Hope in Accountability is a series spotlighting schools that made tremendous improvements in their TEA accountability ratings from 2019 to 2022. Visit Commit’s Hope Chart Dashboard to learn more about accountability scores and growth across Texas public schools from 2019 to 2022.
Elise Puente has educated students in public schools for 33 years, including nine years as the principal of Heritage Elementary in Southside ISD. To her, this school is a family. For much of the staff, it feels like a home, too, because many of the teachers began working at the school when it first opened just over 20 years ago.
Heritage Elementary teachers and staff seek to help all students achieve their potential. Over 90 percent of the students live in economic insecurity, and in 2019, Heritage Elementary received an F in the TEA’s accountability ratings. At the time, just 25 percent of third graders met grade-level expectations in reading and only 42 percent in math.
For Principal Puente and her dedicated staff, this F rating motivated them to make a positive change at Heritage Elementary and the district as a whole. Thanks to data-driven leadership and an intentional drive to teach kids to love learning, Heritage Elementary achieved a 36-point increase in its accountability score in 2022, earning the school an A rating. Now, 45 percent of third graders meet grade-level expectations in reading and 46 percent in math.
“We were the first campus in Southside ISD to have an A rating. It didn't come easy and it was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears,” said Puente. “It is our hardworking teachers and staff that really worked together to help close those learning gaps. We are just over the moon because it shows that poverty does not define a student's future.”
Using Data to Transform Student Learning
For Heritage Elementary, information on student progress is a key factor that now drives the principal’s weekly conversations with teachers. But Puente took it a step beyond data and a deep devotion to academic growth. “It’s not just numbers, it is a child. So, we’ve added pictures to all of our data cards. Our data room is wall-to-wall covered with kids. It reminds us that there is a face behind those scores.”
This process of humanizing information is incredibly intentional. It’s part of a concrete strategy to empower students to own their learning outcomes. Teachers now guide students to set their own weekly learning goals based on their performance the previous week in an effort to motivate them to take control of their learning and growth. Puente said this requires “teaching kids the terminology and really getting kids to own it and want to do well for themselves.”
For kids, owning their data comes with perks. Heritage Elementary has a book vending machine to reward students who meet their reading goals, installed as part of a push last year to improve reading scores. In Puente’s eyes, this helps the school “focus on teaching kids to love reading, not just to pass a test, but to be lifelong readers and read for enjoyment.” Her vision is especially critical as studies have shown that reading for pleasure has a positive impact on a student’s academic and personal development.
While Puente, her teachers, and the district celebrate this incredible transformation this year, they know the work is not over until every single student is set up for future success. Still, this is a major victory in showing that by intentionally leveraging best practices and putting student learning front-and-center, poverty will not determine destiny.
“With hard work and dedication, our kids can be as successful as students from more affluent areas. What we're most proud of is how well our students have done despite the challenges,” said Puente. “It was truly a team effort, and we take a lot of pride in being a campus that went from an F rating [to an A].”