No school in Dallas ISD wants the label of "IR campus." That being said, what does it mean? A campus with the label of “Improvement Required,” commonly referred to as “IR,” is a school that has not met the state standards of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). There are four criteria used to make this determination:
- student achievement on standardized testing
- student progress across core subjects from year to year
- closing performance gaps between socioeconomic and racial groups
- postsecondary readiness via high school graduation rates
If a school has “low performance on one or more of the four indexes," it must begin planning for improvement. Currently, Dallas ISD has fourteen IR campuses, all with various lengths of being on the IR list:
Dallas’s 14 IR Campuses in 2017-2018
- Thomas A Edison Middle Learning Center (5 yrs)
- Edward Titche (5 yrs)
- CF Carr (5 yrs)
- JW Ray Learning Center (4 yrs)
- Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center (3 yrs)
- George W. Truett (3 yrs)
- Onesimo Hernandez (2 yrs)
- JN Ervin (2 yrs)
- Thomas J Rusk MS (2 yrs)
- James Madison HS (2 yrs)
- Joseph J Rhoads (1 yr)
- Lincoln Humanities/Communications (1 yr)
- Martin Luther King Jr. (1 yr)
What happens to the 7,500 students on these 14 campuses?
An improvement plan begins with an analysis of the root causes that led the campus to miss the mark for the criteria and then works to address how to overcome those challenges for the coming school year. While the district has made significant progress in reducing the number of IR campuses in the last three years - going from a total of 43 IR campuses to a total of 14 IR campuses - there is still great uncertainty and work to be done to address the needs of the students who are attending the remaining 14 schools.
One way in which our IR schools have received support is through the implementation of the ACE initiative (Accelerating Campus Excellence). ACE was initially piloted in 7 schools, 6 of which made it off of the IR list. The only school from the original ACE campuses still on the IR list is Thomas A. Edison Middle Learning Center.
After four years or more years of being on the IR list, four campuses are getting additional consideration for next steps: Edison, Carr, Titche, and Ray. Due to a combination of student performance, poor building quality, and under enrollment, Superintendent Hinojosa has proposed that Edison be closed for the 2018-2019 school year, though the school board will vote before any action takes place. Under enrollment is the same reason the superintendent recommends J.W. Ray consolidate with neighboring campuses.
For Carr and Titche, the ACE initiative is supporting the schools by improving school culture and pushing student achievement. Trustee Resendez (District 4) and Trustee Blackburn (District 5) inquire with Chief of School Leadership Stephanie Elizalde and Assistant Superintendent Jolee Healey about the progress of each campus. They share that achievement data looks promising at this point in the year and that they could meet the state standards come June. In the case that the campuses do not, however, Plan B will be to consider consolidations or closures.
One educator’s experience on an IR Campus
While I currently serve 4th graders as a math and science teacher, I have taught for five years in traditional public schools and charter schools across different states. I have worked with 10th graders, 8th graders, 7th graders, and 3rd graders. I mention this to say that I have never seen a school with a student population that has such huge emotional and academic deficits, warranting its ACE status surely.
I was recruited as part of the ACE program, a label which brings great challenges but great rewards. The ACE label means DISD recruits their best staff (mainly administration, teachers, and counselors) in order to improve student achievement data, school culture, and community involvement.
C. F. Carr Elementary has been an IR campus for five years and became an ACE campus in 2017, roughly around the same time the closure of George Washington Carver Elementary took place. With the closure of the school, Carver students relocated to Carr.
The most difficult days were the first six weeks of school. Combining two separate school communities with unique issues requires diverse, appropriate resources and at times we aren’t as well-equipped as we should be. While Carver students struggled with the relocation, Carr students struggled with their old school becoming a completely new establishment and their old teachers leaving.
Every day is different and every day is challenging.
Fortunately, I can say with confidence that our students have acclimated and are stepping up to the occasion. They are working hard, growing, and learning something new every day. Serving as a member of the school’s community is very rewarding.
We are currently at risk of closure by the end of this school year. The ACE initiative has improved school culture, according to our most recent climate survey data, and student achievement for most, if not all grades, has improved as well. I hope that our campus gets out of IR status so we can continue to make growth and change student trajectories for the best. As for the other IR schools with the ACE program, I’m sure they are seeing similar results and wish the same.
How Much Improvement Is Required?
It is without doubt that all of our schools - especially our IR campuses - are under immense pressure to perform and meet the state and district expectations year after year. The staff at our IR campuses work incredibly hard toward getting beyond the label and fostering a mindset of higher expectations.
Once a school gets off of the IR list, there is still an additional year of support to ensure our IR schools meet the state standards in its first year without the label. Does this imply improvement is no longer necessary? Of course not.
DKF is hopeful that our Dallas ISD leadership - administration, school board, and community advocates - will not stop planning for improvement once our campuses lose the “IR” label. While it is important to celebrate the growth of our neediest campuses, it is equally necessary to have a lens for excellence beyond the experience of an IR campus.