Improving the TSPR
TSPR in the Wall ISD
Wall ISD in Profile
Exemplary Programs and Practice
TSPR Key Recommendations
What Still Needs to Be Done?
WISD's Ideas for Improving the TSPR
In August 2001, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn completed a review of the Wall Independent School District (WISD) as part of a six-district project that also included reviews of the neighboring San Angelo, Veribest, Grape Creek, Water Valley and Christoval school districts. These six districts are located geographically near each other in Tom Green County. Based upon more than six months of work, this report identified WISD's exemplary programs and suggested concrete ways to improve district operations. If fully implemented, the Comptroller's 41 recommendations could result in net savings of more than $1.4 million over the next five years.
Comptroller Strayhorn, who took office in January 1999, consulted school district officials, parents and teachers from across Texas and carefully examined past reviews and progress reports in an effort to make the Texas School Performance Review (TSPR) more valuable, even vital, to the state's more than 1,000 school districts. With the perspective of having served as a teacher, and later a school board president, the Comptroller has vowed to steer TSPR toward being more accountable to local school districts and the communities they represent.
Comptroller Strayhorn began by establishing new criteria for selecting school districts for future reviews. Priority is given to districts judged poor performing-academically or financially-and to hands-on reviews that will benefit the greatest number of students.
Recognizing that only about 51 cents of every education dollar is spent on instruction, Comptroller Strayhorn's goal is to drive more of every education dollar directly into the classroom. In addition, no longer are school districts' best practices and exemplary models buried inside individual TSPR reports. Instead, Comptroller Strayhorn has ordered best practices and exemplary programs to be shared quickly and systematically among all the state's school districts and with anyone who requests such information. There is simply no reason for a district that has solved a problem well to keep the solution to itself. Comptroller Strayhorn has directed TSPR to serve as an active clearinghouse of the best and brightest ideas in Texas public education. Best practices identified in the original review are now included in the Comptroller's best practices database, A+ Ideas for Managing Schools (AIMS), which is accessible on the Web at www.aimsdatabase.org.
Under Comptroller Strayhorn's approach, the TSPR team and consultants work with districts to:
- ensure students and teachers receive the support and resources necessary to succeed;
- identify innovative options to address core management challenges;
- ensure administrative activities are performed efficiently, without duplication and in a manner that spurs education;
- develop strategies to ensure the districts' processes and programs are continuously assessed and improved;
- understand the links among the districts' functional areas and determine ways to provide a seamless system of services;
- challenge any process, procedure, program or policy that impedes instruction and recommend ways to reduce or eliminate obstacles; and
- put goods and services to the "Yellow Pages test"-government should do no job if there is a business in the Yellow Pages that can do that job better and at a lower cost.
Finally, Comptroller Strayhorn has opened her door to Texans who share her optimism about TSPR's potential. Suggestions to improve school reviews are welcome at any time. The Comptroller is a staunch believer in public education and public accountability.
Detailed information can be obtained from TSPR by calling 1-800-531-5441 extension 5-3676, or by visiting the Comptroller's Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us.
WISD is located in Tom Green County, approximately 12 miles southeast of the city of San Angelo. The area is a farming community and the district was formed in 1909 from several surrounding school districts. After several changes, the present district boundaries were determined in 1938.
The Comptroller contracted with Gibson Consulting Group Inc., an Austin-based firm, to assist with the review. The team interviewed district employees, school board members, parents, business leaders and community members, and held a public forum at the Wall High School on Tuesday, March 27, 2001 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. To obtain additional comments, the review team conducted small focus group sessions with teachers, principals and board members. The Comptroller's office also received letters and phone calls from a wide array of parents, teachers and community members.
To ensure that all stakeholders had an opportunity to give comment, surveys were sent to students, parents, teachers and campus and central administration as well as their support staff. A total of 247 respondents answered these surveys: 26 campus and central administrators and support staff, 86 teachers, 15 parents and 120 students.
WISD selected peer districts for comparisons based on similarities in student enrollment, student performance and community and student demographics. The districts chosen were Bangs, Crockett County, Grape Creek, Holliday and Reagan County.
WISD boundaries now cover 497 square miles and for 2001-02, 913 students were enrolled, a decrease from 944 in 2000-01. The central Wall campusincludes the high school, middle school, elementary school and administration building. The district is served by the Texas Education Agency's (TEA's) Regional Education Service Center XV (Region 15) in San Angelo.
