Thursday, October 15, 2015

Spring Branch School District May Be Part of Learning Initiative

Spring Branch ISD wants opportunity to help educate non-native students

By Annette Baird/Memorial Community Extra

Published 7:58 am, Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A family of nonnative English speakers with school-aged children is moving to Houston.

Which district would best meet their needs?

Maybe not Spring Branch Independent School District if the data is anything to go by.

At a recent school board workshop Superintendent Scott Muri answered his own question, revealing a portrait of a district that hasn't done the best job serving English language learners.

He said the percentage of English as a second language students passing the state's standardized tests in English and math has been declining over the last few years and has been below school districts in the region and across the state for a number of years.

"It's hard to sit in front of my bosses and paint a picture that this is a place for all our children," Muri said.

These findings propelled trustees at the Sept. 26 board meeting to approve Muri's proposal to explore development of a plan of action that would allow the district more freedom and flexibility for teaching and learning under a new state initiative to improve public schools.

The Texas Education Agency is in the process of formulating the new initiative, known as Districts of Innovation, under House Bill 1842.

Muri said, if after researching a new plan and pending board approval, the district would be designated a District of Innovation, it would provide an opportunity to take a leadership role in shaping policy under the new law.

"We are looking forward to exploring this path," said board president Chris Vierra.

"It's gratifying to me that (the TEA) want Spring Branch to help write this statue - it's a reflection of our competence."

New opportunity

Trustee Karen Peck said this is a new opportunity under the law to allow the district to consider its options.

Next up, the board will appoint a committee, including members of the District Improvement Team, to develop a local innovation plan, with a goal of presenting the findings for trustees to vote on next February or March.

Should trustees approve the plan, Muri said they would expect to implement it in August 2016.

The move to team up with the TEA was prompted by Muri's desire to change the status quo.

Muri said at the Sept. 26 meeting that if administrators and trustees were happy with the way things are they shouldn't change anything.

"I know not all of you are happy, and we deserve the opportunity to think differently about the system," he said.

No improvement

In 2014, about a third of the district's 34,857 students were identified as limited English proficient.

Data from 2012-14 showed those students performing below state and regional school districts in math and English at every grade level on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, known as STAAR.

Nor had their performance improved from year to year.

"It's not trending where we want to go as a system," Muri said.

While it's not clear exactly what an Innovation District will look like, Muri said in talks with the TEA, the designation would allow for more local control of, for instance, the school calendar, the length of a school year, curriculum and instructional methods.

He said what they decide is up to the team of administrators and other stakeholders to figure out, but it will be a plan with clearly stated strategies and expectations that best serves all students.

"We will all have our fingerprints on this," Muri said.

Muri assured trustees the pursuit of this new initiative would align with the goals of T-2-4, the district's goal to double the number of students completing technical certification, military training or a two or four-year degree by 2017.

He said neither would it impact district charter schools.

Meanwhile, Muri said they are already working to provide more support for ESL students, whether or not the plan is approved and implemented.

"We can't wait a year - we are doing things now and paying intense attention right now," Muri said.


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