When A’Keisha Burke steps through the front door of her home at the end of the school day, she has to take a deep breath and take off her teacher hat. She puts on her mom hat for the student who comes home with her — 7-year-old daughter, Amani.

At a certain point, she has to accept she’s done everything she can for other people’s kids — who she still considers her own — and spend time taking care of her own daughter.

Burke is in a complicated position, as many teachers with children attending Fort Worth ISD are in. She sees the side of being a parent to a child in school, and understands how challenging supporting students can be. But, she’s also an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund teacher at Como Elementary, and she knows they’re doing what they can with what they have to help students perform well on standardized testing.

Preliminary STAAR results show the SB 1882 campuses improved in almost every area of testing this school year. In August, the Texas Education Agency will release final scores and grade campuses, the results of which will determine if the partners are on track to meet their performance measures.

In an effort to boost standardized test scores and student outcomes, Fort Worth ISD partnered with two outside entities to help improve campuses through the Senate Bill 1882 legislation, which gives extra money from the state to campuses that engage in these partnerships. The Leadership Academy Network gets an extra $2,000 per student.

The district has two partnerships with goals outlined they must meet to keep their contracts with the district. The Leadership Academy Network, operated by Texas Wesleyan University, operates Forest Oak Middle School, Como Elementary, Maude I Logan Elementary School, John T. White Elementary School and Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School. Phalen Leadership Academy, a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis, operates J. Martin Jacquet Middle School.

In her role as a parent, Burke is tasked with supporting her child and fellow parents. Her teaching position is funded by federal COVID-19 relief money. 

As someone who is in both positions of teacher and parent, she said if she can ask anything of her fellow parents and the community, it’s support.

“Yes, this COVID thing messed a lot of people up, and I hate that some of our babies lost some of that content area,” Burke said. “But I want parents to understand that we’re trying our best as teachers, to make sure their students — I call them our children — gain as much knowledge as possible. And we’re all human and our support is so greatly needed.”

The Fort Worth Report looked at test results by grade and subject for each campus. The STAAR scores students on a scale of “did not meet,” “approaches,” “meets” and “masters,” The Report gathered the percent of students who scored at each benchmark. 

When examining the data compared to the previous school year, the Report found students improved in almost every grade and subject area on the campuses.

“We’ve seen areas that we’ve seen improvement, and we’re hoping to see more improvement,” Chief Innovation Officer David Saenz said. “We’ve seen areas that still need to be addressed. We’re hopeful that the forward progress continues.”

Saenz oversees the partnerships on the district side and is optimistic about the results.

Grades each campus needs to get this year to meet goals

Forest Oak: B

Como Elementary: B

Maude I Logan: B

John T White: B

Jacquet Middle: C

The partners have a responsibility to meet their goals, but Saenz said the district also has a responsibility to support them in meeting the targets outlined.

Mianca Wright is a parent who saw improvements in her child, Nashiy Price, who just finished fourth grade at John T. White. At the campus, the fourth-grade results showed gains in reading compared to the 2020-21 school year. 

In 2021-22, 50% of fourth-grade students scored “did not meet” and “approaches” on the STAAR test. 29% scored “meets” and 7% scored “masters.” In the previous school year, 73% of students scored “did not meet,” or an improvement of 23 percentage points.

Wright’s daughter, Nashiy Price, with the book she wrote about virtual learning. (Courtesy photo)

The culture of the school has changed since the leadership academy took over, Wright said. She’s seen more unity on the campus and programs for the students.

For example, Wright said the gifted and talented program helps her daughter think creatively. She’s able to develop her art skills and robotics abilities. Wright said Nashiy enjoys arts and crafts and she recently published a book with a poem and coloring pages about virtual learning.

Reading improvements

In almost every grade on every SB 1882 campus, reading scores improved. The exception was third grade at Como Elementary. 

Burke said she recognized there are areas that need improvement, specifically third grade reading and math. But it’s not the students’ fault, she said.

In the 2020-21 school year, 30% of third-graders at Como Elementary scored “did not meet” in reading. In the 2021-22 school year, that number jumped to 42%. 

But fourth grade showed significant improvements. In the 2020-21 school year, “did not meet” and “approaches” were split 50/50% in fourth-grade reading at Como Elementary. But in the 2021-22 year, only 24% of students “did not meet” and 76% scored “approaches.”

In the pandemic, the students who just finished third grade missed a lot of foundational learning, Burke said. 

“We did the best that we could to support them in school and also out of school, given parents resources, given teachers extra support or resources,” Burke said. “I think the issue will improve because we know what happened last year. We know what we saw coming back from COVID, how to recover from coming back from COVID, what did work, what we could do to make it work.”

One practice the campus implemented is intervention time every day. Starting at 3 p.m., teachers have one hour with students who fell behind during the day they can pull in small groups to help. 

Burke said she’s noticed how much that time helps students catch up.  

A benefit of the partnerships is if an 1882 campus is doing something well, the district can apply it to other campuses. Saenz said the district already is looking at ways to apply some Leadership Academy Network practices to other schools.

One practice that worked well for Phalen Leadership Academy at Jacquet Middle School: reading academies. CEO Earl Martin Phalen said the reading academy is a daily small group for students using evidence-based curriculum to improve reading.

The groups either help close gaps for those behind or help those ahead accelerate, Phalen said.

Every grade’s reading scores improved in the past school year at Jacquet Middle School. Phalen said the school plans to do something similar for math, which did not have as much improvement.

Students listen to their teacher in a science class at Como Elementary. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Contract reviews

For Leadership Academy Network, the 2022-23 school year will be the fourth year of the partnership. Saenz said this is a key time because it’s been two years since schools shut down in the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Phelan, the upcoming school year will be the second since the partnership.

The standards for the partners were set pre-pandemic, and while COVID-19 did cause learning loss, Saenz said the district chose not to change those targets.

“We will take into consideration COVID when we do that more comprehensive review, and ultimately going to the board to make a recommendation,” he said. “But in regards to the contracts, really they can be reviewed every year.”

The district will review the data of the test scores and make a recommendation to the board on whether to keep the partnerships. But, ultimately, the board decides whether to renew the contracts. 

“We know it was a hard season for everybody, right? It was hard for students for all sorts of reasons, for staff or family members,” Phalen said. “We are pleased, but not satisfied, and are pretty excited about the upcoming school year and being able to build on the momentum and seeing even stronger results for our scholars at Jacquet.”

Students prepare to complete a group assignment. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Support necessary

The partnership put an emphasis on relationships and support in the whole school, Burke said. Campus leadership makes one important point clear: the students taking the STAAR are not alone, the whole school is working together for everyone to succeed.

“It can’t just be one person,” she said. “So that parent-to-teacher relationship is greatly important.”

Wright and her daughter’s teacher communicate often.

“Teachers being able to communicate with parents, I do believe it helps a lot with the support, it helps with the development of the child,” Wright said. “So, being able to reach out to me anytime there’s updates, there’s something that I need to look into. That’s very important.”

Doors are open for communication between parents and teachers, Burke said. In fact, teachers would welcome more parents asking what they can do to help at home.

“Sometimes I come home and I worry so much about my students that sometimes I forget, ‘Hey, I have to give that 100% to my child also,’ ” she said. “I can’t let my child slack off just because I’m worried about my students. I’ve got to do a dual role and yes, sometimes teachers, we do get tired, but we keep going to keep pushing for the greater good, because we know that we’re building our next generation.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...