Waco ISD dropped from seven campuses on the state’s improvement-required list last year, to six this year.

All six campuses remaining on the list have failed standards for at least three years in a row, and the district’s new Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson said he plans to change that for the better.

Overall, Waco ISD met state standards for all four indexes — student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and post-secondary readiness, according to preliminary State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness accountability reports released Tuesday morning by the Texas Education Agency. That’s an improvement from last year, when the district didn’t meet student achievement standards.

The scores were released the same day as the district’s annual convocation ceremony at the Waco Convention Center to kick off the start of the new school year. Classes start Thursday.

Though there wasn’t much improvement from last year, the timing for the ratings’ release couldn’t have been better for the district’s efforts to start changing perceptions, Nelson said.

He started in June and told more than 2,300 employees during his convocation speech that the 2017-2018 school year will be Waco ISD’s “finest hour.” He came from Laredo ISD, a larger district that also has a higher percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged than Waco ISD. In his last year with Laredo ISD, none of the campuses were on the improvement required list.

“I’m coming in with a lot of new innovation, things that are just in my tool box,” Nelson said. “But I also wanted to really celebrate the staff that’s been here and show that it’s not some silver bullet, it’s not some pill. It’s the same people, we’re just using them differently. … You’ve got to stay steadfast in your message, no matter how rocky the waves get.

“When you get a headline that says, ‘6 IR campuses,’ you still have to say we’re improving. And if you really look at our data, you see pockets of excellence where we clearly have improved. We’re trying to celebrate that and highlight our positives because it’s easy to see our negatives.”

This will be the sixth consecutive year on the improvement-required list for J.H. Hines Elementary School and Brook Avenue Elementary School; the fifth consecutive year for Alta Vista Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School; and the third consecutive year for Crestview Elementary School, according to TEA documents.

The six campuses have turnaround plans in place, which are likely to be updated to address continued deficiencies, TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said Tuesday afternoon. The state will send the district more information on the improvement-required campuses in the coming weeks, Culbertson said.

Brazos High School, an alternative credit-recovery campus, landed on the improvement required list for the first time last year. It ranked as “met alternative standard” this year, according to TEA reports.

Nelson said he is already making major changes to how the district handles school improvement and standardized testing. In the last 30 days, he has restructured his central administration leaders and divided curriculum responsibilities, previously handled by one person, between three employees.

“We have way too many campuses that are improvement required. A community this size should have zero improvement required campuses,” Nelson said after convocation. “We have a lot of work to do, and make no mistake about it, that will be difficult. But we’ve set the stage to give better effort, to plan better and really make this an issue of us doing what we need to do for our kids.”

The curriculum responsibilities will be divided between an administrator overseeing elementary curriculum, one overseeing secondary curriculum and one overseeing improvement-required campuses, Nelson said.

Yolanda Williams, who served as the district’s elementary education assistant superintendent last year, will fill the role of assistant superintendent of school improvement this year.

“We’re working closely with the principals and the campus leadership teams in order to provide support for the teachers to ensure we give good, quality instruction, and those classrooms to provide any additional resources they need to ensure they are successful,” Williams said.

Waco ISD earned 13 academic distinction designations this year, compared to 22 last year, according to the results released Tuesday. Though the number of distinctions has fallen, Nelson said it’s still a reason to be proud.

“Tennyson Middle School got a distinction in just about everything you can get. That says something about what’s happening at that school,” Nelson said. “And for the record, most of our improvement-required schools showed improvement, and they’re close. If we can go from six to zero in one year, then I think that’s special, and that’s where we’re headed.”

Connally ISD is the only other district in McLennan County with a campus on the improvement-required list. Nearby, in Falls County, Marlin ISD once again failed districtwide accountability ratings, with just one campus meeting standards.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times as the 2010 TCCJA Journalist of the Year.

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