergenerational experience is excellent, in that students and senior citizens learn from each other through their positive interactions. It breaks down stereotypes and barriers,” says Hayden Moore, principal of West Orange High School. That intergenerational experience also helps fortify seniors’ connections to their communities. According to a survey conducted this year for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the National Council on Aging and UnitedHealthcare, older adults are looking to their communities for support as they age, so they can keep living in their homes and neighborhoods as long as possible. The survey shows that 58 percent of older adults in the United States haven’t moved in at least 20 years, and 75 percent say they plan to live in their current homes for the rest of their lives. Along those same lines, the 2013 version of the survey found that the desire among American seniors for connectedness outweighs their financial concerns. In Alief ISD, older adults who attend the senior prom certainly are eager for more connectedness. According to Eichhorn, senior participants will ask, even before the last dance: “When is the next event? Do we have to wait until next spring?” For Marie Lee and other seniors in the Alief community, the wait is worth it. “We all love those line dances to the country songs,” she says. JOHN EGAN is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Austin Business Journal.


Calhoun County ISD

◄ Fourth grader Matthew Stapp (left) helps his writing buddy, Maddix Delgado, with an activity. Photo by LeaAnn’s Photography.

Writing buddy program promotes higher-level thinking, boosts student confidence by Bobby Hawthorne

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ike most of the other children attending Port O’Connor Elementary School in Calhoun County ISD, first grader Nicholas Ragusin loves the new Writing Buddy program.

The program pairs younger children with an older mentor-student. They talk, share stories and correct each other and, in doing so, often form a special rapport. Nicholas’ favorite writing buddy is a third grader. Her name is Rylie. When he’s working with her, he listens intently, almost reverentially, as if every word she speaks is pure gold. LeaAnn Ragusin

This brings great satisfaction to one of the Writing Buddy instruc-

tors, because Nicholas is her son and his favorite writing buddy is Rylie Ragusin, his sister.

Superintendent James Cowley

“At home, it’s a different story between them, but when they’re working together at school, they hug and act like they haven’t seen each other in years,” LeaAnn Ragusin says. So, here’s the bottom line about the elementary school’s Writing Buddy program: It works so well that even occasionally combative little brothers and big sisters are happy to sit down and learn together. The program is the brainchild of Principal Tiffany O’Donnell, who is in her third year at the school, located in Port O’Connor. The campus is teeny-tiny: eight teachers for its 100 students in grades pre-K through fifth. > Calhoun County ISD, page 12 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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Soon after arriving at Port O’Connor, O’Donnell noticed the need to improve writing skills across content areas and grade levels, so she and first grade teacher Judy Anderson devised a plan to partner first and fourth graders for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Two days later, Anderson launched it. The results were so impressive that all grade levels were eventually brought in. Kindergarteners paired with second graders. Third graders with fifth graders. When possible, siblings paired with each other. Tiffany O’Donnell

Now in its second full year of implementation, the results continue to be “remarkable,” O’Donnell says. “We needed everyone on board to implement the program with fidelity,” she says. “I can’t go around to make sure it’s happening. I have to trust that the teachers are doing what they need to do.” That, she quickly adds, has not been a problem.

‘The Writing Buddy program is an example of how innovative the teachers at Port O’Connor Elementary school are in order to develop successful students. I was able to witness and participate in the Publishing Reveal Celebration. It was an amazing event, as students read their books to me.’ James Cowley, superintendent

“The buy-in has been unanimous,” she says, “and teachers have done an amazing job.” So good, in fact, that no changes — no tweaks, no tune-ups, no anything — were needed between the first and second years. “The younger students love working together with the ‘big’ kids, and they really enjoy being with a sibling,” says Anderson. “The older students are almost protective and nurturing. They want their little brother or sister to have a positive experience with their writing.” Lessons typically revolve around what O’Donnell calls a “craftivity” — an art activity or discussion topic that triggers dialogue. For example, the lesson might ask: “What do scientists do?”

Depending on the lesson, students will draw, paint, cut and paste or some combination thereof to express what they think scientists do. It’s the physical process of drawing, painting, cutting or pasting that allows the students time to collect and organize their thoughts. Then, they’ll discuss their art, outline their thoughts and write a first draft. Then, they’ll talk some more. The dialogue, Anderson says, is critical.

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Judy Anderson

“Kids don’t often get to talk enough and share what they know, so one of the hardest things for them is getting the confidence they need and the background knowledge to be able to write,” she says. “However, by sharing information and by engaging in dialogue, students not only gain knowledge, they are planning what they want to say and how they want to say it.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, these exercises have elevated speaking skills almost as much as they have writing skills, Anderson says. In one case, a fourth grader told his first grade partner: “The boy gots a fishing pole.” “No. That is not correct,” the first grader answered. “It should say, ‘The boy has a fishing pole.’” “Let me tell you, the stunned look on the fourth grader’s face — when he looked at the first grader and knew he was right,” Anderson says. “The rest of the activity, the fourth grader deferred to the first grader to make sure the word choices were correct.” It’s in these moments that the children learn more than vocabulary and verb conjugation. “One of my favorite buddies is a first grade girl,” says fourth grader Matthew Stapp. “She just started speaking English, but she learned it pretty quickly — a lot quicker than I did. Now, she corrects me.” With other kids, Matthew is clearly the mentor. “Like, if a first grader misspells a word or writes, ‘Firefighters can put out fires,’ the fourth grader will say, ‘Firefighters eliminate fires from buildings,’” Matthew says. “It’s a way of taking it to a higher level.” And that’s what the program is about. “When their writing ability increases, everything else increases,” Ragusin said. “If they can write well, they can read well. If they can read well, their math, science, social studies — all of their subject areas — go up.” The lessons comfortably align with TEKS and run the composition gamut: grammar, content, structure, vocabulary and voice — especially voice. “Already, in my first graders’ writing, they may not have their name on it, but when I read it, I hear that voice and I know who that is,” Anderson says. “Before we started the writing buddy program, maybe by the

▲ In a story called “My Favorite Trip,” fourth grader Matthew Stapp describes a family trip to Schlitterbahn, a water park in New Braunfels. Matthew titled his book “The Book of Matthew’s Favorites.”


► Kamyla Guzman helps her writing buddy, Pryncess Few, with an exercise. Photo by LeaAnn’s Photography.

end of first grade, three or four of the students might be writing with voice. Now, already in October, they’re writing with voice.” The particularly good pieces are posted on the “Writer’s Wall of Fame,” outside O’Donnell’s office.

“Visitors were encouraged to write positive comments on student clipboards after their stories had been shared,” O’Donnell says. “It was an amazing evening, and students were beyond excited to share their individual stories.”

“When parents enter the building, the wall is the first thing they see. It’s another way we ensure that writing is taking place,” Anderson says. “It’s also a bragging board. Visitors come in and stop at the board, and they can’t believe what our kids are writing. It’s great PR.”

Many kids still carry their books to school with them, she adds.

Another savvy move? Publishing slick, hardcover books that contain the best student writing. Kindergarteners and first graders receive class books, while students in grades 2-5 produce individual books. For example, Matthew’s book was titled “The Book of Matthew’s Favorites,” and it included, among other things, his description of a family trip to Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, titled “My Favorite Trip.”

“And what better person to instill confidence in a child than a peer or a buddy?” O’Donnell asks. “Kids at different grade levels are learning about the same concept, but the learner-children are listening and experiencing higher-level thinking, while the older children are having to apply what they’ve learned and teach the concept to their buddies. Both are constantly receiving higher-level thinking exposure.”

“It took four hours to get there, but we started driving at 8:00 a.m., so we could play a lot,” he wrote. “We all fell asleep in the truck. Then, we went to IHOP to eat breakfast on the way there. My dad accidently put coffee instead of syrup on his waffles! Ha! Ha!” His piece was accompanied by a watercolor painting — his “craftivity” — of his dad and two brothers, tubing down the Kristal River. Each child receives their own book, and almost all parents purchase additional copies. Last spring, the school hosted a gala book review, of sorts. Kids shared their stories with parents, school board members and everyone else who attended.

“I see them with them all the time,” O’Donnell says. In the end, children become more competent, confident writers at an earlier grade level.

Like Nicholas and Rylie, they are also building a special rapport that extends beyond any twice-a-week lesson. “They hold each other accountable for learning in all content areas, not just writing,” O’Donnell adds. “If the younger student is not following a rule, the mentor often will help get him or her back on task. The rapport they build is priceless.” 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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Chapel Hill ISD

◄ Chapel Hill High School students gain exposure to potential career paths and community service through Phenomenal Phridays.

