La Promesa High School

Aldine ISD's Journey to Better Serving Newcomer Students and Families

2022-2023 SCHOOL ACTION FUND

Applications are due  May 9, 2022
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The following case study is the result of a series of interviews the Center for School Actions conducted with key leaders at Aldine ISD between January - April 2022, with the goal of giving districts interested in School Actions an in-depth view of what the work looks like in practice from planning through implementation. Learn more about La Promesa.

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INTRODUCTION

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GABY:  Hello everyone, my name is Gaby Sierra and I’m the Executive Director for the Office of Transformation for Aldine ISD. I am joined by my colleagues: Dr. Faviola Cantu, School Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools for Aldine ISD, as well as Ana Fernanda Flores-Bolivar, the Principal of La Promesa. We are here today to share about La Promesa, a new school we launched in 2021 with support from the School Action Fund in order to better serve Aldine’s Newcomer students. 

BACKGROUND & PLANNING

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GABY: The idea for La Promesa came from a specific need we recognized in the district for a better learning environment for our Newcomer students. We could see in our performance data that these students were falling behind academically and also dropping out at a higher rate.

At the same time, the number of Newcomers in Aldine was continuing to rise due to the border crisis, so we knew we urgently had to do something new to better serve these students. Once we had the idea for a Newcomer academy, we created a coalition of district leaders led by the Office of Transformation to explore different options and build a strong vision for the school. We knew it was going to be a complex task, so it was important to involve folks across different departments, including Teaching and Learning, Multilingual Services, Student Services, and Accountability. 

The first thing we did was to conduct empathy interviews with community members to hear what was and wasn’t working in our efforts to serve our Newcomers’ needs. We had to be strategic about listening to the right mix of voices and getting feedback from families, which led to two of our big “aha” moments in the visioning process for La Promesa.

FAVIOLA: The first was that families really wanted more for their kids. They came here for the American dream; they wanted to expand their professional opportunities and pursue brighter futures in this country. This meant we had to raise our academic standards for these students to help them eventually access these kinds of opportunities. 

But we also realized in our empathy interviews that these students needed more than just academics. These are kids arriving in the U.S. for the first time, often speaking little or no English and lacking a support structure to help them navigate this major transition in their lives. They also carry a lot of trauma, so we needed to provide them with not just an education, but also a family–a place where they could feel safe, heard, and valued as individuals.

These two big realizations are what gave shape to our initial vision for La Promesa. Once we had that, we needed to find the right school leader to take the ideas and make them a reality. Luckily, we found the perfect fit in our own backyard with Principal Fernanda Flores-Bolivar.

FERNANDA: When I was hired to lead La Promesa, it was an exciting opportunity because I know firsthand what it’s like to be in a new country where you don’t know anybody and you don’t speak the language. This was a chance to do something really impactful for these kids by creating a safe space for them to come and learn and create a better future for themselves and their families. And with the support of the School action Fund and our new district vision, we were really able to think outside the box and come up with innovative strategies to help these students succeed.

During the planning year, I had full release time through the School Action Fund to work with the coalition members in putting together a school design plan for creating La Promesa. We were able to visit other Newcomer schools and see how they were approaching the same questions we were dealing with. In the process, we connected with Internationals Network, which has several successful schools for Newcomers outside of Texas, and they helped us formulate our instructional framework for La Promesa. The full release time was instrumental in allowing me to fully devote my time and attention to benchmarking, fostering relationships in the community, and creating a vision for a school that would holistically serve our children.

FAVIOLA: We developed an innovative content-based ESL model that’s based on integrating language and content through experiential learning. With this model, students are able to grow their English proficiency and content mastery at the same time, rather than addressing them separately. We knew this would challenge our students, but we made sure we had the right scaffolding and support to help them stay on top of the material. This has allowed us to maintain the same high standards for our students at La Promesa as we do for the rest of our students across the district.

