The Leadership Academy Network is an innovative partnership between Fort Worth ISD and Texas Wesleyan University designed to continue improving learning outcomes at the District’s five PK-8 Leadership Academies.
Formed in February 2019, this first-of-its-kind partnership calls for Texas Wesleyan to operate and manage the schools, creating a sustainable platform for the successful Leadership Academy learning model piloted by the school district in 2017.
The goal is to maintain rising levels of academic achievement demonstrated by the five schools since 2017, when Fort Worth ISD designated the campuses as Leadership Academies. Early successes at all the schools helped establish that students can succeed and thrive, given the right learning environment. The Leadership Academy Network was created to sustain and build upon those efforts.
The network includes four elementary campuses and one middle school:
- The Leadership Academy at Como Elementary
- The Leadership Academy at Maude I. Logan
- The Leadership Academy at John T. White Elementary
- The Leadership Academy at Mitchell Boulevard Elementary
- The Leadership Academy at Forest Oak Middle School (7th and 8th Grade Campus)
- The Leadership Academy at Forest Oak Middle School (6th Grade Campus)
Prior to 2017, the five impacted schools shared a history of underperforming on state accountability standards and were designated by the Texas Education Agency for multiple years as “Improvement Required” campuses. In fall 2017, the district established the schools as Leadership Academies and began testing a new learning model. First-year results showed improvement at all schools.
A Leadership Academy is a campus that employs strategies to accelerate academic excellence and holistically support students, with a goal of maximizing student outcomes. The district purposefully staffed campuses with high achieving administrators and teachers, extended the school day to provide additional instruction along with tutoring and enrichment activities and focused on enhanced social and emotional support for students and families. Leadership Academies also rigorously monitor student performance and use that data to tailor instruction to meet student needs.
Outcomes from the first year of implementing this educational model were highly encouraging. Every Leadership Academy came off the Texas Education Agency’s Improvement Required List and demonstrated levels of student growth that placed them among the top half of campuses across the state. Improvements include remarkable gains in reading and math. Texas Wesleyan and Fort Worth ISD will work to build on these early successes and sustain a high level of academic performance.
The partnership creates a unique in-district charter relationship that leverages the resources of both Fort Worth ISD and Texas Wesleyan. There is no involvement by existing for-profit or nonprofit charter management organizations.
The Leadership Academy Network will operate under the provisions of Texas Senate Bill 1882, known as the Texas Partnership Opportunity—which incentivizes school districts to work cooperatively with partners to promote innovative education and dramatically improve student outcomes. Through this structure, Leadership Academies will have freedom and flexibility in instruction methods, funding, schedules and other areas, while operating under mutually agreed upon performance targets that align with Fort Worth ISD school performance guidelines.
The Leadership Academies are open-enrollment Fort Worth ISD schools that do not charge tuition nor administer entrance examinations. Each school gives students residing in the geographic boundaries aligned with current attendance zones priority in enrollment, following an online enrollment and registration process. Students residing outside the geographic boundaries have a fair and equitable opportunity to seek admission for spaces remaining using a transfer application process. The Leadership Academy Network maintains a waitlist to prioritize and accommodate demand as space becomes available throughout the year.
This system allows teachers and administrators to remain part of Fort Worth ISD. Leadership Academy employees will remain at their respective campuses as long as they are in good standing with the district.
In 2017, Texas Senate Bill 1882, known as the Texas Partnership Opportunity, went into effect. The policy incentivizes school districts to work cooperatively with partners to promote innovative education and dramatically improve student outcomes. Texas partnerships enable districts to expand the diversity of school options, bring in targeted expertise and empower school leaders and partners with greater autonomy. The agreement between Fort Worth ISD and Texas Wesleyan leverages this opportunity.
Fort Worth ISD engaged in a thoughtful, year-long planning process in the interest of students at these schools and others throughout the district. Together with community stakeholders, the district identified a partner that could successfully continue the Leadership Academy model and align its efforts with the district’s broader strategic plan.
Fort Worth ISD selected Texas Wesleyan to formalize, sustain and support the successful Leadership Academy model by managing the schools in accordance with a performance contract that was mutually negotiated by the partners and was signed in February 2019.
The Texas Wesleyan board serves as the governing board for the Leadership Academy Network. The university’s School of Education provides academic oversight and professional development to campus personnel through their expertise in instruction, curriculum and administration.
Texas Wesleyan hired and manages a staff to lead the work among all five academies and will appoint members to a Steering Committee that will help guide that work. While Texas Wesleyan will operate the network, it will be accountable to the Fort Worth ISD board for each school’s performance.
Under this structure, Texas Wesleyan will have the ability to customize academic targets and education strategies for individual Leadership Academies. At the same time, campus goals will purposefully be structured to align with the state accountability system and the Fort Worth ISD school performance framework.
Leadership Academy Network campuses will remain Fort Worth ISD schools, and the district is accountable to the Texas Education Agency for their performance. Teachers and campus administrators are Fort Worth ISD employees, and students are Fort Worth ISD students.
The mission of the Texas Wesleyan School of Education is to meet the challenges of instruction and learning in the 21st century. This partnership aligns with that mission by increasing success of current elementary and middle school students while building a pipeline of future educators trained in innovative methods well-suited to these settings.
The partnership also exemplifies Texas Wesleyan’s strong commitment to serving the community and to supporting the economic revitalization of East Fort Worth, where the University is located. Many of the schools chosen to originate the Leadership Academy model are near the Texas Wesleyan campus.
Texas Wesleyan is Fort Worth’s oldest institution of higher learning, with a strong governance structure that will ensure continued stability in Leadership Academy operations.
