Targeted Improvement Plans Released
Targeted Improvement Plans Released
Three ‘Improvement Required’ campuses explain new strategies; ad valorem tax hike criticized
WFISD Board President Dale Harvey and WFISD Superintendent Mike Kuhrt
Three campuses in WFISD are hard at work this year preparing students to bring their performance on STAAR tests up to the minimum level the state requires.
To achieve that, each campus has made strategic plans on how to attack the main problems it faces.
Associate Superintendent Peter Griffiths presented the plans for Booker T. Washington Elementary, Burgess Elementary, and Kirby Middle School and took board members’ questions about them in a special work session held at noon on October 11 in the Education Center board room.
Booker T. Washington
At Booker T. Washington Elementary, 44 percent of all students met the state’s standard in their 2016 STAAR tests, falling short of the state’s minimum pass rate of 65 percent.
Plans are underway to provide more training for teachers on how to provide individual instruction in all subjects, particularly for the extremely large number of economically disadvantaged children at the school. The district’s goal is to bring all achievement up to at least the state’s 65 percent pass rate.
Data showed that only eight students met the Advanced Level of achievement.
The school has faced a high turnover rate among teachers and a high rate of student discipline issues. This year, the school has a new principal, Mark Davis, who is leading a team of 75 percent new teachers. Most teachers who left the school had requested a transfer, he said.
Teachers are undergoing training to use small groups to address the varied needs of English as Second Language Learners, special education children, African Americans, Hispanics and economically disadvantaged. Helping them all within one classroom is a challenge but one that can be mastered, said Mr. Griffiths. “It just comes with training,” he said.
The school also hosted a training called, “Capturing Kids’ Hearts,” which is designed to change a school’s culture to maximize achievement.
Mr. Davis and his administrative team have also made home visits to every student’s family.
Booker T. Washington Elementary Principal Mark Davis
At Burgess, 45 percent of all students reached the Level 2 satisfactory standard on the 2016 STAAR test instead of the 65 percent minimum required by the state. The school serves 96 percent economically disadvantaged students.
A particularly low number of economically disadvantaged students made satisfactory performance, with less than 10 percent scoring in an advanced category.
Data showed that the school also lacked a safe and collaborative culture.
Last year the school began many changes that are finally taking hold this year, said Mr. Griffiths. Principal Ann Pettit made many systems changes and is seeing progress on changes in the school culture made last year, he said. The school also incorporated the “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” team training into staff development during the summer. “You can feel the culture has changed tremendously,” he said.
The school has added several staff members, interventionists, and kept class sizes small, with no more than 16 or 17 students per class.
The Junior League of Wichita Falls adopted the school and is expected to jumpstart community involvement at the school. Such community help has been lacking. New Jerusalem, a church located down the street from the school, has also pledged help to Burgess students.
“Last year they were paddling, with so many systems that needed to be fixed,” said Mr. Griffiths. “This year feels great.”
Proof of change: A meeting for parents on school improvement initiatives that drew just two individuals last year drew 50 parents this year, said Ms. Pettit.
Kirby Middle School
Both Booker T. Washington and Burgess elementary schools feed into Kirby Middle School, which reflects some of the same problems of its elementary schools.
The passing rate of students in special populations like ELL, special education, African American and Hispanics was below 58 percent on both the reading and math STAAR tests.
Fewer than 52 percent of economically disadvantaged students passed their STAAR tests, with fewer than 6 percent of Kirby students scoring at an advanced level. This year, the school is aiming at passing at least 65 percent of students in special student groups, particularly on their reading test, and that 70 percent of special student groups will show growth in their scores and 25 percent achieve at advanced levels.
Principal Troy Farris, who was new to the school last year, said he revamped much at the school from last year to this year. He moved teachers into key spots throughout the school, put others through specialized training, and is planning trainings for the rest of his staff.
Kirby Middle School Principal Troy Farris
Many of his teachers also received International Baccalaureate training to bolster the IB focus at the school. Currently, 35 percent of his staff is new, and 11 percent are in their first year of teaching. However, that is an improvement over last year when he had mostly brand new staff who came into teaching through alternative certification programs and had “never been in a classroom,” he told board members.
