Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Fort Worth ISD was grappling with how to deal with improving student performance.
The Texas Education Agency rated it as a C district for the 2018-19 and 2017-18 school years. In the 2019 report — the last to be issued before the coronavirus crisis — 18 campuses received Fs, and another 20 schools were given D ratings. Eleven campuses received an A grade, 30 got Bs and 51 campuses had C ratings.
The pandemic likely has hurt performance, as more than half of the 84,000 students in Fort Worth ISD remain in virtual learning, and 42% of high school freshmen have failed at least one class this year, according to district data.
It falls to the nine-member school board to ensure Superintendent Kent Scribner — the only district employee who answers to the trustees — is being held accountable for whether Fort Worth ISD students and schools are making progress.
On top of that, trustees also have a key role in beginning to change the negative perception around Fort Worth ISD. A January survey by the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth showed that 50% of the 401 respondents had a positive view of Fort Worth ISD — a 6-point increase from 2019. However, only 14% of respondents said the district has improved, while 30% said it was getting worse.
Voters could decide to send up to four new school board members in the May 1 election. Trustees are elected to serve a four-year term and represent a single-member district.
Five seats are on the ballot this year — Districts 1, 4, 7, 8 and 9. District 1 trustee Jacinto Ramos Jr., the current board president, is the only unopposed incumbent. Ramos, 46, is seeking a third term.
Martinez, who graduated from Fort Worth ISD, said many of the district’s problems have existed since she was in school.
Occupation: Marketing consultant, owner of Roxstar Marketing
Education: Bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from the University of Florida
Family: Married and they have a son and daughter, both 9
“We were already behind before COVID,” said Martinez, whose two children attend M.H. Moore Elementary. “Even before the pandemic, only 35% of Fort Worth ISD students were meeting grade-level expectations. Everyone talks about COVID like it’s this big urgent emergency — we’ve been in an emergency situation.”
Lovelace, whose 5-year-old and 10-year-old daughters attend Fort Worth ISD schools, said students’ learning loss during the pandemic needs to be treated like an emergency.
“For many students it will take years to recover this lost instruction. FWISD needs a plan supported and understood by the community,” Lovelace said, adding all options to get students back on track need to be considered. “This will instill confidence in the district and its decision makers. FWISD’s plan needs to be fully implemented in every school.”
Fort Worth ISD having a C rating doesn’t cut it for Shedd, of District 9, who also works as an adjunct instructor at Tarleton State University and has seen how ill-prepared some graduates are for college. He agreed that the district has likely slipped back because of the pandemic.
“I think the biggest issue is getting everyone back on campus and figuring out a way to get back to where we were and then continuing to set that bar higher to move forward,” Shedd said. “I think it’s going to take some creative thinking on how to get caught back up and really need to consider longer school days.”
Occupation: Fort Worth police deputy chief, adjunct instructor at Tarleton State University
Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Russian from the University of Texas at Arlington, master’s degree in criminal justice from Tarleton State University
Family: He has a 25-year-old daughter who lives on the east side of Fort Worth.
Martinez suggested Fort Worth ISD could begin to work on student performance by taking successful programs — such as Pathways in Technology Early College High School, which gives students the chance to earn a free associates degree — and implement them at underperforming schools.
“Every parent deserves to send their child to their neighborhood school and have confidence their child’s going to get a quality education, and that they don’t have to depend on a program of choice or a charter school or another school outside of the district,” Martinez said.
Lovelace agreed with his District 9 opponent.
“The ZIP code you live in should not affect the quality of your education,” he said. “Trustees should make decisions centered around student achievement. Successfully educating Black and brown children must be a priority for FWISD.”
Shedd wants to foster more engagement among parents. More engaged parents, he said, is why charter schools have been able to excel.
“I think part of the improvement process has to be the community getting involved in their children’s education. It can’t just be dropping them off at school and picking them up at the end of the day,” Shedd said. “We can do that by trying to keep their kids on campus longer so that they’re engaged through either academics or extracurricular activities just so they have that community connection with their school.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University and law degree from Texas Tech University
Family: Married to his wife, Jennifer, and they have two daughters, 5 and 10, who attend Fort Worth ISD schools.
To begin changing the perception that the district is getting worse, Lovelace said, trustees have to be more transparent. That would allow them and the community to see how Fort Worth ISD is run, the Texas Christian University graduate said.
