Waco ISD is not letting down its guard on COVID

By Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC

On March 10, 2020, I shared my first Facebook post about COVID-19. I had spent all week scrolling the CDC website trying to decide just how bad this virus could be. I met with other nurses, epidemiologists, and employees at the health district. I gathered as much information as possible to help our Waco ISD decide what this would mean for our students.

School supplies and COVID-19 prevention items

I learned that two weeks at home would be helpful in case anyone was exposed over spring break. Two weeks turned into a month, turned into three months. The next thing I knew, we were planning a socially distanced outdoor graduation for both of our Waco ISD high schools. 

Over the summer, I kept thinking, surely this is going to improve, surely we will not be rolling into next school year still battling this virus. It has now been one full year. ONE YEAR! I would have never guessed that we would still be fighting COVID-19 a year later. 

We have seen our share of tragedy and loss during this pandemic. The first death from COVID-19 in McLennan County was one of our own, Mr. Phillip Perry, the G.W. Carver Middle School principal for the 2019-2020 school year. We’ve lost employees, our students and employees have lost loved ones, have battled the virus themselves, and have experienced the dreaded two-week quarantine at home time and time again. Our nurses have spent countless hours after work and on the weekends contact tracing, making quarantine phone calls, answering questions, and providing a supportive and encouraging ear to fearful parents and employees.  

Waco ISD numbers mirrored the county numbers from the beginning. If the county had an uptick, so did we. If the county began to drop off, so did we. We knew we were doing everything in our power to control the spread of this virus within our walls. 

Masks were mandatory for all Waco ISD students, employees, and visitors. Everyone who comes through our doors has their temperature taken. Employees answer daily screening questions to check for symptoms of COVID-19 and potential exposures. 

Even with every CDC recommendation in place, we still experienced a number of cases on our campuses. When we noticed an increase of cases on a particular campus or area of town, we hosted free drive-through testing sites open to all students and staff. These sites would average 300-400 people in a few hours. 

When we returned from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, we held drive-through testing sites in hopes of catching as many people as possible before they returned to our campuses and exposed others.  

In January, we began conversations with Ascension Providence and Midway ISD to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to our eligible employees. We hosted four clinics during February and March and vaccinated over 1,000 employees from Waco, Midway, Bosqueville, Connally, La Vega, and West school districts. We currently have employees in series with their PCPs, local pharmacies, and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. We are confident that any educator who wants a vaccine will be able to obtain one very soon. 

As we look to the final 12 weeks of this school year, our case counts are lower than they’ve been since September.

We will continue to offer free testing on all Waco ISD campuses through the nurses’ offices and from 3:00-5:00 each day at GWAHCA for all WISD students and staff.

We will continue to require masks and social distancing as often as possible in classrooms.

We will continue contact tracing and quarantining on the same day we are notified of a positive case.

We are not letting our guard down. We are not taking any chances. We will continue to follow all CDC recommendations to keep our students, our staff, and our community safe. This isn’t over yet, but there is an end in sight. 

Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC, is director of health services for Waco Independent School District.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Being involved in Waco community is rewarding for Angela Tekell

Editor: In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring interviews with local women leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media.

By Gabby Sherwood

When attorney Angela Tekell was offered jobs in Austin and Houston, Tekell said it didn’t take her long to realize her family had a good life in Waco and that it felt like home. Tekell said being involved in the community and spending her free time riding her bicycle has made her time in Waco fulfilling. 

Angela Tekell

As Waco ISD Board of Trustees president, Tekell works closely with the Waco ISD superintendent to help set the agendas and move the mission and vision of the school district forward.

“I believe my role has a very positive and significant impact,” Tekell said. “In the past, we have suffered from a culture of low expectations. I believe it’s unacceptable and as the president of the board I am in a unique position to push expectations even higher.” 

Along with volunteering her time in the school district, Tekell has been involved in St Alban’s Episcopal Church, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and the Junior League of Waco. Tekell said at one point she was on 10 different boards but has gotten “better at saying no” as she’s gotten older. 

Tekell said one of the most influential volunteer opportunities for her was being president of the Junior League. Its mission is to promote women leadership and community service. 

