NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Aug. 29 print edition of The Light and Champion.
Center ISD and its campuses came out on the positive end of numbers and data released this month by the Texas Education Agency as a report card on how the state's public education system stacks up.
“We're pleased with where we are and how we're trending,” said Center ISD Supt. James Hockenberry. “The biggest take-away is how closely aligned our campuses are to one another. I think that speaks to the strengths of our district.”
When the state released its accountability rankings earlier this month reams of data on each of the state's district's and campuses were a part of the information. From rating improvement on socially disadvantaged groups to STARR tests performance and graduation rates, there was lots of data for educators and administrators to absorb.
“What we try not to do here is to get completely caught up and overwhelmed in the amount of data that TEA puts out,” Hockenberry said. “It's a very advanced system and one we can be very successful in, but we want to stick with our local mission which fits nicely with this accountability system right now.”
He said while TEA's final report was not released until earlier in August, that the agency began releasing initial indicators early in the summer of how the district was doing in a variety of crucial areas.
“We knew early on that we were trending in the right direction and that our results were going to show good progress for the school district, and that's what has ended up happening,” he said.
“We don't have any one campus either out performing or under performing, we're kind of rising up together and I think that is a fantastic take-away when you look at the overall results,” Hockenberry said. “I also believe that looking at our quality staff and leadership team, the teachers that are working in our classrooms today, that we're on a good path right now.”
He said he is overall pleased with the results.
“And, our future looks even brighter than that, culminating with our high school experiences,” Hockenberry said. “We're running a 5A program in a 4A district and I think that's quite ambitious of us, but that is also giving our students some experiences they would otherwise not be able to have.”
Those efforts are being recognized in the state's accountability system, he said.
In results released by TEA this month, both the district as a whole and each of its rated campuses showed marked improvement. With the exception of Center Elementary School, which received a letter grade of “C” from TEA, all other campuses were rated with a “B.”
Showing the largest improvement was the district's alternative campus, Roughrider Academy, which showed an increase of 16 percent over the previous year, according to TEA data. Both Center High School and Center Middle School posted 9 percent increases while Center Intermediate posted a 4 percent jump above last year's rankings.
Overall, the district was rated a “B,” with a 7 percent increase. Center Elementary, with a “C” grade from the state, posted a 1 percent increase.
“The entire accountability system is built on showing progress,” Hockenberry said. A student will start being tested in the third grade.
“What this accountability system is looking for student progress — how are students performing from one year to the next? Are they getting better, are they staying the same or are they declining?” Hockenberry said.
Center ISD has focused on two main initiatives, he said. One is on literacy and the other is on student progress from year-to-year.
“Our local initiatives have given us the results that have shown the growth we're seeing,” Hockenberry said. That being said, local officials are not “chasing the score” on TEA ratings.
“We're going to do the things we deem important locally and I'm confident we're going to continue to grow in this system,” he said. “What I hope to see is gradual growth over the next three years.”
The big story for the system is how are schools going to be performing three years from now, Hockenberry said.
“We want to trend upward. What we don't want to happen is have some missteps along the way,” he said. “The strength of our system is built to trend upward, all of our campuses are going to rise up together with consistency.”
Last year the district as a whole had a “C” letter grade from TEA.
“What you have to do is aspire to an an “A,” without giving up what's most important for our local education agency,” Hockenberry said. “And we can get there.”
He said the goal of the district's leadership team is work with each student and meet them where they are in their educational process.
“Whether you are the highest achieving student or the lowest achieving group of students, we want to bring them forward, we want them to grow,” Hockenberry said. The district's educators want to see students leave Center ISD being ready for the challenges the world will present to them regardless of their personal goals or background.
“If we stay focused on that, then every student should have a great academic experience,” he said. Center ISD serves as a reflection of the community as a whole and that community is a divergent population.
“In this district we have many different sub-populations,” Hockenberry said. “We have 12 different languages spoken in Center ISD and most people don't know that.”
The challenges are to focus on progress for each student, he said.
“Having early childhood readiness is a key ingredient to the system even though they don't test that,” Hockenberry said.
“I want to say thanks to the community for support of our school district,” he said. “We're trending in a very positive direction and that trend will continue. There's always room for improvement and we're working on that.”