THE IAF ORGANIZATIONS AND ALLIANCE SCHOOLS TEACH PARENTS, TEACHERS, AND PRINCIPALS TO RELATE TO EACH OTHER IN NEW WAYS, TO RESTRUCTURE THEIR RELATIONSHIPS BEFORE RESTRUCTURING THE SCHOOLS THEY CARE ABOUT. working together to improve schools, our children are getting the best civics lesson ever.” An area superintendent from the Houston ISD came to the meeting to testify that several of the Alliance schools in Houston had won the Mayor’s Award for Excellence, with one school being cited by TEA as exemplary. He also credited the Metropolitan Organizacreate alcohol-free zones around schools and creating an opportunity for the city to put health clinics in several Houston schools. Catherihe St. John, a teacher at B. H. Macon Elementary in Dallas, told Moses, “In 16 years of teaching, nothing has given me the energy like working with Dallas Area Interfaith [DAI] Alliance School parents and other teachers. They are teaching us to hold ourselves accountable.” Pamela Craddock, a parent of students at Dallas’s Elishu M. Pease Elementary, said, “Dallas Area Interfaith taught us as parents that we have power.” Her mother, Ruby Scott, a grandmother of Pease Elementary students and Dallas Interfaith leader, then got up to talk about “the importance of parents, teachers, and school administrators coming together for one common cause. When schools come together as Alliance schools, then we see education reform.” Zavala Elementary of East Austin is a flagship Affiance school. Over 90 percent of its students are low-income. Its turnaround is legendary, moving from 66th of sixty-six . Austin elementaries in test score ranking in 1991, to a place among Austin’s elementary elite. Zavala principal Loretta Caro reported that only 7 percent of the school’s students passed the TAAS writing test in 1991. In 1996, 93 percent passed. Working closely with former Zavala principal Al Mindiz-Melton, Austin Interfaith organized parents and community members to play a key role in completely restructuring the campus. The Zavala experience is mirrored in a number of Alliance schools. In Dallas, Roosevelt High School is experiencing a similar turnaround. Once one of the lowest performing schools in Dallas, over a three-year period Roosevelt has moved into the top quarter of Dallas schools. Where only 15 percent of the students once passed the TAAS math test, 70 percent passed last year. Principal Melvin Traylor testified that the Alliance School initiative led to complete restructuring of the school and the Alliance funding provided for teacher and parent training to achieve the changes. Twenty-five core team members meet daily for lunch at the school to provide continual evaluation and planning. They are also working with the elementary and middle schools that feed into Roosevelt. In Eagle Pass, Alliance School parents and the IAF Border Organization fought to open a clinic in their elementary school. In Port Arthur, the parents and teachers of DeQueen Elementary used part of their Alliance funding to put together an after-school program combining academics, the arts, and newspaper and science clubs. Dunbar Elementary in Beaumont saw a 56 percent increase in writing scores between 1995 and 1996. Barbara Truesdale, principal of Ysleta Middle School, talked about her school’s 28 percent jump in math scores and 27 percent jump in writing scores in the past year, calling Alliance affiliation “the chief factor in improving TAAS scores.” What’s the secret? Hard work. A commitment to building a new school culture that includes parents as full partners in the process. Continual education of parents, teachers, principals and other cornmunity members. The Alliance schools learn from each other. Parents and teachers at Roosevelt High traveled to San Antonio to learn about successful teaching strategies used there. Every year a statewide education conference, bringing in one thousand parents and teachers to meet with cutting-edge educators, including Howard Gardner, Ted Sizer, Debra Meier, and Robert Moses. But most important, the IAF organizations and Alliance Schools teach parents, teachers, and principals to relate to each other in new ways, to restructure their relationships before restructuring the schools they care about. Paula Miller, a Fort Worth ISD administrator, told Moses that the Alliance schools “are giving us a new vision of parent involvement. How often do you hear about 850 parents gathering when they’re not angry to discuss school issues?” There is more. As Ernesto Cortes, Jr., founder and Southwest Regional Director of the IAF, explains it in his paper, “The IAF and Education Reform,” the process “is about developing people’s confidence in their own competence. It is central to any good teaching of adults or children. It is a process which stimulates curiosity, inquiry, judgment, and mastery of new areas of understanding. It recognizes that people can only learn confidence through competent participation: we learn by doing….This kind of action enables citizens to open schools, change the nature of schools, create job training programs…and by so doing re-create and re-organize the way in which people, networks of relationships, and operate.” my relationship with the Alliance Schools, my ex-husband doesn’t recognize this woman who can sit at a table and discuss issues with the city council, the school board, the mayor, and the Texas Education Commissioner.” Was Mike Moses convinced? “What you have done in organizing parents and teachers is create powerful relationships,” he told the meeting. “Powerful relationships precede powerful performance. The Alliance Schools have built powerful relationships, and that has produced the kinds of successes we’ve been hearing about today.” Did he commit himself to asking for increased funding for the Alliance Schools? “I want public schools to be successful,” he said. “And I want to thank you for building a constituency for public schools….I obviously support you because I’m here. We will continue to be advocates for funding education programs, particularly for the Alliance Schools. We will do all we can and continue to be an advocate for your work.” Is that a yes? It was a firm non-commitment. He said he would rather under-promise and over-delivef than the reverse. But this legislative cycle is still young. There will be more meetings with the leaders of the Alliance Schools. Former Observer editor Geoff Rips is an unabashed admirer of the Alliance School’s work to restructure public schools. 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 11, 1996
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