As part of the annual School Rankings, CHILDREN AT RISK creates a special sub-list of “Gold Ribbon” schools that are defying the odds. These schools are both high performing (they receive either an A or B CHILDREN AT RISK grade) and are high poverty (a student body with at least 75% economically disadvantaged students).
This year, there are 19 Gold Ribbon elementary schools across Tarrant County, an increase from 12 last year. Our team recently visited Oakhurst Elementary of Fort Worth ISD, a Gold Ribbon school in Fort Worth. Below is a recap of our visit:
When our team arrived at the school, we caught sight of rich history, beautiful brick, and a large name proudly reading “Oakhurst” above the main entrance. We saw parents ushering their kids safely across the front lawn, students playing with books in hands, and heard multiple languages spoken. When we stepped inside, the school was bustling with excited students and teachers high-fiving kids, welcoming them to a new day of learning. The main halls were lined with banners from various colleges and postsecondary schools, inspirational posters in both Spanish and English, and layers upon layers of student art projects.
And then we met the school’s leader, Principal Guadalupe Cortez. When we first saw her, she was swarmed with kids, sharing smiles with them and preparing them for their morning announcement routine. She soon stepped out and greeted us with a cheerful “Buenos Dias!” and led us down the hall to the school’s data room where teachers and administrators spend time discussing the progress of their students. Lining the walls are small portraits of every single kid attending Oakhurst that year, organized by grade and classroom.
At Oakhurst, the students participate in a computer-based program called Achieve3000. Achieve3000 provides daily differentiated instruction that funnels students into different growth and performance levels, revealing where each student is at in his or her learning process. With this data, the teachers and administrators are able to know what each unique student needs in order to succeed. At Oakhurst, each grade level is assigned a member of the leadership staff, and three times per year those staff members have one-on-one conferences with their students to discuss their progress, goals, and concerns.
At Oakhurst, there are both dual language and regular program classrooms that the students are placed in based on a survey they take when entering Pre-K or Kindergarten. Principal Cortez noted that second grade is when they begin seeing a difference in Achieve3000 performance between dual language and regular program students. Interestingly, the students who outperform and shine are those in the dual language programs.
After seeing the data room, Principal Cortez and Assistant Principal Hall led our team through the halls of the school, allowing us to peek inside classrooms, the auditorium, library, and more. When peeking into one of the two Pre-K classrooms, we listened to a teacher ask her attentive students, “And what are we getting ready for?” which was immediately followed by an excited group response of, “Kindergarten!”
Parent and Family Engagement
Oakhurst is a special place for so many reasons. The staff has an intentional plan for parent and family engagement full of student-led conferences where the students inform their parents of their goals, school pick-up programs where parents can interact with teachers, and various informational sessions. Oakhurst experiences very little teacher turnover and its teachers are reflective of their predominantly Latino (92%) student body, providing them with positive role models and strong cultural pride. To address student mobility during a school year, the school has aligned with a district-wide curriculum that provides necessary stability to at-risk or vulnerable students. When students are not performing at grade level, teachers and administrators use the data to intervene as quickly as possible, allowing students the best chance of getting on track.
When our team was leaving the school and driving back to central Fort Worth, we noted how the surrounding neighborhoods looked fairly normal, middle class, and somewhat industrial. However, as you get closer and closer to Yucca Avenue where the school is set, one can see the sights and streets change. Oakhurst Elementary is a safe, inspiring place for its over 90% economically disadvantaged student body. It is a place where defying the odds is the norm; it is a place where students believe they can achieve great things.