School Enhancement Project Focuses On Improving Houston-area Schools


Written by: Ashley Green (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: May 04, 2016

More than 1,500 school campuses in Texas are deemed low performers according to this year’s Public Education Grant from the Texas Education Agency.  Eight of those schools are the focus of a research project by two professors in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development (EAHR) and Dr. Joyce Alexander, dean of the College of Education and Human Development.

Over the course of two years, a randomized control trial study will be implemented to determine the impact of the enhancement interventions provided on student growth, teacher instructional practices, coaching, leadership, family engagement and virtual professional development in the school district.

“The program aims at improving performance in terms of student learning outcomes.  Investing in learning and development for our teachers and school leaders is core to improving the performance of Texas school districts,” explained Dr. Fred Nafukho, professor and EAHR department head.

Eight schools in the Houston-area district were chosen for the project – four schools were assigned treatment and four schools were assigned control.  The first step in the process, completed in 2015, involved an external agency conducting a root-cause analysis looking for positives, negatives and areas for improvement in each school.  The school leadership and researchers are now meeting to discuss the analyses and steps for enhancement.  The leaders will also be attending the Texas A&M Education Leadership Research Center’s Summer Leadership Institute: Engaging in Critical Dialogues for Leaders of Bilingual Campus in June.

“If the tree is dying, we look at the roots.  Are the roots getting enough nourishment?  What is happening to cause the tree to die or not be as flourishing as it could be?  We give it nutrition.  We find the root cause first and then we are able to work on the intervention with the tree.  It’s the same thing with schools.  We take a look at what the issues are and how we can address those issues,” explained Dr. Beverly Irby, professor and EAHR associate department head.  She also indicated that there are numerous faculty members with great expertise who will also be working on the intervention with the schools.  “The dean has assembled a multifaceted team to accomplish this work.”

A main goal of this project is to create effective leaders who can build instructional capacity in the schools.  These leaders will work as change agents with high expectations for staff and students.  That involves collaborating with teachers and other staff in decision-making, monitoring and supporting instruction, setting clear goals for accountability and fostering a sense of community and cooperation.

“My hope for this project is to build on the knowledge, skills and abilities of the teachers and school administrators involved through learning and professional development as a strategy to improve school performance as measured by student learning outcomes,” explained Dr. Nafukho.

“We don’t want to make it a big ‘oh look, A&M is coming in and fixing them’ because that’s not what this is about,” explained Dr. Alexander.  “What we’re doing is going in and teaching them about best practices that are ways that you help restructure schools and help provide the best professional development so they can develop a plan they’re proud of.”

Part of that professional development will involve faculty from the College of Education and Human Development.  They will work with leaders and teachers to facilitate development in subject-matter content and provide mentorship as needed.

“Texas A&M is endowed with talented faculty willing to share their expertise with our schools.  The faculty also look forward to learning from school teachers and administrators as a way to promote our accountability to our students and not just legislators and the general public,” explained Dr. Nafukho.

Dr. Alexander’s hope for the project is that it becomes institutionalized at Texas A&M to help struggling schools across the state.  “It’s often these schools have the right talent, they just need new ideas and new techniques to get working on the same page and moving forward together.”

“It is part of our mission as a land-grant university – we are to serve the people of our state and help our state get better,” explained Dr. Irby.