Doing what it takes to improve SAISD
March 17, 2014
Dear SAISD Staff,
As we all know, the No. 1 goal in our District is to become a national model urban school district. It’s our District mission. It’s a tall order, no doubt. However, we already are taking steps in that direction. My last message to you focused on District highlights, examples of the good work you all are doing day in, day out to help get us there. Today, I want to talk about how we will reach our goal.
We know that there are many factors that converge to create success. But in all my years as an educator, I’ve noticed there are key factors that are present in all good success stories: Top-notch teachers who deliver quality instruction, strong leaders who support their work and reliable data to help drive crucial day-to-day classroom decisions.
A good friend of mine always says “In God we trust, all others bring data.” When I studied our District data, a pattern emerged, showing that our low-performing schools tend to be located in the east and west parts of our District.
This pattern prompted a broader look at data, including information about the incomes and educational attainment of families in those communities. According to the Westside Development Corporation, the median annual household income in 2010 in that particular side of town was about $10,205. The educational attainment for that area is such that only 47% of residents have earned a high school diploma.
These are facts. And they influence education. There’s no denying that. However, there are schools that have been able to experience academic success or to report academic growth despite the very real challenges their communities face. J.T. Brackenridge Elementary, on the West Side, is one example. The school’s success can be attributed to a number of factors, including an established culture of high expectations and employees who continue to give to the school’s children by volunteering at the school even after they retire. Those factors are added values over and above of the pillars of quality instruction, strong campus leadership and good data analysis.
SAISD needs more of what we are seeing at Brackenridge Elementary, and we are committed to taking additional steps to get there. This year, I have instructed staff to make the 2014-15 salary scale the top priority in the development of next year’s budget. Rather than wait this year on surrounding school districts to determine their respective salaries, we hope to get ahead of the game by establishing our standard early in order to attract – and retain – the best, talented prospects. Evidence reveals that the earlier school districts recruit, the higher the quality of teacher they are able to attract, and we will be happy to have them join a staff that already is comprised of top teachers.
With that said, the No. 2 indicator in improving student learning is campus leadership. It’s not happenstance that strong schools have strong principals. Although we have some great campus leaders, SAISD quickly must move into improving and increasing capacity in instructional leadership. Yes, principals must continue to deal with management and compliance of day-to-day operations. However, they also must be committed to a laser focus on instruction.
The role of central administration also must be rethought. This rethinking includes developing supportive personnel who can provide instructional oversight and appropriate training to our campus administration, who in turn can lead and continue to grow our teachers’ instructional skills.
Research indicates that solid leadership is a prerequisite for turning around failing schools, but the leadership cannot be isolated only to the campus. Strong, supportive leadership in central administration is essential. High expectations, with relevant accurate measures, along with an appropriate evaluation tool, will help in identifying the right needs of a school’s academic performance. We all need coaching for improvement, and we all need to coach better.
We should not be intimidated by any of what has been mentioned. As educators, we welcome the challenge and understand that all of this is a constant growth process. We understand that there is no finish line, nor status quo…we’re either getting better or worse on a daily basis.
We all have fingerprints. At the end of our careers, indeed at the end of our lives, we will all be judged by the amount of prints we’ve left behind – the type that have improved lives and made the world a better place because we have made a difference in our children’s lives. Don’t underestimate your influence on the future.
I thank you for choosing to make that difference in SAISD.
Dr. Sylvester Perez
“Practice without improvement is meaningless.” – Chuck Knox