Superintendent Message (May 9, 2016)

College acceptances and Talent Management

May 9, 2016

Dear SAISD Staff,

The end of the school year is almost here, and with it comes college news that reminds us of why we are working so hard to transform our District. So far this year, we’ve seen opportunity open up for some of our seniors with acceptances to Yale and Brown, in the Ivy League, as well as top-tier institutions such as Stanford, Rice, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, University of Rochester, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Miami and others.

We are so proud of our students. So far, 108 seniors have been accepted to and have committed to attending Ivy League and Tier 1 colleges or universities – the best in the country. That’s a great baseline for next year, when we plan to ratchet up our efforts. Our primary focus this year was bringing greater breadth to the list of colleges that our graduates attend. Next year, we will expand our focus to having more students attend those top colleges, with plans to work closely with every single senior to make sure he or she is on track every step of the college process.

We want our students to aim high. We will be there to support them.

And we appreciate external initiatives that line up with our efforts, such as last week’s citywide Destination College Week. These types of events help us in our efforts to build a college-going culture. Approximately 400 SAISD seniors joined their peers from area districts for College Signing Day, where the students publicly committed to their college of choice. Earlier in the week, our Young Women’s Leadership Academy held a signing day of its own, where 35 seniors signed on to colleges, and our other high schools hosted activities, too.

As these seniors prepare to enter higher education, a number of juniors will be participating in summer camps that will give them a taste of college life, in addition to teaching them valuable leadership skills. Among the colleges students will spend time at are Yale, Stanford, New York University, as well as approximately 100 students each at UTSA and Texas Tech University.

In the end, not all of our students may want to attend Tier 1 universities, but our job is to create the opportunity by ensuring they are well-prepared. One way we do that is through Talent Management, one of our five pillars of excellence. The talent of our staff plays a critical role in student preparation, and we are focusing much attention in that area.

Currently, we are hiring for key positions that will better support our campuses. We have completed interviews for director for integrated math & science, director for integrated English language arts and social studies, senior director of organizational learning and professional development and director for advanced academics – all positions that are going to go a long way in supporting our schools starting in 2016-17. Currently, interviews for behavior implementation specialists and director of innovation also are in progress. Over the next month, we will update you about all of these key hires.

We also are building up our campus leadership to be able to realize our goals and are working with New Leaders to implement the Emerging Leaders Program, which targets assistant principals, directors, coordinators or instructional coaches seeking to elevate instruction and boost achievement across multiple classrooms. We especially see this program as a must for aspiring principals and look forward to selecting our first cohort of participants this summer.

Separately, we are providing professional development in the area of instruction, a key factor in our transformation efforts. On Friday, Dr. Doug Fisher, a national expert on instruction, spent half a day with principals and academic leadership in a training focused on our District’s new framework for instruction, called the Gradual Release of Responsibility. This session served as an orientation to familiarize them with the depth of this research-based model. (Dr. Fisher also spent time with our senior leadership team earlier in the week.)

This instructional approach will be a multi-year effort. It’s not an off-the-shelf, quick-fix solution, but we feel strongly it will be a lasting solution that will elevate instruction throughout our District. Campus leadership teams will have the support they need, such as webinars, online learning and face-to-face trainings, in implementing these practices at their schools, with implementation specialists and teachers also having opportunities to learn about the model so that everyone is working together to put it in place at their schools.  

As you can see, we are continuing to be diligent in laying the groundwork for success for all of our students. Staff and campus leaders are working together to put in place the infrastructure we need, in the form of new systems, processes and programs, to be able to achieve our 5-year goals, among them increasing the number of students attending Tier 1 colleges.

As I’ve said before, we will not achieve excellence overnight. It’s going to take time and a lot of hard work by many. But the collaboration and the support I have seen in this first year have been incredible, and it’s only the beginning.