“The opportunity to be with other professional women really made a positive impact on my life,” Tekell said. “It influenced a lot of the choices I’ve made.” 

Tekell said finding a way to get involved in Waco is important and is not only rewarding but helps build up the community. 

“There’s a lot of opportunities to find something you’re really interested in and there’s no better way to meet people,” Tekell said. “I do know it makes living here much more fulfilling when you get to know the people who shape what kind of community we have.” 

Whenever she isn’t volunteering or working in her community, Tekell said she most enjoys riding her bicycle in Cameron Park on the mountain bike trails almost every weekend. 

“I ride my bike a lot. I have four bikes,” Tekell said. “Lately I’ve been gravel biking up in Clifton. There’s a lot of beautiful country there, a lot of wildlife, no cars. That’s my favorite thing to do.” 

After Tekell studied law at Baylor University, she decided to stay in Waco and has now lived here for 37 years. Waco is a very unique place to live, full of friendly and welcoming people, Tekell said. 

“My experience at the law school was the most influential,” Tekell said. “I think it does a really good job emphasizing the importance of leadership in the community and public service.” 

Tekell said her most memorable experience living in Waco and being on the Waco ISD Board was being invited by former president George W. Bush to mountain bike at his ranch in McLennan County in 2019. 

“The first thing he said after greeting me was ‘I just want to thank you for your service to our community,’” Tekell said. “I was very appreciative that he took the time to extend an invitation and then to express his gratitude. If not for living in Waco and serving in that capacity, I would have never gotten that opportunity.” 

Gabby Sherwood is a freshman journalism major at Baylor University from Austin.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Stewart brings leadership & compassion to his ‘home community’

In honor of Black History Month, we are featuring interviews with local Black community leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media. The students asked questions about what the leaders love about Waco, and we are excited to share their responses with you this month.

By Kristin Hookassian

Local heroes make efforts to ensure their communities are not only taken care of but embraced. They make changes in their community and create relationships with the people in them. 

James Stewart, Jr.

James Stewart, Jr., is a local hero in Waco and Waco ISD.  He is principal of Waco High School. After graduating from Waco High School in 1997, he attended Southwest Texas State University to earn his bachelor’s degree in business administration in management and finance while playing football. 

He then earned his master’s degree in education administration at Tarleton State University. 

Stewart began his educational career in his hometown of Waco. He took a leadership role as the athletic campus coordinator at Lake Air Middle School in 2002. He then began his work at Waco High School to coach football and track while teaching computer and business classes for six years. He worked as an assistant principal at Waco High 2014-2018 and as principal at Carver Middle School in 2019. 

Born and raised in Waco, Stewart said he knew he wanted to work in his hometown after working his first job.

“My first job out of college was working with Wells Fargo for about two years. I like the small-town feel; there’s not too much of a small-town feel anymore. I got involved with coaching and teaching because of 9/11 and the connections I had with former teachers, mentors, people that raised me along the way,” Stewart said. “So, I figured, why not Waco? I figured if I was going to do something in the community, I figured I’d want to do it for my home community.”

Stewart’s compassion and overall influence on Waco ISD students was largely based upon his experience growing up in Waco.

“I know what it’s like to come from generational poverty and so to try to come back and explain to kids, ‘Hey there’s a lot more outside of the city that you may not get to experience.’ So, I’m trying to make sure that they understand that education is the ticket out,” Stewart said. 

He gives his students advice about life beyond classrooms and cafeterias.

“One thing I say on the announcements quite often is, ‘You have to get paper to make paper.’ First you have to get your diploma, then you have to work on getting a certificate of a trade or some kind of a degree,” he said.

Since working with Waco ISD, Stewart has made it a priority to make changes in his community starting with the most vulnerable.

“I usually mentor at least two young boys and try to take them, when I take my daughters to Texas State games or college games, I try to give those kids an opportunity to come with me and my family, so they get to see what college life is like,” Stewart said. My biggest calling is to “give other kids the exposure or chance to see what it’s like outside Waco.”

Seeing local kids grow and mature is the most rewarding part of his career in education. Kids come in as “squirrely freshmen,” but they mature and learn to “walk away from incidents that they didn’t walk away from when they were freshmen.” They grow into young adults, and “that’s the biggest highlight as a professional,” Stewart said.