Phenomenal Phridays program boosts student engagement at high school By Elizabeth Millard

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hough test scores were consistently high at Chapel Hill High School, Superintendent Marc Levesque felt there was room for improvement when it came to student development. He challenged Principal Brandon Dennard to come up with a game plan. The result wasn’t great; it was phenomenal.

Brandon Dennard

Drawing on ideas he had learned at an enrichment-based teaching conference, Dennard created Phenomenal Phridays, an initiative that takes students through nine months of work on a single project, in addition to their regu-

lar schoolwork. The students are given one Friday a month to work on their projects — hence, the name.

Superintendent Marc Levesque

The program was so popular in its inaugural year in 2014-2015 that students sent emails to Dennard over the summer to make sure Phenomenal Phridays would continue into the new school year. “Now that they know what to expect, they are very eager to get started, and that’s what we had in mind all along,” says Dennard. “We wanted our students not just to be consumers of information, but to be seekers of knowledge. For that, you have to give them the freedom to explore their passions and learn from their failures, and that’s what this program provides.” > Chapel HIll ISD, page 16 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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The process Working individually or in teams, students begin the year by creating a proposal — or a “pitch” — that they present to a panel of staff members and administrators. Similar to the TV show “Shark Tank,” students are challenged to describe how they will turn their ideas into solid products, processes or a community benefit. In their presentations, students must include resources they will need, the roles of every member on the team, potential outcomes and what support may be necessary from administration.

year researching preservatives and getting to know pharmaceutical nuances. Dennard says he has no doubt that she’ll work this year to put together an industry-changing storage solution. Dennard says that Phenomenal Phridays is similar to practices at Google, where employees are encouraged to use 20 percent of their workday to independently brainstorm new technologies. Other major tech companies, like Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple, also use the tactic. The idea is that employees can be more creative if given resources and time to tinker, while still enjoying the structure of a formal job.

Once approved, students have one Friday a month to work on their projects. Moving forward, they are expected to put together two more presentations — one at midyear and one in May as their projects wrap up.

“Sometimes, employees don’t know what they’re passionate about until they have the freedom to play around with numerous ideas, and it’s the same with Phenomenal Phridays,” says Dennard. “When the students hit on an interest, they can just take off with it.”

So far, the projects have been phenomenal and wide-ranging. One group created a duck call business that sold products in five states. Another group created and sold items to raise money for a shelter for women who had been forced into sex trafficking. Not only did the group raise $1,000 on its own, but other student groups chose to donate funds, bringing the total to more than $5,000.

Igniting the spark

Other phenomenal projects have included: • a health care “shadow group” that made rounds and received mentoring at local hospitals; • a fundraising group that raised money for a student whose family had lost their home in a fire; • a cosmetology group that created a new CTE program, thanks to a partnership with a local college; and • a group of students with learning disabilities who gained technical skills while rebuilding a Mustang under the auspices of a community college’s automotive department.

Greater impact Dennard notes that in addition to exposure to possible careers and community work, students are building valuable business skills. Most all projects require collaboration, marketing, presentations, research and hard work.

One of the biggest challenges when Phenomenal Phridays first began was getting the teachers to understand the value of students “losing” a day per month for the projects. They were willing to mentor students, but they didn’t share Dennard’s vision for what the program could become. However, the teachers changed their minds when they attended the first showcase in December, which showed student progress toward their goals. Dennard says the students’ enthusiasm and dedication made it all click for the teachers. The May showcase was even better. For example, one student who never spoke in class or talked to adults put together a scale model of the battle of Iwo Jima and presented the information with such vigor that several teachers were amazed at the transformation. Teachers also were touched by the philanthropic ambitions behind many of the projects. “We started with just having the kids on fire, but now the teachers are definitely on fire as well,” says Dennard. “You just can’t watch these presentations and not get it. Everyone went into the second year of Phenomenal Phridays with an incredibly high level of engagement.” Kathi Burney, secondary assistant principal at Chapel Hill High School, says that the program stands out from other school-wide enrichment models she has seen.

“One student told me he learned that he should never go into business with friends,” Dennard recalls, with a laugh. “But seriously, how valuable is it to have learned that now, and not after he’s taken out a few hundred thousand dollars in loans for a startup?” Another student, after nearly passing out while observing surgery on a dog, realized that she might need to reconsider her lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian. She’s now looking into training therapy dogs. Dennard says the student’s father thanked him personally for providing such a learning opportunity for his daughter in high school, knowing full well that she could have come to that same realization in veterinary school after taking out student loans. While one student might have saved money on future student loans, another is working to save lives. This student is researching ways to build sustainable medical vials that will extend the shelf life of medicines to years, instead of months. She was inspired to research the matter after hearing that medicines sent to developing nations often are thrown away because they expire before they are used. Because projects can extend over multiple school years, the student spent a

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Kathi Burney

“With over 20 years in education, I have participated in many initiatives,” she says. “Never have I felt so grateful and so very proud to play a small part in this innovative endeavor.”

The long-term effects are yet to be revealed, but Superintendent Levesque says he certainly got his wish for improved student development. “There is no doubt in my mind that this plan of action is improving academic achievement, as well as student, staff and community engagement. It is a critical piece of the high school experience at Chapel Hill, and is preparing our learners for their future,” he says. ELIZABETH MILLARD also writes for the American City Business Journals.


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College Station ISD

◄ A Project SEARCH intern restocks scrubs at Baylor Scott & White Hospital. The internship, which teaches hard and soft job skills, aims to smooth the transition from high school to post-graduation employment for students with special needs.

Project SEARCH paves the road from school to work for students with special needs By Merri Rosenberg

C

orey Leach, a 20-year-old 2014 graduate of College Station High School, is proud of his full-time job in the Food Service Department at Baylor Scott & White Hospital in College Station, where his responsibilities include cleaning, taking out the trash from the cafeteria and loading the truck. As a high school senior, Leach participated in the district’s Project SEARCH, a school-to-work student internship program designed to help students with special needs enter the workforce. Corey Leach

“The program helped me get a job,” Leach says. “It taught me, so the job is easier. They teach me different kinds of job stuff and teach me how to be professional.”

Preparing students for life after high school, whether for higher education or the workforce, is a basic assumption for K-12 educators. That’s no less true for students with special needs, who, undeniably, face different challenges.

Superintendent Clark Ealy

The district implemented the program during the 20142015 academic year with a startup grant from Texas Tech University. Project SEARCH began at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996 and has since expanded across the United States, as well as Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland and Australia. In College Station ISD, it is a collaborative effort among the district, Baylor Scott & White Hospital, the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), the Brazos Valley Center for Independent Living (BVCH), MHMR Authority of Brazos Valley and the Region 6 Education Service Center. > College Station ISD, page 20 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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> College Station ISD continued from page 19

‘This is our second year to work with the CSISD staff and the Project SEARCH interns. The program has provided the students and our staff opportunities to grow. As the students are learning the skills needed for future employment, we are learning and improving our teaching skills to help them succeed. Each student has become an important part of our work family.’ Tracey Osbourne, Baylor Scott & White Hospital

This year, College Station ISD Project SEARCH students are interning in areas like Scott & White’s Environmental Systems Department, where they assist with restocking inventory. ‘This is our second year to work with the CSISD staff and the Project SEARCH interns,” says Tracey Osbourne, manager of clinic operations at the Scott & White Rock Prairie Clinic of Baylor Scott & White. “The program has provided the students and our staff opportunities to grow. As the students are learning the skills needed for future employment, we are learning and improving our teaching skills to help them succeed. Each student has become an important part of our work family.”

How it works The goal of the internship is employment after graduation of at least 16 hours a week at minimum wage. Project SEARCH requires that a special education teacher and job coach is on the job site with each student intern. The district provides the special education teacher and a paraprofessional, and DARS provides the job coach.

Students — who usually have an intellectual disability, a visual or hearing impairment, a mobility disability or autism — are expected to spend six hours a day at the workplace. Students are also expected to have the support of their families and local rehabilitation services. There is a monthly steering committee meeting to assess progress and challenges.

Allison Hollis

“Project SEARCH staff work in conjunction with the Community Rehabilitation Agency (CRP) to provide wraparound services during the internships at Baylor Scott & White,” says Allison Hollis, a College Station ISD special education and Project SEARCH teacher. “Support is ongoing until the interns have obtained and maintained employment for a minimum of 90 days. The CRP can provide additional support after students have graduated from school.”