“Better communication from the board of trustees will instill confidence in parents and will allow the citizens of Fort Worth to have confidence in the board and therefore the district,” Lovelace said.
Trustees also have to set high expectations for the superintendent and help him get to those goals, Shedd said.
“We need to remove any obstacles from the superintendent’s pathway — whether that is to make sure he has the right resources in place, the right personnel in place — so that there are no excuses,” Shedd said. “And then, at the end of the day, we need to hold him accountable for getting things done.”
District 4 trustee Daphne Brookins, 53, is seeking her first full term on the school board; she was elected to fill an unexpired term in 2019. Wallace Bridges, a 62-year-old community liaison for My Brother’s Keeper, is challenging Brookins. The winner will represent areas of southeast Fort Worth.
Bridges said he was concerned about how so few Black students are reading at grade level. In 2019, only 25% of Black students in Fort Worth ISD met or exceeded grade level on the reading and English portions of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, according to TEA.
“That’s just unacceptable,” Bridges said.
Brookins, a former Forest Hill City Council member and mayor pro tem, said her trustee district has a large number of marginalized students. District 4 has large Black and Latino populations. Ensuring those students have a fair shot in their educational journeys is a priority for the incumbent.
“I want to make sure that they have equal opportunities and are looked at through an equitable lens when it comes to instruction and education,” Brookins said. “I will continue to be a champion for them and to monitor and to ask those hard questions to make sure that they are supported and their education is on par.”
More than 84% of Fort Worth ISD students are economically disadvantaged, according to TEA. Latino students make up 63% of enrolled students. Black students represent almost 22% of Fort Worth ISD’s enrollment.
“The biggest challenges we are facing in our district are trying to close the achievement gaps, addressing student’s social and emotional needs and academic learning loss. We are partnering with Texas Wesleyan University Leadership Academy Network, which is designed to continue improving learning outcomes at six of the district’s PK-8 schools,” Brookins said. “As a trustee, I will continue to support our leadership team and to reach out to other community partners for other educational and enrichment opportunities, especially for those schools in low performing areas.”
Bridges said the school board has to create the right environment and change the culture to see positive outcomes.
Occupation: Community liaison for My Brother’s Keeper
Family: Married for 25 years. He has five children, ranging in age from 40 to 15.
“As a leader, we have to be able to put that out there to inspire others to walk to that place,” he said.
Bridges said he has done that through his work in his community. He once led a program that encouraged students to read instead of watch television. Students were rewarded for every hour they read. He said that got students excited about reading and led to culture change among the children in the Historic Southside.
“I’ve been accustomed to people saying to me what can be done when it comes to dealing with kids of color. Many of us deal with the spirit of low expectations,” Bridges said. “Leadership matters. Everything I’ve done I’ve led by and modeled a certain expectation. When I go into schools today, I expect something from them and I model what I expect for them.”
Occupation: Community activist and social service specialist
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Texas Wesleyan University
Family: Two sons, 24 and 29, who both attended Fort Worth ISD schools
To change Fort Worth ISD’s perception, Brookins said, trustees and administrators have to hold town halls and forums so parents and other community members stay informed of the district’s progress.
Additionally, she said the district has to incorporate social and emotional support into students’ day-to-day curriculum and use community resources to spur a new culture focused on supporting and serving students.
Fort Worth ISD, Bridges said, has not done a good job of telling its story.
“If there’s a kid who’s doing great in school, if we’re doing something and we’re getting kids involved, let’s tell the story,” he said. “That’s how you change the perception — finding kids or kids who are doing some right things or kids overcoming something unbelievable.”
United States Naval Academy admissions officer Micheal Ryan, 70, is challenging four-term school board member Norman Robbins, 73, for his District 7 seat representing parts of west Fort Worth and the Benbrook area. The two men faced off for the spot in 2017, with Robbins garnering 53% of the vote.
Robbins, a Realtor at Williams Trew Real Estate first elected in 2004, said the school board’s top issue is student achievement. The board, he said, spends most of its time examining factors that affect student achievement.
“We have adopted measurable student outcome goals which are reviewed on a quarterly basis to make sure we are moving in the right direction,” Robbins said. “When adjustments need to be made, the superintendent makes necessary changes to affect course corrections.”