Kristin Hookassian is a junior psychology and advertising student at Baylor University. She is from Tennessee. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Parkdale teacher named to Yamaha’s ’40 Under 40′ list of top music educators

By Waco ISD Communications

Parkdale Elementary Music Specialist Giselle Vento is receiving national recognition as an honoree in Yamaha’s newly-launched “40 Under 40” music education advocacy program.

Giselle Vento

Vento joins 39 other innovative music educators under the age of 40 who exemplify the highest level of music education in the United States.

“I feel grateful to have been nominated,” Vento said “And I’m excited to receive this recognition for myself and my supportive Waco community, and am inspired to continue in my journey as an educator.”

The 40 Under 40 music education advocacy program was established by Yamaha to celebrate music educators at all grade levels, public or private, as well as private music instructors, selected from hundreds of music education leaders nominated by students, parents, teachers or administrators, local instrument dealers and mentors last fall.

“Despite immense challenges, educators are undertaking the most innovative, creative and impactful programs to truly make a difference in strengthening music education nationwide,” said Heather Mansell, Yamaha’s segment marketing manager in education . “Yamaha shares the same commitment to high-quality music education for all, and we look forward to supporting and encouraging the efforts of these 40 outstanding educators and the thousands more like them across the country.”

In one of her “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “As Giselle grows, her kids grow! Music has become their passion under Ms. [Vento] Banda’s guidance, and they have so many more opportunities to develop their musical arts learning because of her.”

As a Waco ISD student, Vento realized the choir room provided a safe space for her to be expressive and feel a strong sense of belonging. She wants her students to be just as empowered and valued, which is why she refers to students as “scholars.” 

“I want children to be globally-minded, lifelong learners,” she said. “I also want them to know that their teachers are scholars, too. When I refer to them as ‘scholars,’ my students’ behavior shifts, and they take pride in learning.” 

Honorees were selected based on one of four qualities: 1) proactively takes necessary steps that lead to a stronger music program; 2) proposes and implements new or bold ideas; 3) shows innovation and imagination in achieving plans and objectives; or 4) establishes and grows, or improves, music education in their schools and communities. 

“I had the pleasure of visiting Ms. Vento’s classroom the first week of school and just adored watching her lesson.” Waco ISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon said. “Her class is such a great place for kids. She’s so passionate, and I saw how her enthusiasm directly kept her students actively engaged in class. She’s very deserving of this national recognition.”

To see what other program honorees are doing in their local communities, please visit https://yamahaeducatorsuite.com/40-under-40.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Transformation Waco selects new principal for G.W. Carver Middle School


Transformation Waco has selected Isaac C. Carrier as the next principal of G.W. Carver Middle School. Dr. Carrier is a career educator with over 25 years of experience as a teacher, high school assistant principal, middle school principal, central office administrator, and educational consultant. 

“I am both honored and blessed to have the opportunity to lead G.W. Carver Middle School as its next principal,” Carrier said. “I will put forth my best effort to ensure the success of the students and staff of the school and will be of the greatest service and support of the community we serve. Great things are ahead as we ‘Commit to Panther Excellence.’” 

While serving as principal in Aldine ISD, Carrier led his school to earn numerous awards and the state’s highest accountability ratings. In his role as executive director in Dallas ISD, he was instrumental in receiving national awards, and he also supervised four schools that ranked in the top 100 high schools in the nation. 

Carrier earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture and his master’s degree in educational leadership from Stephen F. Austin State University; in 2017, he graduated from Texas A&M University with a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on urban schools. Most recently, he co-authored “The Disestablishment of African American Male Compliant Ambiguity: A Prison Pipeline Essay” in the journal Intersections: Critical Issues in Education. 

“We are delighted to bring Dr. Carrier onboard,” Transformation Waco Chief Executive Officer Dr. Robin McDurham said. “His wealth of experience as an educational leader will serve the students and staff at Carver well. He has devoted his career to ensuring that every child is provided equitable learning opportunities and access to a high-quality education.” 

Carrier will begin his tenure on July 1. He is taking over the leadership role at Carver from Phillip Perry, who tragically passed away in March from complications of COVID-19.

