May 13, 2022

 

 

Recent JISD changes 


Superintendent Toni Hicks ticked off points of pride, showing how Jarrell High School is changing and improving quickly.

• Improved participation in advance placement exams from 19 to 124 students.

• Increased SAT participation from 21 to 309 students.

• Increased PSAT participation from 139 to 552 students

• Added seven advanced academic courses.

• Increased the number of students graduating with dual credit from Austin Community College.

• Increased the number of graduating seniors pursuing a higher education.

• Added University of Texas OnRamps as a course this year - and adding more next year.

• Increased National Honor Society inductees from 19 to 70 students.

• Increased the number of Career and Technical Education certifications.

 

After low ranking, JISD superintendent outlines recent improvements

 

By KATHERINE ANTHONY

When U.S. News & World Report last month rated Jarrell High School at the bottom of Williamson County’s 21 high schools, Jarrell ISD Superintendent Toni Hicks was prepared to come out swinging. 

“The [report],” she said, “is based on data from 2016-2019. It does not reflect the significant gains we’ve made this school year.” 

Since arriving in Jarrell, Ms. Hicks — who has led the district for the past one and a half years — has been challenged by fast enrollment growth, the pandemic and curriculum revisions reflecting a changing economy.

In a letter to district parents, she mentioned points of pride showing Jarrell High School is changing fast. The school has seen increased participation in taking SAT, PSAT and advanced placement exams, as well as increased dual-credit participation. More students have been National Honor Society inductees. Career and Technical Education certifications have gone up, and the district is adding more advanced academic classes.

That’s why the U.S. News’ recent rankings rankled her so much.

“Our work this past year has been tremendous,” she said. “We passed a bond in May 2021, we pushed through all the trauma of Covid and we undertook a curriculum revamp that is changing learning here at every level.

“And those are things not reflected in that ranking. But what they did do was to galvanize us in the work we’ve been doing.”

A new direction

Ms. Hicks arrived in Jarrell in November 2020 after four years as assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and accountability at Liberty Hill ISD.

She also spent 18 years in Round Rock ISD as an assistant principal and principal — during which the University of Texas recognized her as Mentor of the Year. Her school was named “Best Public School” by Texas Monthly and a “Top 3” Central Texas Public School.

While the U.S. News’ 2022 rankings — released April 26 — recognize results, Ms. Hicks said the path to success is hard work. She said JISD staff has taken on the challenge to rebuild the district’s curriculum.

“Working with our incredible teachers, we’ve revamped our high school curriculum. The exceptional efforts by our teachers and staff are why we see the above mentioned improvements,” she said.

“The TEKS, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, are non-negotiable, and teams of teachers are digging deep into these standards to create a curriculum that’s challenging, engaging and builds on each year.”

Ms. Hicks noted that the rankings are based upon college-readiness — how well high schools prepare students for higher education.

“But college is not a choice for all kids, and that’s okay,” she said. “Our job is to equip them to make decisions about their future, and to prepare them to succeed in their choices — college, career, or military service.”

Gaining feedback

The work on curriculum began last year with surveys of staff, parents and students. The goal was to determine strengths and weaknesses of the district from various perspectives. 

Questions addressed academic rigor, support, transparency and communication. Some were open-ended such as “If you could improve one thing about Jarrell ISD, what would it be?” and “What do you hope to accomplish this school year?”

Ms. Hicks said responses provided a roadmap for change and bought buy-in among staff.

“Teachers are on the front line. They live instruction, and they want to be effective every day,” she said. “As administrators, our job is to provide them with the environment to excel and opportunities to grow their skills.”

An example, she said, has been to provide teachers with planning and professional learning time embedded in the school day.

“That’s something our teachers told us they wanted, and it’s had an impact on instruction,” she said. 

The district has also established staff advisory councils at every campus. Members are chosen by the staff and they meet four times per year. 

“The people who work in a school know its strengths and needs. Their insight is invaluable,” she said.