How do you prepare students for an uncertain future?
By preparing them in unconventional ways. Spring Branch ISD reported at its annual State of the Schools community event how exactly it’s changing to connect with the workers and leaders of tomorrow.
Nearly 400 district and community stakeholders heard the annual update during an early-morning program held at the Norris Conference Center in CityCentre. At the special event, SBISD also recognized 251 members of the Class of 2018 Good Neighbors.
The Good Neighbor designation is given to the many individuals, local companies and nonprofit groups who support SBISD schools and students through qualifying activities or philanthropy. The district is supported by more than 11,000 approved volunteers. Together, they’ve invested 200,000 hours to the needs of schools and students.
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Predicting the Future
During opening remarks, CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future Brett Perlman described several future trends that will impact Houston in 2036. Why that year? It will mark the 200th anniversary of Houston, and reflects the decade into which this year’s starting class of SBISD students will exit high school.
Predicting the future is real hard, Perlman said, but best bets include rapid changes in climate, communications, technology and educational requirements. Both Houston and Spring Branch neighborhoods will be far more urban, congested and demographically diverse by that decade, too.
Climate change, he said, is our “biggest challenge,” marking a “major shift all our children will have to address.” Houston’s population is expected to increase from 5 million in 2015 to 7.5 million people by 2026, and then grow again to megacity-level size by 2036, making it one of the world’s biggest urban centers.
In that advancing new world of robotics and artificial intelligence, humans’ role will depend on the ability to use technology wisely. “Cities that fail to embrace data-driven technology will become the Rust Belts of the future,” Perlman said.
Those with less than a high school education will be left out. Collaboration and creativity are a few uniquely human assets that will become far more critical as many contemporary jobs are replaced by machines. As described by one writer recently, Perlman said, both computer coding skills and knowledge of the U.S. Constitution will become vital for learning, careers and a living, vibrant democracy.
SBISD Meets the Challenge
Using a “fireside chat” format, Perlman and SBISD Superintendent Scott Muri, Ed.D., shared thoughts on Houston’s future and how the district is meeting the challenges of preparing the future workforce. Dr. Muri said SBISD is focused on meeting students “where they are” academically and in their social/emotional well-being.
School redesign efforts and personalizing the learning experience for each of the district’s nearly 35,000 students are two ways the district is responding to future learning needs, he also said.
Quoting famous engineer and statistician W. Edwards Deming, Dr. Muri told the breakfast gathering, “Your organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results you are achieving. So, if we don’t change the organization, change the way we do business, then we will continue to create a generation of kids who are best prepared for jobs in the year 2000, or 1980. We have to prepare kids for the Class of 2036 and beyond.”
Teaching and Learning
Dr. Muri used key data points brought to life by students, either in person or through video, through the “big bucket” themes that SBISD focuses on as a system – How We Teach, How We Learn, How We Connect, How We Build and How We Engage.
One strategy being deployed in SBISD to meet future needs is known as Design Thinking, the yearlong process that brings together students, staff, parents and community to determine what works best and what doesn’t.
The design process uses student empathy interviews, committee and group work meetings, and the development of graduate aims, or goals, to think differently. Across SBISD, 25 campuses have now gone through or are in this process, also known as School Redesign. Early results at several schools show significant student growth, the superintendent said.
Personalization of learning for students and professional growth for teachers and other employees are critical components of the SBISD story, too, Dr. Muri said. At this time, almost half of the district’s 4,600 adults have now enrolled in or taken professional development courses, which reflects 43,000 specific learning units.
“The way we have done school for our students is not the way to do school in the future,” Dr. Muri told Perlman. Four educational “pillars” help measure personalization goals. They include anytime/anywhere learning, academic rigor, holistic and actionable data, and student voice and agency.
Already, SBISD has observed positive student growth across several key measures, including a narrowing of achievement gaps in all five student subgroups measured, while the achievement of all students has also increased. Improvement Required ratings are way down in SBISD, too, from 5 schools to only 1 school today, according to Texas accountability measures.