In 2001-02, the district's student population included 80 percent Anglo and 19.6 percent Hispanic students. The district's population of economically disadvantaged students was 28 percent.
On August 1, 2002, TEA released the Texas Assessment of Skills (TAAS) results for 2001-02. Wall received an overall Recognized rating, as it did in 2000-01. According to these latest reports, all three of the districts' schools are rated Exemplary.
In 2001-02, 94.2 percent of all students passed all tests taken; 98.7 percent of all students passed the math portion of the test; 99.3 percent of all students passed the reading portion; and 94.4 percent of all students passed the writing portion.
In 2001-02, the district employed a staff of 162 employees, with teachers accounting for 89, or nearly 55 percent, of WISD's total staff. The district had expenditures of $6.8 million that same year. In 2001-02, 23.1 percent of WISD's budgeted revenues were generated from local taxes; 3 percent came from other local and intermediate sources. About 72.4 percent came from the state, while 1.5 percent came from the federal government. In 2001-02, WISD budgeted 53.7 cents of every tax dollar on classroom instruction compared to the state average of 51 cents.
The district serves as the fiscal agent for the Fairview Accelerated Education Cooperative (Fairview). Fairview was founded in 1994 as the Alternative Education facility for the communities surrounding San Angelo, Texas. Member school districts that use Fairview as their Alternative education campus are Bronte, Eden, Grape Creek, Miles, Paint Rock, Robert Lee, Sterling City, Christoval, Veribest, Wall, Water Valley and Irion County. The students who attend Fairview are bused to school each day from distances up to 50 miles. All of the students who attend Fairview are middle and high school students, grades 6 through 12. The Fairview Campus is located in Wall.
The district also serves as the fiscal agent for the Small Schools Cooperative (Cooperative). The Cooperative, which includes 18 school districts in the area, is a shared service arrangement designed to assist member districts in serving students with disabilities. It also serves as the "Special Education Department" for 18 member school districts in the area. Belonging to a cooperative allows WISD and the other member districts to access support services that could not otherwise be afforded because of their limited number of students and associated funding.
While the district still has some work to do, both WISD and TSPR team members have a sense of steady progress: the district has implemented 35 recommendations; four are in various stages of progress; and two have been reviewed but not implemented. (See Appendix A for details on the recommendations' status.)
Wall ISD Report Card
Excellent = More than 80% complete
Chapter Total Complete In
Rejected Percent Complete/
Grades District Organization and Management 7 7 0 0 0 100%/0% Excellent Educational Service Delivery 10 9 1 0 0 90%/10% Excellent Financial Management 11 8 2 1 0 73%/18% Satisfactory Operations 13 11 1 1 0 85%/8% Excellent Overall Grade 41 35 4 2 0 95%/10% Excellent
Satisfactory = 80% to 100% complete or in progress
Needs Work = Less than 80% complete or in progress
WISD is a school district with some notable successes, and TSPR has identified numerous "best practices." Through commendations in each chapter, the original report highlighted model programs, operations and services provided by WISD administrators, teachers and staff members. Other school districts throughout Texas are encouraged to examine these exemplary programs and services to see if they could be adapted to meet local needs. TSPR's commendations include the following:
- The board and superintendent work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and cooperation. All board members view the superintendent as effective in his role and believe that communication among the board members and the superintendent is excellent. The board members take full advantage of continuing education, with all members receiving more than the minimum number of hours required by law.
Since the review, WISD has developed a board calendar as a result of a recommendation, and it has proven to be an excellent tool for communication.
- WISD takes full advantage of the comprehensive selection of training offered by the Region 15. Region 15 conducts the majority of the district's professional education training.All training provided through Region 15 is tracked through a database. Employees may request a transcript of completed coursework to meet TEA certification renewal guidelines. In addition, employees may register online through the Region 15's Web site. In 1999-2000, 159 WISD employees participated in 214 Region 15 training sessions.
The relationship with Region 15 has become even more beneficial because Region 15 representatives traveled to the district and held several training sessions.
- Surveys of graduates help WISD improve educational programs. WISD starts every student with the state recommended high school program plan but allows modifications as dictated by student needs. WISD uses the Life Track service to track student performance after graduation and assess their success. Former students are surveyed and the information is then used by WISD to improve instruction and services.
WISD has continued this practice and is receiving more information from students than in the past. These surveys have been invaluable in keeping track of how former WISD students are doing in college.
