Transformation Waco school principals offered numerous solutions to improve their students’ performance and their schools’ overall ratings from the state at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Two Transformation Waco schools, J.H. Hines Elementary and G.W. Carver Middle, received F’s for their 2018-19 state accountability ratings, which are largely based on state standardized exams scores. The other three schools in the in-district charter partnership with the Waco Independent School District — Alta Vista Elementary, Brook Avenue Elementary and Indian Spring Middle — received C’s.

Transformation Waco CEO Robin McDurham said she believes the high turnover at both Carver and Hines last year led to their failing grades. That is why this year the in-district charter recruited 16 teachers to train and pay to earn their master’s degree, as long as they stay with Transformation Waco for at least five years.

“I think we were too far down the road in realizing where our struggles were to catch them,” McDurham said.

The purpose of the five-school charter system created under the authority of a 2017 law, which advanced as Senate Bill 1882, was to prevent the closure of the five Waco ISD schools that failed state accountability ratings for five consecutive years. It just completed its first year in a three-year contract with Waco ISD to improve student success.

Transformation Waco schools received additional funding to improve student outcomes, and schools rated as failing that join a partnership like Transformation Waco’s are eligible to receive a two-year reprieve from state penalties, which can include closure or replacement of the district’s school board.

Administrators worried mostly about how Brook Avenue Elementary would perform this year because it was the only school in the Transformation Waco zone not to come off the state’s failing schools list the previous year. Principal Julie Sapaugh said teachers and staff focused on improving students’ academics this past school year, which is what helped bump Brook Avenue up to a C. The school increased its overall score by 20 points.

Sapaugh said 71% of students showed academic growth, ahead of the district’s rate of 65%. The goal for this year is to increase reading and math scores by 80% and continue to increase the school’s overall grade by making sure students and teachers come to school and by retaining quality teachers.

All five principals vowed to aim for a student attendance rate of 97%, to decrease the number of behavioral problems and to focus on improving the grades of students learning English.

J.H. Hines Elementary and G.W. Carver Middle saw their overall scores decline 18 and 20 points, respectively. The other three Transformation Waco schools saw some improvement. Alta Vista Elementary School and Indian Spring Middle School both saw their overall scores increase by one point.

J.H. Hines Principal Elijah Barefield told the board members they would never see an F rating at his school ever again and took complete responsibility for the failing grade.

“I’m tired of excuses,” he said.

Barefield said he spent all summer working on ways to turn the school around, including holding monthly meetings with parents and rewarding perfect attendance weekly. He plans to focus on improving reading scores for fourth graders, while also increasing fifth graders’ performance in math and reading. If students begin to struggle, teachers and support staff will intervene earlier in the year and begin tutoring as early as next month, he said.

Nine of the 16 new teachers or “interns” the Transformation zone recruited this year are at Hines. But Barefield said their energy is contagious, so contagious they often keep him at school late planning.

“The attitude is already changing around Hines, and I think as long as we continue and keep that energy we’re going to have a much better year than we did last year,” he said.

Board president Malcolm Duncan Jr. commended Barefield for owning the F and coming up with a smart plan to prevent any future Fs.

“To see what you’ve done in the last two months is really encouraging,” Duncan said. “I’m inspired.”

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Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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