The silence in the hallway is shattered by enthusiastic chanting and singing as a class at C.F. Carr Elementary School prepares for another day of learning.
Students are having fun before tackling the work of the day. Principal Carlotta Hooks, in her second year at Carr, said that strategy is just one teachers are using to engage students and build genuine relationships with them to foster an environment that expects and rewards academic success.
Carr is one of 13 Dallas ISD schools with improvements significant enough to remove it from the state’s list of low-performing campuses. Some of those 13 improving schools, including Carr, are part of the district’s Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program, which pays incentives to high-performing educators to draw them to schools that need them the most. ACE also provides additional resources and requires parents to be a major part of the educational process.
A preliminary plan last year would have closed Carr and consolidated its student population at another district school. The school’s success shut down that plan.
“Our staff was dedicated to giving the students a new start, and showing the kids they believe in them,” Hooks said.
Academic systems are now in place that let students automatically know the expectations each day. For example, students arrive knowing they will work a “Math Problem of the Day” that is aligned with the curriculum and state requirements.
In language arts, students know they will be writing about the novel they are studying. The continual writing assignments are designed to help students become better readers.
“Kids have real books in their hands,” Hooks said. “They understand that reading changes everything. They are writing every day, and writing with a purpose.”
Teachers also give instant feedback to individual students in class. She said that is important because correcting mistakes when work is in progress can more effectively teach the students and eliminates errors moving forward.
Community and parental support is also gaining strength. Volunteers from Mercy Street are at the school every day and some from Trinity Christian Academy volunteer at the school once a month.
Hooks, an avid gardener, has introduced her passion for plants to students, who enjoy helping water and maintain the school garden. There are other new opportunities for students beyond the classroom, including an after-school basketball program coordinated by a volunteer who offered to bring the game to Carr.
“We get a lot of blessings, just out of the blue,” Hooks said.
Karla Johnson-Ritchwood knows how Carr has changed. She teaches 5th– and 6th-grade Reading and has been at Carr the past 11 years. In fact, she is the only teacher to remain after Carr became an ACE campus.
She also points to strong teacher-student relationships as a driving factor.
“The students know the teachers actually care,” Johnson-Ritchwood said. “Teachers are here because they want to be here. The kids know that.”
District administration has provided resources teachers need to succeed, she said, and while there is a lot of pressure on the staff and students to do well, it’s worth the effort.
“I’m loving it,” she said. “I know everybody expected us to fail. We knew we were going to prove them wrong, and we did it.”