Hollis explains that Project SEARCH staff and hospital staff work together to train interns on specific job tasks. “It is a collaborative effort among the stakeholders,” she says. The supervised internships strive to teach job-related skills and soft skills, like communicating with managers, co-workers and customers; receiving and responding to feedback appropriately; and being on time. In College Station ISD, students can choose the areas where they’d like to work during

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the internship, depending on their interests and abilities. “We do a lot of skills assessment, observation and interest inventory,” says Hollis. “We see if the students have the stamina to lift things or to stand for a long period of time.” This empowers Hollis to offer suggestions on which jobs are a good fit. Some students are comfortable working in groups with people of different abilities; others do better working by themselves or in back-office functions. Molley Perry is the executive director for special services and accountability for College Station ISD. She says Project SEARCH helps students discover what their strengths are and where their interests lie.

Molley Perry

“It’s student-centered,” she says. “While we want to involve parents, it’s about helping students make decisions for themselves. The goals are independence and employment.” The support is intense and ongoing.

Before the students start their internships, Hollis and her team spend a lot of time with the students, teaching hard and soft skills needed for the job. Students with developmental disabilities need to understand how to network and communicate, says Hollis. “They need to be able to have more intensive training in a natural work environment, not learning in isolation,” she says. Something as simple as how to greet people — or as complex as how to be sympathetic to people in a high-stress environment, like a hospital — may need addressing, she says. Some lessons can be as pragmatic as how to clock in and out of shift work or how to ride in an elevator. Hollis also helps students figure out any accommodations that might need to be made to perform the job. “I meet with the interns every day and teach what’s needed,” she says. “At the end of the day, we debrief. I’m in and out of the departments (where they work), and I watch the interactions.” Project SEARCH staff also help students feel empowered enough to say to a manager or supervisor: “This is difficult for me. This is how I compensate.” The district is proud that all seven of last year’s interns found full-time employment after graduation. This year, there are five students in program. It definitely helped that Scott & White opened a hospital in the area when the program began, Perry says. “It was beautiful timing,” she says. “The CEO was very involved, and our superintendent is very supportive.” Superintendent Clark Ealy says: “We are pleased to be in our second year of implementation as a Project SEARCH site, and our students are already experiencing great success with the support of Baylor Scott & White Hospital and a variety of other community agencies. “The Project SEARCH model has proven highly effective in preparing students with significant disabilities for gainful employment, and we look forward to providing this unique opportunity for many years to come,” he says. Perry cautions, however, that the program is not for every special needs student. “We’re looking for students who have prerequisite skills and have appropriate behavior and can perform tasks,” she says. “These are students with moderate disabilities who are not medically fragile. “This is part of a continuum,” she says. “As students transition from school to life, this is one way to do that in a supportive working environment.” MERRI ROSENBERG, a former freelance education columnist and reporter for The New York Times Westchester section, is a New York-based writer and editor who focuses on educational issues in her work for national and regional publications.


Denton ISD

◄ GOAL students meet and get autographs from FC Dallas Captain Matt Hedges.

Guys and Girls Operating As Leaders (GOAL) imparts lessons that last a lifetime By Shelley Seale

I

t was 2009, and at McMath Middle School in Denton ISD, a group of male students were at the end of their ropes. These students, who were learning English as a second language, felt alienated in the English-dominated environment and didn’t believe that what they did in the classroom made a difference. Many were also dealing with problems outside of school, such as poverty, frequent residential moves, domestic violence, and exposure to alcohol and substance abuse.

Chris Ice

Chris Ice, a bilingual/ESL teacher at the school, stepped in to intervene. He began spending time with the young men, playing soccer with them and giving them something to enjoy during school. More importantly, Ice gave them a place to fit in.

Jake Arnold

“Middle schools in this district did not offer soccer,” Ice says. “Co-founder Jake Arnold and I knew soccer would be an excellent platform to motivate kids. The response was amazing. Through soccer, we began our mentoring and leadership agenda.”

Superintendent Jamie Wilson

Ice called the homegrown leadership club GOAL — Guys Operating As Leaders — with a mission to nurture leadership qualities among second-language learners and at-risk students in middle school (ages 11-14), all within the context of playing soccer. GOAL accomplishes this through mental, emotional > Denton ISD, page 22 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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▲ Coach T’zahhia Garcia takes a break with members of the Pink Ladies, GOAL’s first all-girl soccer team. > Denton ISD continued from page 21

and physical wellness aimed to create a network of socially responsible individuals engaged in strengthening family, school and community. The sixth to eighth grade soccer teams meet once or twice weekly after school with adult mentors, who are middle school classroom teachers in Denton ISD. Through this collaborative program, students who are identified by their teachers as at-risk are able to begin developing skills through community service, leadership training and the free soccer league.

For example, in one situation where there was an issue between two GOAL members, they decided to settle the disagreement without fighting. Both boys admitted they would have fought it out had it not been for GOAL. Instead, the boys found two mentors and called a meeting to discuss and resolve their issues.

From the beginning, Ice, Arnold and the GOAL mentors have been working with some of the most disenfranchised and marginalized students.

Denton ISD 2015 graduate Edgar Garza says that he joined GOAL in the eighth grade because the mentors in the program didn’t just tell students they were great, they actually demonstrated what leadership was all about and how the students could learn the skills.

“The stress level among these children is high, and when coupled with a linguistic disconnect or lack of understanding, the result is increased disciplinary referrals and potential for dropping out,” Ice says. “By providing a culturally relevant outlet, students are open to guidance and mentoring. We challenge the students to meet high expectations in academics, service and leadership. They are overwhelmingly open to this because the GOAL mentors — who are all volunteering their time — create an extremely high-trust environment.” The program also seeks to involve the students’ families and community as much as possible. For example, they started a soccer match event called Copa Familia, in which family members are invited to play along with the student participants. “These events are held with the intent purpose of creating student-family-community bonding opportunities,” Ice says. “Our students are safe, healthy, engaged, supported and challenged, regardless of linguistic, economic or cultural background. GOAL is just one small part of Denton ISD’s dedication to family, school and community — with a little bit of maverick flare thrown in.” The program quickly began showing results in participant behavior.

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In the end, there were tears, hugs, handshakes, apologies and reassurances, while the mentors simply stood in the back watching in awe as the situation unfolded.

“[Chris Ice] and other counselors talked to us about how we can make a difference by going to Edgar Garza college and helping others,” Garza recalls. “After my years with GOAL, I got leadership, yes; but that was not all. One of the biggest benefits that GOAL gave me was self-confidence. I was more open to others and could stand in class and speak up for others. They put me on the right path to find my lost spirit.” The program at McMath became so popular that a summer component was added, drawing 23 young men for the first summer session of GOAL in 2010. By 2013, there was also a female component added, with GOAL expanding to stand for “Guys and Girls Operating As Leaders.” “We add new and innovative changes to the program yearly,” says Arnold, an ISS teacher with Denton ISD. “We are constantly trying to live, interact and work in ways that foster and grow leaders. The


young men and women of the program will attest that they are held to a high standard, but that is because we, as the mentors, hold them and ourselves to the exact same standard. It establishes a real relationship and a positive one at that.” Arnold recounts a time, for example, when one of the Denton campuses had a morning staff meeting that ran past the bell for the school day to begin. Students were released to their classes, yet there were almost no adults in the hallways to monitor and guide them. “The GOAL boys stepped up,” Arnold says. “They posted themselves at strategic places throughout the school and made sure the transition from the beginning of the day to class time went smoothly. All of this was self-driven. They proved to be so effective that the principal gave radios to a few of them on other occasions when staffing in the halls was sparse.” GOAL eventually spread to other Denton middle school campuses and now operates beyond Denton ISD. From the initial 23 participants at McMath, the program, six years later, has grown to serve more than 300 members across Denton, Lake Dallas and Lewisville ISDs. Each campus involved in GOAL is expected to serve their school, family and community in a unique way. For example, during the 2014-2015 school year, volunteers and students involved in the GOAL program: • visited elementary and primary schools to provide mentoring and give encouraging advice; • held multiple club-wide soccer tournaments promoting physical wellness and teamwork; • cleaned streets and all respective campuses; and • donated almost 300 coats, over a half a ton of food and countless volunteer hours to various local charities.

Gayle Stinson

“As a district, we asked ourselves: ‘What are we attempting to accomplish?’ with our students,” says Lake Dallas ISD Superintendent Gayle Stinson. “We all know that little things we do can make a big difference. It’s important for them to learn, through a team activity and leadership development as a youth, that they are only one step away from greatness.”

