Point Isabel ISD, located at the southernmost tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, enrolls approximately 2,500 students. Eighty-two percent of students served by the district are economically disadvantaged, and over 60% are considered academically at-risk. District leaders saw the Raising Blended Learners grant as an opportunity to transform teaching and learning practices and increase student motivation, with the goal of better preparing students for postsecondary education. The superintendent has encouraged risk-taking and innovation in Point Isabel; the Raising Blended Learners work has played an important role in operationalizing her vision.
Across Point Isabel’s two elementary campuses (Garriga and Derry Elementary) and at Port Isabel Junior High School (the district’s only junior high school), district leaders have observed low math achievement and a persistent achievement gap especially among English Language Learners. Campus and district leaders are also concerned about student disengagement in the classroom. In response to indicators of low student engagement, district leaders sought to better meet the needs and aspirations of individual students through personalized blended learning.
Point Isabel’s district team was led by the superintendent, who has been a strong champion for innovation and next generation learning in the district. Before the RBL grant, the superintendent and her team took several steps that set the groundwork for future transformation. This included a major effort in 2013-14 to build teacher capacity around continual reflection and coaching. By 2015-16, a few classrooms started experimenting with elements of station rotations and flipped classrooms. Teachers saw changes in student behavior that generated excitement for expanding new instructional models. To support implementation from the district level, two Blended Learning Coach positions were created and filled by an instructional dean from an elementary campus. Together, the coaches, RBL project manager, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and the superintendent became the key forces driving implementation. Under their guidance, the district has moved forward with implementing two different blended learning models—a station rotation in two elementary school classrooms, and a Summit Learning Program implementation in secondary core classes. Across both settings, teachers were invited to opt-in to participate in the pilot. While common themes and a shared vision of personalized learning connect these two approaches, there are separate arcs and experiences related to each elementary campus and the junior high school.
Since transitioning to blended learning, students know their beginning-of-year scores on assessments such as NWEA MAP testing, and they know the goals that they have set for the middle of the year and the end of the year. It has been powerful to see students—students who have historically never passed a state assessment—observe their own progress and realize that they are learning. Students utilize goal-tracking sheets, and they are able to articulate why they are doing particular lessons. It’s these small things that let us know that we’re on the right track. We still hear students say, “This is so hard. I want to go back to the old way, where we could just copy notes off the board.” Even that lets us know we’re on the right track, because we are shifting the cognitive lift to students rather than teachers.
We consider school redesign a particular strength because we changed our instructional model and because we are working to change the culture of our schools. Blended learning requires a huge culture shift for all stakeholders—students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We are trying to be especially clear about the “why” behind this work when communicating with community members, who are used to traditional instruction.
Additionally, we are leaders in iteration and experimentation around blended learning. Our superintendent has been very clear that trial and error will not be punished. Stakeholders at all levels of this process are allowed the freedom to make mistakes and to grow. This structure of autonomy within support has been a huge strength.
Focus Areas: School / district redesign
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Superintendent of Schools
101 Port Rd
Port Isabel, Texas
Point Isabel Independent School District's Website