Last Wednesday marked the first day of school for Huntsville ISD students, faculty and staff. It also marked the first installment of official grades for the district from the state, which were released statewide, as part of the new A-F rating system.

Huntsville ISD received an overall “F” grade for the 2017-2018 school year by earning 58 points out of a total 100. However, superintendent Scott Sheppard says that the rating does not represent where the district is headed in the coming years.

“We really want the community to take heart in the really great start we’ve had to the 2018-19 school year. The rating that is coming out now is a reflection of where we’ve been, it’s not a reflection of where we’re going,” Sheppard said. “That’s a really key point that the community needs to realize. If they want to know more about where we’re headed, I urge them to talk to teachers that are currently in the district and ask them how they feel about the start to 2018-19. They will tell the story, and that story is already being told around town. I’m getting feedback from all over the place about the positive feeling and culture we’ve been able to establish at the start of the school year. That excitement is going to definitely help because when people are committed and happy and understand the direction and they feel supported by the community, they’ll do better work.”

The overall grade is based on performance in three key areas: student achievement, school progress and closing gaps. Huntsville ISD earned a “D” grade for student achievement, a “D” grade for school progress and an “F” grade for closing gaps amongst students.

Seventy percent of the overall score is based on student progress, which measures the growth of an individual student and student achievement, which looks at college, career and military readiness, graduation rates and most importantly, scores from the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness tests.

Huntsville ISD students showed steady progress in a number of tested subjects for the 2017-18 school year, including areas where students have struggled in the past, such as math, reading and science.

In addition, students at Mance Park Middle School, Scott Johnson Elementary and Samuel Walker Houston Elementary were successful in moving the campus from “improvement required” to “met standard.”

“We’ve said time and time again that Mr. (Fred) Rush did great work in keeping things together under the circumstances in Huntsville,” said Sheppard, referring to the turbulent school year the district went through in 2017-18. “Really, the thanks goes to our employees for forging ahead with the work that they knew needed to be done for the kids of Huntsville. They’ve shown incremental growth, and that’s surely not where we want to be and we’re not satisfied with that growth, but we’re very happy under the circumstances that they were able to do what they did.

“In the midst of our struggles that we take the time to celebrate our employees and students for the work they did to improve those scores.”

Sheppard says the district is implementing new changes this school year to help the district earn a higher rating from the state, now and in the future. Some of the new changes include having campus-based instructional coaches, a uniform curriculum across every grade level and enhancing staff development.

During last Thursday’s meeting of the Huntsville Board of Trustees, trustees unanimously approved a budget, which allocates 54 percent of funds toward instruction. Last year, the district allocated 47 percent of funds toward instruction.

Sheppard, who took over the position early this year, said that the district won’t let the rating distract the district from doing what it needs to do during the school year to become a higher-performing district and earn that higher rating.

“Coming in February of last year and knowing where the district has been and what had been done that particular school year, we expected some improvement but not enough to where we need to be,” Sheppard said. “At Huntsville ISD, we’re not going to focus on (accountability ratings) at all. We’re going spend our energy and time improving instructional practices and improving student learning because that’s just what our community deserves and where we need to spend our time.” 

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