Superintendent Message (May 22, 2017)

Earlier school start date, initiatives for 2017-18 & goal highlights

May 22, 2017

Dear SAISD Staff,

We are only two weeks away from the end of the school year, and there still is so much in motion and so much to share. I want to start with a reminder that the upcoming school year will begin Aug. 14, two weeks earlier than our past start dates and earlier than most other school districts. Teachers will return to school Aug. 7.

We are allowed by the state to move up our start date because we are an approved District of Innovation, meaning we have flexibility on some of the state statutes in trying new strategies to improve student achievement.

We believe this change will improve student success. It will allow students to take finals prior to the winter break, so there is not a two-week delay before students take the tests and close out the semester. This way, everyone will be ready to launch into a new semester of learning when they return to school.

We will be sending out communications to remind parents about the earlier start date and ask that you help us reinforce the message by reminding your parents of the change when they visit your school or attend a campus event.

That’s just one change to expect in 2017-18, Year 3 of our transformation effort. This year, Year 2, focused on implementation of new systems, processes and programs that were developed in Year 1. Next school year, we will build up existing programs and monitor results to see where we need to make adjustments. As with the past two years, everything we do will continue to support our goals and the programs designed to achieve them.

Throughout this school year, my messages have touched on major initiatives in the areas of Academic Excellence and Talent Management that are fundamental to our success, such the Gradual Release of Responsibility instructional framework, our Master Teacher initiative and other resident intern programs. You can expect that those efforts will continue to be focal points.

There also are other Districtwide efforts underway, including in the areas of:

  • Technology – We are working to ensure that every school has the necessary infrastructure for quality access to the Internet, and we are investing in up-to-date technology to create equity across our schools. Our goal, over the next five years, is to reach a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio with the device being no older than three years. We want to use our resources wisely, so we are making strategic investments in key areas that provide the most support to students and staff.
  • Enrollment – Parents have shared with us that our current enrollment process is lengthy. To streamline and simplify it, we are working toward an online enrollment system that will make it easier for parents to register their children and will save time for staff who oversee the process.
  • Bond 2016 – We are continuing work to upgrade our aging schools with the help of the bond. The Board of Trustees appointed 23 members to the Citizens Advisory Committee on May 15 (with one more appointment still to be made), and we will move into the design phase for our bond projects next school year. You can keep up with our progress on our new bond website.
  • Postsecondary culture – We have had an intense focus in this area the past two years and will continue to ramp up our efforts next year with increased tracking and data analysis, college visits during spring break and Top 10% Chats.

We will continue to develop our plan for student and family engagement, which includes additional training for Parent & Family Liaisons, stronger school-family relationships and greater awareness of our college readiness opportunities and the support services available to students and their families.

These are just some of the many improvements taking place throughout our district as we work to transform SAISD into a national model for other urban school systems. Our vision is that every SAISD student graduates well-prepared for college and career.

Together, we will get there, but – and I’ve said this before – it’s going to take time. Implementation years, such as this one, are challenging in terms of progress, but we did see some promising signs of improvement.

Historically, less than 70 percent of SAISD graduates take the SAT college entrance exam, with less than 5 percent performing at the college-ready level. As a result of the school-day SAT initiative (administering the test during the school day) more than 80 percent of students will have taken the SAT by the end of their junior year, with more than 10 percent identified as college-ready. (See chart below for figures.) The number of college-ready students will continue to increase because juniors will be able to take the SAT again, during the school day for free, next year as seniors. It is good to see our efforts to provide more support for high school students are paying off. 

GRADE 11
SAT Results

2015
(End of Year Total)

2016
(School Day SAT)

2017
(School Day SAT)

Total # of Students

2,805

3,089

2,910

# Tested by End of Year

962 (34%)

2,557 (83%)

2,372 (82%)

# College Ready in Reading & Math

101

256

261

Mean for R (EBRW)

427

424

431

Mean for Math

445

424

430

Any time you create a larger pool of participants, such as with more students taking a test, you increase your chances of lower overall results, and while we saw some of that this year, we are optimistic about the progress we are seeing and believe it is important that as many of our students as possible take this important college exam.

Programs such as the new one we announced last week with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) will help with our college-ready efforts. Under a partnership with CIA, we will establish a college transfer-credit culinary program, which will be piloted at Lanier High School beginning in the fall, with the goal of expanding to five other high schools over time. Here’s more about the partnership.

Also, on May 15, the Board of Trustees approved a partnership with John H. Wood, Jr. charter residential schools to provide educational services to SAISD students with severe emotional and/or behavioral problems related to their disabilities.

In establishing this partnership, we are choosing to bring in outside experts to provide the best possible education for this small population of students, who need more intensive care. John H. Wood, Jr. is the state’s largest service provider in this area, having served students in residential treatment centers for more than 20 years and developed a strong curriculum. To ensure all of our students receive the best possible education, we have to think outside of the box and arrive at creative solutions, and this innovative partnership is a prime example of that. The program will move from Pickett Academy to the former Brewer Elementary School site and will serve students in the 6th through 12th grades. The Brewer site will allow us to serve more students, with a capacity of 60 students, compared with up to 45 at Pickett.

In closing, I want to highlight the SAISD Foundation and the wonderful work it is doing to support our teachers, students and schools. On May 11, I had the privilege of helping to surprise educators who received one of the foundation’s Innovative Grants. The foundation awarded more than $150,000 to SAISD projects proposed by individuals and teams, for a total of 50 grant winners at 29 schools. We are grateful to the foundation for its continued support.

Sincerely,
Pedro