Irving—Themed “The Power of Game Changers,” Irving ISD hosted their inaugural State of the District on May 13.
“When you factor in the pandemic and its challenges, my pride and admiration for this district and its students, teachers and staff hits another level,” Randy Randle, president of the IISD School Board of Trustees, said. “No matter what was thrown our way, Team Irving rose to the occasion. I proudly witnessed the adaptability of our students, the innovation of our teachers and their instruction and the inspiring leadership via administrators.
“Equally remarkable has been the invaluable support of all of our families and all of you, our community partners. Today we have served more than two million grab-and-go meals, distributed 31,000 technology devices and nearly 5,000 hotspots for connectivity. Although the strategies may have looked a little bit different, our focus remains the same: student success for all.”
The next speakers Dr. Nicole Menzel, chief of Marketing and Communications; Magda Hernandez, superintendent of Schools; and Jennifer McKee, director of Early Learning Education, discussed their ideas about the importance of early learning.
“We know that early education is essential to the natural learning process of all children,” McKee said. “When our students go to kindergarten and first grade with the basic reading skills and the strong educational routine and solid foundation, they are definitely a force to be reckoned with.
“This means is our teachers do not have to lay the foundation again, but build upon that strong foundation [students] come with. [Students] are able to learn more knowledge and skills on top of that. Also, when they come to us in kindergarten and first grade prepared, it will be easier for them to learn quicker and be able to master knowledge and skills faster. Therefore, pre-K education is extremely important, because it’s the beginning, and we know it will transfer into excellence in student achievement.”
She also provided some statistics about students who attend pre-k vs. kids who do not.
“It’s an undeniable fact that 90 percent of our brain is developed by the age of five, so it’s imperative that children are exposed to rich vocabulary, language and social interactions in these formative years,” McKee said. “Research on the benefits of preschool education have been taking place since the 1960s, but they’ve ramped it up in the most recent years.
“The largest reviews tell us the benefits of attending pre-k are substantial, especially in the area of social/emotional learning and disciplinary issues. Other benefits include higher rates of high school graduates and higher rates of students who attend and graduate from college.”
Menzel broached the subject of HB 3, passed by the 86th legislature in 2019. The bill benefitted three- and four-year-olds by providing funds for full-day pre-k for four-year-olds and half-day pre-k for three-year-olds.
“[That bill] was extremely important to us because, as I mentioned before, early childhood is very essential to the natural learning process of our children,” Superintendent Hernandez said. “It was something we desired across our district. As Ms. McKee mentioned, research shows it is imperative that we capture them early.
“So, what the 86th Texas legislature did was definitely provide not just the state but millions of Texas children with the funded opportunity to start early. We’re extremely grateful, because legislators made [education] a priority. They are investing in the future of Texas, of Texas children and truly our country.
“We were very fortunate to receive $7.9 million the first year. Our first year we spent 33 percent of that on curriculum, and 33 percent in technology. We provided iPads for all of our pre-K students, as well as interactive TVs. The other 33 percent was spent on infrastructure, like playgrounds and tricycle paths, to develop their motor skills. On our launch year, we received $7.9 million again, and two-thirds of that was used toward salaries, and then a sixth went for curriculum and a sixth to infrastructure. We continue to build those tricycle paths for our students, which will be incredible.”
The next segment featured a panel consisting of Dr. Menzel, Superintendent Hernandez, Dr. Janine Porter, deputy superintendent of School Leadership, and Dr. Tracy Brown, director of Guidance Counseling and College Readiness.
Hernandez began by explaining why college readiness was so important.
“Technology and innovation careers are the way of the future,” Hernandez said. “And the future is already here in many ways. We want to expose our students to new career paths and give them a taste of what the business industry has to offer. Then when they are ready to join the workforce, they will bring a wealth of experience that will be valuable to them and their employers.
“We are preparing for students for careers that do not even exist right now and fields of study that are just now beginning to be explored. The earlier we start preparing our students and give them opportunities to experiment with technology and innovation in areas such as coding, robotics, engineering, aviation, and in the near future, mechatronics and more. We have so many opportunities. They will be better acquainted with those areas of study going into college, or upon joining the workforce, to earn a living wage.”
