First, let’s get a couple of comparisons with DISD out of the way. The districts differ in size (RISD’s 38,000 students compared to DISD’s 159,000) and percentage of economically disadvantaged students (RISD’s 58 percent compared to DISD’s 89 percent.) Ultimately, these numbers factor into a difference in college readiness: RISD’s 22.4 percent, compared to DISD’s 14.5 percent. (The average in Texas is 20.8 percent.)
RISD’s successes are driven by a capable board of trustees, proactive stewardship of financing and a no-drama superintendent, Dr. Kay Waggoner, who joined the district in 2010.
“Inside RISD” is a community outreach program designed to provide parents and local businesses a behind-the-scenes, in-depth look at the district. Participants meet once a month to be schooled on everything from administration to technology in the classroom. This time last year, I discovered the program and immediately volunteered to participate.
I haven’t regretted one meeting.
Our year began in early October, at the district headquarters on Greenville Avenue, where Waggoner and the board greeted us and answered questions. That was where I first heard of RISD’s improvement initiative called “Vision 2020,” which lays out four specific goals that guide the board’s actions through the end of this decade.
Goal 1: Students are highly engaged in their educational life. The district asks the students for direct input on whether they find their classes interesting and relevant to their lives.
Whether they go to college or directly into the workforce, today’s students will need to be ready to hit the ground running with the latest technology. That’s why RISD strives to refresh technology every five years. We “Insiders” were challenged with opportunities to try iPads, apps, and interactive response buttons, which projected results instantly on screens in the classrooms.
If students have their own devices (iPads, smartphones or laptops), they can bring them to school at the secondary level. If they don’t have access to computers, some are available in the school’s libraries or even for home use during the school year.
Goal 2: Profound curriculum is the foundation for learning. By “profound” they mean vigorous, relevant, and incorporating 21st-century skills. Teaching toward “career clusters” gets kids thinking about turning their personal interests into future work.
Students now record their interests in a new online system called “Naviance,” which helps them keep track of their ideas. Naviance later becomes a springboard when it’s time to identify colleges or programs that will best fit individual interests.
Goal 3: RISD has high-performing, student-focused teachers. Whenever we observed teachers in action, it always reinforced my respect for them and their vocation. RISD focuses on maintaining competitive salaries and also surveys teachers about job satisfaction. Budget cuts have translated into zero-to-minimal raises in recent years. Here’s hoping RISD’s lawsuit against the state will determine that Texas owes its schools more of the money it took away five years ago. (A decision is expected in May.)
Goal 4: RISD ensures excellence in operations. All through Robin Hood and the draconian legislature of 2011, RISD maintained a fund that ensures repayment of necessary bonds, along with stability of operations. At one session we met with the staff that runs security, maintenance and housekeeping for all the schools. We learned that field employees are monitored for productivity, and that almost every angle in every school is visible on camera. We viewed the design boards for current construction and renovations in the schools.
According to the RISD website, Inside RISD participants are “future members of district committees and teams — those who can help make a difference in the school community as opinion leaders.” If you are interested in attending, the best route is by referral through your PTA or principal of your school.
Even if you don’t go “inside,” you can visit RISD’s YouTube channel, where Dr. Waggoner stars in monthly updates about the district. Google “Spotlight on RISD” and connect to the latest video.
For more info go here.