When asked for a list of 2013 highlights and 2014 goals, GCISD superintendent Robin Ryan produced an impressive list.
But asking the leader of the Grapevine Colleyville school district for a favorite topic would be like asking which of his three children is his favorite.
Using a word he freely throws around when asked about various educational milestones, Ryan is “passionate” about his long-standing commitment to educational excellence for all children.
“Driven by the LEAD 2021 strategic plan, GCISD continues increasing the level of rigor and innovation in all areas of our students’ learning to address expectations of the community and better prepare students for success in college and their future careers,” Ryan said of the 10-year strategic plan developed in 2011.
LEAD 2021, which stands for Leading Excellence-Action Driven, has four core objectives — preparing students to be college and career ready, harnessing technology for learning, fostering citizenship and mutual respect and building community involvement.
With LEAD 2021, the district is creating an innovative environment “where students are encouraged and supported,” Ryan said.
In a recent interview, the superintendent first addressed a few highlights from the previous year.
He began by talking about the district’s newest campus, iUniversity Prep: an open enrollment virtual academy. In its fledgling year, the online school provides an alternative to brick-and-mortar public schools. The virtual school enrolls grades six through 11, but plans to add a grade level each year.
“Virtual learning is a place that education is expanding toward,” Ryan said. “We feel like it’s a worthwhile venture.”
Not for everybody, the online school is there for those who need it — such as those who need to stay at home or require flexible hours.
“Of my three kids, one would love it and two would hate it,” Ryan said.
Another highlight was the opening of the Technology Education & Career Center.
Through the 2011 Bond Program, the GCISD community voted to develop a centralized career investigations and technical education facility. The center at Grapevine High School opened on Aug. 26. Students from both high schools can explore programs such as automotive technology, health careers, culinary arts, journalism and more in a state-of-the-art facility.
Ryan is thrilled with the addition, saying those who had proposed the idea found the final result greater than they “had imagined.”
“It’s a place where kids want to learn,” the superintendent said.
A third highlight was the 1:1 initiative launched at Cannon Elementary School in Grapevine. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, GCISD kicked off the new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program there.
Cannon was the first school in the district to implement a 1:1 technology initiative to support STEM learning. At the beginning of the school year, students in kindergarten through fifth grade were issued their own iPad, which they take home each day.
According to Ryan, this initiative allows students to share their learning at home in a completely new way.
“The students and teachers love it,” he said.
Ryan said the program fits well into the popular theme of going from “a one-size fits all to a personalized approach.”
Other highlights from the previous year were:
• Opening of Aspire Academy (program for highly gifted students) at Glenhope Elementary School in Colleyville.
• First-graders across the district received a new standards-based report card format.
• Ongoing expansion of a digital classroom initiative.
• Ongoing development of personalized learning plans for students.
• GCISD middle and high school campuses implemented the Rachel’s Challenge campaign (already in place in elementary schools).
• Security efforts were increased through a new visitor check-in system/process.
• The district was the first in the nation to pilot a virtual AVID program through iUniversity Prep.
• All 11 elementary campuses earned awards in the 2013 Healthier U.S. Challenge.
• The district implemented new online registration (Infosnap).
Ryan said the past calendar year has been successful and the coming one promises to be the same.
High on his list is the introduction of the district’s Early College High School initiative, which together with Tarrant County College Northeast is designed to make college an opportunity for all students.
The district has filed an application with the Texas Education Agency to establish an ECHS in partnership with the college. If approved by the TEA — which is expected to happen in the spring — ECHS will be open in the fall to any incoming ninth-grader in the district, with a particular focus on students who might not otherwise consider attending college.
ECHS will be a brick-and-mortar school housed on the TCC Northeast campus, giving ECHS students the college academic experience while completing high school.
This initiative supports the district's strategic plan, LEAD 2021, and its focus on providing opportunities for all students to graduate ready for college and/or career paths.
An ECHS campus allows district students to earn their high school diploma and as many as 60 college credits, while having access to college facilities, services and resources. Students would take courses taught by high school teachers and college professors, and could potentially earn an associate’s degree along with their high school diploma.
Through the partnership with TCC Northeast, all tuition, fees and textbooks would be offered at a reduced cost to the students or the district throughout the student’s four-year high school career.
“The Early College High School is a great example of our goal to ensure that college can be a reality for all of our students,” Ryan said, adding that the initiative will “provide our students with an experience that will further advance their opportunities after high school.”
Ryan gets passionate when talking about this new chapter in the district’s life.
A dream is to “target” a student who might be the first person in the family to consider college.
“It changes the mindset,” the superintendent said of the student who might never have seen a family member receive a college diploma. “Many times these students are at risk. Many times these students don’t think they can go to college.”
Another program Ryan addressed was the expansion of the two-way dual language program into middle school.
His wish is for all district students to be “bilingual, bicultural and biliterate.”
He said the future is “our ability to get along with people who don’t look like us, sound like us or or speak like us.”
The superintendent summed up the changes the district is undergoing, saying, “These are real-life things we are doing.”