Op-eds and Articles

Langhorne for The 74, “From Troubled School to Turnaround to Texas ‘Teaching Lab'”

By / 10.3.2018

“Good morning, scholars!” principal-in-training Jackie Navar yells, kicking off the community meeting at Ogden Elementary School, part of the 78207 zip code on San Antonio’s struggling West Side.

Hundreds of children echo Navar’s salutations.

“What’s a college-ready word for ‘good’?” Navar asks the room. Hands shoot up into the air: “Amazing.” “Fantastic.” “Great.”

“Excellent. Here’s a new one for you — ‘phenomenal.’ Can we all say that together?”

At Ogden, each school day begins with breakfast followed by community meetings like this one. Preschoolers eat in their classrooms, kindergartners through third-graders in the cafeteria, fourth- and fifth-graders in the gym, and sixth-graders upstairs. Ninety-eight percent of Ogden’s 650 students qualify as economically disadvantaged, and every one receives a free school breakfast.

“The community meeting helps our scholars start the day with a positive mindset,” says Tim Saintsing, executive director of teaching and learning labs at Relay Graduate School of Education, which was brought in to run the school after years of poor performance. “It lets students and staff reflect on our core values and our sense of self as a school. It gives us a chance to celebrate our successes and discuss our challenges.”

Today, a first- and second-grade class are being honored with attendance awards. As a prize, the students get to sing their homeroom chants, and then, in what’s known as a “thunder clap,” the room simultaneously brings their hands together once — loudly — in their honor.

“Remember,” Navar yells across the cafeteria, “If you miss school, you…”

“Miss out!” the kids shout back in unison.

It’s a vastly different atmosphere from the Ogden Elementary of 2016.

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