"It's All About Growth"
“It’s All About Growth”
Accountability update shows how WFISD stays nimble in strategies to appease state, feds
The one constant in school life is accountability, but the way that accountability is measured has been keeping WFISD administrators and teachers on their toes. In the April 15 school board meeting, Associate Superintendent Peter Griffiths gave board members an update of the way the programs have shifted over the years, then spotlighted today’s key measures of success.
WFISD, like other school districts, must meet the standards set by both state and federal systems, which often differ, said Mr. Griffiths. Then, when systems are updated and changed, school personnel must decipher how to best prepare students for the success that is defined by the new system.
The current system, established in 2018, involves three parts for elementary and middle school accountability. It measures students’ performance on the state STAAR tests by labeling their achievements with three statuses: Approach, Meet and Master.
The former “met” standard from the prior program now falls under “approaching” mastery – an upgrade in expectations.
The process gets complicated, he said, because the same system that affirms solid work by a student may still label a campus, through a special formula, with a grade of C or D. Such system features require that administrators study its intricacies and determine how best to encourage and measure student performance.
“It’s all about growth.” All children are being pulled along to a higher performance. Surprisingly, the emphasis is not on getting the most students to pass tests (as it was in the former system) but on getting the most students to show performance growth on their tests – improvement over the year before.
Under federal guidelines, school districts like WFISD must track the performance of how all subgroups meet expectations. Again surprisingly, the federal government sets higher or lower expectations for sub-populations depending on their race. The federal government holds Asians to the highest performance level; it holds Hispanics and African Americans to lower standards, since they typically underperform their peers.
The state accountability system is different; it boils a school district’s performance down to one letter grade. “It’s a simplified number but it’s complicated to get to that number,” said Mr. Griffiths.
In the 2019 state accountability system, each district and campus will get a letter grade based on their accountability number: an A, B,C, D or F. Last year, WFISD earned a respectable “C,” but that “doesn’t sound good,” said Mr. Griffiths, so the District will be trying to raise that grade.
In the state’s current system, school districts must demonstrate three things: Student Achievement, Student Progress and that they are Closing the Gaps.
Districts are also accountable for showing that their graduates are college and career ready, which involves precise tracking of the things students do to prepare for college, jobs or the military. Relentless tracking and then proper coding of their actions is a key, and is something WFISD can get better at, said Mr. Griffiths.
“It’s a juggling act, because we are juggling so many different things,” he said.
Ultimately, winning the accountability game requires a completely different tactic – a fresh start from the ground up, interjected Superintendent Mike Kuhrt.
“The only way to move the needle is early childhood,” he said. “We need to get them all at the same starting line.”
WFISD is spending its money on pre-K programs and Head Start and offering the home-based digital UPSTART program to pre-K students who don’t attend any other programs. “If we can do that well, the rest of this will take care of itself eventually,” said Mr. Kuhrt. While WFISD is bearing down hard on early childhood solutions, he doesn’t expect to see major results for another five years.
“It’s planting a tree,” agreed board member Bob Payton of the long-range nature of the solution.
“What about those down the river?” asked board member Katherine McGregor.
WFISD employs tutors, pull-out programs, curriculum specialists, Partners in Education volunteers and many more resources – and dollars – to tutor the children already in the system who have fallen behind and need catch-up help.
Such programs will always be available to students who transfer into the District mid-way into their education career and are behind, said Mr. Kuhrt. About 60 percent of the District’s students begin their schooling in one of WFISD’s pre-k or kindergarten programs.
“Another 35 percent don’t qualify or don’t need it because they’re already in a good program, or they’re home with a parent who is home-schooling them (in preparation for kindergarten),” he said.
He credits the home-based digital pre-K program, UPSTART, for meeting one of WFISD’s biggest needs. “UPSTART for us has made the difference,” he said. “We didn’t turn a single child away. We had 98 kids a year ago. We now have 86 with UPSTART’s at-home-based instruction. We’re making a dent.”
As WFISD works to help all students show growth, WFISD checks for growth throughout the year by giving three “CBA” (curriculum-based assessments) tests and a variety of other interim assessments.
Mr. Griffiths feels it could be too much testing, so he created Digital Data Walls to put all scores out in plain view for all to see – and review. It gets school personnel focused and talking about “data, data, data,” he said. “Some people don’t like to see the numbers. But it has started conversations. Why are we there?”