Freedom School: Pulling together to prevent summer learning loss

By Lakia Scott

The Baylor Freedom Schools program is a partnership between Baylor’s School of Education, Waco ISD and Transformation Waco, Prosper Waco, and the City of Waco. Freedom Schools is a seven-week summer literacy enrichment program founded by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Social action, character building, and STEAM activities are also built into the program so children engage in an interactive, meaningful curriculum. Throughout the program, children are exposed to culturally relevant books and meet with community guests to learn how to be agents of change in their local areas. The main theme of Freedom Schools is “I Can Make a Difference in Myself, My Family, My Community, My Country, and My World with Hope, Action and Education.” 

In our founding year, serving 50 students at Cesar Chavez Middle School, we experienced tremendous success with helping a great majority of middle school scholars (93%) maintain or increase their reading abilities therefore significantly reducing summer learning loss. Last year, we worked with 70 middle school scholars at Indian Spring Middle School and 100% of students maintained or increased their reading abilities.

Perhaps the most popular aspect of Freedom Schools is the unforgettable morning experience known as Harambee! The Swahili term meaning “let’s pull together” allows us to collectively gather in understanding our purpose and goals for the day. During Harambee, we sing motivational songs, give announcements, and do cheers before our students enter their classrooms. We also host Guest Readers who will read a short children’s book to the students, and entertain a few questions.   It has proven to be a wonderful way to introduce our students to community leaders and lovers of children and to show the children how much adults value reading.

This video will give you a good sense of the day in and day out Freedom School activities and how it works.

This year, we will be working in the Transformation Zone (an in-district charter system within  Waco ISD) at both Indian Spring MS (50 scholars) and JH Hines Elementary School (120 scholars) to provide quality literacy enrichment programming from June 12 through July 26th. This program is completely free and includes field trips, special guests, and meals. 

Would you like to learn more about Freedom School and how you can participate with us in this exciting work?

Please join us on Friday, May 24,  for the second annual “Reading Between the Vines”  fundraiser.  Admission donations of $25 will be collected to offset the cost of staff training, classroom supplies, field trips, and children’s texts used throughout the duration of the program. During the event, which will take place at the Cultivate 7Twelve art space at 712 Austin Avenue, attendees will meet Freedom School staff and learn more about the program while also being invited to participate in the Art Auction and wine tasting selections. Looking forward to seeing you there.  Let’s pull together! Harambee!

Lakia M. Scott, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Baylor University. She currently teaches elementary reading methods and diversity issues courses to pre-service teachers. Her work focuses on social issues in education like equity, social justice, race, gender and social class. In 2017, Scott launched Freedom Schools in Waco, a summer program focused on building literacy among children by curbing summer learning loss and closing achievement gaps.

Knowing history compels me to share it and make it.

(Gloria Conatser, a student at Waco High,  was one of 25 students nationwide selected to present their National History Day documentaries at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture at this year’s National History Day event.  In today’s blog post she shares a bit about what this opportunity meant to her. — ALW )

“Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it.” – George Santayana

By Gloria Conatser

I have always bothered my teachers with my questions, and the best of them have humored my curiosity. National History Day has allowed me to pursue the answers to my questions myself. In the past six years since I began creating documentaries, every question that I have been able to answer has uncovered ten more for me to follow. Every year, this year especially, my products have been about revealing the events that shaped today.

A big recurring theme in every corner of history is the presence of conflict, and this year’s National History Day theme, “Conflict and Compromise” could be interpreted in many ways.

The approach that I chose to take was one that highlights the dark angle of compromise. Merriam-Webster describes it as, “a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial.” The title of my documentary this year is “3/5ths to Thirteenth: The American Compromise of Black Livelihood.” As I explored the 3/5ths Compromise and Thirteenth Amendment, and outlined their modern implications, I learned that the livelihood of Black Americans has been compromised throughout our history by people who don’t have to face the consequences.

National History Day has given me the opportunity to exercise mental muscles in a way that is not a standard in the public education system. I have had the freedom to analyze hidden histories, create a product that reflects my research, and hold my own among academic leaders from the local to the national level.