Board member Elizabeth Yeager warned that, because these schools feed into Hirschi High School, the district needs to be planning on how these achievement levels in this zone would eventually impact Hirschi.
The district needs to take immediate action by using past performers like retired educators Dalton Clark and Diann Taylor, said board member Rev. Reginald Blow.
He recalled that Mr. Clark “didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer” and got results at every school where he served as principal, even the economically disadvantaged ones. Mr. Clark presided over Alamo’s many years of Exemplary state performance despite being an economically disadvantaged school. In his 10 years as principal there, Mr. Clark led such a satisfied staff that only one teacher transferred to another school during his tenure.
“We’ve done it in the past. We can do it now,” said Rev. Blow.
Mr. Griffiths applauded the district’s current talent in Debbie Dipprey, who gained experience helping Wichita Falls High School meet state standards, and district experts Alefia Paris-Toulon and Misti Spear.
Board member Bill Franklin seconded Rev. Blow’s comments on bringing in the experience of Ms. Taylor and Mr. Clark. “I am confident in the district that we can make it happen,” he said. He requested regular updates on the district’s progress.
“A lot of people need to come together,” agreed Board President Dale Harvey.
State of the Arts
Fine Arts Director Kelly Strenski updated board members on the district’s fine arts program in a special report.
All elementary campuses teach music; the district offers art classes at all campuses except Burgess, Lamar and Booker T. Washington, she said.
All music teachers have access to the district’s Google drive for art instruction, with its sequenced lessons, and are expected to teach 100 percent of the state’s TEKS, but “not every class is equal,” said Ms. Strenski.
In 2016, elementary art and music classes were revised, and the district adopted new curriculum. There is a new, refocused emphasis on strings instruction in secondary classes along with a partnership with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra. A Suzuki program at Southern Hills Elementary is a carry-over from the long-running McGaha program that transferred to the new school when McGaha closed, and it continues, she said.
In its eight-year plan, the district has the supplies to expand the program but needs instructors. “We do have space and equipment. It’s people funding we need,” she said.
The community partners often with the district to enhance its fine arts program by providing special opportunities, she said.
At the secondary level, the influx of sixth-graders puts more pressure on the fine arts programs in the middle schools. The district’s goal is to retain at least 50 percent of middle school music and art students once they move on to high school, which boosts the need for instruments at both levels.
Middle school fine arts programs are experiencing increased student participation, which led to the hiring of five new staff members, said Ms. Strenski.
The district is also drawing more money from higher rental fees for district-owned instruments, which are generally bass instruments. Fees rose from $20/semester to $30/semester, though “we have never turned away a child” if he couldn’t pay, said Ms. Strenski.
Currently, the district has immediate needs for more instruments for students currently enrolled in band and orchestra. “The needs will continue with the advancing age of current instruments,” said Ms. Strenski. “Instruments don’t last forever,” she said. However, a recent inventory of instruments at Barwise Middle School uncovered a tuba dating back to 1935.
If the district succeeds in retaining at least 50 percent of current middle school fine arts students, soon the high school inventory will also need to be addressed, she said.
The Fine Arts department is celebrating the “bright, talented people” the district recently hired; the new turf-covered practice fields that “band directors love;” and the McNiel expansion that introduced a music suite and the Barwise expansion that added a choir room.
Fine Arts programs continue to need upgrades to auditoriums, theaters and studios; locker storage space; lighting and sound systems, along with larger classroom spaces. Rider recently needed and purchased a new kiln; Wichita Falls High School desperately needs new curtains, lighting and a sound system, she said.
The district also needs to begin planning to replace band uniforms, which were last purchased in 2008. Their life span is about 10 years. The expected replacement cost is $75,000 per high school. The earliest possible target for new uniforms is Fall 2018 for the first set, with a second set purchased for Fall 2019, and a third set the following year.
District leaders must decide how to address uniform needs at sixth-grade. Should they order now more of the current uniforms, which will soon be replaced, or cut losses now and order all new uniforms?
Ms. Strenski recommended taking a zero-based budgeting approach to current needs. She plans to collect a list of all fine arts needs, then discuss and prioritize spending. She recommended the district discuss exactly what kind of fine arts experiences it wants its students to have, since they are missing out on things like digital technology skills that many will need when they pursue a fine arts career.
