Hard work by school staff, students and parents alike contribute to Saltillo ISD's high accountability ratings, administrators say. Shown left to right are: Anna Gallegos, Jonathan VanHolten, Carli Brewer, Emily White, Elementary Principal Tim Lane, High School Principal Ben Tyler, Bobby Goldsmith, Paula Boekhorst and Nick Boekhorst.
Staff Photo By Jessica Worth

Less Is a Lot More

Saltillo ISD staff believe being a small country school helps achieve consistently high ratings

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

Oct. 5, 2008 - It is a small school district few outside of Franklin and Hopkins counties probably are aware of -- unless they're looking at the more academically elite school districts in the region, and in the state.

But it's because Saltillo Independent School District, which was recently named a "recognized" district, is a small country school that they are so successful, according to school officials.

Saltillo ISD's annual accountability ratings speak for themselves. Only 16 of the 48 school districts in Region VIII Education Center received a recognized or higher ranking, and Saltillo was the only district in either Franklin or Hopkins counties to receive a recognized rating this year, and one of 15 in Region 8 to be recognized. Only one district in the region, Red Lick, earned an exemplary rating. The remaining 32 districts in the regional were all academically acceptable.

Saltillo is also among the 328 districts in the state to receive a recognized rating this year, excluding charter schools. TEA rated 1,229 school districts.

Since 1994, Saltillo ISD has earned two exemplary ratings (1997 and 2002, the latter carried over to 2003 as no ratings were issued that year) and seven recognized accountability ratings (1995, 1998-2000, 2004, 2006, 2008) by Texas Education Agency.

With passing standards for the annual TEA ratings getting tougher each year, some ponder how Saltillo continues to hit the mark.

"If we could single out one thing, we'd bottle it and sell it to every school district in the state," Saltillo ISD Superintendent Paul Jones jokes.

But Jones, Saltillo Elementary and High School Principals Ben Tyler and Tim Lane, are quick to give credit where it's due -- the "village" that is the school and surrounding community.

The school administrators say the combined efforts of all school personnel -- from bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians to teachers and administrators -- as well as the students, parents and the community are responsible for the school's continued good marks and successes.

Saltillo ISD doesn't have as large a tax base nor the resources for some of the other extras offered by some city school districts, but being a small school works to Saltillo's advantage.

Each child receives more individualized instruction and attention due to the smaller student-teacher classroom ratio at the school. Students are also more easily "tracked" for progress from the first semester they enter school to the last day, due to a low personnel turnover rate. This enables instructors to relay each child's varied strengths and weaknesses to the next teacher as each student advances grade levels.

Each teacher is also able to become more familiar with each student. Most instructors put in extra time tutoring students in various needs before and after school, during lunch, conference periods or any other time they have available to see that the students' educational needs are met, school officials say.

And it's not just teachers. Every school employee contributes in some way and is considered important to the education process, administrators said, no matter how small or large the contribution. The same is true for students -- all are considered just as important and valuable

"Everyone does give extra effort," Saltillo High School Principal Ben Tyler noted. "From the first person they see to the last -- the bus driver, the person who prepares their meals -- everyone works together to give them the best environment we can to learn in."

Like most schools, tutorials are offered for students struggling in certain areas, including for Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills reading, writing, math, science and social studies tests. Students' scores are monitored, and extra aid offered to meet various needs.

Schools were required to have a 75 percent pass rate by all subgroups (i.e., all students, African American, white, economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, etc.) in 11 areas on TAKS. Special education students' were also evaluated in the rankings, Tyler and Lane explained.

Tyler said that he is proudest of the fact that all groups overall met the standard, not always an easy task for a district composed of 58 percent economically disadvantaged students.

Both principals agreed that while supplementary programs and materials to coincide with TEKS (the curriculum on which TAKS is based), "nothing can take the place of a good teacher."

Each year the teachers and students start anew, working each and every day to ensure that each child is as successful as he or she can be and that each reaches their potential. They also work harder to prepare students to meet the ever=increasing state TAKS standards.

Parents and the community are another part of the students' successes. Their support of the students, seeing that they are diligent in their studies and have the materials they need for success, are key ingredients in the schools' and students' successes. The PTO and business people help with contributions for educational materials the school doesn't have the financial resources to provide.

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