After every CBA, instructional staff begin a conversation about the results. They dispatch extra help to anyone who needs it. Mr. Griffiths reminded the board that the goal is, again, illustrated by his belt example: “We’re trying to push everyone forward.”
The topic of data has penetrated into the consciousness of all teachers, he said. “I feel like everyone is on board. We had to destroy (the mindset of), ‘Don’t show me my data.’”
“That was hard,” said Mr. Kuhrt.
Winning the accountability game has taken the efforts of more than just teachers and administrators. “It takes a coordinated effort. We have a lot of staff involved in helping out,” said Mr. Griffiths. “Federal programs help with funding, PIE Partners help out as volunteers at the campus, Human Resources gets involved by getting people in the right spots, and our District Advisory Committee holds us accountable.”
Tweaking the plan goes with the program, he said. “Every year we tweak. We have a great team.”
Board members recognized Career Education Center students who participated in a SkillsUSA contest, the Automotive Service Quiz Bowl, and placed first. They are: Carlos Carmona, Adrian Escarcega Ordonez, Garrett Koetter, Bobby Nettles, Matthew Oblisk, Jarek Stachowiak, and Ivan Torres. Their instructor is Larry Krugle. Another student, Ben Howell, placed third in Informational Technology Services competition. His instructor is Brian Bass.
Board members recognized award-winning Rider High School Boys Basketball players. They honored Ty Caswell and Ben Moffat for receiving the TABC and THSCA Academic All-State.
They also recognized Ty Caswell for achieving TABC All-State. The players are under the direction of Head Basketball Coach Cliff McGuire.
Board members recognized award-winning Wichita Falls High School Boys Basketball players. Gavin Hair was recognized for achieving the THSCA 1st Team Academic All-State honor; Kobe Graham was recognized for achieving the THSCA 2nd Team Academic All-State; Kobe Graham and Gavin Hair were both honored for achieving the TABC Academic All-State under the direction of Head Basketball Coach Mark Malone.
Board members also recognized Carol Gibbs, who was named the Region 9 TEPSA Assistant Principal of the Year. She is one of 20 administrators named Region Assistant Principals of the Year by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. It is a peer-based award. Ms. Gibbs is the assistant principal of Early Learning.
Board members recognized Jefferson Elementary Principal Erica Adkins as the Region 9 TEPSAN of the Year. Members from the 20 TEPSA Regions across the state annually honor a colleague for their outstanding service to the association.
Board members also celebrated the achievements of three schools – Lamar Elementary, Burgess Elementary and Haynes Northwest Academy – for being named a Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase School. For Lamar, this was the second consecutive year to be so named. This honor reflects that these three schools’ implementation of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program has been exemplary among the nation’s tens of thousands of schools that use the Flippen Group program.
Two more campuses were recognized for earning certification levels in the Marzano High Reliability Schools program. Kirby Middle School received its Level 1 certification, certifying that it has a “safe and collaborative” culture at the school. Burgess Elementary received its Level 3 certification, affirming that it has not only a safe and collaborative culture (Level 1), effective teaching throughout the school (Level 2) but also a viable curriculum (Level 3).
Currently, 17 campuses from WFISD are going through or have gone through the process of receiving different levels of certification.
Board members recognized Wichita Falls High School students who were state qualifiers, competing in the 2019 Business Professionals of America State Leadership Conference in March in Dallas, Texas. They were Aubrie Kuhrt, who took 14th place in Medical Office Procedures, and Laryssa Villarreal, who took 24th in Prepared Speech. Both students were coached by Amanda Rasor.
Board members also recognized the achievements of Wichita Falls High School Debate Team members Emma Kuhrt and Aubrie Kuhrt, who finished in second place in the UIL District 4-A CX Debate Meet on Jan. 30, then went on to compete in the state meet in Austin on March 22-23. The Kuhrts were coached by WFHS Vice Principal Dr. Jesse Thomas.