During the week of National History Day, I had the opportunity to present my documentary at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. A few days before flying to Washington D.C. I was notified that my work had been selected. The day after National History Day judging I was featured in the Smithsonian and offered an experience that I never would have been able to dream of.

The ultimate takeaway from these years as a National History Day student has been experience: experiencing perspectives that I would otherwise be blind to, experiencing locations many can only dream of, and experiencing the fulfillment of earning these opportunities myself. Practically speaking, I am as capable as most people, and vice versa, but the difference is that I am aware of my abilities and the potential for impact that I have, and that has made all the difference.

Gloria Conatser is a rising senior at Waco High. This is her fifth Year competing at National History Day. Gloria hopes to study engineering or biology and ultimately become an Astronaut. She also aspires to help create a more equal future through her career.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


A Pencil

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Is there anything in this world more hopeful and full of promise than brand new school supplies?  The smell of a new box of colors.   A brand new sharp pencil full of letters and words and pictures and numbers waiting to be set free.  A bright, clean spiral notebook ready to be filled with ideas, and dreams, and problems, and scribbles about who “hearts” who “4-evah,” and drawings of houses and families and fast cars and rockets and dinosaurs.   To all the grown-ups out there…if you have forgotten the joy and power of school supplies, you have forgotten a precious thing.

A few months ago, the Act Locally Waco book group decided to read and discuss the book “Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom” by Lisa Delpit. We had heard through the grapevine that our (then new) WISD school superintendent, Dr. Marcus Nelson, had recommended it to principals in the district, so we put it on our list.  On a whim, I decided to invite him to our book discussion, and lo and behold, he came!  We had a thought-provoking conversation about heavy issues affecting our schools…and more to the point…our children.  I will confess I left the discussion feeling overwhelmed with the complexity and magnitude of the challenges before us.

In the course of the conversation, Dr. Nelson mentioned a poem about a child and a pencil that he thought made an important point…

‘Cause I Ain’t got a Pencil

By Joshua T. Dickerson (reprinted with permission from the author)*

I woke myself up
Because we ain’t got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights ain’t on
Even got my baby sister ready,
Cause my mama wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
Cause I ain’t got a pencil.

This poem is a prism.  When you look into it one way all you see is poverty.  It can leave you feeling sad and overwhelmed. When you look at it another way you see a bright, capable kid solving problems and figuring out what it takes to keep on keeping on.  She (or he) is exasperated with the rest of us because we can’t see that if we would just help her out a tiny bit with a pencil she could get on with the business of getting an education.

Ramona Curtis who works in the Department of External Affairs at Baylor starts each school year by joining the NAACP to welcome and cheer on the young scholars at J. H. Hines Elementary on the first day of school.   For a few years now, she has noticed that even with the many, many wonderful school supply drives throughout our community there were still too many kids coming to school without supplies.  Several conversations with the principal and outreach coordinator at Hines confirmed that school supplies are a big issue.  Even when kids have enough in August, they often run out long before the school year is over.  I’m sure teachers do fuss at kids who don’t have pencils – I know I did when I was a teacher! – but teachers also routinely dig into their own pockets to provide supplies for their kids.  There never seems to be enough to make it to the end of the school year.

With all this in mind, this year Ms. Curtis is working through the Solid Gold Neighbor Initiative at Baylor along with numerous organizations throughout the community to organize a school supply “power” drive.  The goal of this project is to make sure that the five Transformation Zone schools (Brook Avenue Elementary, J. H. Hines Elementary, Alta Vista Elementary, Indian Spring Middle School and G. W. Carver Middle School) who already have so much on their plates this year, do not have to worry about school supplies.

Ms. Curtis and her team visited with the principals at each of the five schools to make a list of the supplies needed for the whole school for the whole year. They got back numbers like 996 boxes of crayons, 2500 glue sticks, 12000 pencils, etc.

Now they are working through churches, sororities and fraternities, non-profits, local businesses and every other kind of organization they can think of to gather those supplies and deliver them directly to the schools to be divvied up among the teachers and distributed as needed with discretion and discernment throughout the school year.

The Solid Gold Neighbor program has made it easy for you to participate.  You can donate money directly by clicking on www.baylor.edu/SGNschoolsupplies or by texting BUSGN to 41444.  Follow the Solid Gold Neighbor Facebook page for updates about how to donate school supplies and what supplies are still needed. Or contact Ramona Curtis at ramona_curtis@baylor.edu  to see how your business or organization can join in!

