Ten of Texas’ largest urban school districts educate about 15 percent of our state’s public school students and 20 percent of the state’s students experiencing economic insecurity. The Texas Urban Council of Superintendents (TUC) was formed in the early seventies and comprises the following districts: Aldine, Austin, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Ysleta Independent School Districts (ISD).
Facilitated by the Commit Partnership, TUC brings the districts together for regular convenings designed to encourage discussion and collaboration in order to improve academic outcomes. Corpus Christi ISD Superintendent Dr. Roland Hernandez currently serves as the president of TUC, and from the very beginning, the district has been all in.
“Urban districts face many unique challenges that are uncommon to smaller suburban districts,” Superintendent Hernandez explained. “The biggest benefit that TUC provides our district leadership is a place to collaborate, learn, and grow from other urban district leaders on day-to-day operations, proven systems, and best practices to positively impact student achievement.”
Now, when leaders at Corpus Christi ISD have a question, they have a community of colleagues in similar districts willing to answer, troubleshoot, and bounce ideas off each other. For Coordinator for Elementary Curriculum and Instruction and Library Media Services Dr. Cynthia Hernandez, the learning community goes even deeper than just knowing who to call.
“We get to see some of the feelings and some of the processes behind the numbers,” she said. “It’s good to see the people and the work behind it as opposed to just the numbers on the screen.”
In 2021, TUC mobilized around two sets of goals designed to improve student outcomes: early learning and college and career readiness (CCR). For Corpus Christi ISD, these goals were more than an opportunity to discuss with other large, urban school districts – they were a call to action. As Superintendent Hernandez said, “By setting specific goals, TUC districts commit to not only district goals, but to the overall successes of the TUC districts as a collective, serving 817,000 plus students in Texas.”
Early Learning Goals
TUC’s early learning goals focus on improving third grade math and reading scores. While going over the data on early learning at a TUC convening, one fact became clear: Corpus Christi was behind. However, three of the top scoring districts in third grade math and reading were in the room – Austin, El Paso, and Ysleta ISDs.
Dr. Cynthia Hernandez seized the learning opportunity. “I compared our scores as a district to other districts and I was able to say, well, what is happening in Austin? What is happening in Ysleta and what is happening in El Paso?” She called up the curriculum directors of the highest scoring districts and even visited several of their campuses – a prime example of the collaboration TUC was created to spur. She learned that all three districts had a strong focus on pre-K enrollment and set out to change this at Corpus Christi.
Dr. Hernandez continued, “[Setting the goal] was a motivation factor, but it also prompted people to pay attention to a program that got very little attention in the past. So in looking at that, we made a lot of moves.” As a result of the early learning goals and the data provided through TUC convenings, Corpus Christi restructured its pre-K department with a renewed focus on pre-K enrollment as the means to improving third grade math and reading scores.
Thanks to buy-in from Superintendent Hernandez and his efforts pushing its importance throughout the district, “The goal of increasing enrollment in pre-K has made a huge difference in how we’re doing business from this point on,” said Dr. Cynthia Hernandez.
College and Career Readiness Goals
For College and Career Readiness goals, TUC focused on increasing the percentage of students deemed CCR ready through the state’s accountability system and the amount of success funding each district received. The Texas Success Initiative (TSI) assessment helps determine a student’s readiness for college-level coursework, and is a key metric in addressing TUC’s CCR goals. However, TUC districts were struggling to discern the best way forward for TSI testing.
Bryan Davis, the coordinator for College, Career, and Military Readiness at Corpus Christi ISD, explained, “[We] consult[ed] with other TUC districts: What’s the right answer? What’s the right grade level? Should we do it? Should we not do it?” For him, the conversation with his colleagues in other TUC districts was refreshing. “It really feels like everyone in there is vulnerable and having the same issues.”
Given his experience with TUC and its quarterly convenings, Davis’ focus has shifted: “We’re looking at a bigger picture. We’re not just looking at how are we doing. We’re looking at how are we doing as one of the 10 largest school districts in the state.”
The Benefit of TUC Collaboration
There is tremendous power that comes from having the 10 largest school districts – representing a total K-12 enrollment that is larger than 29 individual states– come together around shared goals and strategies. Legislatively, the group can speak with one voice on behalf of the state’s large, urban districts and the students they serve.
On the campus level, TUC spurs innovation and collaboration. Davis summed it up well: “Why are you not going to share ideas and get ideas and help build on work that other people have done? That’s what researchers do. That’s what businesses do. You see what other people are doing and improve on it. You collaborate, make it better. So why would we not do that in education?”
TUC is at its best when districts take the learning and collaboration from convenings back to their classrooms – and that’s exactly what Corpus Christi has done.