Faced with a handful of struggling campuses, Richardson ISD is looking to Dallas ISD’s Accelerating Campus Excellence plan as a blueprint for its new school turnaround program.
So much so that Richardson ISD is keeping the ACE “brand,” superintendent Jeannie Stone said during the plan’s unveiling Monday morning at Carolyn Bukhair Elementary, a Far North Dallas campus that will be included in the new program.
“We’re so grateful to Dallas ISD,” Stone said. “They put this bold initiative in place years ago. We were intentional about keeping the name ‘ACE’ because we want to give credit to the work that was started in Dallas ISD.”
Next school year, four Richardson elementary campuses — Bukhair, Forest Lane Academy, Thurgood Marshall Elementary and RISD Academy — will be placed in the district’s ACE program.
Teaching staffs and campus administration will be completely replaced at each campus, with the district paying incentives from $10,000 to $15,000 to draw some of its best educators to the schools. The ACE program will also give students an extra hour of instruction, dinner on a nightly basis, more enrichment programs, and after-school tutoring.
“It’s going to move the needle for thousands of students,” Stone said.
Richardson’s ACE model looks very much like DISD’s, for good reason. The districts, along with Fort Worth ISD — which launched an ACE-like program last year — have been meeting regularly over the past six months, with Richardson ISD gathering best practices on implementation.
The only thing lacking in Richardson’s model is the use of Dallas’ teacher evaluation system, although RISD will rely heavily on student growth data to identify possible teachers and principals. Candidates for the principal positions will be interviewed next week.
“Outside of that, what ACE means in Dallas is what ACE is going to mean in Richardson ISD,” said deputy superintendent Tabitha Branum.
In its third year, Dallas ISD’s ACE program has been a resounding success — especially at the elementary school level. The four elementary campuses in Dallas’ pilot program — Blanton, Mills, Pease and Umphrey Lee — have seen double-digit gains in math and reading achievement over the past two years.
A big part of the DISD model’s appeal, Branum said, was that there are socio-economic similarities between Dallas’ ACE campuses and the four campuses included in Richardson’s new plan.
The four campuses, two in Far North Dallas and two in northeast Dallas, serve student populations that are at least 90 percent economically disadvantaged. Less than 34 percent of students at the campuses met state standards in third-grade reading on last year’s state assessments. Teacher turnover and the percentage of beginning teachers at the four schools were also much higher than the district’s average.
“We were not going to be OK to allow that type of performance gap,” Branum said. “Our kids deserve the best opportunity to be successful.”
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings were at the unveiling, and both praised Richardson ISD’s efforts.
Morath called ACE — which he helped launch in DISD during his time on the school board — “an army of servant leaders working to support our kids.
“I know it will work,” he said. “I’ve seen it.”
Rawlings said that addressing equity means a call for more money and effort.
“With this innovative leadership from the board of trustees and your superintendent, you are walking the talk; you are putting your money where your mouth is,” Rawlings said.
Dr. Jeannie Stone, Richardson ISD superintendent, has made equity a focus during her tenure.
Stone, Richardson’s superintendent since January 2017, has made equity a focus during her tenure. The district recently created a director-level position overseeing equity, diversity and inclusion, and hired Apollo Junior High assistant principal Angie Lee for the role just before spring break.
The district is currently being sued by a former school board member for its at-large voting system. In his lawsuit, David Tyson Jr. says the election format discourages minority participation in school politics, pointing to the district’s “all-white board” despite the fact that fewer than 30 percent of RISD’s students are white. That disparity, according to Tyson’s suit, has contributed to racially segregated schools and significant achievement gaps.
During Monday’s presentation, school board president Justin Bono said that the district has “worked tirelessly to close the achievement gap for our most disadvantaged students” over the past two decades, “without substantial movement.”
“I want to stress that this gap doesn’t exist from lack of effort on behalf of our leadership and our staff over this time period,” Bono said. “Rather, I would submit to you that we have remained in this place due to a lack of resources.”
While saying he couldn’t speak on matters of future legislation, Morath said there has been movement within the state legislature and Texas Commission on Public School Finance to discuss potential ways for the state to financially support initiatives like the ACE program.
“The key to making this work is proper identification of performance,” Morath said. “If you create a financial incentive for anybody to walk into a campus, then anybody walks into a campus. But if you are strategic about it — to try to differentiate performance, and you want your best teachers, your best staff to take it — then it works. So, when you think about how easy it would be to get it to work from a state policy perspective, it would not be easy. … [But] I know it’s possible.”
“We think we know a way to make it actually work, even at the scale of Texas.”