Following a planning workshop with Midland ISD officials and the Texas Education Agency over the weekend, it now appears likely that substantial change will be coming to the struggling district in the next few years.

The district’s student proficiency has been extremely low in recent years, according to state standards. In an effort to improve performance outcomes, MISD board members and top administrative staff worked with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to draft preliminary goals, reevaluate the district’s vision and mission statements, and create guidelines for the upcoming superintendent search. They hope structural changes will take MISD from a bottom tier district to a top quartile district over the next decade.

A.J. Crabill, Deputy Commissioner of Governance for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and former board member of Kansas City ISD, facilitated the planning workshop. According to the TEA’s website, Crabill has a positive reform record.

“When he was initially elected to the board, Kansas City had the lowest accreditation status of any district in Missouri, was hemorrhaging funds, suffered regular scandals of public corruption and was in general disarray. Crabill led a broad suite of reforms that radically transformed the district.”

Crabill shared his experiences on KCISD’s Board with workshop attendees and emphasized that meaningful change will likely make some people uncomfortable. That discomfort for some, however, is a clear indication the district is headed in the right direction and making more than just superficial organizational changes.

A majority of Saturday’s workshop was spent creating tentative three-year goals for K-2 reading, 3-8 math, and the graduation rate, that would simply place MISD where comparable districts currently rank.

For example, one goal was to increase the four-year graduation rate from the current 85.3 percent to 95 percent for the Class of 2020. Similar districts, such as Abilene and Katy ISD, have a graduation rate of 94 percent and 93.5 percent respectively. Assuming the shorter term, three-year goals will be attained, ten-year goals aimed even higher, with the ultimate objective of placing MISD in the top quartile of Texas ISDs.

Following the goals discussion, MISD officials addressed theories of action in regards to organizational management. A preliminary plan was made to move away from its current structure, which is relatively administration-heavy in regards to managing campuses, and gradually giving schools and teachers more autonomy, creating a model of self-governance for individual campuses and empowering parents.

More specifically, the district would shift from its current theory of action (known as Managed Instruction) to Earned Autonomy, a blend of the administration directly administering some campuses while granting varying levels of autonomy to other campuses. From an Earned Autonomy structure, MISD would ultimately move to a System of Great Schools. According to the TEA, a System of Great Schools is a theory of action where “central administration devolves autonomy to schools, and empowers parents to make choices, creates performance contracts with campuses, annually evaluates performance of and demand for schools, and makes strategic decisions regarding growing access to high performing schools and addressing low performers.”

The workshop ended with a discussion about the district’s search for a superintendent and how the new goals and theories of action will play into the selection. Constraints laid out by the group were grounded in the consensus that leadership must maintain a student-centric mentality when making key decisions (something that has not consistently been practiced in the past) and have a “no-excuses” philosophy.

Additionally, the candidate must have a growth mindset, support professional learning communities, and have experience in or extensive knowledge of the Earned Autonomy and System of Great Schools management structures.

Last fall, the results of the school district’s tax election sent a profound message to MISD officials. With MISD lagging behind peers in performance levels and no significant change taking place, it was clear that Midlanders were not okay with business as usual. Although there was some push-back over the weekend and more will undoubtedly take place moving forward, the workshop seemed to serve as an indication that the message was received and steps are being taken to move the district in a different direction.

While there are far too many unknowns that remain, MISD’s future looks brighter than ever before. There is a tremendous opportunity for parents and taxpayers to positively engage in the reform process.

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Lauren Melear

Lauren Melear leads the West Texas Bureau of Texas Scorecard. When not working, Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog, as well as cooking, working out, traveling to the hill country, and cheering on the fightin' Texas Aggies.