In a 7-0 vote, board members approved the Consent Agenda, which included:
- Statement of Impact form for Brazos River Charter School
- Instructional Materials Allotment and TEKS Certification
- Financial Reports as of Feb. 28, 2019
- Quote #19Q-14 Print Management Solution
- Special Warranty Deed for Harrell
- Minutes for Special session March 12, 2019, board meeting March 25, 2019, and Minutes info page for April 15, 2019
Instructional Materials Adoption for English Language Arts and Reading
In a 7-0 vote, board members approved the purchase of instructional materials selected by the Adoption Committees for English Language Arts and Reading in grades K-8. The adoption also included: Spanish language arts and reading, grades K-6; spelling (English and Spanish) for grades 1-6; handwriting for English and Spanish for grades K-5; and English Learners Language Arts grades 7-8. The recommendations were submitted by Debbie Dipprey, director of secondary curriculum, Misti Spear, director of Elementary Curriculum and Greta Benavides, director of LOTE and bilingual/ESL.
The decisions regarding instructional materials were made through Instructional Materials Adoption Committees, under the leadership of the content-area curriculum coordinators. The committees were comprised of classroom teachers and parent volunteers that have been collaborating since November.
WFISD’s IMA funds must last for two years. Next year, WFISD will purchase its ELA high school materials, said Mr. Griffiths.
Executive Director of School Administration Debby Patterson reported to board members on the District’s history of enrollment and capacity at the secondary campuses since the 2011-2012 school years.
Such policies start with state legal requirements, then the LOCAL versions show how the District has, over time, addressed the enrollment issues, said Ms. Patterson.
WFISD’s enrollment numbers were stagnant from 2008 to 2014. Then began a series of changes that included merging Zundy Junior High and Barwise Junior High and efforts to decrease the size of the high schools. Then came the transition of sixth-graders out of the elementary schools and into the middle schools.
The District tracks its many transfers and has adjusted that program to reduce transfers. The goal has always been “not to go over maximum capacity,” said Ms. Patterson.
In a 7-0 vote, board members approved the one-year renewal to the existing contract with Chartwells for the 2019-2020 school year.
Chartwells guarantees that the return to WFISD from the food service program for the 2019-2020 school year will be $251,492. The contractual limit was originally $301,492, but $50,000 of custodial services was extracted from the total.
Chartwells also kept its fees flat for the year, said Regional Director Michael Leonard.
“You did great work getting the ox out of the ditch,” said Mr. Payton, referring to the difficult first weeks of Chartwells’ original contract under another supervisor.
In a 7-0 vote, board members awarded USI Southwest, Inc its RFP #19-12 for Property Insurance in the amount of $664,366. The current budgeted amount for the property insurance premium is $475,600 – vastly below the staggering quotes given this year to insure District schools.
The District received a non-renewal letter from then-current provider AFM (Affiliated), which was the beginning of bad news about new, skyrocketing premium costs. After discussions with current agent Higginbotham, Chief Financial Officer Tim Sherrod learned that AFM would not renew, nor would it delay the cancellation to June 30 from the original May 1 date.
“If you’re like me, you’re shell-shocked,” said Mr. Sherrod.
When he first became aware of escalating prices, the talk was of their $248,000 premium skyrocketing to $400,000, which is $264,000 less than what the ending price turned out to be.
“It’s escalated like crazy,” said Mr. Payton.
Mr. Sherrod explained his preference of El Paso’s USI Southwest over another quote by North American Solutions out of Cypress, Texas.: “Because of late notification, I’d like to go with the one that costs less,” he said. “Then I’d like to put up an RFQ (request for quote) to help us find long-term coverage for the District,” bringing in a company that is more qualified to do the complicated layering of insurance that is now required to cover a district’s entire property assets.
Regardless of the future plans, the USI insurance will begin May 1, 2019 and extend through April 30, 2020, one full year.
Board members commented that this may be a fluke and prices may return to more normal levels. That prompted Purchasing Director Alicia Woodard to stand and say she felt she needed to offer a warning. Storms have been ravaging local and statewide areas for the entire 2019 spring, she said.
“McKinney had hail damage; last year was horrible with the hurricane. We’ve had wind and hail out east of us and out west of us. The reality? That’s not going to happen,” she said, asking that they don’t “shoot the messenger” when she and Mr. Sherrod come back next year with another round of astronomical premium quotes.
In a 7-0 vote, board members hired five teachers with a total of 56 years of education experience.