Many West Dallas middle schoolers and teachers headed to a new campus this school year — a high school. Edison Middle Learning Center closed over the summer and those students now attend classes in a redesigned wing of nearby Pinkston High School.
Edison struggled with low student enrollment and poor test scores. It was on the state’s “improvement required” list for five straight years and faced possible shut down. The district closed the school, kept the students in the neighborhood, and the Edison Eagles relocated down the street to Pinkston High.
The school within a school — home of the new Pinkston Junior Vikings — makes Pinkston the first seventh through 12th grade campus in the Dallas school district.
“When I heard we were moving here I almost expected the worst,” said Donna Le, who taught seventh-grade language arts at Edison and now teaches at Pinkston.
“It has not been that,” Le said. “Being at a school that’s been IR the entire time I’ve been there basically, you kind of learn to expect the worst and prepare for the worst. But it was a pleasant surprise…like literally jaw-dropping surprising.”
As for the kids and the transition, it was pretty easy for eighth-grader Breunna Williams.
“This school right here is bigger and I like it…I love it,” Breunna said. “It doesn’t really seem like we’re actually in high school because we don’t really see the high school kids that much, just now and then.”
Designing a school within a school
The district spent the summer preparing a three-floor wing of Pinkston for middle school students only. Pinkston had the space. Principal Dwain Simmons says with that work pretty much done, everyone’s settling into the routine of learning.
“The hard part was drafting and getting things together,” Simmons said. “The district’s been great about resources. Keep the kids separated; try to make their part of the building special.”
Assistant Principal Nesha Maston oversees the newly installed middle school. There's a hall for seventh-graders and another above for eighth-graders. Up on the third floor, Maston says, are classrooms for electives. She likes having teachers now from all six grades together in the same building.
“Something we’ve always wanted to do was vertical planning, so you could know what the grade below you and the grade above you was going to be working on,” she said. “You’re in a room together and you’re planning together you can see, ‘OK, maybe I need to introduce this for next year.’ It starts some great conversations amongst teachers when they’re planning.”
Edison teachers had already been planning together in a different way for at least the last three years — since the school became part of the Accelerating Campus Excellence program. As an ACE campus, Edison got top-rated and better-paid teachers, an extended school day and additional resources intended to reverse its low rating of “improvement required.” While it helped teachers and students, the school didn’t come of the IR list until this school year, months after the district decided to merge it with Pinkston.
‘We’re going to rock’
In Nastacia Kelly’s seventh-grade language arts class, her students are listening, responding and learning. That didn’t used to happen this early into the new school year. Kelly notes that student test scores from last school year finally moved Edison off the “improvement required” list.
“We were doing everything to work toward that common goal,” she said. “And teachers, administration and students alike knew what that goal was, so I knew we would come off of IR.”
Strong student scores are certainly helping the transition from Edison now to Pinkston. Melissa Mejia, 13, wasn’t sure she’d like the move and says her mom sure didn’t.
“Right now, she’s doing OK. She calmed down because she knows we’re separate from high school and seventh-graders buy lunch and that’s it,” Melissa said.
Despite mom’s concerns, Melissa says she never had any. She’s relaxed and confident even in a school with high school juniors and seniors.
“Edison rocked, but this year we’re going to rock more with Pinkston.”
School leaders hope Melissa’s enthusiasm rubs off on the rest of the kids in her new school.