Dallas principals say retooling schools paying off

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DALLAS (AP) - An initiative to pump more resources into 21 Dallas Independent School District schools has taken off. And some principals say it’s paying off.

The district’s Imagine 2020 initiative began this school year at Pinkston, Lincoln and Madison high schools and campuses that feed into them. Under the plan, teachers receive more hands-on instruction. More staffers are on campus. Students get in-house tutoring. And there’s a bigger focus on community involvement and helping the neediest kids.

The goals are long range and focus on increasing academic achievement and college readiness.

“We’re nowhere close to the finish line,” Superintendent Mike Miles told The Dallas Morning News (http://dallasne.ws/1iycUl0). “The finish line is the future. But we have had a great start.”

The district recently had a bus tour to look at initiatives under the plan at two schools. On board were district administrators, news media representatives and leaders of groups focused on education. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings also joined the tour.

The first stop was Quintanilla Middle School, where teachers work an extra hour each day under the plan.

In one classroom where university pennants lined a wall, a department chair helped teach students. Department chairs teach half a day and work with teachers the other half. Some teachers at the school said they have more support compared with last school year.

Quintanilla principal Luis Valdez said test scores have improved under the program.

In another class, sixth-grade students answered science questions from laptops. One question read: “As a scientist, you are asked: Which layer of the Earth is most important? Why?” Rawlings helped a student with the answer.

The mayor is known for his passion to improve academic achievement in Dallas ISD. He spoke favorably of Imagine 2020 during the tour.

“We are in a big, big hole,” he said. “We’ve got to think creatively. This is an example of how to think really smart strategically.”

Also under the initiative, 30 additional assistant principals are in the schools. That provides more administrative help so principals can focus more on instruction.

An “urban specialist” is assigned to each middle school and high school to focus on students at risk of dropping out. The high schools also have more psychologists on hand to help with counseling and behavior management.

A big component of the plan is in-school tutoring. Students can receive help on a one-on-one basis or in a small group. They also can receive an optional extra hour of tutoring before or after school. Volunteers are on hand to assist.

The schools offer a host of opportunities to get parents involved, including connecting them with district and community resources to help in their children’s education.

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