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Board Members Get Firsthand Look at Strategy for Fifth Ward

School Board members got a firsthand look at the progress being made at Fifth Ward Elementary School during a strategy meeting and tour of the campus.

“I inherited a school that’s going to be a Top Gains school in the state. That’s how I refer to it,” Fifth Ward’s first-year Principal Dr. Brandy Vaughn told board members. “Our students are just as capable as anyone else.”

Vaughn shared with board members some of the strategies she has put in place this year to advance student achievement, including a look inside classrooms during the 45-minute intervention blocks that start each school day and are designed to close any achievement gaps in the core subjects of math and ELA.

Saying “every student counts,” Vaughn shared that the staff completed an audit of every student when they started the school year which was used to put together a plan for each and every student.

“When parents came in for open house every student had data that we shared along with tips on how to help at home. For example, if a student was struggling with the letter ‘m’ parents can emphasize that letter with items around the house such as ‘milk,’” she said.

That data will be updated with students’ progress and shared during a “re-open” house in January.

Other measures put in place this school year include implementing the Tier 1 curriculum for students that meets the criteria to be the highest-rated curriculum in the state and training teachers on the use of this curriculum, a new teacher cohort that provides support and professional development for incoming teachers and after-school LEAP tutoring for third and fourth-grade students utilizing the Tier 1 curriculum. Teachers and the students themselves track their mastery of concepts using “exit tickets” at the end of each lesson.

Fifth Ward is also getting some extra help in the form of Principal Intern Rajean Butler. Butler is one of 16 educators throughout the country chosen by Texas Tech for the internship, which mostly focuses on turning around a school. As part of her internship, she had to dive deep into the school’s data, present an initiative to turn the school around and come up with ideas to improve the culture and climate.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but we’re pushing. Ninety-five percent of my day is focusing on instruction and making sure that piece is tight,” she said. “In March, a panel from Texas Tech comes in to see if what I’m doing is working and my success at Fifth Ward determines my grade.”

School Board member Patrick Sanders said after the tour that he was most impressed with seeing the interaction between caring adults and children.

“FWE has experienced struggles over the years, considered underperforming. Now there is a clear plan to address each child in the school. Students are addressed individually according to his/her learning style and are given that individualized recipe to address his/her shortcoming,” he said. “I am extremely proud of the approach that the newly appointed principal and her team have chosen to address the learning styles of our children. In each classroom, our children were engaged in lessons using various forms of techniques to answer questions. We were able to see both technology at work and the use of what’s considered old-fashioned books, where kindergarten students were reading above grade level. Most importantly, we were given an opportunity to see warm bodies - children and adults - interacting in a great learning environment.”

Superintendent Kevin George said he feels better about Fifth Ward than he ever has.

“As you walk around you tell me if that’s a school that deserves its reputation?” he asked board members. “When I talk to parents they thank me for the staff here.”