- WISD has developed a strategic approach to crisis management. WISD has become increasingly concerned about school violence, particularly in light of Columbine and other similar incidents. Although surveys indicate that most respondents feel safe at WISD, the administration and staff have become more alert to potential hazards. The district is using a strategic approach to crisis management that includes a "flip chart" that is kept handy in each classroom, rehearsed evacuations, cooperation from the sheriff's department and workshops and training for administrators and staff.
WISD rewrote its crisis management plan in 2002 using new information from TEA, who recommended that the district no longer use color codes, but continue to use the flip chart.
- WISD's board, superintendent, business manager and technology coordinator work together to establish a strong technology infrastructure. Based on the technology team's combined vision and cooperation, technology funding for 1999-2000 through 2000-01 averaged more than $125 per student in district funding and an additional $105 per student in grants based on the 1999-2000 enrollment of 976 students. The result is an impressive three-students-per-computer ratio and is based on Pentium 166 or better multimedia computers.
The district has continued to improve its technology infrastructure by adding a multi-media lab in the high school using funds from a Wolslager grant. The school board has continued to support the district's continual upgrades by matching dollar for dollar with Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund grant and other grants.
Following are some of the key recommendations that administrators and staff said they believe had the greatest impact on district operations. The highlighted recommendations are organized by chapter and by the area of operation contained in the original report. The comments came from district administrators during the review team's follow-up visit to the district.
District Organization and Management
Recommendation 1: - Develop a summary reporting format to present financial, management and program-related information to the board.
This summary reporting has been very beneficial because there are no surprises. If the district is one-third of the way through the year, district staff looks at the report to determine if WISD's spending is on target with its budget.
Recommendation 3: - Develop a long range strategic plan and link the plan to the budget and other district planning documents.
Developing a strategic plan has been crucial for examining several aspects of the district's operations. WISD officials now look down the road to determine when they should replace buses and update computers.
Educational Service Delivery
Recommendation 8: - Promote the importance of high performance for all student groups through specific objectives in the District Improvement Plan.
District officials found this recommendation to be very helpful because the district wants to promote learning for all students. Some of WISD's subgroups are so small that its state assessment rating can be altered because of the performance of just one or two students. Every one of its campuses now has an Exemplary rating.
Recommendation 19: - Prepare and distribute accurate, timely and useful budget reports to principals and department heads monthly.
This recommendation facilitated an important practice whereby the principals now have access to budget reports as often as needed, which helps them make better decisions.
Recommendation 30: - Involve schools in energy conservation.
This recommendation prompted WISD to update its energy management system during summer 2002. The bills now run lower than in the past.
WISD opted not to implement Recommendation 27 regarding periodically reviewing delinquent tax rolls to vendor files because it believes that Tom Green County's Appraisal District currently does this since the Appraisal District collects delinquent taxes for the district via a contracted delinquent tax attorney. While the district can enlist the help of the delinquent tax attorney in withholding payments to delinquent vendors, responsibility for periodically reviewing the delinquent tax rolls to vendor files remains with WISD. The district must ensure that it is not losing tax revenue from delinquent vendors. As such, TSPR urges the district to adopt a policy to withhold payments to vendors who are delinquent on tax payments to the district and to implement procedures to compare vendor files to delinquent tax files.
The Texas School Performance Review team does not assume that its process for performing school reviews works so well that it cannot be improved. Therefore, as part of the progress report preparation, TSPR asked WISD staff members and administrators what went right and what went wrong -- and how the process could be improved.
The feedback TSPR has received from other districts led to improvements in the review process. For example, early reports did not include implementation strategies, and districts told TSPR they needed help getting started. As a result, the reports now include IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGIES AND TIMELINEs to complement the recommendations. District officials have told TSPR these blueprints are invaluable to achieving the desired results. It is important, however, for TSPR staff to be mindful of those things that did not work as intended so that the review process can be improved.
WISD board members made the following observations:
One board member said the board found the review helpful because it gave members areas to monitor on a regular basis as a management oversight board. Another member said that, overall, the review process was beneficial. It allowed the members time to address items that they normally took for granted. One of the more troubling issues, however, was the amount of time spent by school employees to gather detailed information for the TSPR study. In a relatively small district, those people are already busy with multiple duties and were burdened by the TSPR request.
TSPR takes this comment seriously, and will examine its procedures to ensure that it requests only the most important information.