Superintendent Highlights Expanded Opportunities in Third Annual State of the District Address
Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson delivered his third annual State of the District address on Wednesday, speaking to an audience of some 250 community members, business partners, local faith leaders, elected officials and district leadership, all gathered in the new Randall Reed Center at the district’s recently completed Planet Ford Stadium facility.
Watson announced an ambitious set of new schools and specialty programs launching in Spring ISD for the upcoming school year during his breakfast address. The list includes a School for International Studies that will serve prekindergarten through eighth-graders; an elementary-level International Baccalaureate (IB) program; a specialty middle school for the performing and visual arts; and a polytechnic middle school that will strengthen the link between Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways at the middle and high school levels.
“One thing is for sure,” Watson said of the district’s expanded focus on student choice and specialty offerings. “We want all of our students to have the opportunity to participate, but we don’t want them to have to choose to move outside of their neighborhood or their community to get opportunities and choice. We want to provide that for them in their community.”
New Programs to Offer Students More Choices
The announcement comes as Spring ISD closes out its five-year strategic plan, Every Child 2020, and looks to build on the academic gains and advances made since the plan’s launch. “Our vision remains the same,” Watson said. “What we started doing five years ago, we’re going to continue doing that, because we know that it is our guidepost, it is our compass.”
The School for International Studies, to be located at Bammel Middle School, will be the district’s first school to serve prekindergarten through eighth-grade students, and Watson said that students there will benefit from a highly supportive academy environment and strong academic community. Developed in partnership with Asia Society, Watson said the academy’s curriculum would include extensive cultural enrichment opportunities as well as language studies ranging from Spanish, French and German, to sign language and Mandarin Chinese.
The elementary-level International Baccalaureate (IB) program – dubbed the International School at Salyers and located at Salyers Elementary School – will offer dual-language instruction, IB programming, and a focus on global awareness, world cultures and languages. The district’s new School for Performing and Visual Arts, located at Bailey Middle School, will offer an arts-integrated curriculum with focus areas in dance, drama, film and creative writing, bolstered by a range of Pre-AP classes and arts-related internship opportunities.
The new Spring ISD Polytechnic Middle School, meanwhile, will be located on the Claughton Middle School campus and will feature classes in communications, video game programming and animation, digital forensics and robotics, among other subjects. Watson also discussed plans to launch an Early College program, housed at Dekaney High School, through the district’s ongoing partnership with Lone Star College-North Harris.
“You might have heard from some other districts who are beginning to talk about opportunities and choice that they’re wanting to provide in their community,” Watson said. “Here in Spring ISD, we’ve been deep in this work for the past five years, and our approach is just a little bit different than some of the other districts.”
District to Open Three New Ninth-Grade Centers
Watson stressed the importance of going directly to the community to find out what expectations, desires and needs were most important to them, an idea that was applauded by parents and community members in attendance at the State of the District event, including Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bobby Lieb.
“I’m involved in economic development. That’s my charge,” Lieb said after the program, “and so much of my success is dependent on the success of the local school districts.” In Spring ISD, he added, “It’s all going in the right direction.”
Watson also told attendees to be on the lookout for invitations to celebrate the opening of the new ninth-grade centers at each of the district’s comprehensive high schools, scheduled to open before the start of the 2020-21 school year. The ninth-grade centers will offer a more personalized experience for students in a smaller learning environment, backed by research showing the benefits of separate ninth-grade centers to ease the transition into high school.
Full-day Pre-K to Expand to all Elementary Schools
Emphasizing the importance of laying a strong foundation for students from an early age, Watson detailed efforts to expand access to early childhood programs and full-day prekindergarten (Pre-K) classes. Since the launch of Every Child 2020, the district has expanded full-day Pre-K programs from just one elementary campus up to nine campuses this year. That number will nearly triple this fall, when Watson said that Spring ISD will expand full-day Pre-K to every one of its 25 elementary campuses.
“Our literacy efforts start long before our students enter kindergarten,” Watson said. “I’m very excited that we’re going to offer full-day Pre-K at every single one of our elementary campuses starting next year.”
New funding at the state level, including funding made possible through House Bill 3, will support the Pre-K expansion, along with other district priorities such as improved teacher compensation and performance-based incentive pay through initiatives like the district’s Spring Rewards program, which rewards teachers and classroom paraprofessionals for improving student academic outcomes.
