By Becky Brewster
The journey began four years ago with the realization that the school facilities were in a deplorable condition and something needed to be done. The firm of Parkhill, Smith and Cooper (PSC) was contracted to perform an in-depth evaluation of the existing school facilities and make recommendations to the Bond Exploratory Committee and the school board. Although many of the problems were obvious such as accessibility deficiencies, dry rot and lack of sprinklers, the primary issues facing the District are not readily discernible, such as the lack of insulation, the antiquated and inadequate electrical system, the plumbing issues, the deterioration of the roof, and the asbestos materials. Based on estimates from PCS, the renovations could cost up to $27.5M. Alternatively, PCS informed the Board that a new K-12 consolidated campus could be constructed for an estimated $30M without the need to displace the students. This led to the election for a $30 million bond issue that passed overwhelmingly.
In the meantime, the dynamo known as Ken Baugh, the new Superintendent, comes on board with his charisma and energy to lead the Board to develop a vision and a plan of action specific to our community. This is the start of the “Van Horn Vision” of moving together to prepare our students to succeed in the 21st century with such skills as leadership, interpersonal skills, teamwork, analyzing, technical skills, IT skills, sales and marketing, planning, organizing, flexibility, time management, lifelong learning, and stress tolerance. To accomplish this goal, it was necessary to shake the traditional paradigms and create a learning environment that fosters the development of such skills.
Baugh recommended that the District examine the feasibility of becoming a District of Innovation since the District was looking to become a STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, Math) and/or a collegiate high school campus as part of the Van Horn Vision.
Proponents state that the potential benefit of becoming a District of Innovation is that it gives traditional school districts most of the flexibility available to Texas’ open-enrollment charter schools. The District will have the flexibility to decide which exemptions from certain State mandates best suit its local needs. Exemptions can be made to any or all of the following mandates:
Site-based decision-making processes (to the extent required by state law)
Uniform school start date
Minimum minutes of instruction
Class size ratio
The 90 percent attendance rule (but compulsory attendance still applies)
Student discipline provisions
Teacher certification (except as required by federal law)
Teacher benefits, including state minimum salary schedule, duty-free lunch, and planning periods
Teacher appraisal system
After following a very stringent procedure, CCAISD achieved the designation as a District of Innovation.
To complement the goals of the Van Horn Vision, the CCAISD has also implemented many new programs, such as AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), Project Lead the Way, and Room Transformations. The following showcases some of the programs and grants:
Project Lead The Way (PLTW) “empowers students to thrive in an evolving world.” CCAISD implemented PLTW in grades K-10. PLTW is a project-based learning curriculum for students covering three pathways: Biomedical Science; Computer Science; and Engineering. PLTW Launch will be implemented in grades K-5 where they will be taught from modules in all three pathways. PLTW Gateway will also use the three pathways in grades 6-8.
AVID is a program that gives students the skills they need to go out into the world and be successful in college or ready for a career. AVID will be a required elective class in grades 6-12, with plans to implement the program in K-12 this year. AVID uses a variety of strategies such as WICOR (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading). AVID will also provide strategies in effective note-taking and organization and will require twice-per-week tutorials. AVID prepares students to be successful in college and career. Sondra McCoy, Director of Academic Programs, enthused that AVID promotes a “growth mindset that you the student can do whatever you want, but it is your responsibility…the sky is the limit. And we the educators will do what we can to support you, but you are responsible for your learning.”
Room Transformations is a means to make the classroom unpredictable and magical to create excitement and engage the students. This strategy is being implemented in various classrooms.
The Gear Up Grant is a Beyond Grad grant through the Texas Education Agency with an objective to help students prepare for college and career readiness. CCAISD is one of six schools that received this seven-year federal grant through the TEA. Through this program, College for Every Student Brilliant Pathways will place a College and Career Advisor on campus.
CCAISD has received a $50,000 P-Tech grant to plan clear pathways for students to access regional employment opportunities in response to local workforce needs by providing students the opportunity to simultaneously earn industry certifications, level 1 and 2 certificates, and/or an associate degree. The planning grant has the possibility of additional funding to implement the programs.
CCAISD has received a $50,000 Lone Star Grant STEM Pilot Grant to develop or expand a College and Career Readiness School Model (CCRSM) that focuses on STEM pathways, with an emphasis on computer science, cybersecurity, and 6-12 STEM education programs. Lone Star STEM Academy pilot schools will receive targeted technical assistance as well as professional development for teachers to gain certification to teach computer science and cybersecurity. Grantees will have access to Phase 2 grants of up to $15,000 and Phase 3 grants up to $15,000 if they meet fidelity of implementation requirements.
With only one year into the new programs, the District has already seen a significant improvement in test scores District-wide with preliminary results showing that the accountability scores have increased from a “D” to a “B.”
Besides the grants for the programs, the District has also received the following grants:
Verizon: $15K grant for the computer science program in junior high
Chevron: $235,00 to date for the development of STEM programs and Professional Development
Workforce Solutions: $15,000 to expand our drone program
Permian Basin Area Foundation: $50,000 for PreK to 2nd Grade computers
Perkins 2 Grant: $30,000 to encourage continued collaboration between regional stakeholders to assess local workforce needs and to coordinate the promotion of postsecondary success.
In May 2019, the voters choose to approve a special “No Cost” Bond issue to spend excess funding that has accumulated in the District’s I&S Fund due to the increase in oil and gas on additional improvements for the District. The District has already allocated funding for two new activity buses, a service road on the new campus, and exterior upgrades to the auditorium with many more projects on the District’s wishlist to come to fruition over the next few years. And the M&O debt for the football field has been approved for payoff from these bond funds which frees up more funds for operations each year. All this and a proposed 7% salary increase for FY 2019-2020.
The District is also implementing new curriculum or approaches as follows:
New this year is a new English Language Arts curriculum for Elementary and up. Extremely rigorous approach to reading and writing
Adding Biomedical modules to Project Lead the Way for Elementary and up
Adding a PIPs or PIPs like program to our PE classes in elementary
New Algebra curriculum for new 8th grade algebra classes and HS algebra intervention classes
New Chemistry curriculum for HS and 5th grade Science
New Welding curriculum for Industry Certifications
In addition to the dedicated teachers, administrators and staff that are returning to the District, CCAISD has added the following positions for the next school year.
Emotional Needs Counselor
JH Algebra Teacher
Custodial Staff for the New Building
The Van Horn Education Foundation is also a recent component to the District’s arsenal of improvements: It is a 501C Foundation (not for profit) has been created to enhance a way for children to pay for collegiate and STEM education costs. The foundation was formed to secure our children’s future. One large oil business will be donating about $100,000 a year for the next 3 years and others are likely to follow. This also allows donations by individuals to be placed with ease. Donations of a few dollars along with large industry donations will work together for our children’s future.
CCAISD is now seeing more of the Van Horn Vision come to fruition with the dedication of the gym and the band hall as well as the open house for the new campus scheduled for August 17. The community will see the start of the new school year on August 26, with a new facility, expanded curriculum and a new mindset.