• April 8, 2020

Ector striving toward making the grade - Odessa American: Education

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Ector striving toward making the grade

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Posted: Sunday, March 15, 2020 4:30 am

With a little less than six months to go before it hits the two-year mark on being an in-district charter, Ector College Prep Success Academy is making strides although everything is contingent on it showing growth and getting out of struggling territory under state standards.

Ector College Prep, formerly called Ector Middle School, partnered with CEO/Superintendent Robert Bleisch’s Ector Success Academy Network as a way to stay sanctions from the Texas Education Agency for two years.

Senate Bill 1882, signed into effect by the Texas Legislature in 2017, provides incentives for districts to contract to partner with an open-enrollment charter school, institutions of higher education, non-profits, or government entities, the Texas Education Agency website says.

The campus was due for a review in February. Principal Charles Quintela said everything is contingent on whether they make the grade.

“Truthfully, that’s what our lever is right now. (We’re) trying to make sure when we make the grade, or don’t, but when we do make the grade we will have another review in the summer that will spell out what the next year looks like,” Quintela said.

Part of the language in the law says what 1882 schools do is not solely based on accountability. Quintela said it is one measure, but a variety of factors should be taken into account such as growth, achievement and college and career readiness.

Quintela said Ector has had several people such as superintendents visit and they notice the difference in the school immediately.

He credits his team with the transformation.

“I feel that we are a team and we have the common vision. It’s a combination of a lot of hard work and effort to transform a school on top of the fact that we have a hugely viable program that’s been successful in Southern California,” Quintela said. “I feel like it’s been the catalyst, the thing that’s driven everything besides our cultural vision for the school. It’s been the program with systems that really support teachers and students to be accountable for not only for the learning in the school but the atmosphere and culture of the school. It’s been the perfect storm that meshed into really the ideal storm for us to support the entire community with this program.”

Quintela arrived at Ector in 2017-18.

Referrals, Alternative Education Center placements and expulsions are down.

In 2014-15, Alternative Education placements were at 109. In 2018-19, they were at 49. They were at 71 in 2017-18.

So far in 2019-2020, they are at 16 and in 2014-15, they were at 15.

Attendance also is consistently high. The campus doesn’t have three or four fights a day like it used to and also doesn’t have 200 or 300 students cutting class inside the building.

“It shows how unstructured the building was; how disconnected the teachers were,” Quintela said. “Kids vote with their feet.”

Ector is now a national demonstration middle school for the AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination program, a nationally recognized program that prepares students to successfully pursue college and career opportunities after high school.

“We will be the only national demonstration (middle) school this side of Fort Worth,” Quintela said.

He added that this has been in the works since his first semester at Ector.

Assistant Principal Reagan Paquette said common formative assessments are conducted every Friday so they have data coming in every week.

Their re-teaching sessions are based on how students perform on those weekly tests.

Quintela said Bleisch’s model, system and program are exactly what the school needed. He added that students and parents have bought into the system.

School days are longer at Ector so students can work on homework, be tutored or have other interventions. Recently, they had a parent meeting and conducted a survey.

“It was actually like we’re glad that you love our kids and we’re glad to see admin and staff investing in our students,” Assistant Principal Reagan Paquette said. “It was all positive. Ninety percent gave us a 10 out of 10 on the meeting.”

Quintela said he was surprised that they Robby had close to 100 respondents on the survey.

“It’s the hardest work you’ll ever do in the school business turning around a school. It’s the hardest work, but the fact that again Bobby Bleisch’s T3M (Texas Tech Turnaround Model) program supports teachers that, again, his program facilitates every need of what’s wrong with (a) school. Now because of his system we’re actually being able to make some wrongs right in the school system,” Quintela said.

But he noted that there is still more work to do.

