Oct 20, 2021 • 13M

2 principals celebrate success amid challenges

The TEA withheld accountability ratings due to the pandemic, but raw data reveals AISD shows strong growth

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By Toni Garrard Clay/AISD Communications Coordinator

Athens High School Principal Nicole Cornish and Central Athens Elementary Principal Claudia Stiles join us for The Buzz Podcast this week to talk about the gains Athens ISD made during the previous school year, even under the considerable challenges imposed by the ongoing pandemic.

Highlights from the podcast:

At 0:30 — As a result of the pandemic, the last time a seventh-grader had a completely normal school year was in fourth grade.

At 0:56 — Pre-pandemic, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) assigns a letter score to public school districts and individual campuses. Given the impact of COVID-19, all districts and schools received a label of “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” for their 2020 and 2021 accountability ratings. However, TEA recently released some raw data, and AISD was able to extrapolate that if ratings had been released, the district would have received an overall rating of B. “Which feels like an A++++ in the context of the challenges that we’ve been facing,” says AISD Communications Coordinator Toni Clay.

At 2:20 — “As I thought about last year in particular and where we started and where we ended … It wasn’t until probably January that we got all of our kids back in person. And so it was very difficult,” says Stiles. It was not until everyone was back on campus together, she notes, that a collective recovery toward academic success began. “The kids need us; we need our kids,” she says.

At 3:55 — “It is every staff member on our campus that built the success that we had as a campus. It is our paraprofessionals who filled in all the gaps when we had absences. It’s our custodial staff who kept our classrooms clean and safe so that we could be in school together. Every single person on our campus … supported the success of our students,” says Stiles.

At 4:40 — “We had basically two years where data wasn’t reported, but we were having so much success. … Although we are not great fans of the STAAR test, we still wanted that affirmation that … we were growing. … This latest STAAR test data, it proved that,” says Stiles.

At 6:14 — Cornish points out that not only students, but also teachers and staff have had to dig deep to work through the difficulties brought on by the pandemic. It was particularly difficult, she says, to find a balance between managing social and emotional challenges while maintaining a strong commitment to instructional strategies. “Doing both of those things for our students and for our staff was a challenge,” says Cornish. “But we really last year made a commitment to say we have to figure out how to do both. We have to take care of their social and emotional feelings, but we also have to take care of their academics, because they’re getting ready to go to college, and they’re getting ready to go to the workforce, and we need to do what we can to make them prepared for adulthood.”

At 7:34 — For sixth-grade students and up, Athens ISD provides access on campus to licensed professional counselors for students in need. [If your student is in sixth grade or up and you feel they are in need of professional counseling, please contact the campus school counselor for more information.]

At 8:41 — “In the years prior to COVID, we’d identified some areas that we wanted to work on, and then COVID happened, and it felt like, ‘How do we work on these areas now that we’re stuck in this pandemic,’” says Cornish. “I’m just incredibly proud of our staff at the high school that they said, ‘Hey, pandemic or not … we’re going to work on these challenges and push our way through,’ and it showed for sure on our scores.”

At 9:39 — Athens High School saw the most success in their reading and English language arts scores.

At 10:45 — Stiles says teachers at all three elementary campuses are great at identifying and targeting the needs of students and have strong teams doing just that. “Our teams are constantly in contact with each other and sharing ideas and planning together,” says Stiles. “… When we got our kids back with us, we did see COVID [learning] gaps … and so we quickly realized we have to meet that need whether it was a student who had previously been high [achieving] or medium or low. … So we really accelerated learning in that second semester last year … and saw a lot of growth, I would say, in all areas. … It was so hard, but, again, they were just so happy to have kids back with them.”

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