Gains in Academic Achievement and Equity under Strategic Plan
The superintendent also discussed upward trends in state accountability ratings, both at the overall district level and at the campus level, with several campuses seeing double-digit growth last year and four campuses earning an “A” rating for 2018-19. The growth is important, Watson stressed, because it reflects the mission of public schools to provide a quality education on every campus.
“We educate every single student,” Watson said. “No matter what their race is, no matter what their socioeconomic status is, no matter what their IQ or academic standing is, no matter what their disability, we educate all students.”
He also discussed work to strengthen gifted and talented (GT) programs and expand GT access, together with the district’s expansion and realignment of its Career and Technical Education (CTE) career pathways to offer students an improved range of choices wherever they attend school. Together with expanded SAT access and higher participation in Advanced Placement (AP) and Pre-AP courses, the efforts are narrowing equity gaps that have historically affected students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
In addition to detailing strengthened programming and student support systems districtwide – including a renewed emphasis on mental health support services and the development of the district’s leadership and teacher pipeline – Watson also discussed Spring ISD’s Lift 6 initiative, launched in mid-2019 to strengthen and support the district’s six comprehensive middle schools. Although less than a year into the initiative, Watson said that positive trends were already being seen in terms of campus culture. Disciplinary incidents and suspensions are down, resulting in fewer disruptions to the learning environment.
Event also Features Board President and Students
As in previous years, Spring ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Newhouse was on hand to greet State of the District attendees and recognize the program’s featured student emcees Alyssa Mata and Lance Williams, from Twin Creeks Middle School. Guests also enjoyed choral performances by students from Marshall Elementary School and Westfield High School. The Spring High School Navy JROTC color guard presented the U.S. and Texas flags while Westfield’s Chamber Choir sang the National Anthem.
During her remarks, Newhouse emphasized the importance of maintaining strong ties between the district and the community, and noted that everything about the State of District event – down to the location itself – was rooted in a shared sense of purpose and commitment between Spring ISD and those it serves.
“As many of you know, our new stadium — and this incredible community center — opened just a few months ago,” Newhouse said. “Both of these projects were made possible by community support of our 2016 Bond, which also includes new schools, renovations to existing campuses, as well as extensive technology and safety and security upgrades.”
District parent Stacy Walker shared Newhouse’s excitement. Walker’s two sons attend Salyers Elementary School and Twin Creeks Middle School, where they are involved in the district’s GT and fine arts programs.
“We have had an awesome experience this entire time,” Walker said of her family’s years in Spring ISD, “and I’m just excited to see that this awesome experience is going to spread, coming to even more schools throughout the district. That’s phenomenal.”
Walker’s older son, RJ, will head to Spring High School’s new ninth-grade center in the fall. He chose to attend the comprehensive high school over other options so that he could participate in the school’s award-winning band program.
“He’s really excited about the opportunity,” said his father, Ron Walker, who was also in attendance at the State of the District event, “and we’re just really excited about what’s on the horizon, about what’s coming next.”
You don’t have to just follow one path and that’s it. There are branches here and you can choose which branch that you go. That to me empowers the children a lot. The point is what do you want?GUADALUPE WOODS
Education is the treasure that we can give them. That is something that people can not take away from you. That’s the treasure that we can leave them. I believe that Spring ISD is a very good school district, because I’ve seen it.ARMIE MATA
I like the district’s strategic plan that has been set out. I think Dr. Watson has done a really good job of trying to move our district forward so that it can work for all of our students. Choice is what is going to drive students and families in the future.TAWANA FORD
Anderson has been able to identify certain things that maybe other schools or other programs may have not. And so he has been able to grow from that and also find new pathways that may challenge him or find new pathways that may induce that growth and learning.JENNIFER MORENO
As things change, as needs change of the students, then what they get changes. And so, that has actually happened with Ryan this year. It just changed based on his needs. And so, it’s worked for us.STACY WALKER
I am a product of the public school system. I think if my sons had gone to a charter school or private school or even one of the speciality schools within Spring ISD, they would have done well. But they have excelled, being at Spring High.CLAUDIA CURDA
Someone in my neighborhood was talking about this school, and I said, ‘That’s a perfect spot for my boy. I feel proud about a building like this. They focus on the future for the kid and the future of the country. I’m so proud. It’s a pretty good school right here.JACOB LARA