More than 100 students have seized the opportunity to have their voices heard by becoming contributing authors of a published collection of essays: “Familia, Escuela, Comunidad: A G.O.A.L. Manifesto” and “Todos Somos GOAL: A GOAL Manifesto, Vol. II.” These publications, written entirely by GOAL program participants, offer an honest look inside the minds and lives of these young men and women. “Our schools are always searching for ways to engage our students and their families in the learning process,” says Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson. “The GOAL program is one of our most successful endeavors. This initiative, led by our Denton ISD staff, has used the game of soccer as an avenue to teach leadership, provide mentoring and recognize the significance of success in the classroom. “Our community provides mentors, coaches and role models for these young people,” he says. “I can’t think of a better way to meet the needs of our students, their families and our community.” Arnold does admit the program has its challenges, however. “From the beginning, we’ve dealt with blow-back from mistakes made and risks taken,” he says. “We work with students who typically don’t

want to be at school and whose home life is not the shiniest. This means that they are rough around the edges, but so are we as the mentors.” The members and mentors of GOAL are often dealing with hard realities. When difficult topics, such as drugs, gang life, sex or dropping out of school, arise, Arnold says they do not shy away from authentic conversations. “It is what’s going on in some of their lives, and we respect that,” he says. “There are adults who don’t like the fact that we work with these students, because they have written them off. We take their advice and apply it as best we can — always with the students’ best interests in mind.” Despite the occasional blow-back, GOAL shows no signs of slowing down. “We had a projection of 350 young men and women for this school year, but the preliminary numbers show way more than that,” Arnold says. There are also three other school districts — Gainesville, Pilot Point and Little Elm — that are prospects for implementing the program. “If we pick up these three districts that are wanting to join outside of Denton, we’ll surpass that expectation by hundreds.” Therein lies the biggest challenge: sustainability. The issues of growth, and the program’s ability to continue investing in these young men and women in the best possible way, are topics of discussion at the leadership meetings. “We want the program to be bigger than we are,” Arnold says. “We have to establish ourselves more effectively so we can give everything we have to the members.” For GOAL alumni, the program seems to have imparted lasting skills and confidence. Garza, who is now a freshman at North Central Texas College, says that with GOAL, he found mentors who were willing to help with both academic and life problems. “I believe that it would help other schools if they have more programs like this,” he says. “It would help students to learn more about others and how they can make a change. You should never lose hope when there’s a tiny bit of light.” SHELLEY SEALE is a freelance writer in Austin.

Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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Congratulations! 2015 TASB Superintendent of the Year

2015 TASA Outstanding School Board in Texas

Mary Ann Whiteker H Hudson ISD

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD

Thank you for your superior service to Texas public education!

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El Campo ISD

◄ Families board the bus for a ride home, following a summer night program at the Family Literacy Academy. Left to right are the Franco family, the Alba family, the Alaniz family and the Hernandez family.

Family Literacy Academy empowers families with knowledge, community By Leila Kalmbach

I

t’s a Thursday evening in early October, and around 45 families from El Campo ISD are back at school, long after the school day is over. Some are here to learn English, some to do crafts. Some to practice reading, and some to do parenting lessons. Some, let’s face it, may be here for the door prizes — kitchen utensils or small tools — that almost every attendee will win. But once they realize how useful being here is, many will be back. These families are participating in the district’s first Family Literacy Academy of the year, a twice-amonth evening program at El Campo ISD’s secondand third-grade campus. The academy is focused on helping parents learn English and computer skills and on reading fluency. It also offers students extra help with homework, credit recovery and academic skills.

If this were the program’s first year, seasoned teachers and administrators would think it sounded laughably optimistic: The academy requires around 20 staff members to commit to working evenings for two hours twice a month, as well as for five weeks during the summer. It primarily targets the 14 percent of the school district that doesn’t speak English at home, including many parents who work evenings at a local plant nursery and others who feel self-conscious about their lack of English-language skills. A bus driver picks up families from around the entire 4A school district, and a translator rides along to call families one stop ahead and let them know they’re coming. Once at the school, the driver becomes a babysitter for younger-than-schoolage kids, while parents and siblings go to class.

Superintendent Kelly Waters

> El Campo ISD, page 26 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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> El Campo ISD continued from page 25

Yet, this program is entering its 18th year in El Campo ISD, and it’s stronger than ever.

consistently. There were 45 total for the year’s first session, including 65 elementary students and 10 to 12 middle and high school students.

Talking to both staff and attendees, it’s clear that everyone involved is passionate about the Family Literacy Academy.

Program attendees generally spend one hour of each session working on the computers and the other working in small groups with two staff members. There’s a break in between for refreshments.

“Some of these families have very, very little, and even the small things they receive, like door prizes in the program and the small gains you see them make, they’re just so appreciative that you can’t not want to help them,” program coordinator Deborah Ehlert explains. The Family Literacy Academy was started in 1998 by the late Sue Gusman, then the district’s beloved Debbie Ehlert bilingual teacher. At the time, it was funded by a federal grant that provided for two teachers, six aides, and a variety of computers, software and equipment for first through third graders. When the grant ran out, the district decided to continue funding the program, expanding its reach to the entire district — and even people in the attendance zone who don’t have kids in El Campo ISD schools. A few years after expanding the program, Gusman developed brain cancer, and the community was devastated when, in 2005, she died. “She and her husband both would give anybody the shirt off their back if they felt like you needed it, and so that is what I think initially kept the program going,” Ehlert posits. “Nobody wanted to let Sue down after she passed away.” Now, there are around 20 to 30 families who come to the academy

Spanish-speaking parents use Rosetta Stone or ELLIS software followed by an English class. Younger kids work on a seasonally themed craft project and then read or do homework. Older elementary students read and take accelerated reader tests that give them points in their schools’ reading incentive program and then work on math or science or work on the computer. Some teachers play learning games with students. Older students may get help with an English paper or a research project. They can play games relating to vocabulary, science, social studies, history or whatever else they need help with. The variety of tasks that attendees work on is huge, but the goal is the same: Give students an academic boost and empower parents to help their kids and themselves by filling in gaps in their knowledge. There was, for instance, the woman who learned how to make change after years of giving the bus driver a bill and trusting she’d get the right amount of money back. Or the man who became the plant nursery’s first Spanish-speaking supervisor after learning English through the Family Literacy Academy. There are also stories like that of Lorena Alba, an El Campo ISD parent who can now help her children with homework and better navigate doctor visits and teacher conferences, thanks to her five years of learning English through the academy.

◄ El Campo ISD teacher Mary Cantu (left) and Assistant Superintendent Dolores A. Trevino (right) work with parent Teresa Torres at the Family Literacy Academy.

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Her son, fifth grader Ricardo Alba, is equally happy to go the academy. He says he enjoys reading books, getting on the computer and improving his math skills. Since starting the program, “I make better grades and make 80s and 90s,” he says. The program has thrived in El Campo ISD in part thanks to its attention to detail. Family Literacy Academy fliers always go out on signature green paper, for example, and teachers who allow after-hours use of their classrooms are thanked with certificates to leave work early or arrive late. These are little touches make participation easier and more enjoyable for all involved. El Campo ISD Superintendent Kelly Waters says she believes the program’s willingness to anticipate and address families’ needs also has been crucial. “I think it’s about eliminating all the obstacles that would prevent a parent from attending,” she says. “It’s also about the people. You’ve got to find the right people who are dedicated to making the program successful.” Carolyn Gordon, the director of federal programs for the district, agrees. “I think it’s a tremendous program, and it’s benefited our schools and community greatly,” she says. “We have such dedicated teachers and they believe in [the program] so much that they give up their time two times a month to prepare for these families coming in.” With a supply budget of only $600 per year, Ehlert and staff have turned to creative solutions for stocking up on door prizes and craft materials. “There are a lot of little trinkets that teachers collect over the years because their kids are always bringing them things, coffee mugs or little bottles of perfume,” Ehlert says. “So, we just kind of recycle those, and, as each season comes along, those go in the door prize bags. Just about everybody goes home with some kind of small, little door prize each week.” There’s also a special session at Christmas, when families get large piles of donated gifts and wreaths, as well as an end-of-the-year awards banquet, when families are given gift certificates, pillows, wooden planters, towels, lamps, popcorn or other gifts. The size of the gift corresponds to the family’s attendance record. The three elementary schools together sponsor the main course of the meal at the banquet. Family Literacy Academy staff bring side dishes and desserts. Everyone is invited — administrators, board members, teachers, families. “The more folks we can involve in seeing the pride and accomplishments for our families, it helps keep the program alive,” Ehlert says. The prizes and gifts may be icing on the cake for families who come to the Family Literacy Academy, but it’s clear that attendance is its own reward. It has certainly changed the lives of high school senior Nely Ontiveros and her mom, who moved to the United States from Mexico when Nely was five. They’ve been coming to the program for about five years now. This year, Nely is volunteering at the academy.