The university also has a long history of partnering with Fort Worth ISD to bring innovative opportunities to area schools, such as:
- Early College High School partnership: In May 2016, Fort Worth ISD and Texas Wesleyan unveiled a partnership to provide Dunbar High School students the opportunity to enroll in and attend Texas Wesleyan classes conducted primarily in Dunbar classrooms, at no cost to students. Students in the program have the opportunity to graduate from high school with 60 college credit hours completed, saving significant time and money toward their college education.
- First Day of College: For nearly 20 years, Texas Wesleyan’s School of Education and Fort Worth ISD’s Newcomers Program have partnered to present the First Day of College, a two-day event for hundreds of Fort Worth ISD students, in particular second-language learners.
- Chemistry Camp: For 27 years, Texas Wesleyan has partnered with Fort Worth ISD teachers to present a summer chemistry camp for Fort Worth ISD students.
Additionally, the university’s School of Education faculty offer extensive experience in instruction, curriculum and administration, and they will bring those resources to current and aspiring educators through ongoing, intensive professional development—including both team-based training—to ensure consistent implementation of best practices as well as personalized development that addresses individual teacher needs.
Leadership Academy student teaching opportunities will further strengthen Texas Wesleyan’s well-established pipeline of graduates entering employment with Fort Worth ISD. Texas Wesleyan also intends to leverage its students as a source of volunteers, mentors and role models for Leadership Academy students.
Fort Worth ISD will continue to serve as the fiscal agent for these schools, using state, federal and local funds. Additional funding will be provided through Texas Senate Bill 1882, which incentivizes school districts to work cooperatively with partners to promote innovative education and dramatically improve student outcomes. That funding will begin at the start of the 2019-20 school year. The Rainwater Charitable Foundation, a longtime champion of public education, has made a yearly $1 million grant to support the purchase of uniforms, after-school enrichment activities and positive school culture initiatives at the Leadership Academies. In addition, the Rainwater Foundation funded the planning and start-up phase of this partnership, to bridge the gap from when the agreement was signed to the start of the new school year.
Most of the Leadership Academy Network funding will remain with Fort Worth ISD to support contracted services for the Leadership Academies, such as payroll for administrators, teachers and staff, and facility maintenance. Other funds will pass through to Texas Wesleyan to support school management and direct services, such as professional development for Leadership Academy Network teachers and staff. All of the partnership funding will be used for the management and operation of the Leadership Academy campuses.
The partnership between Texas Wesleyan and Fort Worth ISD builds a stronger alignment between the PK-12 sector and higher education, which is fundamental to improving college and career readiness as well as postsecondary completion rates. By offering greater autonomy, the partnership allows the network to make customized decisions for each campus, targeting interventions to address specific needs and ultimately accelerating further performance improvements at the Leadership Academies. The best practices developed at Leadership Academy Network schools can also be adopted at other campuses, driving enhanced outcomes across Fort Worth ISD.
The partnership with Texas Wesleyan further benefits the community through enhanced student teaching opportunities, creating a pipeline of future educators trained in innovative methods that fast-track student success.
The Leadership Academy Network is the first partnership in the nation in which a non-profit university will manage select elementary and middle school campuses through an in-district charter relationship. Additionally, the Texas partnerships structure provides for greater autonomy in Leadership Academy operations. Leadership Academy administrators will work with teachers as well as network supervisors to set campus-specific performance goals based on assessment results and develop targeted strategies to achieve those goals.
Leadership Academies have a distinct campus culture, different both from their district peers as well as from the culture that existed prior to 2017. Each Leadership Academy maintains a commitment to above-and-beyond instructional excellence, student engagement and social-emotional support. Specifically, the model:
- Staffs schools in a way that ensures outstanding instruction. Campuses are staffed with highly effective teachers, specifically chosen for their track record of achieving significant growth with similar students. The district also recruited staff members based on their demonstrated alignment with the core values of the Leadership Academies and a willingness to engage in intensive and innovative work.
- Leverages a university partnership to enhance the Fort Worth ISD teacher pipeline and deliver strong professional development. The partnership with Texas Wesleyan’s School of Education nurtures a pipeline of future educators who can both build the instructional capacity of the Leadership Academies as student teachers and practice their trade in innovative, realistic classroom conditions. In addition, Texas Wesleyan’s expert faculty will provide new opportunities for professional development for current and aspiring educators involved with the Leadership Academies. Texas Wesleyan faculty have specific expertise in elementary education, bilingual education, literacy and school leadership. Texas Wesleyan’s School of Education also offers extensive school counseling resources.
- Extends the time available for instruction and student engagement. The school day at the Leadership Academies lasts for a full eight hours. This extra time is used for targeted reteach lessons to ensure mastery of student state standards. It also supports expanded after-school enrichment programs, such as tutoring, sports, creative writing and leadership development.
- Employs an intensive culture of data-driven instructional practices. Leadership Academies rigorously monitor student performance and growth and use that data to tailor instruction to meet student needs. Each campus is supported by two full-time instructional coaches who assist with data collection and analysis.
- Gives campuses the ability to develop their own academic targets and education strategies to achieve those targets. For each campus, school leaders will work with instructional teams and network supervisors to set performance goals based on assessment results. Overall goals will be broken down to define grade-level goals and actions to ensure that stated targets are achieved. Goals will align with the state accountability system and the Fort Worth ISD school performance framework.
- Nurtures a culture of high expectations, whole-child supports and student leadership. The Leadership Academies support children with a positive, inclusive school culture that promotes accountability and leadership. Teachers and administrators work to build relationships that enhance students’ social-emotional well-being without compromising on expectations.
- Enhances family outreach and cultivates stronger relationships with community organizations. Leadership Academy family engagement includes home visits by staff, classroom visits by parents, parent-teacher conferences, phone and text communication and attendance at school events. Since 2017, Leadership Academies have also been building stronger relationships with local churches, non-profit partners and volunteers.