No excuses. That was Joyce Wilson’s policy as she moved from serving as assistant principal at Lake Highlands Elementary School to its principal.

She didn’t want demographics (half of Lake Highlands’ students are receiving free or reduced lunches) to allow students to be held to a lower standard. Instead, she sought to convince her students and faculty that no obstacle – be it money, language barriers or an aged school building – was enough to keep them from academic success.

And succeed they did. This year, Lake Highlands Elementary School received a “recognized” rating from the State of Texas – the only Lake Highlands school to do so. The top rating is “exemplary”; other ratings are “acceptable” and “low-performing.”

To attain the recognized rating, at least 75 percent of all students and each student group (African-American, Hispanic, white and economically disadvantaged) must pass each section of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills. Other requirements include a dropout rate of 3.5 percent or lower and an attendance rate of 94 percent or above.

Teamwork made it possible for the students to achieve this standard, parents and educators says.

“People worked hard together to accept the challenge in a total environment of cooperation,” says Diane Lowy, immediate past-president of the Lake Highlands Elementary School PTA.

“That’s it. It’s taking a hard look at where we are and where we would like to be.”

Wilson received high praise for her no-excuses philosophy and methodical approach. Under her direction, faculty members met in brainstorming sessions to develop creative ways to teach TAAS principles in daily “challenge classes.”

Teachers received workbooks to help incorporate TAAS objectives in lesson plans. Planning was tackled on a school-wide level, with teachers communicating with those in the grades above and below to seek out weak areas and to ensure that identical material wasn’t being repeated.

Students also joined the planning with self-assessments of their strong subjects and the area in which they wanted to improve.

Says teacher Sara Kingsley: “Joyce got us on the same page. It’s amazing how much time the teachers put in with tutoring students. She got us on the right track from the beginning.”

Wilson, in turn, expressed gratitude for the hard work of the faculty and the support received from neighborhood parents.

“We took a team approach to focus on each child’s needs,” Wilson says.

“The faculty and community worked together. Our PTA is so supportive of us. Anything we ask them to do, they do it.”

In reaching the recognized rating, Lake Highlands Elementary School has likely received just the kind of boost needed to keep reaching the academic excellence.

“To outsiders, this says instructionally we are very strong and our children are very strong,” Lowy says. “To the staff and those on the inside, it is a great feeling. We are awfully proud of our children and our teachers and our school.”

Agrees Kingsley: “The attitude here is so positive. To have our hard work pay off is so rewarding.”

“We worked really hard last year with our programs. Now we’re motivated to work even harder.”