▲ High school senior Nely Ontiveros (second from right) proudly stands with her family as they receive an award at the year-end banquet. Nely and her family are longtime participants in the Family Literacy Academy, where Nely now volunteers her time. She has dreams of becoming a bilingual teacher. Pictured with Nely, from left to right, are Julianna, Marcos, Maria (her mother) and Yasmin.

And it’s not just Nely’s mom who has benefited through the Family Literacy Academy. After she graduates this year, Nely plans to go to college to become a bilingual teacher, and she has no doubt that the academy contributed to her interest in teaching. “Now, I’m volunteering, and I can work with the little kids and help them with their homework,” she says. “Even if they don’t know English, I can help them with that. [The program] has just been really helpful to me and my family.”

‘I think it’s about eliminating all the obstacles that would prevent a parent from attending.’ Kelly Waters, superintendent

LEILA KALMBACH is a freelance writer in Austin.

When they started coming, Nely’s mom didn’t understand any English. Now, she understands it well; although, she still has some trouble saying what she needs to say. “It’s been really helpful in her day-to-day life, whenever she goes to the store or whenever she needs help on anything,” Nely says of her mother. “Or [when people] say, ‘Hi, how are you?’, she can now answer.” Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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Hereford ISD

◄ The Student Leadership Committee runs the show at Hereford Preparatory Academy.

Students take the lead at Hereford Preparatory Academy By Ford Gunter

F

our years ago, Hereford ISD was at a crossroads. For several years, its lone middle school had been failing to meet minimum standards, prompting the state to order a reconstitution plan. As a single feeder district, where all students funnel into one high school (and, in this case, middle school as well), options were limited. The district decided to separate the eighth grade, and, in 2012, Hereford Preparatory Academy was born. “A lot of districts that have multiple middle schools, you can have the kids transfer or change the administration,” says Rene Cano, principal of Hereford Prep. “We had to be really creative.”

Rene Cano

It’s not necessarily the new campus that is remarkable here; it’s who the district tapped to run it: the students.

Hereford Prep is effectively run by the Student Leadership Committee (SLC), a 20-student group that meets every day and plans, organizes and executes everything from campus clubs and school events to community partnerships and fundraising. It also oversees a $5,000 to $6,000 budget.

Superintendent Kelli Moulton

“If it was to be a true preparatory academy, we were not going to do anything that was too traditional,” says Superintendent Kelli Moulton. “Part of that was giving the kids a say on what we do on a regular basis.” “This is student council on steroids, totally run by students,” Cano says. “They are absolutely calling the shots. We always think we know what’s best for our kids, but do we ever stop to ask them what they think? Before we do anything as teachers, we come to the student delegation and ask.”

> Hereford ISD, page 30 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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> Hereford ISD continued from page 29

It’s not necessarily the new campus that is remarkable here; it’s who the district tapped to run it: the students.

Hereford Prep was Cano’s opportunity to step into a principal role. “I really wanted to help these kids transition over to the high school,” he says. “Our mission statement basically was to build school pride through student involvement and school leadership.”

The SLC members are nominated by their seventh grade teachers. They have to be B students or higher and without any major disciplinary incidents in the past year. They also have to show leadership qualities. The explicit goal, however, is to represent each subpopulation of the 315-student body. Some of these groups are determined by association, like athletes and cheerleaders, band and choir or honors students, while others are demographic, like English language learners, special education students and children from low-income families. “We want every kid to identify with someone on the committee,” Cano says. “We have a very diverse group.” As an example, he cites Amelia Guereca, a ninth grader who served on the SLC last year and self-identifies with the subpopulation of “very academic kids.” “Her English wasn’t the best, and she was very shy,” Cano says. “At the end of the year, she was giving one of our major speeches at a major assembly. You saw her grow, and some of our stuAmelia Guereca dents could identify with her. ‘I haven’t been in this country that long and I struggle with my English; I identify with her.’ Not everybody identifies with a football player or a cheerleader.” The adjustment to such responsibility is not easy for all students. The committee meets daily in a 47-minute leadership class, where students rotate through short-term tasks, like the daily live announcements. They write articles for the principal’s community newsletter and organize speaking engagements at the school. Guereca says she and others found the experience stressful at first, but after about six weeks they settled in. “It was a great year,” she says. “We got to talk to people I would never talk to. We got to talk to a (state) senator. A lot of us didn’t think eighth graders are mature enough to talk to senators, but we had a lot of really good questions. And we got good answers.” Guereca says the confidence she gained from the SLC experience also helped her communicate candidly with her parents about where she wanted to focus her studies and get them all on the same page as she entered high school. The stresses of being an eighth grader — hormones, growth spurts, four STAAR exams —  and the difficulty of transitioning into high school were the main reasons the district chose eighth graders for the new campus.

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“There are always things for kids to be involved in at the high school level, but the only thing available at middle school level was choir, band, sports and extracurricular activities,” Cano says. “We had a lot of kids not involved. You’re talking a half to two-thirds. If kids are not involved, they have no choice but to find their own activities, and those aren’t always good.” The SLC has been so successful that the high school has created a Unity Leadership Team. It represents the diverse student body population and is charged with many of the same tasks as the SLC. While Cano has seen three classes — and three SLCs — pass through Hereford Prep, Ashly Adcox, who teaches the leadership class, is in her first year. But, like many other teachers in the district, she has seen the ripple effect of the SLC. “I taught English up until this year, and, even as an English teacher, I did see some of the changes,” she says. “It was getting a lot more kids involved, outAshly Adcox side of SLC, through things like our clubs. I saw them grow. There’s a lot more student involvement, because it’s not teacher planned. Our students plan all the meetings and set everything up. The teacher’s job is purely to facilitate.” This year, the SLC members have forged relationships with several community organizations, such as the Humane Society, to apply their leadership and organizational skills toward larger causes. “We wanted a place that was responsive to our community,” Moulton says. “The school is not only for the kids, but it’s by the kids. We’re very proud of where they’ve come with that. Each student is somebody we are going to leave our community to in the future.” If the present is any indication, the community could be in good hands. Proud, empowered hands. “The students are more positive self-advocates,” Moulton says. “They’re more outgoing and self-promoting. If I extend my hand to greet them, they come back at me with that same energy and force.” The school pride has extended well beyond the SLC. In three short years, the ripples have reached other students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community. “The kids have created a school that they’re proud of,” Cano says. “No longer are kids coming to school and following the procedures we set in place. Now, when they come to school, they think: ‘This is our home too, and we get to decide what goes on here.’” Of course, the students don’t deserve all the credit. “The restructure really gave us an opportunity to bring like-minded and dedicated individuals to the campus, and it allowed the principal to select from across the district, which allows us to set the bar a little bit higher,” Moulton says. “If you’re being hand-selected for this campus, great. But, if not, why aren’t you? It elevated all of us. It certainly elevated the teachers.” FORD GUNTER is a writer and filmmaker in Houston.


Huffman ISD

District programs encourage more father involvement in children’s education By Raven L. Hill

◄ Huffman ISD elementary student Ayden Malbrough couldn’t be more thrilled that his dad, Joseph, is a volunteer Watch D.O.G. at his school.

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or student success, the National PTA suggests an easy formula: Just add welcoming schools and involved dads.

Officials in Huffman ISD have found the two add up. The Houston-area district has implemented programs designed to connect students with more dads and positive male role models. The district cites research that students tend to perform better academically and exhibit fewer behavioral challenges when fathers are involved. Programs reach across kindergarten through 12th grade. There’s Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) at the elementary and intermediate schools, and Becoming a Man (BAM!) for sixth through 12th graders. The district also encourages participation in the Million Fathers March at the start of the school year. Huffman ISD officials realized about three years ago that they needed to boost parental involvement, particularly when it came to fathers and other male relatives of students.

