Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Advancing Gifted and Talented Services in GCISD

When I was elected to the School Board in 2008, our district was not GT friendly. Back then, we had one part-time administrator for the GT and Advanced Academic programs, our district did not encourage telescoping, and there was no serious effort to cluster students under a GT trained teacher in their regular classrooms. We also had a very small number of minority students with the GT designation. 

In 2010, as a member of the steering committee that developed our strategic plan LEAD 2021, I asked to include the requirement to have all teachers instructing GT students to be GT certified. The strategic plan also included the formation of the GTAC, the GT Advisory Committee, with a goal to become Exemplary with the Texas State Plan for Gifted Education. That same year, my wife and I joined other parents in our district to start SAGE (Supporting and Advocating for Gifted Education - gc-sage.org), currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. In 2013, the GTAC, comprised of parents, teachers and administrators, developed the framework for the Aspire Academy, our very successful program for the highly gifted.

Through our LEAD 2021 plan, GCSID made a strong commitment to serve our GT students. Fast forward to 2020, and we are a destination district for gifted students, with hundreds of students telescoping in math, a strong GT - Advanced Academics department with a Director and full-time staff, and the Aspire Academy was declared the best program for gifted students in the state, after an audit from Dr. Todd Kettler from Baylor University in 2019. Our GT identification rate is currently 21%, the second highest in the state, and first among districts with a diverse student body. We also use a clustering model in our regular classrooms, to allow students to interact with their peers, under the supervision of a certified GT teacher.

I am a GT parent, a lifetime member of SAGE, and a board member of the Gifted Education Family Network (giftededucationfamilynetwork.org), a state-wide parent network. I have been committed to GT education during my twelve years on the School Board. This is even more important now that School Boards are exclusively responsible for the funding of GT education in their districts, since the GT designation for state funds was removed by House Bill 3 in 2019. Additionally, we anticipate that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state budget will experience serious cuts. It is assumed that public education funding will be reduced making it critical we elect trustees that are strong supporters of gifted education and advanced academics. I have worked with parents, our School Board, and the administration to make our GT program one of the shining stars of GCISD, but there is still more work to be done.

Please allow me to continue to support GT services. Who we elect on the School Board matters. I hope that you will share with your friends my record of accomplishments for the GT community in GCISD, and support my re-election campaign for the School Board Place 7 during early voting beginning October 13th or on November 3rd.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A Trustee - Community relationship like no other

In 2008, I was a newly elected Trustee excited after winning my first election and ready to make a difference. One of the main reasons I ran was to open access to the administration office for our parents. Back then, parents at my elementary school did not feel the district administration was listening to their concerns.  This was 12 years ago, with a very different district administration from what we have today. 

I remember the first time the Board received our district-wide TASK report (the 2008 version of the STAAR test). The results were interesting and it appeared on the surface that the district performance was as good as could be expected. I realized the report did not include the performance of each individual school, so I requested the report with a breakdown for each school and was surprised when my Trustee colleagues from back then defeated my request with a 3-4 vote during a board meeting. The reason given was the report would take too long to put together, and the district personnel had other duties on which to work on. I knew we had such diverse schools in GCISD that a district-wide performance report could mask the performance of some of the individual schools. At the end of that meeting, a reporter from one of the local papers asked me about that board vote. I mentioned that I was surprised by the decision because we would not be able to accurately assess the district’s performance without knowing the performance of each individual school. The next day an article about the Board meeting appeared in the newspaper.

A week later a package was delivered to my front door, and it was the TASK performance report for both the district and the individual schools. I asked why the change and was told that many parents and tax payers called the district very upset about “their elected Trustee not getting the school performance information he requested”.  I realized very quickly that to be effective as a Trustee, developing trusted relationships with other Trustees and also with the community was critical. 

From that point forward, I have spent countless hours talking to parents and tax payers about their concerns. Those conversations have had a huge effect on the reach and quality of services we currently provide for our students. For example, conversations with parents were key in bringing the Take Flight program to our district, in partnership with the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, to serve students with Dyslexia. Also, major improvements to the gifted and talented services were developed in our LEAD 2021 strategic plan based on parents’ feedback.  

