A $4.5 million plan unveiled Tuesday by Fort Worth schools Superintendent Kent Scribner aims to overhaul five struggling schools by turning them into leadership academies and staffing them with teachers and administrators from a pool of “highly qualified district employees.”
About 200 teachers and five principals, many of them recruited from other district schools, will be hired as part of the plan, which also includes extending the school day to 6 p.m., providing uniforms to students and upgrading school facilities.
All employees at the new academies will receive a financial incentive in exchange for a three-year commitment. Teachers will receive an additional $10,000 per year and campus leaders $15,000.
“We can spend our time chasing rabbits or we can spend our time teaching and learning,” Scribner told the Star-Telegram as he unveiled details of a plan to improve the quality of instruction at one middle and four elementary schools that are consistently among the lowest performing in the school district.
The plan was presented to the school board Tuesday night. It does not require a board vote.
Scribner said the initiative, which will be in place for the 2017-18 school year, will be funded by reallocating $3.5 million from other district programs and a $1 million grant from the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.
Scribner said the plan is an example of how the district is trying bridge equity issues by putting focus and dollars on the schools with the greatest needs. The five campuses chosen received the state’s lowest accountability rating for multiple years.
“When you have been on the improvement-required list for five years, something bold needs to take place,” said Scribner, who explained the plan is based on “data-informed decisions.”
The improvement plan will work in concert with the Fort Worth literacy partnership, a major initiative that aims to have 100 percent of Fort Worth third-graders reading on grade level by 2025.
The plan is being introduced as school board members were presented with the second reading of a racial and ethnic policy aimed at helping more students succeed by eliminating institutional racism that has created opportunity gaps for minority children.
“This is the first and most tangible action under the heading of equity,” Scribner said.
Scribner said the changes will be made while keeping in place existing successes at other campuses.
“No one is going to be out in the street as a result of this initiative,” he said.
‘Our best and brightest’
Under the plan, programs and resources will be put in place to create a “culture of improvement,” which comes with the hiring of strong teachers and supportive staff, Scribner said. The schools will be called leadership academies and will emphasize a sense of excellence among the teachers and the school, he said.
The academies will have extended days with student being served breakfast, lunch and dinner, he said.
Instead of leaving school when the bell rings at about 3 p.m., students will continue learning until about 5:30 p.m. They will receive added attention through tutoring and enrichment programs, he said.
Teachers and principals who have shown to be successful in helping students improve will be invited to apply, first via email from the superintendent, Scribner said. But all educators are welcome to apply.
“We are going to treat them special,” he said of the educators chosen to teach at the schools. “We are going to identify our best and our brightest.”
If they wish to remain at their current campus, teachers and campus leaders at the five schools will be required to reapply for their jobs. Staff members not chosen to stay will still have jobs elsewhere in the district.
Toby Jackson, who represents District 2, which includes Forest Oak Middle School, said district leaders need the community to start believing in these schools.
“We have to change the image of these schools,” she said.
Judy Needham, who represents District 5, which includes Como Elementary, said the plan is huge for the community
“I’m really thrilled,” Needham said. “This is going to give a super boost — where all the children will succeed.”
Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, said the biggest question school employees have is “will they have a job?”
Poole said the key for the district is strong communication so educators know the process and know what to expect.
“Not every teacher will be replaced,”said Scribner, who acknowledged that there will likely be pushback from some, from educators to parents.
‘Success breeds success’
Additionally, the five campuses will be in the “front of the line” for needed facilities improvements, he said.
If the heating and air-conditioning system needs fixing, he said, it will be fixed immediately.
Curbside appeal will be paramount.
The idea is to change the culture on these campuses, he said.
While many of the issues facing school districts are connected to the current political climate — from transgender rights to immigration fears — Scribner said he is “focusing on classrooms, not bathrooms.”
Scribner said the focus at the five schools will be on reading and math.
The schools have struggled on state-mandated tests, according to the Texas Academic Performance Report.
At Como Elementary, 45 percent of students met the “level 2 satisfactory standard or above,” on all STAAR tests in 2016, compared to 48 percent at Mitchell, Logan and White elementaries and 51 percent at Forest Oak Middle. The state passing average for State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) is 75 percent and the Fort Worth school district average is 65 percent.
Reconstitution efforts are not new to the district. One plan existed from 1996 through 2001, and in 2008, the district implemented a program called PEAK, or Public Educators Accelerating Kids.
Scribner said district leaders hope to see results quickly — as early as after the first year.
“Success breeds success,” he said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.