Occupation: Realtor at Williams Trew Real Estate
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Trinity University
Family: Three adult children who attended Fort Worth ISD schools and a granddaughter in kindergarten in Fort Worth
Ryan, an educator of 40 years who retired from Fort Worth ISD, said there is no doubt that students have slipped back during the pandemic. Administrators and the school board, he said, will have to consider extending school days to recover the instruction time lost in the past year.
“A large number of kids never reconnected with the district and the virtual (learning) wasn’t working real well, even though our teachers and technology people pulled off miracles last spring and did an incredible job to make that happen,” Ryan said. “But then it comes into this year and we have some students who just decided to sit out and not get involved.”
Fort Worth ISD officials have been showing up at the homes of students who have not been participating in classes. The district has not said how many students have not participated in school regularly.
Robbins is focused on making sure the district has access to more resources through state and local funding. The incumbent said freeing up dollars allows that money to be spent where it is most needed — the classroom
Occupation: United States Naval Academy admissions officer
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Texas Christian University, master’s degree in education administration from East Texas State University and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University-Commerce
Family: He has two adult children
“We are presently focused on working with the state legislature to encourage state funding in proportion to what was envisioned in the state constitution. Increased state funding results in reduced funding needs at the local level,” Robbins said, adding the district also has been selling real estate assets it no longer needs to free up local funds. “We continuously seek additional resources to be in a position to scale up programs resulting in high student achievement as rapidly as possible.”
Ryan said Fort Worth ISD is not doing a good job of telling its success stories. Doing that, he said, would help begin to change the narrative that the district is getting worse.
“One of the things we’ve got to do is let people know what’s right about the district,” Ryan said.
For Robbins, the only way to change the district’s perception is through high student achievement. Fort Worth ISD, he said, has seen improvement over the years and needs to scale up successful programs to as many students as possible.
First-term trustee and current board secretary Anael Luebanos, 36, is defending the District 8 spot from Brianna C. Guerrero, a 22-year-old education student at the University of North Texas. District 8 includes areas of central and south Fort Worth.
Both candidates are products of Fort Worth ISD and are using those experiences as why they would be best to represent District 8 on the school board.
Luebanos was born here and grew up on a family farm in Mexico before returning to Fort Worth. He learned English at Paschal High School, graduated and then attended Texas Wesleyan University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“Some of the issues we had back then are the same issues we have now,” Luebanos said. “You need somebody to understand our community, the new immigrant community.”
Brianna C. Guerrero
Occupation: Education student the University of North Texas
Education: Graduated from Fort Worth ISD in 2017
Guerrero attended Richard Wilson Elementary, Rosemont Middle School and Southwest High School. She graduated in 2017. She said she saw firsthand the effects of campuses not having enough resources to support children like her — an economically disadvantaged, Mexican American student.
“I decided to run because I was just so tired of issues that we were having as a community that we are still facing, like gentrification. Having board members … not really stand up and truly respect our wishes as a community,” Guerrero said.
The biggest challenge ahead for Fort Worth ISD, Luebanos said, is getting students back in the classroom. He wants to have conversations with parents and explain to them that the classroom is where students learn best and that it will be safe for them to come back to in-person instruction.
“Hopefully, we can get the vaccine to our teachers and to whoever qualifies for the vaccine,” the incumbent said.
Telling parents about that, he said, will build confidence and, in turn, hopefully they choose to send their children back to school.
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Texas Wesleyan University
Family: Married to Anahi, and they have two children, 7-year-old Rafael and Ana, who was born in September.
Guerrero, a 2017 graduate of the district, said trustees need to dig deeper to understand why many of Fort Worth ISD’s campuses are underperforming.
“We have to look at it from every perspective,” Guerrero said. “It could be lack of administration support, lack of funding (and) lack of resources.”
Guerrero said she is concerned about funding not being distributed equitably for campuses that have higher populations of Black and brown students. She wants the school board to establish a committee that would examine the funding and programs available to each campus.
Luebanos said Fort Worth ISD needs to deliver high quality education to students because it is competing with charter and private schools for some of the best students.
“We have to understand that we do really well. They say the district is not performing, but when you look at the charter schools they take our best students and we have to educate everybody,” he said. “We will continue to provide the best quality education for everybody.”