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The Obama Factor: Lancaster ISD’s ninth grade center modeled after Obama principles

DENISHA McKNIGHT | 9/16/2018, 11:20 p.m.
The influence of former president Barack and Michelle Obama has immersed itself into the Lancaster Independent School District and materialized ...
Magistrate Judge Hal Turley sets bail for defendants in Dallas County’s Lew Sterrett Justice Center in July. Dallas County

The Dallas Examiner

The influence of former president Barack and Michelle Obama has immersed itself into the Lancaster Independent School District and materialized into the Barack and Michelle Obama Ninth Grade Center.

“President Barack Obama has accomplished things that most people could only dream of, through his hard work and family ethics. We believe that he and Michelle both are wonderful, committed, selfless people, and that’s why this campus is named after them,” said Sonya Cole-Hamilton, Lancaster ISD chief communications officer.

The school, formerly known as Lancaster Elementary School, reinvented and presented itself, Aug. 18, after a community meeting with parents, students and staff establishing the need for a ninth grade center with a name that would promote positivity.

“We believe the Obamas teach our students to choose hope over fears,” Cole-Hamilton said. “The Obamas teach our students to choose hope over change and to be the change they want to see. We hope by this campus, being [its] namesake, that permeates.”

Unlike other campuses, the facility has its own stand alone space separate from a high school building.

“We pulled our ninth-graders all from the high schools, and that came from feedback from the community,” Cole-Hamilton explained. “Ninth grade can be a tough transitional year, so this community [stated] that they wanted those students to have a year to themselves to spend time growing, maturing and growing socially.”

Measurable programs and courses, such as a Black box theatre class, quality dance studio, an outdoor learning atmosphere, STEM and advanced placement course options are provided at the open enrollment public institution.

“One of the many things that sets us apart from other ninth grade campuses is that we are a one-to-one campus, meaning students have devices that they are able to work on daily,” said Principal Nakesha Reddick. “We want to afford every child that enters any campus in our district a private school or charter feel. We don’t want you to have to pull your student out to think that you have to get the same services there. We want you to have those same opportunities free.”

The campus staff also provides a new experience with former Lancaster high school teachers who are consistently trained in the modern STEM curriculum.

“We have a technologist embedded in our district,” Reddick said. “[They] train teachers on how to use instructional technology. Prior to school starting, I made sure there was a day spent under that lead person learning how to use those devices and instructional way they can use [them].”

This training will soon prove to be crucial after the district was given a ‘C’ rating, falling short 1 percent for a B, from the Texas Education Agency’s state report card rating system this year. While it takes more than one entity to hold this weight, Reddick ensures the ninth grade center will hold its end of the bargain.

“It’s about everyone bringing something to the table,” she expressed. “You have to deposit. My deposit is going to be to make sure that every student in this building shows one year’s growth no matter where they are.”

Despite the average rating, the district is still recognized for having the state’s highest accountability rating from the TEA and meeting the standards for its STAAR test scores.

“We give them the full curriculum, we follow the TECs and the standards, and if we’re intentional and strategic about those objectives then students would be successful down the road,” Reddick said as she detailed how the school will remain on top of this achievement.

TEC refers to the Texas Education Code, which is a composition of detailed rules and regulations developed and revised by the State Board of Education.

Aside from the academic achievements, the campus taps into a formula similar to the Obamas by focusing on collaboration and honing a close family atmosphere where the predominantly African American students can relate to their teachers and each other.

“What also sets Lancaster ISD apart is our staff,” Cole-Hamilton said. “Our staff really cares about our students, [and] not just about whether you passed a test but [our] staff is here on the weekends working. We found a way through partnerships and programs to provide whatever a student needs to be successful so that there are no barriers.”