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Richardson School District Unveils Plan To Improve Four Of Its Struggling Schools

Stella M. Chávez
Richardson school district officials were at Carolyn Bukhair Elementary School on Monday to announce a new initiative called Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE. The district hopes to fix four of its underperforming schools under this program.

The Richardson Independent School District is launching a plan aimed at improving four of its low-performing elementary schools.

It joins other North Texas school districts – Dallas and Fort Worth – that have poured more money and resources into its struggling campuses.

The four Richardson schools selected for this initiative, known as Accelerating Campus Excellence or ACE, are Carolyn Bukhair Elementary, Forest Lane Academy, RISD Academy and Thurgood Marshall Elementary.

Carolyn Bukhair received the lowest rating of “Improvement Required” from the Texas Education Agency for the 2016-17 school year. It was also rated “Improvement Required” for 2014-15 school year, along with RISD Academy and Thurgood Marshall Academy.

“There have been two decades of leaders and staff that have worked tirelessly to close the achievement gap for our most disadvantaged students,” said Justin Bono, Richardson ISD board president. “Superintendents and boards have tried countless programs over that time to close that gap for our kids, yet the gap persists today without substantial movement.”

Richardson ISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone pointed out this gap at a recent school board meeting. At all four schools selected for the ACE program, for example, only 20 to 33 percent of students met third grade reading standards. That’s compared to other campuses where as many as 88 percent of third grade students met reading standards.

All four elementary schools have significantly large numbers of economically disadvantaged students ranging from 90 percent at Forest Lane Academy to 98 percent at Carolyn Bukhair Elementary.

Under ACE, the district plans to make several changes at the four schools. That includes extending the school day, providing students with uniforms to wear, adding before and after-school learning activities and serving three meals a day.

The district also plans to recruit and hire some of the district’s highest-performing teachers, who’ll get an annual $10,000 stipend to work at these schools.

Richardson school district officials point to Dallas ISD, which is in its third year of ACE as an example of a district that’s had success with the program. For example, six of its seven ACE campuses have gone from the lowest rating of "Improvement Required" to "Met Standard."

“This type of growth cannot be ignored,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who also attended the announcement Monday. “It’s the proof that this strategy is working and that you’re on the right track.”

One school — Edison Middle School, is the exception — its rating did not go up and the Dallas school board recently voted to close it.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who was also on hand for the Richardson ISD announcement, said there isn’t one solution to fixing struggling schools.

“It takes dedicated adults who love children, who are skilled professionals investing a lot of time and energy to get better each week in and out,” Morath said. “I think that what you see in Richardson is an example of them making a very strategic choice to try to change the system factors around the school, in the school, in support of kids.”

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.