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Roundup Blog Series

Richardson Independent School District: Where all means all

Happy faces of children

By Jeannie Stone | December 17, 2018

This post completes our series examining how REL Southwest, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and partners in the Southwest School Improvement (SWSI) Research Partnership are collaborating to examine and support district and school improvement in the state. Blog author Jeannie Stone, superintendent of Richardson Independent School District near Dallas, reports on the district’s approach to school transformation and removing barriers to student learning—to create great schools for ALL students. (Read the earlier posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

In Richardson Independent School District, All Means All. We believe that every student in Richardson ISD (RISD) deserves a great school. We hire great teachers, build great facilities, and teach great lessons, culminating in a great community. But what does it mean to be great? In Jim Collins’s book Good to Great, he talks about how difficult it is for organizations to transform themselves into great organizations. He refers to the “flywheel effect,” the process of relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough.1

At Richardson ISD, we are working toward moving our flywheel and accomplishing strategic results for students. There are four key components in our continuous improvement flywheel:

  • People: We hire and retain great people.
  • Belief: We build belief and establish buy-in.
  • Action: We take bold actions.
  • Results: We monitor and celebrate results.

The first two flywheel components, people and belief, have always been a focus in RISD. We work hard to attract and retain great people, not only exceptional teachers but also exceptional leaders who know how to support innovative and student-centered campuses. We are also relentless about creating both internal and external buy-in around key beliefs such as equity, diversity, relationships, and community.

But just having great people who hold common beliefs will not get our district’s flywheel moving. Richardson ISD has over 39,000 students in 54 campuses and has been ranked as the ninth most diverse district in Texas.2 We have campuses that serve students from affluent backgrounds (only 5 percent economically disadvantaged) as well as campuses with high concentrations of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds (up to 95 percent). We continue to grapple with achievement gaps between these student populations. We are taking bold actions to apply our All Means All approach toward addressing these gaps.

Removing barriers to student learning

To actualize this goal, we are committed to improving opportunities for our students and removing barriers to student learning and achievement. RISD is addressing physical, financial, attitudinal, and other barriers through two key efforts.

A recent effort involves partnering with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to join, in June of this year, a cohort of districts as a System of Great Schools (SGS) member. With support from TEA and SGS, we are developing a School Performance Framework (SPF) to evaluate school quality annually. This tool will focus the district’s decision-making processes around school support and intervention and provide transparent communication to parents and community members.

During the 2017–2018 school year, we worked with over 300 members of our community and staff to develop a strategic plan. Six committees developed strategies in support of our mission that all students connect, learn, grow, and succeed through relevant and personalized learning experiences. The work with SGS aligns with our strategic plan and allows for a comprehensive way to monitor and report back to the community our progress toward our strategic objectives.

In another key effort, we are using the ACE model (Accelerating Campus Excellence), which has been successful in Dallas and Fort Worth for students at high-poverty schools. RISD is the third Texas district to implement ACE, with four schools participating in 2018–19. Under this model, many barriers to student learning are removed to meet all student needs, including academic, social/emotional, and nutritional needs. ACE campuses will extend the school day and expand before- and after-school programming; build in tutoring and academic support; and supply students with uniforms and three meals per day. The district also offers incentives for educators who maintain a demonstrated track record of student growth.

In our district, like many districts, there are a lot of data that can contribute to measuring progress toward success. RISD knows that what is measured matters. To this end, we are working with our board of trustees and stakeholders this year to identify the key metrics that should be monitored and evaluated, such as student performance, teacher quality, financial integrity, and systems evaluation. Monitoring identified metrics will assure that we achieve our intended results for all students—and focus on our All Means All strategy. The flywheel is beginning to turn in RISD, where we are committed to living up to the promise of our expectations.

1Collins popularized this analogy comparing organizational transformation to a flywheel—a heavy wheel in a machine that, once in motion, maintains momentum and allows the machine to work consistently at speed. Source: Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap ... and others don't. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

2Source of ranking: Niche, a website that analyzes publicly available data sets and collects reviews and survey responses to provide rankings, grades, and profiles of neighborhoods, schools, districts, and colleges. Retrieved October 2018.