Superintendent Message (March 28, 2016)

STAAR, District of Innovation, land sales and more

March 28, 2016

Dear SAISD Staff,

I want to first wish all of our campuses a smooth week with STAAR testing. I know our school administrators, staff and students have been working hard to prepare for this. We know the test is not the only indicator of student success, but it is a major indicator.

We are looking at innovative ways to increase student performance and strengthen our pillar of academic excellence. I shared in my last message that in August we will open a yet-to-be-named PK-12 advanced learning academy for highly motivated students looking for a greater academic challenge.

Last week, we launched the student application period, and I am excited to share that we have hired a principal for the academy. Emily “Kathy” Bieser currently is principal at North East ISD’s International School of the Americas (ISA), where she will finish out the year while working with us to develop the new academy. Read more about Ms.Bieser.

The academy also will serve as a new professional development school and learning laboratory for aspiring teachers and principals in partnership with Trinity University. Teacher interns will work side-by-side with master teachers to earn a graduate degree through the university. The model school will create a pipeline of highly trained teachers for SAISD campuses to support all students eager for advanced learning.

The advanced learning academy represents the kind of innovation that will come to define SAISD as we transform into a model for other urban school systems across the nation. In order to ensure that many more of our 53,000 students are performing at higher levels – in order to prepare them for success in college and career – we have to consider every tool available to us. Tonight, the Board of Trustees is expected to vote on whether to proceed with the District of Innovation designation process, which will involve input from staff and community. This designation would allow us to request certain exemptions from the Texas Education Code. We are particularly interested in exemptions that would provide individual campuses flexibility with our K-4 class sizes and the length of the instructional day for 2016-17. If we receive approval, we also would appoint a committee to explore changes to the District calendar for 2017-18.

This Texas Association of School Boards document provides more District of Innovation information.

One change we are pursuing that makes good fiscal sense is the sale of land to pay for a central administration building, as well as a service center for transportation and maintenance. In line with our pillar of fiscal management, we are looking to sell several properties and use the money to build an administration building on land we own along Fox Tech High School, bringing together under one roof administrative staff currently spread across seven sites. Transportation, maintenance and operations staff would consolidate to a new service center at the Roland property. The moves would save about $2 million a year in operational and capital costs.

Affected departments have been notified of the impending sales, with the request for bids going out today. I have attached a couple of articles published by the San Antonio Business Journal that detail which properties we are putting on the market and put the sales into perspective. I can understand that it is difficult to let go of SAISD history, but we are confident that this move will result in a greater good for our students and our District.

We also wrapped up our second round of community meetings earlier this month and received a lot of good feedback and support from the community regarding our multi-year strategies for improving student academic achievement. The next phase of our plan for transformation will involve working with staff to implement the strategies, including providing support for the transition to a new curriculum management system, the TEKS Resource System, adopting a new framework for teaching and looking at where we might streamline our District assessments while ensuring the ones we do use are providing quality data.

I want to end by highlighting that we have among us a finalist for the prestigious H-E-B Excellence in Education Award. On March 7, Young Women’s Leadership Academy Principal Delia McLerran learned in a surprise visit that she is a finalist for the award, putting her among the top principals in the state! And I also want to welcome to the SAISD family the new Beacon Hill ES Principal Laryn Nelson, who joined us last month from Georgia, having worked in the Fulton County area.