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Garland ISD Adopts 'ACE' Program To Turn Around Two Struggling Campuses

The Garland School District is launching an effort to turn around two of its struggling schools this year.

Through the Accelerating Campus Excellence program, or ACE, the district is pouring additional resources into campuses where officials say they’re needed most.

Early Monday morning, Handley Elementary on Broadway Boulevard was swarming with kids and parents on the first day of a new school year. Jason Williams, dropping off his third-grader Nariya, knew little of the ACE program, but caught something about a new school leader.

“I’ve heard that we have a new principal. I hope it’s a good thing,” Williams said. “I’m pretty sure it is though. Usually changes are made for the better.”

The changes are designed to improve student discipline and academics, according to veteran Garland principal Cheryl Alexander. She’s brand new at Handley, though she’s been with the district 20 years.

“Campuses that historically have had academic or behavioral challenges in the past, it gives them a new start,” Alexander said.  

Handley and Lyles Middle School are the two campuses in Garland ISD given that new start. While both met state education standards last year, they also struggled.

ACE was launched a few years ago in the Dallas Independent School District and it quickly improved low-performing schools the state threatened with closure. The program lengthens the school day, feeds kids breakfast, lunch and dinner, and imports top teaching talent attracted by both the challenge, and better pay — thousands of dollars more. 

“We have master teachers in every single classroom,” Alexander said. “Because academics and engagement and top-quality education is key for what we’re doing here.”

Those are key for Juan Lira, too, who dropped off his two youngest daughters off at Handley.  

“I was thinking as long as it's best for the kids, I’m fine with it,” Lira said. “I’m a parent — I want always what’s best for my kids. So, I think this is going to be an improvement for them and us as parents.”

Principal Alexander said there’s no time to waste. The improvement effort begins immediately.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.