Not all problems can be solved with a pencil. But sometimes a pencil – or a box of markers, or some paper, or a glue stick — makes a big difference. We have bright, capable kids in Waco ISD. Many of them face tough situations every day and yet resiliently get to school anyway and go about the work of learning the best they know how to do.  We have some significant challenges in our schools, and it will not doubt take time to chip away at most of them, but one thing we can do right now is to make sure there’s a pencil available when a kid needs one.  Let’s do that!

* You can follow Joshua T. Dickerson on his Facebook page, “Joshua T. Dickerson Speaks,” or on Twitter: @joshtdickerson

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.



Is Your Child College, Career, or Military Ready?

By Robin Wilson, Ph.D.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I decided to retire from being a campus principal to return to school to complete my doctorate. I have always loved to learn, and I knew I was ready to embark on a new journey…even though I was a little late in life to be pursuing a Ph.D. While pursuing this degree, I ended up focusing on how to better educate our local high school seniors, teachers, and administrators on what it takes to be college and career ready. There are personal skills, such as time management, study skills, self-awareness, and persistence, required. There are also academic classes, such as dual credit courses or AP (Advanced Placement) courses, that will help prepare a student for college or a career. But, in 2018, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) added a new term and a new standard of expectation for graduating seniors: CCMR.

What is CCMR?

To better meet the expectations of the 60x30TX, TEA expects all seniors, beginning with the class of 2018, to be College, Career, or Military Ready (CCMR).  Each graduating student must meet at least one of the following to be considered CCMR:

College Ready

  • Earn at least a score of 3 on any Advanced Placement exam or at least a score of 4 on any International Baccalaureate examination
  • Meet Texas Success Initiative (TSI) minimum score requirements in reading and mathematics*
  • Complete a dual credit course/courses (earning at least 3 hours in English or Mathematics OR at least 9 hours in any subject)

Career Ready

  • Earn an industry-based certification
  • Complete a Career/Technical Education (CTE) course aligned with an approved industry-based certification
  • Graduate with a completed Individualized Education Program (IEP) and workforce readiness (for certain students served through special education programs)

Military Ready

  • Enlist in the United States Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Marines).

While TEA gives students a variety of ways in which to meet the CCMR, many of these methods will not be known to students (like the TSI or available industry-based certifications/CTE courses aligned to certifications) nor will it be known to students that they should report to their schools if whether they enlist in the US Armed Forces. Therefore, everyone needs to be more familiar with this new requirement.

What is TSI?

The TSI (Texas Success Initiative) is the placement test used by colleges and universities to help determine if your child is ready for college-level courses. Although your child can be “admitted” to a higher education institution based on his or her ACT or SAT scores, “placement” in college-level coursework will depend on his or her TSI scores.  If your child does not meet the standards or exemptions below, he or she will be enrolled in a developmental education program designed to help him/her become college ready. These developmental courses do not count for college credit, but your child will still have to pay the cost of enrolling in these college-level courses.

Minimum scores on TSI to be considered-college ready:

  • Mathematics: 350
  • Reading: 351
  • Writing: a placement score of at least 340, and an essay score of at least 4: OR a placement score of less than 340 and an ABE Diagnostic level of at least 4 and an essay score of at least 5.

Exemptions from the TSI Reading/Writing assessment can be earned based on ACT/SAT scores or course completion:

  • Score a 23 or higher composite on the ACT and a minimum of 19 on the English section
  • Score 480 or higher on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and writing section (no composite score needed)
  • Receive credit for completing the College Preparatory English course

Exemptions from the TSI Mathematics assessment can be earned based on ACT/SAT scores or course completion:

  • Score a 23 or higher composite on the ACT and a minimum of 19 on the Mathematics section
  • Score 530 or higher on the SAT Mathematics section (no combined score needed)
  • Receive credit for completing the College Preparatory Mathematics course

What do these new standards mean for our school districts?

