Superintendent Message (Dec. 7, 2015)

Putting our plan into action

Dec. 7, 2015

Dear SAISD Staff,

This is my first message since the Thanksgiving break. I hope you all had a good and restful holiday with your families. It’s hard to believe that half the year is nearly over, with winter break just a couple of weeks away.

We are continuing to stay focused and purposeful about our work to redefine excellence in SAISD. Countless hours are being spent by many people working together to assess, review, strategize and plan for the changes that need to take place to ensure that we are offering all students a quality education. We want to prepare them well so they feel empowered to achieve their aspirations. As I’ve said before, we know that our students will rise to the challenge with the proper supports, and so we should not hesitate to set the bar high and to nurture those students who have the aptitude and desire to advance even further.

On Nov. 16, I joined the Board of Trustees in a goal-setting work session, and we had the opportunity to take an interactive tour that involved more than half a dozen stops at administrative offices at Burnet Center to hear from departments about their plans for increased rigor and expectations for all SAISD students.

That same day, the Trustees approved a resolution to consider applying for designation as a District of Innovation, a new option under House Bill 1842 designed to provide public school districts more local control by freeing them from many of the requirements of the Texas Education Code. This designation would allow us greater flexibility to be innovative with our curriculum, instruction, school calendar and a number of other areas that are critical to our efforts.

Our goal of exploring the District of Innovation status is to empower campuses as we look to implement our 5-Year Plan. It’s still early, and we’re looking at which exemptions would most benefit us. We plan to begin the process of working with our District Leadership Team members, which represent staff, parents, community and business, to develop an academic plan very much driven by campuses. We will provide more details next month.

We now are starting to put into place the “how” of our 5-Year Plan to redefine excellence in SAISD and to transform our District into a national model urban school district. We are in the beginning stages of launching a new framework for teaching that calls for gradually releasing responsibility for learning to our students and offering support every step of the way. We are confident this model, the work of Dr. Douglas Fisher and Dr. Nancy Frey, will elevate the levels of teaching and learning taking place in our classrooms, and, more importantly, equip our students to be independent, lifelong learners. Dr. Fisher spent hours with all of our principals during a meeting last month laying out this framework, and 99 percent of the principals indicated in a post survey that they are in favor of this instructional model going forward. Dr. Fisher explains how it works in this video.

We also are starting to put into place critical assessments. Tonight, we are taking to the Board of Trustees two items. In an effort to increase the number of students who take the SAT college entrance exam, we are asking the Board to approve for all juniors no-cost testing during the school day. Currently, students’ only testing opportunity is on Saturdays. To increase the number of students in our Gifted & Talented program, we are asking the Board to approve a universal screening program in the 1st and 5th grades, rather than relying solely on teacher referrals.

Gifted & Talented is a major area of focus for us as we build a culture of higher expectations. We have enlisted the help of internationally known Gifted & Talented expert Dr. Richard Cash, who joined us for a couple of days last week to conduct professional development for District administrators. Also, during an evening community meeting at Burbank High School, he talked to parents about what they can do at home to nurture and support their gifted children. 

As you can see, the action phase of our plan is taking off. I will keep you updated as new developments unfold.