Staff at ACE schools preparing to exceed higher expectations

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At the meet-the-teacher night held Aug. 20 at Roger Q. Mills Elementary, parents got a first glimpse at some of the changes the ACE-designated campus is making this year.

ACE – Accelerating Campus Excellence – aims to boost student achievement by staffing identified schools with high-performing principals and teachers. This year’s ACE schools are Annie Webb Blanton, Mills, Elisha Pease and Umphrey Lee elementary schools; and Billy Earl Dade, Thomas A. Edison and Sarah Zumwalt middle schools. All seven are designated as Improvement Required by the Texas Education Agency.

All Dallas ISD teachers are going through professional development leading up to the first day on Monday, Aug. 24. But for ACE educators, the summer ended a little earlier. Besides training on core content, those working on ACE campuses received training on social-emotional learning, among other areas.

ACE Executive Director Jolee Healey is making presentations as part of the staff training, and she was at Mills Elementary on Thursday. Because the majority of the staff at Mills is new to the school, team-building activities have been an important part of the process, Healey said. Healey told teachers that the work they will do at an ACE school will prove a culmination of their experience.

“You have been training your entire careers for this year, for these kids,” Healey told the teachers.

Among differences on an ACE campus are assembling the teams of proven educators, providing the additional support the campus needs to succeed, setting high expectations for students and staff, as well as lengthening the instructional day.

“We’re going to ensure that students achieve,” Healey said. “I see a room full of passionate, mission-focused people.”

Principal Tonya Clark, who is moving to Mills from Victor H. Hexter Elementary School, is excited about the new school year.

“I’m optimistic that our team is going to exceed everyone’s expectations,” she said. “We have the right people on the bus. It doesn’t matter if you know where you are going, when you have the right people, you can decide together where to go.”

Clark cited studies showing that when students are taught by effective teachers for at least three consecutive years, the achievement gap closes. By the time a first-grader reaches the fourth grade at Mills, she said, the gap will essentially be gone.

“We’ve had challenges already, but we’ve embraced every challenge. We all know it’s not going to be easy,” she said. “They can’t wait to meet the kids tonight, and we’re ready for the first day of school.”

Alejandra Ramos, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at Mills, is one of two teachers who are returning to the school for the next year; the remainder of the staff is new to the building.

“It’s been a great change,” Ramos said of Mills being named an ACE school, noting that the new staff is bringing a renewed passion and enthusiasm. “We’re really excited to start the school and just love our kids every day.”

A key difference has been the level of support – Ramos said she feels it especially from fellow team members, who are committing to work closely together for students.

“We want to make kids want to come to school,” she said.

Learn about the ACE plan here.

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