These new standards change the expectations for graduating seniors and how our high schools will receive their “A-F grade” from TEA (https://tea.texas.gov/A-F). The elementary and middle school campuses’ grades from TEA will still be based on STAAR test scores (100%), but high schools will now be graded on STAAR scores (40%), CCMR rate (40%), and graduation rate (20%). This new accountability for high schools will take the work of a village to ensure that all of our seniors graduate ready to pursue a degree at a higher education institution or move into the work force career-ready.

How can parents help make sure their child is college and career ready?

Parents can help in numerous ways:

  • Encouraging your child to not only take dual credit or Advanced Placement courses but also perform well in those courses and on their exams;
  • Reminding your child to take his or her opportunities to take the TSI seriously and to study any practice materials available for the TSI;
  • Aiding your child in finding opportunities to earn an industry-based certificate (if their goal is to be career-ready) through participation in CTE courses, the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy or the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy;
  • Urging your child to utilize the college planning guide.

Your local high schools also need you to help educate your neighbors about CCMR. The new standards can be conquered, and our high schools can continue to provide our students with skills and knowledge necessary to be successful, but it will take the work of a village. Help spread the word in our community on what it takes to be college, career, or military ready!

Dr. Robin Wilson is the College Readiness Coordinator and AVID District Director for Waco Independent School District.  She earned her Masters degree from University of Texas at Tyler and her Doctorate at Baylor University. She has worked as a classroom teacher, campus principal, a district administrator, an AVID professional development staff member, and a university adjunct professor.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.




Innovative local programs help students graduate on time and with less debt

By Scott McClanahan, Ed.D.

In the spring of my senior year, I noticed a trend amongst my classmates: they were all discussing college incessantly. I, however, was not. As the son of a factory worker and a retail sales clerk (neither of whom attended college), I was not having those discussions at my house.  I had not met with my guidance counselor for college advice nor had I been approached by any outside entity to help me navigate the college process. My sole source of information was the copious college propaganda that arrived in the mail each day. Impressed by beautiful pictures, stories of campus activities, and lists of amazing opportunities available at the various institutions, I tried to determine where to go, even though I knew my family did not have the financial resources for me to attend. It was not until April of my senior year that I decided on a state school 90 minutes from home; however, by that time, the dorms were full nor had I been awarded financial aid, forcing my parents and me to navigate the worlds of off-campus housing, financial aid, payment plans, and books on our own.

But that was 30 years ago.  And we hope — for the large majority of today’s students — circumstances are different.  However, an occasional student still moves through the high school system and never receives the message that college is both valuable and available, despite any hardships possessed.

As President of the Heart of Texas P-20 Council, I can confidently state that administrators around the region sponsor fantastic College Readiness programs to assist their students: college and career fairs to motivate students to pursue higher education, college testing (such as ACT, SAT, and ASVAB) preparation that opens opportunities at higher education institutions or in the military, and specialized career preparation classes. From rigorous Career and Technical Education programs, to Advanced Placement and Dual Credit course offerings, to Early College High Schools and early degree programs, our region is leading the charge to impact every student. Today’s local students find it increasingly more difficult to make it through to high school graduation without ever hearing about college, without receiving information about paths to college, or without their post-graduation plans being questioned (usually multiple times).

These conversations are part of our region’s efforts to meet the requirements of the State of Texas’s 60x30TX initiative, an enterprise to keep Texans competitive in the global economy. The 60x30TX initiative has four goals: increase the education level of Texas’s 25 to 34-year-old population; increase degree completion levels at Texas community colleges and universities; increase the marketable skills possessed by high school graduates; and decrease the amount of student debt accrued by college graduates. The state’s fifteen-year strategic plan encompasses these four goals, all to be achieved by 2030. Although formidable, all are attainable with intense, directed action on the part of K-12 systems, higher education institutions, and the community.

The first goal seeks to increase the number of adults ages 25-34 statewide who hold college degrees (2-year or 4-year) or national workforce certifications to 60% by 2030.  In an age where the American Center for Progress reports that one in eight Americans lives in poverty, this type of goal is required. A 2012 Brookings Institute study identified two common characteristics of prosperous communities: residents either held a college degree or had earned a workforce certification, and explained this finding economically in a 2015 report:  adults aged 25 to 34 who finish college degrees not only earn more annually but also contribute more to the local economies, causing the whole community to flourish. Similarly, specialized certifications allow workers access to a set of higher-paying jobs. Therefore, the goal makes good sense for all of us.  However, the 2018 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac reports that in 2016 (the most recent available data) only 42.3% of Texans 25-34 held a degree or certification. Therefore, it is in all our best interests to encourage the young people in our lives to pursue one of these avenues.