“We are so proud of the vast array of options we offer our kids through our Signature Studies programming,” Porter said. “For example, MacArthur High School has pathways that focus on architecture, manufacturing and construction. Our welding and electrical courses are quite popular there.
“At Irving High School, we have our aviation pathway, students can take courses in aviation maintenance or aviation flight engineering.
“Then at Nimitz High School, we have our agricultural food and natural resources pathway. Our veterinary courses are quite popular there.
“At Singley Academy, we have our health and science pathway. Students can take coursework in dentistry, medical therapy and dental hygienist.
“At Barbara Cardwell Career Preparatory Center, we have a pathway that focuses on transportation, distribution and logistics. Our automotive technology courses are quite popular there. So, you can see we have a vast array of choice for our students.
“If our students enter these pathways and graduate, they can start out in some positions that have a pretty amazing starting salary,” Porter said. “Take MacArthur for example, an electrical lineman starts out at $54,000. At Irving High School, an aircraft’s engineering technical operations technician can start around $61,000. At Nimitz High School, an animal scientist can make $57,000. At Singley Academy, a dental hygienist starts out at upwards of $73,000. And then at Cardwell, an automotive collision repair technician can make $65,000. If our students enter these pathways, graduate and stick to these career fields, their earning potential is exponential.”
Dr. Brown discussed how partnerships with colleges and businesses in Texas have been essential to IISD’s success.
“I’m excited to say we partner with several colleges within the state of Texas and outside the state of Texas,” Brown said. “One of our most notable college partners is Dallas College, who provides Dual Credit programming for our students. For those students who want to start college early, we offer dual credit courses through Dallas College, and students can virtually graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree all at the same time.
“We also encourage our students to become a part of the Dallas County Promise Program, which is made up of a coalition of 13 partner schools. As long as they complete their college application, their financial aid application, and take the Dallas County Promise Pledge, they can take advantage of that scholarship opportunity. We’re really proud of our higher ed partners here in Irving ISD.”
Hernandez is an avid supporter of college and workforce readiness programs and strives to keep as many opportunities as possible open to IISD students.
“We’re removing barriers for our amazing students,” Hernandez said. “Singley Collegiate Academy was the beginning of Irving ISD’s plan to expand the learning opportunities for our students, which can also have a significant impact financially and educationally for our scholars.
“It is based on the early college concept, meaning our students not only graduate with a high school diploma, but also with an associate degree. That’s two years of college that’s already paid for, and students will not have to finance a four-year degree.
“This is good for their personal investment, their educational future, and definitely their economic well-being. All of us know how expensive college can be. But this wonderful opportunity grants, our community’s brightest students a much-needed push toward pursuing that goal of going to college, which can prove extremely beneficial to their personal future and their families as well.”
The superintendent also discussed the recent announcement of a second collegiate academy, which will be South Irving Collegiate Academy. The new school is projected to open in August 2022.
“As I previously mentioned [in my announcement], it will definitely be just the same as Singley Collegiate Academy. It was the beginning of Irving ISD’s plans to expand those opportunities for scholars,” Hernandez said. “Once again, by partnering with Dallas College and being housed at the North Lake South Campus is simply a dream come true for me. Students will have the same opportunities, as previously mentioned. I am committed to removing those barriers for our scholars, because poverty will not determine the destiny of our students. They are our greatest assets, and we owe them a wealth of opportunities.
“We have a 95.5 percent graduation rate. We are above the state and national average. The state graduation average is 93 percent, while the national average is 88 percent. We are way above that, and 95 percent of our seniors get accepted into college or a trade school. The class of 2021 received $39 million in college scholarships, and we’re still counting.
“Many of you may not know the population we serve in Irving is composed of 44 percent English language learners. We have 53 languages spoken in Irving, and we are at 83.3 percent economically disadvantaged.
“We do not apologize for the type of students we serve, because in spite of that, our students continue to make us very, very proud. We all know that poverty did not happen overnight. But we will not allow that to define our future or the future of our students, because they are better than that. They deserve the very best. We will continue to help our students be successful, because I want them to break that cycle of poverty. One day, they will come back to us and pay it forward. And I have no doubt they will be strong future leaders of our nation.”
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