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Bright Spots / Hope in Accountability: John and Polly Townley Elementary, Everman ISD
How Townley Elementary created a culture of success and increased its school performance score by 36 percentage points

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Bright Spots

Hope in Accountability: John and Polly Townley Elementary, Everman ISD

How Townley Elementary created a culture of success and increased its school performance score by 36 percentage points

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.

When Ollie Clark took over as principal of John and Polly Townley Elementary in Everman ISD in 2021, he knew something had to change. The school’s most recent pre-pandemic rating from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was an F, indicating that it was failing to provide its students with the basic building blocks for academic success. And this was reflected in their proficiency scores at the time. In 2019, only 26% of students met grade-level standards or above in math, and only 19% in reading. To turn things around, real change was going to have to take place – and fast.

Townley is a Title 1 campus where 95% of the students are economically disadvantaged. In addition, 70% of Townley’s students are Black and 27% are Hispanic. And roughly 90% of Townley’s students live in apartments and experience a very high mobility rate compared to families in other schools in the district and the state. Failing to provide Townley students with a good education threatened to perpetuate socio-economic and racial disparities.

With a background in special education and work with at-risk students, Principal Clark knew the issue at Townley wasn’t the students. It was an education system that failed to meet student needs. To fix things, Principal Clark approached the school’s F rating as an opportunity to garner the support he needed to make critical reforms.

High-quality instructional materials and high-quality relationships

“As part of our school improvement grant that we received from the state, we replaced 80 percent of our staff,” says Principal Clark. “This enabled us to hand-pick staff who bought into the climate and culture we were looking for, which was building strong relationships with students and a team-oriented structure.”

That new climate and culture was one of showing the kids that teachers and administrators care, having high expectations, and holding each other accountable. The new Townley team put this culture into action by introducing daily Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers share best practices and strategies for advancing student achievement; providing teachers with a second planning period so they can take those ideas and integrate them into their classroom plans; and equipping teachers with high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) that align with grade-level standards – a practice that resulted in double-digit increases in their 2022 grade 3–5 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) reading scores.. As part of a state grant for school improvement, they were also able to extend school days three times a week throughout the year, providing students with crucial instructional time.

High expectations lead to high performance

“We set the expectation for high rigor and intervention on a daily basis,” explains Principal Clark. “It starts with having teachers who truly care about their students and building relationships.”

And as we have seen in the past, additional instruction time helps build relationships and stronger connections with students that can help lead to improved outcomes.

This exemplifies the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) approach to transforming the lowest-performing schools in the district and the state by providing a longer school day and critical support for students and teachers alike.

Townley Elementary faced significant challenges, but by focusing on rigor and relationships, setting high expectations for students and teachers, and mutual accountability, Townley made remarkable improvements in student outcomes – by 2022 math scores increased by 6 and reading scores by an astonishing 23 percentage points. And the school went from a failing grade to a B rating by TEA. Their formula for success? “Students are always capable of more than we expect, support your teachers and they will support your kids. Don’t tell people you care, show them,” says Principal Clark.

And show us, they did.

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