The Heart of Texas P-20 council, whose focus is to collaborate, inform, and advocate for seamless pipelines from prekindergarten to career, engages local K-12 systems Waco ISD, Midway ISD, LaVega ISD, and Connally ISD, local charter schools Harmony and Rapoport, higher education partners McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College, Prosper Waco, and numerous business representatives in active communication to remove barriers that might exist that prevent students from helping the state to achieve these strategic goals. And, our earnest work toward this mission is seeing results.

At last Tuesday’s McLennan Community College graduation, Rapoport Academy and Waco ISD graduated 13 students with associate degrees before these students had even graduated from their high school.

Waco ISD’s two associate degree graduates with me: Kiara Jackson, Waco High School, and Isabella Lozano, University High School. These young women have both claimed the title of first student in their high schools to graduate with an associate degree.

One Waco High School student, Kiara Jackson, achieved this feat in only three years—graduating from high school a year early and from her associate program three years ahead of schedule. The students completed these degrees at no cost to themselves, helping to meet the state’s fourth strategic goal of reducing student debt levels. These students avoided costs by participating in programs offered at their high schools that are free of charge. Rapoport Academy’s Early College High School and Waco ISD’s ACCELERATE Early Degree Program are just two innovative ways that regional educators are creating options for our students to eventually earn more as workers and contribute to their communities at higher levels as consumers.

Questions about these types of programs can easily be answered by a high school counselor or current participant; however, three main misconceptions tend to keep students from taking advantage of these types of opportunities:

How does a student have time to meet all the high school graduation requirements and complete a college degree at the same time? Do they have a longer year, go to night school, or have to attend during the summer?  – “Dual credit” classes allow students to earn both high school and college credits at the same time. For example, MCC’s History 1302 can be taken to fulfill both the required credit for high school US History and to complete the U.S. History course requirement for any degree issued at a Texas public college or university.  Therefore, with smart planning, students can complete classes that earn credit towards high school graduation and a college degree.

How does a student know what classes will be accepted by universities, particularly out of state? Who will help them navigate that?  – McLennan Community College advisors are extremely knowledgeable about transfer credits and acceptance of classes. Advisors are required to meet each semester with students prior to enrollment, once two classes are completed. During this advising, they will ask students what schools interest them and what their anticipated majors will be. From that, advisors will determine the best classes for the students. Parents and students can always verify transfer policies for any college by calling the transfer coordinator (whose name can be found on the college’s website) to discover how transfer coursework will be accepted once the student is admitted to the university.

Does this type of program keep students from participating in other school activities? – Because students are accelerating their instruction (sometimes by up to four grade levels), they should consider limiting participation in some activities, especially those that cause them to miss school frequently or require long practice hours outside of the school day. Since grades in these courses impact the students’ high school and college GPAs, an overloaded schedule many times will avert focus from academics (or cause students to have tremendous worry about those academics) and performance suffers. This does not mean students must give up all extra-curricular activities. They can participate in activities such as band or choir, sports, and clubs; however, they should make wise choices when investing time and carefully evaluate the time commitment required of each activity before committing to it.

Perhaps if these types of opportunities had been offered when I was a senior, I would have taken advantage of them and saved myself a great deal of time, money, and stress. We have programs to help increase college access throughout our community—Communities in Schools, VOICE, Project Link, just to name a few. Parents who did not attend college should not feel embarrassed about asking for guidance on how to help their children navigate this process. We are all in this together: schools, businesses, the P20 council and the State of Texas. Together, we can meet the state’s challenge and meet its lofty goal, while simultaneously helping to make Waco a more prosperous community.

Dr. Scott McClanahan is the Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction for the Waco Independent School District. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Dr. McClanahan moved to Texas to earn both his Masters degree and Doctorate. He has been a middle school and high school teacher, a community college professor, and a university adjunct professor.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.