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Denton ISD campus improvement plans put focus on literacy

Campus administrators said they are committed to improving childhood literacy at their schools during a Denton ISD school board meeting Tuesday.

The meeting began with public comment from former school board member and local activist Willie Hudspeth, who charged the current school board to do more when it comes to reading intervention. 

He cited a recent United Way of Denton County study that said the number of economically disadvantaged third-graders reading at grade level in Denton County dropped 10 percentage points in four years.

"I want to make sure it's clear who is not doing their job: the board," Hudspeth said. "I know that the teachers would do better if you designed something for them to do it."

Principals from each Denton ISD campus then laid out the goals in their annual campus improvement plans. Each school was grouped into one of four attendance zones based on high school feeder patterns: Braswell, Denton, Guyer and Ryan.

Though each zone focused on specific issues, the overarching goal (as with any school) was to improve student achievement, specifically in reading and math. Progress would be tracked by how students fared on state standardized tests and what grade level they read at.

"It's great to use this data because we had some preconceived notions about who our at-risk kids were and where they were coming from," Denton High School Principal Joel Hays said. "We found out very quickly that 77 percent of our at-risk kids were homegrown [within Denton ISD]. We did not know that."

Administrators also talked about closing gaps between students who traditionally have more barriers when it comes to learning, like kids from low-income households or those who don't speak English. Some goals included boosting the number of students who take advanced coursework or score at a higher level on state tests.

"Our goal is that no matter where a child lands, what school they go to or what neighborhood their parents purchase in, they land well," Savannah Elementary School Principal Michael McWilliams said. "We want there to be equality between all our schools."

Each zone also had area-specific goals it wanted to achieve. School officials in the district's newest zone, Braswell, said they were working to establish school traditions and an individualized culture on the U.S. Highway 380 Corridor. The Denton zone is working on strengthening its International Baccalaureate program, while Ryan wants to create more avenues for parents to get involved at school. Guyer zone administrators said they want to continue to connect kids with clubs or activities that suit their interests.

"If we want to capture their minds, we know we have to capture their hearts," Crownover Middle School Principal Charlene Parham said.

Several of the goals also centered on technology usage in the classroom and at home. Some families in Denton don't have internet access at home, but Superintendent Jamie Wilson said the district offers options for those students.

"We have opportunities for kids to check some school [electronic] devices out," Wilson said. "We're encouraging kids to bring their own device to school and we're looking for solutions that are cell-phone based because over 95 percent of families, even low-income families, have at least a data plan."

By the end of the presentation, the overall goal of improving literacy stuck with the school board. Board member Dorothy Martinez said the district's priorities were clear and offered the board's help to achieve them.

"I think you all have done great and I know you have big words for all these different things. But when it comes down to it, those kids have to be able to read and they've got to do it in English," Martinez said. "When you need something so you can move forward, don't get stuck. Tell us and we'll go out and get it for you. That's what we're here for."

To read the campus improvement plan for your child's school, go to http://www.dentonisd.org/trustees, click on the "Board Meeting Agendas" tab and go to the Oct. 10 meeting. 

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.