GABY: Our school design also made sure to balance academics with a strong focus on social and emotional learning. We created a daily “growth block” to give students dedicated time to reflect on their work, check in on their weekly goals, and seek out additional guidance from teachers as needed. We also staff both a counselor and a family liaison to help students address the traumas they’re dealing with and to work through difficult situations both in the classroom and at home.

FERNANDA: Making all of this work has depended on having an amazing staff that is invested in the school’s vision. During the planning year, we put a lot of work into the hiring process and made sure we had a clear profile of what it takes to work at La Promesa. Some of this had to do with specific skills and qualifications, like being empathetic, bilingual, and ESL-certified, and having experience with Newcomers. But it was also about having a strong pioneer mindset to create a new school specifically focused on the needs of Newcomer students. A lot of what we’re doing at La Promesa is new, so we’re relying on our teachers to embrace that ambiguity and help us come up with solutions to new challenges we are discovering every single day. 

We needed to provide them with not just an education, but also a family–a place where they could feel safe, heard, and valued as individuals.

La Promesa students and teachers with school sign
Beads that spell out La Promesa
La Promesa Ribbon cutting ceremony

LAUNCH

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FERNANDA: This intentionality we put into hiring and developing our staff has been a huge reason for the success of La Promesa so far. Having fully hired our staff going into the summer, we held professional development in partnership with Internationals Network to help expand teachers’ instructional toolbox to support students’ content and language acquisition. We had time to actually look at the curriculum and lessons and plan out scaffolds that would enable our students to thrive in this content-based ESL model. Parents validated this desire for strong instruction and high expectations for their children as we hit our enrollment targets six months earlier than expected. 

IMPLEMENTATION

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FAVIOLA: Throughout our first year, we have been very strategic in supporting the La Promesa staff in the development and implementation of this content-based ESL model. We conduct lots of observations and administer teacher surveys to monitor the implementation of the curriculum and get feedback from teachers. There are also various opportunities for district support personnel to engage with campus staff through meetings focused on teaching and learning and data evaluation. These frequent opportunities for feedback and collaboration ensure we are able to address any challenges that arise related to our programming and curriculum. 


GABY: Working in collaboration with TEA’s School Action Fund Program has allowed us to be innovative at a lower risk to the district. This model’s positive impact has demonstrated how Aldine’s schools can continue to evolve and grow. We are now in the process of adopting an ESL content-based model across all middle schools and high schools in the district. We’re also bringing successful practices at La Promesa, like double-blocking Algebra I, the use of anchor charts and visuals on classroom walls, and social emotional learning, to other campuses. La Promesa is truly fostering creativity and innovation that can help improve student learning throughout Aldine.

REFLECTION

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GABY: As a district, this School Action has demonstrated how shared ownership and collaboration can lead to transformative change for our students. Through collective leadership, we have raised the bar to provide better instruction and support to students who need it. Our team has worked cohesively to make informed decisions in the best interest of our children. 

FERNANDA: As a school leader, the School Action plan has helped serve as my roadmap for the school year. It has helped me prioritize what we need to do each year and provides perspective on the day to day work. This process has given me the tools to think outside the box to help students be successful. As a result, I have a better understanding and vision for what needs to be done to move our school forward in the coming years.

One of our biggest successes has been fostering a palpably positive campus culture where students are genuinely happy to come to school each day. Our intentional staffing brought in invested teachers who have helped build a community where students feel safe and have a sense of belonging, are motivated to learn, and are willing to take risks. And the staff and students’ hard work is paying off: our first semester results have shown that we’re ahead of the district in some content areas and right at the district level in others. We are tremendously proud of everything our students and staff have accomplished in such a short time.

It’s been our pleasure to share our successes and lessons learned with you and we wish you the best in your own journey with TEA’s School Action Fund Program.

As a district, this School Action has demonstrated how shared ownership and collaboration can lead to transformative change for our students. Through collective leadership, we have raised the bar to provide better instruction and support to students who need it.

Girl standing in front of school
La Promesa student 2
two students learning together

Want to stay up-to-date on what's happening at La Promesa? Click the button below to visit the campus website.