Fort Worth Independent School District (ISD) Superintendent Kent Scribner told the audience at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s State of Education luncheon Oct. 13 that the state of Fort Worth’s schools is in a very good place.
Here are lightly edited highlights and comments from his address:
“Fort Worth ISD is no longer focused on high school graduation as the goal. Our [greater] goal is to prepare all students for success in college, career, and community leadership.
“Fort Worth is striving to attract business, entrepreneurs, talents of all kinds to one of America’s fastest-growing cities, and if we’re going to continue to be great — a great place to raise families and to build neighborhoods — we must invest in our students today.
“Fort Worth ISD is in a very good place. Our board has adopted the Lone Star governance belief that student outcomes will not change until adult behaviors change. Our board of trustees has narrowed the focus in the district not to dozens of goals and initiatives but to three basic tenants — early literacy, middle years’ math, and college and career readiness.
“We know that third grade in American education is where we stop teaching students how to read and then teach through reading. We know it’s extremely important that we build a base, a foundation if you will, for students to be successful. So, third grade reading is our focus and that’s not just about instruction of third-grade teachers, that’s about all of the support staff, the support areas between birth and third grade.
“Middle years’ math is also important because we all know in education that freshman algebra really is a benchmark. [The] percentage of students who fail freshman algebra typically matches the dropout rates in a high school.
“Then finally, college and career readiness. We know that in North Texas that 66 percent of the jobs that earn a family-sustaining wage required at least a two-year degree, certification or licensure, or a four-year degree.
“Things are absolutely heading in the right direction. We have 143 schools in Fort Worth, and four years ago we had 28 schools that were underperforming. Today, as we move forward, we went from 28 schools to 13 … to single digits next year on our way to zero underperforming schools.
“We know that third grade reading in any city — in Dallas, in Houston to Chicago and Los Angeles — correlate with the college graduation rates. In the city of Fort Worth, only 31 percent of our adults hold a four-year college degree. We want to change that.
“In order to do that, we have to increase our third-grade reading levels. Two years ago, we were 29 percent; we’re on our way to 34 percent. We’ve leapfrogged San Antonio and Dallas on our way to the 40s next year and beyond.
“Hopefully, eventually, with the help of the leaders in our community to “100 by ‘25” — an initiative whereby our goal is that 100 percent of our students will be reading at grade level in the third grade by 2025.
“We know that from birth until 18 years old, a student will spend only 15 percent of their life in a school building. So, since we know that they’re spending 85 percent of their lives elsewhere, we must all, as a community with a collective-impact perspective, pull the rope in the same direction around early literacy. After school programs, summer school programs, Sunday school, libraries in the city, a community center all focused on literacy, that will be the only way we can change that trajectory toward 100 by ’25.
“Also, new this year is a focus on community volunteers participating in supporting us in this initiative. Our campuses have been training and all of our elementaries will be welcoming you to come and volunteer in our classrooms.
“Let’s talk about mathematics. We’ve seen some growth there as well. The number of students passing freshman algebra last year was 77 percent. That increased this year to 83 percent. That’s something we want to get into the 90s.
“Two years ago, our students were earning $36 million dollars in merit scholarships. That number has more than doubled today to $65 million.
“The 2013 bond program is 90 percent complete today and will be 100 percent by the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
“The centerpiece of that bond is the I.M. Terrell Academy for Visual and Performing Arts and STEM. This will be a college preparatory high school that literally will be the envy of any high school in the region. College preparatory students can take specialized courses in VPA and STEM in addition to the core humanities curriculum.
Dr. Scribner, who earned a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies from Arizona State University, was hired by the Fort Worth ISD Board of Education in October 2015.
Compiled by Paul K. Harral