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Superintendent Message (Jan. 9, 2017)

Accountability, innovation and working toward lasting results

Jan. 9, 2017

Dear SAISD Staff,

I hope you had a good break and returned energized for the second part of this school year. I appreciated all the hard work that you put in during the first part of the year. Every day, I see your commitment to our students and our goal of Districtwide excellence, and so much is in motion right now to ensure we achieve that.

Over the weekend, you likely heard news about A-F ratings under the state’s new accountability system, which still is being developed. These ratings, published in a report on the Texas Education Agency’s website, show the letter grade that each school district and campus in the state would have received for Domains I-IV for the 2015-16 school year, if the rating system had been in place.

It’s important to know that this new methodology is still a work in progress, but we will learn from what it is telling us and use it as we continue to implement our reforms to increase student achievement. We expect the criteria will evolve and change as districts give feedback to the TEA, and we have hope that the new accountability system will eventually be a better system than what has existed in the past.

We have known from the 2015-16 data that we have significant challenges to address. This report underscores the need for transformation within our District to ensure we greatly increase student academic performance. 

It will take all of us together to achieve the goals we have set to improve education for all SAISD students. Along with our work of establishing systems and creating conditions for excellence, innovation is also a key strategy to improve achievement -- and we have a lot underway.

For example, you may have read in our employee newsletter that, in December, the Board of Trustees approved in-district charters for five new programs for next year that will bring more innovation to SAISD and provide families with more educational options.

They are the Twain Dual Language Academy; Lamar Elementary (dual-language and extended day and year); Ogden Elementary (lab school where master teachers lead classroom teaching teams); Steele Montessori Academy (developed in collaboration with the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector) and CAST Tech High School (focus on technology and business and entrepreneurism). The CAST Tech application period for students who will be freshmen in 2017-18 is now open, through March 10.

I am particularly excited about introducing the Montessori educational model to San Antonio public schools and to the list of SAISD options, starting with our younger students.

The Board also approved a sixth in-district charter, for the advanced learning academy (ALA), which opened this year to highly motivated students in K-10. It will add grades PK, 11 and 12 over the next two years.

You can read more about these charters in the Insider. Enrollment at these new in-district charters will be open to students from across Bexar County.

These in-district charters are an important part of our strategy to improve academic achievement across the District. We have been impressed by what we are seeing at ALA, which we launched in partnership with Trinity University, in its first year of operation and look to it as a model for the kind of success we hope to see elsewhere in the district.

These schools are joining some of our existing models of innovation that are showing success, such as the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, which continues to perform even better each year, and the relatively new Young Men’s Leadership Academy. YMLA opened last school year and is a testament to the power of instilling confidence in young men. These single-gender schools are among our existing in-district charters and also are open to students from across the county and surrounding areas.

However, in-district charter schools are just one innovative tool we are using to increase educational excellence and options across the District. For example, we also launched a small pilot program this year to accelerate students who were retained in grades 1-3 to grade level. Our plan is to expand this model to schools across the District next year, where master teachers will tailor instruction to individual student interests, learning styles and strengths, with the goal to get them back on track with their cohort. The program will include extended school days and summer school, as well as multi-age groupings, where learning is according to ability level instead of age and/or grade.

To attain excellence, we must offer an array of programs that meet the needs of our diverse student population. However, for these programs to succeed, we have to have highly trained and skilled staff to implement them. Our lab schools will help us with this. ALA is a lab school in partnership with Trinity University, and Ogden and CAST Tech also will be lab schools where educators earn their teaching certifications and master’s degrees while gaining intensive hands-on experience. At Ogden, we will partner with the Relay Graduate School of Education, and we are finalizing details for our partner at CAST Tech.

The value of lab schools goes beyond training educators in the school’s innovative educational model. They also support our broader talent management strategy of building capacity for high-level learning throughout our District because teachers from those schools will move to other SAISD schools, taking with them the knowledge and leadership skills needed to enhance programs at their new schools.

Building capacity will take time, but our approach is one that will yield lasting results, and that is what we want. The programs I’ve mentioned in this message are part of the solution, and I look forward to working with staff to implement them.

Every decision we make is tied to our District goals and, ultimately, to improving education for students. We have a clear sense of where we are starting from and know that we face challenges in getting to where we want to be, but together – and all-in – we will get there.