Tyler ISD received some high praise Friday when the Texas Commissioner of Education said he hopes other school districts mimic this one.
Commissioner Michael Williams visited the district Friday as part of a statewide tour of public schools.
He began his tour at the Plyler Instructional Complex where more than 30 people, including educators, business leaders and community members were participating in the district’s strategic planning process.
“What you’re in the midst of, it’s quite timely,” Williams told the group.
With the passage of House Bill 5, the state is creating more flexibility for students when it comes to course selection and is changing the graduation requirements.
Because of this, educators and community members will have a greater opportunity to determine what it is they want out of their students and their district’s educational system.
“This is the exact kind of exercise we want to see go on across the state,” Williams said of the planning process.
Williams is head of the Texas Education Agency, which oversees pre-K though high school education for about 5 million students statewide.
He said he’s making an effort to visit school districts in all 20 of the state’s education regions.
The purpose is for him to see what is happening in Texas’ classrooms. There are a lot of accomplishments to be proud of statewide, he said.
These include African-Americans and Hispanics graduating from high school at higher rates and Texas eighth-graders performing in the top 12 in math and science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests when compared to student performance in other countries.
Still, there are challenges including the state’s high percentage of minority and economically disadvantaged students, who typically perform at lower levels on state assessments than their white and higher-income counterparts.
This makes the goal of closing this achievement gap all the more important.
In addition, writing scores are not where the state wants them to be, and it’s going to take some changes to get them there, Williams said.
The state has been on a journey for the past 15 years emphasizing college and career readiness, Williams said.
The state is offering more opportunities for students to take courses that are relevant to their career plans and to engage in “real-life learning” through projects and hands-on activities.
He said technological devices such as iPads and e-readers act as an accelerator for students, but the most important asset for student learning is the teacher, he said.
THE LEADER IN ME
From the moment Williams arrived at Jack Elementary School, the students led his visit. Children greeted him and held open every door. Student leaders introduced themselves by name, grade level and campus position and shared with him their school’s mission, values and goals while going through a PowerPoint presentation.
As a Leader in Me campus, Jack strives to build leaders through a system that integrates language, student responsibility and goal-setting from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Williams visited third-grade, fourth-grade and kindergarten classrooms, seeing how the school connects leadership to student learning.
In the classrooms, he took the opportunity to talk to students asking them about their notebooks and what they were learning.
“I think it’s just an exciting opportunity to be able to allow … (our students) to be able to lead and to be able to demonstrate the things they learn on a daily basis and put them into action,” Jack Principal Shauna Hittle said.
At Boulter Middle School, Williams visited several classes that displayed the campus’ use of projects in learning and the engineering prep component of the school curriculum.
In one class, students presented information about the Constitutional Convention using a program on the class’ interactive whiteboard.
In another class, students learned about gears through a project where they actually built one.
School Principal Rodney Curry said it was a great honor to have the commissioner on campus and to show him some of the great things going on in the school district and on the Boulter campus.
He said they selected the classrooms to show the commissioner various examples of project-based learning.
TISD Superintendent Gary Mooring said he was thankful for the opportunity to showcase some of the district’s programs along with its great staff and students.
TISD board President the Rev. Orenthia Mason echoed his sentiments and added to them.
“I’m hoping … (the commissioner) will at least let others know in the state capital of the great things going on in Tyler ISD,” she said.