“We had a lot of parental support and participation in our district, but we just didn’t have the number of dads participating in the education process as we would like,” says Superintendent Benny Soileau. “We know the research and how important it is for [fathers] to be involved in that process as well. We started thinking about ways we could capitalize on that and get them involved in the process.” The effort started with conversations around supporting fathers, he says. Campuses branched out from there, developing their programs, which are not limited to fathers. Grandfathers, uncles, stepfathers and father figures are also welcome to join in the programs. “It’s a mindset that we have in the community that we’re going to make sure our males are involved and participate,” the superintendent says. “It’s important to our board of trustees. It’s important to me. Our leadership team has done an exceptional job of making it a priority in Huffman.”

Superintendent Benny Soileau

> Huffman ISD, page 32

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According to the National Center on Fathering, children without fathers are more likely to score lower on standardized reading and math tests and drop out of school. They also are less likely to graduate from college and pursue professional careers. At the same time, the National PTA reports greater involvement of men in children’s education due to the rise in single fathers and custodial grandparents and other relatives. The role of educating a child, meanwhile, tends to be overwhelmingly female-driven. More than three-quarters of teachers are women, and, in many households, moms tend to be the homework helpers and PTA volunteers.

Amy Turner

“In schools, sometimes it’s easier for moms to become involved. Dads don’t always know their place,” says Amy Turner, principal of Copeland Elementary and Huffman Intermediate. “Dads aren’t always comfortable with the cutting and the pasting.”

Watch D.O.G.S. Watch D.O.G.S., a program initiative of the National Center on Fathering, helps fathers find their places in school. There are more than 2,810 Watch D.O.G.S. programs in 46 states. It’s one of Huffman’s most popular programs. Each fall, the elementary and intermediate schools host a Watch D.O.G.S. launch event for interested volunteers. Individuals also may call schools throughout the year to sign up. “Top Dog” volunteers work with school administrators on scheduling and identifying opportunities to get involved at the schools. Watch D.O.G.S. “guard” school grounds and entrances, help with student arrivals and pickups, serve as lunchroom monitors, or work with small groups of students in classrooms. They may engage with their children along with others. Last year, 85 dads participated at the early childhood center, elementary and intermediate schools, Turner says. This year, an estimated 100 attended the “Desserts with Dads” launch event. A typical day for a Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer goes like this: After arriving on campus, he receives a T-shirt, a badge and a two-way radio to communicate with staff. Then, he takes a photo with his child for the Watch D.O.G.S. bulletin board. Next, he’s given his schedule for the day — a very specific schedule this year, in response to participants’ feedback. Explains Assistant Principal Paige McEachern: “Their schedules will say, ‘Please go to Room 101.’ They have a map, and when they reach Room 101, the teacher has a prepared activity or lesson that she wants that dad to do.” Administrators also make sure participants visit their children’s classes. Assignments vary, depending on volunteers’ comfort levels. One regular volunteer, for instance, enjoys bus duty and popping into classrooms for story time. Others would rather patrol the halls and entertain the lunch crowd. There are some who prefer science labs and physical education classes. And, of course, recess is a favorite.

Melissa Hutchinson

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his son is at the intermediate school. He says he is thrilled with the Watch D.O.G.S. program. “It’s a great program — not just for your child, but for other kids,” he says. “My favorite part is mingling with the kids. When they see the dads coming with the Watch D.O.G.S. shirts on, it’s just like they feel safer.” Thompson says it’s been gratifying to reach out to children who need a listening ear, homework assistance or someone to raise their spirits. “I highly recommend it for every school,” he says.

BAM! For students who do not have father figures in their lives, schools may have to go the extra mile to find one for them. That was the thinking behind the Becoming a Man (BAM!) program, launched by Mike McEachern, Huffman ISD athletic director and head football coach. “We had a lot of kids who didn’t have father figures at home. When we set out to start BAM!, it was targeting seventh grade through 12th grade boys without fathers,” he says. “It wasn’t just going to be for athletes; it was going to be school-wide. Before we knew it, we even had boys who had fathers at home who wanted to attend. We weren’t going to turn anyone away.” The sessions are held monthly on a Wednesday. Attendance has about doubled to 130, from the original 60 to 70 boys. Speakers from different backgrounds — sports, military, broadcast journalism, religious, business — discuss their successes and failures over food and fellowship. “We have good kids at Huffman,” McEachern says, “but sometimes good kids make bad decisions. We all know that teenagers listen to their parents and tune them out. As a coach, they get tired of hearing from us. Anytime you can bring in somebody different that might hit a light switch, I think it helps.” The first speaker was a local Marine who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As it happened, twin high school seniors were headed to the Marines. University of Houston head baseball coach Todd Whitting, former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson, former Houston Texan Jimmy Herndon and George Foreman IV, whom McEachern coached, are among those who have spoken to the group. “We’re branching out as much as we can,” McEachern says. “I’d like to get doctors in here, lawyers — people from all walks of life.” Inspired by the success of BAM!, high school officials have started a similar program for girls in sixth through 12th grades. Coach Whitting says he was extremely impressed by the students he met through BAM! “They displayed great confidence and energy, which is a direct result of Coach Mac’s leadership,” he says. “The lessons and guidance these young men are receiving are lifelong skills that will allow them to achieve their goals at the highest level.”

“With the kids seeing the dads on campus, they see that it’s not just the moms who value education,” Turner says.

BAM! and Watch D.O.G.S. are doing an incredible job of exposing Huffman ISD students and teachers to a wider community, says Superintendent Soileau.

Ben Bowen Early Childhood Center Principal Melissa Hutchinson, whose staff is all female, says having the Watch D.O.G.S. around helps the children feel safer. Volunteer Greg Thompson donated six twoway radios last year to the Watch D.O.G.S. program. His daughter attends the early childhood center, and

RAVEN L. HILL is a former education reporter for the Austin AmericanStatesman.

Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

“Anytime that we’re able to increase our level of community engagement is exceptional for us,” he says. “It’s given us an opportunity to build relationships with other people in the community and give them an opportunity to see what we’re really doing in public education.”


JaytonGirard ISD

◄ Jayton-Girard ISD students clear brush that’s 20 times their size. The hard work is all part of the Big Event, a community service day that involves every student and staff member in the district.

The Big Event imparts big lessons for all students, staff By Bobby Hawthorne

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sk the superintendent or the high school secretary.

Ask the band director or the school board president. Ask a senior or a sixth grader. Ask anyone who participates in Jayton-Girard ISD’s Big Event, and you’ll receive the same answer: It’s all about giving back to a community that does so much for its children. “That’s the essential message, I suppose,” says Mike Wilson, Jayton High’s science teacher and technology guru. “Our community has given so much to our school. We just want to give something back to them.” Wilson likely knows as much as anyone about this tiny hamlet, located approximately halfway between Abilene and Lubbock. He’s a 1974 Jayton High grad

who attended Texas A&M and has taught here since 1980. In addition to covering all chemistry, biology and physics classes, he also teaches an occasional astronomy or environmental science class.

Superintendent Trig Overbo

The technology part comes from the fact that he teaches a television-editing class for seventh graders, who produce stories and advertisements for the school’s morning announcements. In addition to his “other duties as assigned,” Wilson sponsors the National Honor Society, which serves as the ringleader for the Big Event. And that begs the next essential question: What the heck is the Big Event? The Big Event is a one-day, all-school, community> Jayton-Girard ISD, page 34 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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wide service project that involves literally every student and employee of Jayton-Girard ISD. Wilson borrowed the idea from his beloved Aggies, where each year more than 20,000 student volunteers participate in what is likely the largest one-day, student-run service project in the nation. Just as they do in College Station, JGISD students spend a day scouring their community for weeds to pull, decks to stain, aluminum siding to paint, and abandoned automobile tires to dig up and roll away. The kids are carted all over town — down Goodall and up Jay, east and west on 1st Street between Rose and Kelley, and past Boots & Spurs, the favorite local burger joint and teen hangout. As soon as the kids finish one job, they move on to the next. By and large, they don’t require directions and don’t ask for permission. If they see a pile of trash or a piece of farming detritus, they pick it up. If someone needs a hand finishing an assignment, they pitch in. Again, every student — pre-K to 12th grade — contributes. Teachers and staff members do too. Even administrators. Last year, Superintendent Trig Overbo joined a group of sophomore boys in trimming a small cluster of mesquite trees. “I thought our students were great prior to the Big Event, but, afterwards, well, they just blow me away,” says Overbo, a Wisconsin native who moved to Abilene to earn a master’s degree in educational leadership. After stints as a teacher, coach and principal at Hamlin and Snyder, he moved three years ago with his wife and two young daughters to Jayton, the seat of Kent County, population around 500.

