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In Their First Year, Fort Worth's Leadership Academies Show Early Signs Of Improvement

Lara Solt
KERA News special contributor
Thelma Gomez (left) and her children, Hady Martinez, 2, and Nicolas Rojas, 4, work on tablets in the library during Parent Night at Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School in Fort Worth on March 8, 2018.

The Fort Worth Independent School District took five of its struggling elementary campuses and turned them into leadership academies this school year. Now, the district is pointing to some early successes. 

Preliminary STAAR test results for fifth-graders show improvement in reading and math at the leadership academies.

Priscila Dilley, executive director for the elementary leadership academies at Fort Worth ISD, said district officials tracked the performance of students enrolled in the same school last year to see if they any showed academic growth.

“When we looked at what they did last year in fourth grade compared to this year in fifth grade, most of our schools had a 30-percentage-point increase in their scores, which is phenomenal,” Dilley said.

Dilley pointed to John T. While Elementary as an example. The school's been on the state’s failing list the five years it’s been open.

“John T. White went from in the 40s to now like high 70s, and we are very, very encouraged to see those scores first round,” Dilley said.

All of the leadership academies have received the state’s lowest rating – "Improvement Required" – several consecutive years.

Under the leadership academy model, they operate differently from other schools in the district. The campuses have received additional money and resources. For example, teachers are paid more, and there's after-school tutoring as well as other enrichment activities.

Also, school days are longer, students are required to wear uniforms, and three meals are served daily – breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Despite some early positive signs, there's still room for improvement.

For example, fifth-grade students classified as English language learners at John T. White Elementary, saw a 12-point drop in reading this year.

Dilley said the district’s working on strategies.

“With our ELL students, we want to make sure that we’re bringing in those visual pieces, a lot of those best practices that help English language learners,” Dilley said. “So we’re partnering with our curriculum department, with our district folks that are experts in those areas.”

The district will receive more STAAR test results in June. And the state will release accountability ratings for campuses and districts in August.

Learn more

KERA has been reporting on these and other struggling schools in North Texas in the series, "The Race to Save Failing Schools."

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.