Brook Avenue Elementary School

Transformation Waco officials recently approved a plan that outlines ongoing work with teachers and parents to bring Brook Avenue Elementary School off the state’s “improvement required” list.

Brook Avenue is the last school in Waco Independent School District that remains on the list, a result of seven years of poor scores on state standardized tests the Texas Education Agency uses to rate schools. The formation of the in-district charter Transformation Waco protects the school from closure if it fails to meet standards again, but Transformation Waco Chief Executive Officer Robin McDurham said she is confident the school’s rating will improve after this year’s testing.

Brook Avenue is one of the last true “neighborhood schools” in the district, said Josh Caballero, an organizer with local nonprofit Grassroots Community Development who has worked with the school for the past two years.

“There’s a lot of pride that goes in there and a strong desire to see the campus succeed. …They’re the last campus to be under IR status and I think a lot of folks feel the pressure,” Caballero said.

His focus this year is on encouraging parental involvement, he said. That goal aligns with one of the two focuses outlined in the “targeted improvement plan” the Transformation Waco board approved last month.

“Teachers lack an instructional cohesiveness in planning and instructing on grade level,” and “parent involvement has decreased to the point where it is no longer existent,” the targeted improvement plan states.

The plan is a state requirement for “improvement required” schools. Brook Avenue’s outlines plans for weekly classroom monitoring and additional professional development and after-school professional learning community meetings for teachers.

“Targeted plans are really the nuts and bolts that are moving achievement, but in addition to that, we’re expecting academic outcomes based on this great deal of support that we’re bringing into the schools,” McDurham said.

The school is monitoring students who may need additional support, possibly through special education services, McDurham said. Dyslexia services were expanded this year at the school, and the number of bilingual teachers has increased, she said. Almost a third of students at the school are learning English for the first time, according to the TEA.

“I want it to be clear that teachers aren’t alone in this, we know that we’re asking a lot,” McDurham said. “We have a new staff at Brook Avenue, a lot of the teachers are new, but we’re walking alongside them, we’re giving them support and we’re looking at ways to not put the burden solely on them.”

Instruction is the main focus, Brook Avenue Principal Julie Sapaugh said to Transformation Waco board members Tuesday.

“Our biggest struggle is tier one instruction,” Sapaugh said. “By that, I mean what the teacher is teaching in the classroom. Are they teaching at a high level … building that rigor?”

On the parental involvement side, Sapaugh plans to host monthly community family events and a monthly parent workshop. Parent workshops will be held in both Spanish and English, and success will be measured by attendance, Sapaugh said.

In absence of a PTA at Brook Avenue, Caballero is working with the school’s family support specialist, a position unique to Transformation Waco schools, to create a “Parent Academy” where parents can learn about classwork and how to better support their students at home. The group’s first meeting was at 9 a.m. Friday.

“We had 10 parents this morning, which is not a whole lot, but we felt it was a pretty good start especially for the first meeting,” Caballero said. “We’re hoping that that grows throughout the year.”

For starters, he plans to have the next meetings at a more accessible time than 9 a.m. on a weekday, he said.

Lauren Dodd has covered education for the Tribune-Herald since May 2018. A native of Beaumont, Dodd attended Rhodes College and joined the Tribune-Herald in 2018. She previously worked as a reporter at the Seguin Gazette and the Killeen Daily Herald.

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