There’s a Chevrolet dealership, a state bank, a service station and five churches. Hunting is huge, of course, even when the country is parched. If enough rain moves through in late January or early February, the gentle, rolling hills explode in bluebonnets, and that’s how it was during second annual Big Event on May 13 of last year. The day went like this: • Students report to regular class and answer roll call. Pick up specially designed event T-shirt. (Last year’s color: day-glo chartreuse. This year? Not yet determined.) • Attend brief pep rally in auditorium. Designer of T-shirt scoots to the stage to claim a $50 gift card to his or her Walmart of choice. • Saunter over to football field for group photo. (A wide-angle lens not required.) • Divide into work groups. • Pick out a pair of white polyester gloves. • Hug. High-five. Head out. “Everybody is involved,” Overbo says. “The little ones pick up trash, break down cardboard boxes, weed flower beds and then take a nap. We don’t want them getting overheated.” The most satisfying thing about it, Overbo says, is seeing how hard the kids work. “Nobody complains,” he says. “People finish one job and ask, ‘Where’s another one?’ We give a group of students two or three jobs. They get them done, and then they go and find something else to do.”

▲ Jayton-Girard ISD students and staff, decked out in their signature chartreuse T-shirts, are hard to miss as they scour the small town, looking for cleanup and beautification projects, large and small.

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At noon, everyone heads to the city park for a hamburger lunch, prepared by school board members. Then they return to work. At 2:30 p.m., everyone returns to the school — the practice football field, specifically — for watermelon, sports drinks and games, like water balloon toss and Simon Says. “I lost count of how many community members and staff members talked about the effort of our students during that day,” Overbo says. “It was amazing.” For example, there’s the retired couple whose home desperately needed repainting. “We had eight people in a group and we painted the house, mowed, raked, trimmed, everything,” Wilson says. “The couple was so impressed and grateful. Like everybody, they just couldn’t believe our kids would work so hard and get so many things done in such a short time.” And, of course, that’s what it’s all about. “Growing up in Jayton, you feel an obligation to look out for each other,” says National Honor Society President Denise Parker, a senior who hopes to play college basketball. “We’re so close. Everybody is a friend, a neighbor, and they were so excited and so appreciative.” Slade Coulter, who is involved with the honor society, all sports, theater, band and student council, agrees. “We’re a small town,” he says. “Everyone knows everyone. I have a personal connection with everyone, and have all of my life.” The best thing about the event? “I learned how much fun it is to be part of something like this, to give back to the community,” says Coulter, who plans to major in pre-med next year. As for the 2016 event, planning is well under way. Goals have been established, jobs defined, committees appointed, projects identified and workers assigned to specific groups. Frankly, in a school of 142, pre-K through 12th grade, all of this doesn’t take that long.

On the day of the event, National Honor Society members set up tables and scurry around, handling the hundred or so little details that guarantee that people are in the right place, doing what they need to be doing. “If you grow up in a small town like Jayton, you understand how involved the community is in the school,” Overbo says. “Again, this is a way for the school to go outside the walls of the building and help the community, to make it a better place to live.” And if you grow up in any town, you understand that some people can’t or won’t do even the little things necessary to keep the place looking nice. “A lot of people don’t want to trim those trees or pick up the trash,” Overbo says. “They don’t want to pick up the old tires from the empty field, so we’re doing things that some people refuse to.” And that’s OK, he adds. It offers the National Honor Society a chance to do something more than paint smiley faces on trash cans.

‘I learned how much fun it is to be part of something like this, to give back to the community.’ Slade Coulter, student

“This is what the National Honor Society is all about,” Overbo says. “Our kids were just exceptional. The best part for me about the whole day was seeing our kids put in a good day’s work, without complaining, and then getting dressed up and having a lot of fun at a band concert. To me, that is education. That is character. That is being a Jaybird.” 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.

◄ Student Sheldon Burchett beautifies a stretch of country road as part of the district’s Big Event.

Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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Pine Tree ISD

◄ Participants of Community U prepare to board a school bus to tour school campuses.

Community U gives outsiders insider’s view of district operations By Raven L. Hill

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lot goes into running a school district. There are classrooms to staff, technology to purchase and young minds to educate. Even more goes on behind the scenes. Over the past four years, Pine Tree ISD, located in Longview, has given parents, community members, business leaders and district volunteers an opportunity to see the inner workings of public education through its Community U program. The program was Superintendent TJ Farler’s idea, which she brought from her previous school district. Farler says she thought a similar program, customized to Pine Tree’s needs, would help educate the public on key issues around a recent $31 million bond and the increasing use of technology. Ultimately, Community U is about building trust and being transparent, she says. “It’s important that we advocate for our district and not leave this important business to chance,” she says. “Sometimes, we wait until we’re ready to pass a bond to show people what’s really going on. Our goal is to make sure they know what we’re doing all the time.”

Community U’s goals are to provide participants with firsthand knowledge about the district, to build capacity and advocacy to better leverage district support, and to foster better understanding among program participants of the day-to-day workings of Pine Tree ISD.

Superintendent TJ Farler

The program has evolved in some ways. This year, there are fewer sessions, but they’re longer and start later in the school year. One thing has remained constant: Community U’s commitment to giving outsiders an insider’s view of the district’s seven campuses, 4,600 students and overall infrastructure. In past years, Community U consisted of half-day sessions over seven months, starting in October. This year, in response to participants’ feedback, there will be four full-day sessions starting in January. There also will be a day to mingle with alumni, who will share their experiences in the program and how they went on to become more involved with the school district. > Pine Tree ISD, page 38 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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>Pine Tree ISD continued from page 37

While the program is free, registration is required. Class size has hovered around 18, the largest class being 28 participants. More than 50 community members have gone through the program since its inception.

Trustee Adam Graves was interested in running for the board before participating in Community U, but the program helped to speed up his timetable.

Many participants are surprised to learn the extent of the district’s programs and mandates, says program coordinator Mary Whitton.

“When you went to campuses and met those principals, you felt like you were part of a great program,” Graves says. “You wanted to be a part of something that exciting. As a board member, I felt that I could keep pushing Pine Tree forward.”

“A lot of times, particularly from the taxpayer’s position, you don’t understand the ins and outs,” Whitton says. Participants gather monthly to tour various deMary Whitton partments and campuses and to learn more about such areas as teacher hiring, professional development, curriculum, athletics, student engagement, finances, technology programs and volunteer opportunities. The superintendent attends each session. The program starts with a history lesson on Pine Tree ISD, which was established in 1847, less than two years after Texas became a state. Other sessions emphasize the need for collaboration and a personal stake in student success. “Our CFO says, ‘All 4,600 kids are my kids,’” Whitton says. “We are educators of those kids based on what our jobs are, from that bus driver who greets them in the morning to the teacher. All of us have a role in educating that child.” Community U participants do not take their roles lightly. Last year’s class contributed to the district’s day of service, donating clothes, shoes and socks to the Pirate Boutique, a project for Pine Tree ISD students in need. Many older residents who go through the program end up joining the Literacy Army, a major volunteer effort that pairs adults with students who are struggling readers. The volunteers read with students for one hour, three times each week. The program also helps the district bolster its cadre of parent leaders by providing a big-picture view that participants can use in other ways. Farler says, “It’s been an interesting process to watch. People feel very confident after they participate. They then make that next commitment to serve.” Community U graduates include three school board members and PTA leaders. School board trustee Amy Brown learned about the program from her son’s principal when she enrolled him in kindergarten. The principal gave her a pamphlet and encouraged her and other parents to get involved. Brown decided to take her advice.

Amy Brown

“It is programs like these that are so very important for parents and community members to get involved with and learn the challenges, as well as the positives, that our district is facing,” Brown says.

Community U opened her eyes to the prospect of running for a board seat. “The program prepared me to better understand the inner workings of the district and that helped tremendously during my run for a seat on the board,” she says. “The knowledge I gained by participating in the program was an asset when getting out in the community and talking with taxpayers, parents and employees.”

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Adam Graves

Another past participant, Teresa Rau, decided to register for Community U after being urged by her friend and Community U grad Jill Laffitte.

Teresa Rau

From the first session, she found that the depth of information far exceeded her expectations. Rau, who describes herself as an involved and engaged parent, says Community U changed her perspective on Pine Tree ISD.