At the same time, student enrollment in Advanced Placement classes has gone up by 37 percent, and the district’s single-focused T-2-4 goal has increased 8 percent, from 36 to 44 percent. T-2-4 represents Spring Branch’s commitment to having all graduates attain either technical certification, military training, or 2- or 4-year college or university degrees.
Connect, Build and Engage
While Dr. Muri and Perlman used data – raw test scores, percentages and related numbers – to describe a highly successful school district, stakeholders heard from students and graduates directly about what SBISD means to them.
They also were reminded that SBISD’s bricks-and-mortar future is on a sure path. District voters in November 2017 approved an $898.4 million bond program that will impact every school and every child in SBISD. Among bond projects, 10 new schools – nine elementaries and one middle school – will be rebuilt over the next decade. Design thinking is helping the district choose best – from new student seating options to energy-efficient replacement buses.
At the personal level, a SBISD student named Joe described in a touching video how the path of his own early young life – by several accounts not positive – was changed for the better by teachers and others at Nottingham Elementary School. Today, Joe is doing well as a middle school student, making all A’s but for one B.
By the numbers, SBISD is invested in making relationships stronger between its schools and with students. The district’s Council of PTAs has built Sister Schools partnerships between 27 campuses, matching schools in need with those ready and eager to assist. SBISD employs 139 people in other positions, ranging from counseling to Communities in Schools, to meet family needs. Six in 10 students report that they feel safe and secure in their schools and report that they have at least one caring adult who cares about them.
“Nothing compares to a trusting, powerful relationship between a teacher, or an educational professional, and a student,” Dr. Muri told Perlman and the crowd.
Students Speak Out
District stakeholders also heard from Paris Johnson, a Stratford High senior who benefited from an adult mentor, a strong health-career focus, and rewarding internship at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.
A scholarship will help move Paris on to study abroad at the University of St. Louis in Madrid, Spain. She plans to earn a registered nursing degree, then earn more advanced degrees to be an anesthesiologist in the future.
“Spring Branch has really helped me. My teachers have helped push me to know where I really did not know I wanted to go,” she told the gathering.
The ballroom audience also heard from Jovana Campos, a district graduate who acknowledged the positive role of mentoring in her life and who now involves herself and others at Archrock, an energy-related company, in mentoring and volunteering.
Ten Archrock employees mentor at Woodview Elementary. “I encourage you all today to be a friend, a role model, an advocate and a mentor to a child in the same way,” Ms. Campos said.
Finally, the gathering heard from Preston Graham, Class of 2019 and an International Baccalaureate student at Westchester Academy for International Studies, who told Dr. Muri that he’s “absolutely” prepared for whatever’s next.
“This is the right place for me to receive a challenging, rigorous education,” said Preston, who also shared that he plans to study mathematics in college and then may one day lead students himself – as a college professor.
Young Angel Hernandez, a 3-year-old at the Panda Path School for Early Learning, stole many hearts by appearing on stage in a Class of 2033 T-shirt.
After several remarks with Dr. Muri, Angel demonstrated in spoken words and by an infectious youthful enthusiasm that he’s ready for the journey that’s ahead of him.
“Good morning. My name is Angel. I go to Panda Path. Thank you for making me ready for my future!”
Opening SBISD’s State of the Schools program was Trustee President the Rev. Josef Klam. He introduced several special guests including State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich: Deanna Harrington, district director with Texas House District 133 Rep. Jim Murphy’s Office; Spring Valley Mayor Tom Ramsay; Pam Wells, executive director of Region 4 Education Service Center; Zachary Hodges, president of HCC-Northwest College; and Brenda Stardig, Houston Council Member-District A.
In addition to Klam, SBISD Board members attending included Pam Goodson, Chris Gonzalez, Chris Vierra, J. Carter Breed and Karen Peck. Two former SBISD Trustees also attended. They are Mary Grace Landrum and Katherine Dawson.
Planning and support for the annual State of the Schools program was provided by the SBISD Community Relations and Communications Team.