Even after many years on the Board, I do not feel as though I have all the answers or know all the concerns of our community. Ongoing parent feedback is essential in bringing light to things that we can do better and also to let us know whether a program we implement is working or not. I continue to talk to parents every day and follow their school-related postings on social media. Our parents are the measuring stick of our success, as they continue to raise the bar of high expectations for GCISD

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Working with parents supporting students with dyslexia

When I was elected to the GCISD School Board in 2008, the district had 44 students being monitored under their dyslexia program. In a district with almost 14,000 students, a minimum number expected of students with the condition is around 700. Several dyslexia experts state that the incidence could reach 10% in some communities. Parents contacted me and informed me the situation was critical in our district, as many parents have left GCISD looking for private alternatives for their children.


To look for information on the condition and services in our area, I made an appointment with Dr. Jeff Black, Medical Director of the Scottish Rite HospitalLuke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disorders. The Scottish Rite Hospital is one of the nation leading experts in dyslexia, and the creators of “Take Flight”, a very successful intervention program for students. Dr. Black and his staff informed me they received many students from GCISD looking for an effective alternative for their children. One of the key findings during my visit was that one Scottish Rite Hospital’s main goals was to work with public school districts in a train the trainer model to expand the reach of Take Flight and help as many students as possible.


After my meeting with Dr. Black and his staff, I discussed my findings with our then assistant superintendent, Dr. Jim Chadwell (current superintendent at Eagle Mountain Saginaw ISD) and encouraged him to plan a visit to Scottish Rite. Dr. Chadwell did so and that started a great partnership that has resulted in over 800 students currently being serviced and monitored in GCISD’s dyslexia program.


Bringing a new program into a district has its challenges. This is where having a great parent support group is key. GCISD is lucky to have READ (Reaching, Educating and Advocating for Dyslexics), an organization dedicated to support our students with dyslexia. This group of parents described in detail the struggles of their students being served in GCISD’s program. They knew the old district’s program had its limitations, and it was not effective for the majority of the students with the condition. Using this feedback, GCISD has done a great job implementing the Scottish Rite’s Take Flight program, and also improving the accommodation services offered to our students. I worked with READ to write a district-wide goal to improve dyslexia services, and it was approved by the School Board as part of our superintendent goals. READ has also been a critical partner in helping us monitor progress at the school level. Our first dyslexia goal was to “Create and implement a comprehensive development plan to significantly increase the quality of Dyslexia Services, with emphasis in identification of students to include building awareness of Dyslexia at the campus level and monitoring of individual progress”. The establishment of a dyslexia goal set the district on the path to rapidly expand the quality and reach of our services, improving the educational experience for hundreds of students and their parents for the last 12 years.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Fall 2020 and COVID-19

I have read many positive and negative reactions about the GCISD Board decision to start online classes on August 17th and add the in-school option on September 8th.  I read, for example, “the Board did not listen to parents as the majority wanted in-school instruction”. That could not be further from the truth. The Board listened to parents, our teachers and our health professionals. As Dr. Ryan said at the start of our special meeting on Friday, July 31st, "we want all kids in school as soon as possible". A survey was sent to parents and employees on June 10th, and 50% of parents wanted in-school instruction only (survey results: https://www.gcisd.net/our_district/august_2020/planning_survey_results). The other half wanted either a remote or a hybrid option (online and in-school combo). We started online registration on July 15th, and parents were asked to make their selection between online and in-school instruction. On July 21st, Tarrant County released guidelines stating that districts could not offer in-school instruction until September 28th. Before our meeting on July 31st, the percentage of parents wanting in-school instruction was 60%, but many of these parents selected that option with the assumption we will start in-school instruction on September 28th. They wanted the district to start online school first as they were concerned with the spread of COVID-19 in our community. We know this because they wrote to us letting us know. Once we offered in-school instruction starting on September 8th, most parents registering selected remote instruction. Also, some parents that first selected the in-school option are now trying to switch to remote for the first nine weeks. The current split is 56% / 44% and it continues to close as more parents register their students. The bottom line is we have a split community on this issue.

Kids need to be in school, but we want to do it so it is safe to everyone, and keeps us in-school long term. We know the spread among young students is not as significant as with adults, but it is significant among adults, and we will have many adults in one place at each school. Also, there have been cases of outbreaks among high school students in other states and countries. In GCISD we have students living with at-risk adults that could bring the disease home. Those three weeks of online instruction give our community time for the spread of the disease to decrease. County health officials want the positive test rate to be close to 5% before we open schools, and it is currently at 10% (7-day average) on a downward trend. A rate in the single digits increases our chances to keep the disease away from our schools and limit disruption. The last thing we want to do is to open our schools and have to send kids home or completely close one or multiple buildings due to an outbreak. Possible health risks were seriously considered in our decision.