“It changed my views more positively,” she says. “I didn’t have a negative view, but it helped me to understand the inner workings and understand where the administrators are coming from when they make their decisions.” Community U helped to acclimate Laffitte to Pine Tree ISD after transferring her daughter midyear from a private school. “It was an eye-opening experience for me to see what they were doing electronically, and it made me more aware,” says Laffitte, who is the PTA president. “It’s a great program. I have suggested it to several friends to learn what each campus is doing Jill Laffitte and focusing on. You don’t really understand everything as a parent unless you’ve worked in a school or know someone who does.” Now the district’s PTA treasurer, Rau says she can rely on her Community U education when looking at ways to enhance school collaborations or improve other areas. The experience also has helped her feel more confident as a parent, she says. “I feel more comfortable going to the board meetings and just knowing why the system works as it does, whether it’s the menu in the cafeteria, what they’re limited to, or the tests and the new requirements.” The superintendent encourages districts that might want to implement a similar program to make the investment — and to show the good and the bad. “It’s well worth your effort,” Farler says. “We can’t just tell people what’s going on; they have to see it. And they have to see it in the day to day. That’s not just the classroom; that’s transportation, that’s child nutrition, that’s technology.” With their Community U experiences behind them, Rau and Laffitte have ideas for enhancing the program and helping it to evolve, such as offering evening sessions to help accommodate working parents and inviting principals to speak to the group. Laffitte adds that it would be helpful to share the information provided to Community U participants to larger audiences. Rau says she would love to see something else: “Community U2!” RAVEN L. HILL is a former education reporter for the Austin AmericanStatesman.


Uvalde CISD ISD

◄ Shades of Blue performs a private concert at River Rim Resort in Concan.

Award-winning Shades of Blue spreads the joy of jazz by Ford Gunter

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o one is quite sure how jazz took root in Uvalde County, but there’s little doubt when it started to get popular with the youth.

“We have three periods of jazz in the afternoon,” Shades of Blue director Darren McCarty says, with obvious enthusiasm. “After lunch, it’s all jazz.”

Now in its eleventh year, Uvalde High School’s Shades of Blue jazz band is not only winning national awards and bringing in elite talent to work with the kids each spring, it is making jazz cool throughout the community.

This year’s iteration of Shades of Blue is a nine-piece band made up of 11 kids. Most students are known quantities, having come through the robust Uvalde CISD fine arts pipeline. Those who aren’t have to audition. While conventional wisdom would suggest the band would be top heavy with upper classmen, that’s not necessarily the case. This year, one of the two guitar players is a freshman, and less than a third are seniors.

“Our community has always been very interested in the fine arts,” says Uvalde CISD Superintendent Jeanette Ball. Under the guidance of founder Mark Lyon, Uvalde CISD’s former fine arts director, Shades of Blue went from an after-school project to a class period. It has since expanded even more.

Superintendent Jeanette Ball

“The music we play is professional level,” McCarty says. “Not only do they learn it, but they perform it at a festival and come back with awards.” > Uvalde CISD, page 40 Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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>Uvalde CISD continued from page 39

Every year, Shades of Blue (and sometimes the entire jazz program) travels to the Fiesta Jazz Festival at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. The band has placed first in its division each of the past five years. Two bassists won $20,000 scholarships at the Hill Country Jazz Festival in San Marcos, and seven students won Outstanding Jazz Soloist awards at the most recent Crescent City Jazz Festival in New Orleans, La.

with the kids. For good measure, the academic side is covered as well, by Russel Haight, professor of jazz studies at Texas State University.

The band also performs at numerous events around town. However, the most prestigious event on the calendar is the Special Night of Jazz, hosted by the district every May. It features lauded musicians from around the country who come to perform and work with the students.

“These kids have their phone numbers and email addresses,” McCarty says. “They text or email them throughout the year. And for me, they’re sort of a lifeline for anything I want to know. As a teacher, if the kids ask me a question I don’t know the answer to, I’ve got these musical prodigies a phone call away.”

Wally Minko is a Grammy-nominated composer. He does all the band’s arrangements for the event and works in some original compositions too. To outsiders, studio and touring jazz musicians are often more recognizable by the names they’ve worked with than their own. Suffice it to say, any of the pros who come for the Special Night of Jazz can drop some pretty heavy names, if so inclined.

Call it the jazz ethos.

Past musicians who have come to work and perform with Shades of Blue include Babe Zarlenga (drums, Dwight Yoakam), Dan Miller (trumpet, Harry Connick, Jr./Wynton Marsalis), Tom Betke (guitar, Jewel), Karlos Elizondo (trumpet, Tito Puente Jr./Johnny Mathis), Tyra Juliette (vocals, Kid Rock/Bon Jovi/Demi Lovato) and Derek Frank (bass, Shania Twain) have all come down to Uvalde to work

Certainly, traveling to festivals, bagging awards and working with industry veterans offers the kids a taste of success, but McCarty also wants his students to understand the grind of being a musician.

► Shades of Blue director Darren McCarty (at right) jams with his students.

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“These are recording artists and jazz clinicians who come and ‘get down in the mud’ with the kids,” McCarty says. “They can’t wait to come here and work with these kids.” And it’s not a limited time offer.

“Music is to be shared,” McCarty says. “One of the things I try to teach them, more so than anything else, is … nobody wants to work with someone who is a stuffed shirt. They’ve already got that example with these professionals. The example is when you’re good, you share what you know with other people, and you share it freely.”

“We also perform for different events in town, and the kids learn all the aspects of being a musician, which includes loading the truck and


setting up the equipment,” he says. “They know if you go play somewhere for an hour, that’s a three- to four-hour investment.”

group was “a very viable commercial band.”

It’s those community gigs — for the Chamber of Commerce annual banquet or the Veterans Day celebration —  where the pride in the artistic expression spreads to residents, families and other students.

Many former Shades of Blue students have gone on to study music in college, but that’s not really the goal of jazz instruction for McCarty.

“These events have parents in the audience,” says Anne Marie Espinosa, director of communications. “You can see the pride that radiates from them. Our students see (Shades of Blue) in school and the community, and they see that pride that radiates through.” “There’s a real heart about the kids here, and the people in this community in general,” McCarty says. “I think they can really express that through jazz. That emotional part of music, that’s not something you can teach. But if it’s already there, it sure makes things a lot nicer. “There’s a certain something that I can’t put my finger on,” he continues. “They have an emotional depth that’s really necessary to play this type of music. It’s become kind of a thing in Uvalde, the feeling of community and belonging to something of high quality. These kids are pretty smart, and they know when it’s good.” Part of that is certainly due to a focus on fine arts for the youth of the district, who are exposed at an early age through the Summer Fine Arts Academy, a free four-week, Monday-through-Friday workshop that encompasses music, visual arts and performing arts. With such fertile ground being tilled at such a young age, it’s no wonder that Shades of Blue has found success. In New Orleans, professional saxophonist and local legend Tony Dagradi told McCarty his

“Without a doubt, most kids who are shy, that becomes a thing of the past for them,” he says. “Improvisation is a big thing in that class. By the time they get out of there, they can really have a conversation in music. It’s something that transfers into everyday life.” As is the case with all great student-teacher relationships, it’s not just the students who learn.

‘They have an emotional depth that’s really necessary to play this type of music.’ Darren McCarty, Shades of Blue director

“I know that anything I attempt to do professionally, I can succeed at because of the confidence I’ve drawn from Shades,” McCarty says. “And I’ve seen that in the kids as well.” FORD GUNTER is a writer and filmmaker in Houston.

Congratulations to the districts featured in the Ninth Annual Bragging Rights

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Texas School Business BRAGGING RIGHTS 2015-2016

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Texas Reads One Book Once again, we are proud to offer this unique opportunity in Texas...

Jason Garrett

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wants to lead the charge with a huge Texas style kick-off this coming spring as

Texas Reads One Book! Coach Garrett will read the first chapter by exclusive videocast and your district is invited to read along together.

Jason Garrett

Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys

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KICKOFF : April 11, 2016 Sign up today!

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Deadline for sign up is March 15, 2016

Coach Garrett will kick things off and each of the families in your schools will read a chapter from the book each night. Tens of thousands of families across the state will be reading together in this celebration of literacy! This year’s book is

Charlotte’s Web (available in English and Spanish)

The registration fee is $5.95 per student so that every child will have their own copy of Charlotte’s Web to follow along with Coach Garrett. Along with the books, you will receive in-school activities, assembly ideas, teacher resources, and family and community engagement tools.

Send an email to texasreads@readtothem.org and sign up your district.

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PERIODICALS

Texas Association of School Administrators 406 East 11th Street Austin, TX 78701-2617

Inspired to brag about your district? We’re taking nominations!

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Submit your nomination online today for the 10 Annual Bragging Rights 2016-2017 issue at Texasschoolbusiness.com

Ninth Annual Bragging Rights 2015-16