Four Austin schools received the lowest ranking in an accountability report released by the state Tuesday.
Burnet, Martin and Mendez middle schools, as well as Govalle Elementary School, were rated "improvement needed" by the Texas Education Agency.
That's down from eight Austin schools receiving the rating in 2016.
Under a 2015 law created to address failing schools, the education commissioner must either install new leadership at the district or close a school after five years of poor academic performance. This is the fourth year Mendez Middle School received the failing rating.
At a press conference, Austin Independent School District Superintendent said Mendez will be a focus for the district this year.
“We have new administration; the leadership team is new at the school," he said. "We also have new teachers coming to the campus as well. There will be a significant focus on literacy and numeracy skills.”
But improving academics at a school isn’t just about new staff or leadership, Cruz said; the most important part of turning a school around happens in the classroom every day.
“It really is about making sure we know exactly what every student has learned or has not learned and focus on those areas," he said. "It has to be very, very pinpointed for every single student.”
What does that mean in the everyday life of a student or teacher? First, the district would appoint an executive director. This person must be a former principal who specializes in school turnaround. The director would work directly with the school's principal to develop better teaching strategies. For example, if students are struggling with the skill of counting in their heads and not on their fingers, the director would work with teachers to try different strategies until the kids master it.
Gilbert Hicks, an associate superintendent who oversees some of the district's executive directors, said the important thing for educators at Mendez and all turnaround schools is to do daily inventories of a student’s learning.
“We’re sure that we’re intentional about looking at where every kid is every single day and knowing what we need to teach that hasn’t been taught yet or they haven’t learned yet and that’s our responsibility to do every single day," Hicks said.
Neighboring Hays and Manor school districts also had schools that received the "improvement required" ranking: Manor Middle School in Manor and Hemphill Elementary in Hays.
Schools are currently rated on a pass/fail system, but starting next school year, the state will assign A-F grades to schools.