The three weeks of online school also gives the district time to receive all PPE ordered, get teachers familiar with COVID-19 guidelines and give them real experience in our new way of remote instruction, which will differ greatly from what we offered last spring. There will be a lot more live interaction and no more pass/fail grades. After September 8th, some teachers will have to teach on dual mode (in-school and live remote), and some teachers might need to switch from in-school to remote (if they need to quarantine). We have high expectations of our remote instruction, just like we have with our iUniversity Prep online school. Our Executive Director for iUniversity Prep, Dr. Kaye Rogers, was in charge of designing the online instruction training for all our teachers. 

We all want kids in school. We know many kids and parents struggled with our online instruction during the spring. We also know socio-emotional issues arise when students are not in school, and it is difficult for some working parents to find child care for their students before we open our schools. This was not an easy decision, and we considered all the factors I just mentioned, including the many emails and texts from parents favoring either online or in-school instruction.

Our new remote instruction will be much better, more interactive and engaging for our students than in the spring. If you feel your student struggles during the first 3 weeks of the school year, please contact your teacher or principal. We are committed to assist you during those first three weeks as we transition from remote to in-school instructions (for the parents and students that selected that option). Please leave your comments or questions below this post, or send me an email to jorge.rodriguez@gcisd.net.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

GCISD Welcomes New Board Member

Doug Noell was the only resident that filed for the GCISD Board of Trustees Place 6 before the deadline, and will become our newest Board member, replacing current Board President Leon Leal, who is retiring after nine years of service. Doug's 3-year term will start on May 19th.

Doug grew up in Dallas and attended Texas A&M University, where he was a member of the Corps of Cadets and the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band. Doug completed a degree in Economics and worked in the insurance and IT industries.

Doug and his wife Courtney have lived in Grapevine for the last 15 years.

Welcome aboard, Doug!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

New changes at GCISD

There are several exciting changes in our district as we start the new school year in a couple of months. First, we are opening our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Academy at Cannon Elementary for any student that resides within GCISD limits (not just Cannon area residents). The STEM program is integrated within the Cannon curriculum for all students attending the school. We are also continuing our two-way bilingual program at Cannon, which offers the opportunity to English speakers to learn Spanish within their regular core courses. We offer similar two-way language programs at Silver Lake and Timberline Elementary schools.

I would also like to welcome June Ritchlin to the Timberline Elementary family. Mrs. Ritchlin will be the new principal at Timberline, after a few years successfully leading Colleyville Elementary.  We are looking forward to Mrs. Ritchlin's work at this school, as we continue to improve our STAAR scores, prepare our students as they move into Cross Timbers Middle School and continue the implementation of the Franklin-Covey's Leader in Me program.

GCISD is starting their first magnet school, the Aspire Academy, for grades 1 through 4 at Glenhope Elementary. The students attending this academy were chosen based on IQ test scores, interviews and past work in their Gifted and Talented classes. The academy will expand to 5th grade in 2014 and to 6th grade at Cross Timbers Middle School in 2015.

Finally, this year we are expanding the Exito Hispano program to our two high schools. Exito Hispano is a parent engagement program focused on increasing Hispanic parent participation in our secondary schools. The program started at Cross Timbers Middle School in 2011, and was implemented at Grapevine Middle School last year. Once per month, we invite Hispanic parents to our schools to discuss topics like STAAR, GCISD goals and strategy, bullying prevention programs, Family Access system, curriculum, Career and Technology courses and College Night.

Monday, May 14, 2012

2012 GCISD Board Election Results

Congratulations to Becky St John and Kimberley Barber Davis for their victories in the 2012 GCISD School Board election! Mrs. St John was re-elected with 55% of the vote (1,553 votes), while Mrs. Davis was elected with 64% of the vote (1,830 votes). Mrs. Davis will take over Charlie Warner's seat on the Board, as Mr. Warner decided not to run for re-election. I am looking forward to working with both of them as we implement our new LEAD 2021 strategy.