“We’re at about 55 percent of our capacity. … We need to toggle it up, or thrust it up,” he said using a Star Trek analogy. “We have a lot that we have learned in the past year and a half that has given us capacity amongst ourselves to do better. But you know, if you throw too much at the wall how much of it’s going to stick? In this process, we’re learning how to make it stick because it’s almost like the kid — you build that repetition, that consistency and that fidelity. It’s also part of what the adults are doing on this campus is building the program, knowing the systems and finally meshing the learning with the supports,” Quintela said.

Ector has close to 1,400 students.

The week before Spring Break, the campus tried a novel testing schedule for the TELPAS, or Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System test.

They had a parent meeting to talk about having about 700 or 800 students take a nearly two-week spring break and about 500 students take the TELPAS.

Because Ector operates on extended days, Quintela said they have banked 5,000 to 6,000 minutes. Texas schools are required to use 75,600 minutes a year.

“Everybody in the state takes TELPAS when regular instruction’s going on. … For a start, we shut down the building; we concentrate all our efforts on test takers. We put all the work and effort in to make sure we have the right testers in the right rooms and the right teachers with the right test takers, so why not do that with TELPAS because if you were to look at our accountability last year our TELPAS kids, had we met the score, would have got us one or two points more and we’d have been out (of F status with TEA). We wouldn’t be talking about IR (improvement required). We’d be talking about sustaining growth to get out of a C or a D, or whatever we were in.”

In preparation for the TELPAS, Paquette said they have been doing interventions, “going through the system, getting them ready for the online program because a lot of them don’t ever see it until the TELPAS test and that’s kind of hard for them because it’s so different.”

“It’s not just like a normal test, so we’ve been getting them ready in small groups. They’ve been pulled during the day for intervention, getting them ready and we’ve seen progress,” Paquette said. “There’s been a pre-test and then intervention and a post test and we’ve seen a lot of progress, so all 500 students have received the intervention.”

Paquette added that they also had leadership students doing peer-to-peer tutoring during the day.

“They’ll go specifically to the sixth grade and seventh grade math classes and they tutor their peers. Then also during their homework center time, we have the GT students and the AVID students and the leadership students … going into the homework centers and helping tutor their peers,” Paquette said.

Quintela said for the TELPAS students, the focus was listening, speaking, reading and writing. When the data was broken down, it showed that one of the biggest defects was students speaking in English.

“Part of what she (Paquette) was talking about, our intervention for our English learners was on those four components but the one we’re working with them on is speaking,” Quintela said.

Often, he said, they’re embarrassed. They are testing in groups of five this year.

“… We did big group testing last year for TELPAS and it didn’t work. We figured that out by doing a debrief. They’re very self-conscious about how they’re speaking, or doing any aspect of that test,” Quintela said. “The thing that we weren’t even thinking about either is they weren’t even really taking it seriously because we didn’t focus in on it. But now that we’re going to focus in on it next week makes it vitally important …”

There’s a saying that Ector is using: write it, say it, believe it. Paquette said students will get a T-shirt with that motto on it.

Quintela said they were doing two days of practice before the real test. The students left early so it wasn’t a full day for test takers.

“Downtown ECISD is very, very interested in how this is going to go because this is the ideal scenario that everybody wants to be able to incorporate into their program, but they can’t because they don’t have the structure to do it,” Quintela said.

Contingency plans also were built in for people who didn’t show up and people who might leave.

During a parent meeting that drew 1,200, Quintela said they stressed the importance of taking the TELPAS test seriously.

“Because what has happened in this district is the EL (English learners) classes, the bilingual classes have become a way of life for our students. We don’t want it to be a way of life. We want it to be a resource, not a way of life for them. That’s what’s happened,” he said.

Previously, they haven’t stressed the importance of getting out of the English learner program, but what happens when they’re still in the program after middle school is they are limited in what they can take in high school.

“In our program, what we’re trying to do is emphasize the importance of them having options when they get into high school,” Quintela said.

Having those options is predicated on the students exiting out of the bilingual program in middle school.

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