With five campuses facing the possibility of closure by the state after this school year, Waco Independent School District officials rolled out drafts for updated campus improvement plans for all 24 campuses and a districtwide improvement plan at Thursday night’s school board meeting.

The campus plans tie into three main goals for the overall district, all of which are geared toward improving state accountability test scores and improving Waco ISD’s culture, according to the drafts.

“These are living documents we have been editing weekly based on our data. … Our campuses have really tried to be creative and create campus improvement plans that are uniquely tied to their data,” Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson said. “However, there are some initiatives in place that sometimes can appear redundant, but that’s because it’s more than a one-year initiative.”

The school board is expected to approve the plans next Thursday, days after the district hosts the first of three community meetings to get feedback from residents on how to improve Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School.

All five campuses received a warning from Education Commissioner Mike Morath at the beginning of the year for failing state academic standards at least five consecutive years. They must meet state accountability ratings in August 2018 or state law will require the campuses to close or the district’s elected school board to be replaced with state appointees, Morath wrote in a letter to the district.

Crestview Elementary School, Waco ISD’s sixth struggling campus, has not been on the improvement-required list as long as the others, so doesn’t face closure yet.

The three overarching goals for the district this year include encouraging school improvement through changed adult behavior; creating a safe and supportive environment for the Waco ISD community to engage in removing academic barriers; and increasing student achievement through an innovative, evidence-based and viable curriculum.

The improvement plans are established annually and required by federal and state law, said Sheila Whitehead, the district’s compensatory education services coordinator. Whitehead helped compile the improvement plans.

An annual needs assessment based on demographics, student achievement, parent involvement and other success factors informs the improvement plans, Whitehead said.

For the improvement-required campuses, the improvement plans also incorporate elements of turnaround plans coordinated between the district and state officials to get the schools back on track by addressing further systemic issues, she said.

“(Those turnaround plans) have done a lot deeper analysis of what’s going on at the campus,” Whitehead said. “Those are really the nuts and bolts, looking at everything, every piece of data they can find and issue they can address.”

Waco ISD spokesperson Kyle DeBeer said the community should be aware that the process for the turnaround plans and the improvement plans are interconnected, but not the same.

“They exist to serve different purposes,” DeBeer said. “And in particular with the campus improvement plans, it’s significant, but also within some pretty narrow parameters in terms of the funds it relates to and the way the comprehensive needs assessment is conducted.”

All three community meetings on the improvement-required schools start at 6 p.m. The first will be Oct. 23 at the Waco ISD Conference Center, 115 S. Fifth St. The next will be Oct. 30 at the City of Waco Multi-Purpose Facility, 1020 Elm St. The last will be Nov. 6 at the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 915 La Salle Ave.

“I would encourage parents to take a look at those plans, see the goals their campuses are trying to reach,” Whitehead said. “All the strategies the campuses are devising are just fabulous.”

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.

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