Board members recommended using a committee of the district’s paid fine arts experts to make a three- to five-year plan “to dig out of the hole” and “get ahead of the curve,” and then to decide how to address larger numbers of students if retention goals succeed. A board member should also sit in on the meetings “so it is not dropped as it has been in the past,” said board member Elizabeth Yeager.
Architect Josh Miller told board members that the Career Education Center, currently under construction, is coming in under budget but behind schedule. A 26-day rain delay does not include last week’s rainy days.
However, the concrete pad is entirely in place for both first and second floors of the building. Steel work is complete; primary duct work is being installed, as are vent and plumbing stacks. Installation of primary stairwells and site utilities has also begun.
The team expects the building to be dried in by Nov. 23 for its two-story wing and slightly later than that for its one-story wing. Progress is “where we need to be for school start” date, he said. The building will open to students in Fall 2017.
Superintendent Mike Kuhrt announced a walk-through tour of the construction for board members in December.
Budget amendment approval
In a 6-0 vote, board members approved the Sept. 2016 budget amendments.
Expenditure budgets rose because of three situations: a Maintenance Tax Note project that was not completed before the end of the fiscal year on Aug. 31, 2016; buses and furniture for the new middle school additions that were not delivered or paid for by the fiscal year end; and adjustments to payroll budgets.
General operating expenditures increased by $1.2 million for a total budgeted deficiency of expenditures over revenues of $4.3 million. The adjustments include the cost of four new elementary hires.
Ad Valorem taxes jump
Chief Financial Officer Jan Arrington shared information about a proposed increase for the collection of Wichita Falls ISD property taxes by Wichita County. Since 1993, WFISD has paid a $1 per parcel ad valorem fee. The proposed increase would change the fee to $1.93 per parcel.
The increase would change the district’s annual fee of $47,000 per year to $84,000 per year. This higher fee was folded into the new 2016-2017 budget.
From left to right: CFO Jan Arrington, board member Elizabeth Yeager, Bob Payton, President Dale Harvey, WFISD Superintendent Mike Kuhrt, Rev. Reginald Blow, Kevin Goldstein, Bill Franklin, and newest member of the board, Tom Bursey.
Getting closer to a sale
WFISD officials learned more about the Gold Nugget Properties L.L.C. that submitted a bid to purchase now-closed Alamo Elementary School for $11,100. The national firm targets old school buildings for repurposing.
The district currently has two buildings up for sale: Alamo and the Holland building, which has been used for storage in recent year.
R.C. Graham submitted a bid to buy Alamo for $101,000, purchasing its building only. The gym would not be included.
Another bid from R.C. Graham offered $101,000 for the building and $106,000 for the gym, which would be a $207,000 sale.
The R.C. Graham, Inc. is the firm that purchased Austin School when it closed and repurposed the building into apartments. It has similar plans for Alamo.
Mr. Harvey said he was disappointed with the bids, but no one else had stepped up to rescue either building.
The annual cost to maintain Holland and Alamo is about $10,000 apiece for utilities and minor upkeep.
While minimal, “It’s money spent on an empty building and not on kids,” said Ms. Yeager.
Board members will cast a final vote to decide on the sale of both buildings on Monday at the October board meeting at 6 p.m.
In a 6-0 vote, board members approved the most recent monthly personnel report.
Board members also approved the hiring of five new teachers with a total of six years experience. The new teachers will be assigned to Southern Hills, Fowler, Milam, Hirschi and Franklin.
Board members discussed several policies that needed updating.
One moves the May board elections to November 2016. A second sets boundaries for new teachers who ask for a job transfer during their first three years of service. A third moved custody of records of currently enrolled students to the superintendent, principal or superintendent’s designee and away from the director of support services.
Discussion for Transfers and School Assignments
Board members and administrators will soon have to decide how to handle opt-out requests for the current crop of fifth-graders who are heading into sixth-grade at the middle schools and eighth-graders heading into ninth-grade at the high schools.
Now that the district has adopted attendance zones, it is unclear how important it will be to provide opt-outs at both those grade levels.
The students currently in eighth grade have grown up under the Choice Program and its rules; the fifth-graders are pioneering the district’s new attendance zone emphasis.