Ogden Academy’s Sixth Consecutive F Grade Creates ‘Unbelievable Sense of Urgency’

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A student walks down a hallway at Ogden Academy filled with inspirational messaging as the school battles with accountability standards held by the Texas Education Agency.

Ogden Academy could become just the second San Antonio ISD school to close in the past three years because of poor STAAR test scores.

Ogden received an F last Thursday when the State accountability scores were released. The West Side elementary and middle school now has failed to pass state standards for six consecutive years.

State law stipulates that after five consecutive failing grades, the State can either close the campus or install a board of managers to govern the school’s district in place of an elected board of trustees. 

However, Ogden was given a two-year reprieve last fall after SAISD trustees approved a deal that converted the school to an in-district charter and turned over operations to Relay Lab Schools, a nonprofit affiliated with the Relay Graduate School of Education. The in-district charter designation was formed through an agreement created under a state law that incentivizes districts to bring in outside partners to run schools.

The deal stopped the school from being shuttered a year ago, but it also made SAISD give Relay autonomy over the curriculum and day-to-day decisions. The school was then granted two years to raise its STARR scores and avoid state intervention.

Halfway into a timeline that expires in 2020, the agreement has yet to yield improvements and Ogden is still under threat of closure.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Relay Lab School Executive Director Chris Fraser speaks with 8th grade teacher Elissa Gonzalez as she welcomes students to class.

“It’s an unbelievable sense of urgency,” Relay Lab School Executive Director Chris Fraser said last Friday. “Everyone here is busting their butts every day to ensure that kids are getting a quality education. And we know there is a long way to go still, we know there is work to do, but everyone in here has the right intentions and works hard toward those.”

Ogden is the second SAISD school run by Relay. Storm Elementary, which failed state standards for three consecutive years beginning in 2014-15, earned a 70 last year. However this year, it was back on the list of failing schools.

At both Ogden and Storm, graduate students act as teaching residents. They work in classrooms with more experienced teachers, learning from them and getting coaching on how to teach more effectively. Relay Graduate School of Education had never operated schools under such an agreement before SAISD inquired about the opportunity.

Ogden serves close to 700 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. Almost all of the school’s enrollment is considered economically disadvantaged and 36 percent of students are English language learners. 

Ogden’s students traditionally have lagged behind their peers academically, which Fraser said has made revamping the school a challenging situation. 

However, students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade have doubled their reading proficiency, and third-grade math scores outpace those in the rest of the district, Fraser said.

In 2018-19, 49 percent of Ogden students academically approached grade level. Last year, 77 percent of all students statewide achieved that same performance standard.

Fraser feels some progress has been made, but it’s uncertain whether there is enough time for Ogden to receive a passing grade before sanctions kick in.

“We are going to do everything we can to make it,” Fraser said. “We think that it is a worthy goal to lift [students’ performance] up.”

If Relay doesn’t meet provisions of the management agreement SAISD’s board approved in last year, it could have its charter revoked or placed on probation. One of those provisions is for the school to obtain a passing grade of a C or higher by next year. By 2022-23, that grade must improve to a B.

To reach those goals, Fraser wants Relay to refocus on five areas for improvement —student achievement, student culture, teacher performance, teacher satisfaction, and family and community engagement, which includes moving former Ogden Principal Ixtchell Gonzalez into a liaison role. Relay also will work with SAISD’s accountability team to analyze student outcomes in real-time, and intervene as soon as a performance issue is detected.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Ogden Academy is fighting to stay open in as the SAISD school grapples with low test scores.

Relay officials say they need to use data more intentionally or strategically.

“As a leader or as a teacher, you are inundated with so much data that is coming at you whether it is data around a math test you just took or data that you see playing out in front of you,” said Celestina De La Garza, the instructional superintendent at Relay Lab Schools. “It is really thinking about what are the pieces of data we have, being strategic with each piece of data, and I think this is the shift and change we are really focused on here.”

The numbers that aren’t measured in the state’s accountability score are some of which Relay is most proud. Enrollment is trending upward, which is notable given that many failing schools across the State see a drop in student numbers as scores tumble.

Also, parent participation in family surveys is trending higher, and SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said when he first arrived in SAISD in 2015, Ogden had the worst culture he had seen anywhere. Now, he hears that parents are happy.

That growth helps keep Relay committed to Ogden and Storm for the long haul. 

“I would tell a student that this is what the State has rated our current progress as a school, but it doesn’t at all mean that you, or your friends, or your community is an F community,” De La Garza said. “The biggest achievements come from Fs, from these failures that we might encounter. This is not a failure on you, this is a failure on the school in general. Now, this means we are just going to have to achieve even higher.”

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