Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School at El Centro College
Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School at El Centro College

The Dallas Examiner

The school year has come to an end but the outpour of celebrations and congratulations continue. On May 23, Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School at El Centro College was recognized as one of the top high schools in North Texas and Top Gold Ribbon schools in North Texas by the Children at Risk.

The organization created the list by using a formula that could be handy for Dallas schools in low socioeconomic areas. It analyzed hundreds of Texas schools each year based on student achievement, poverty level, improvement and college readiness.

“There are several components,” said Lassiter principal Michael St. Ama. “They [Children at Risk] are looking at high-ranking schools with student population 75 percent or more low socioeconomic status.”

Schools statewide are also viewed based on how well they perform in a low- to working-class environment with a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Then they are placed in the organization ranking system from “the best performing” to “the worst performing” schools in the region, by letter grades from A-F for Gold Ribbon consideration.

Currently, the top North Texas high schools with Gold Ribbon certification are Trinidad Garza Early College at Mountain View College, Lassiter High School and Sunset High School.

St. Ama credits the school’s achievement to persistence, teamwork and a “No Excuse” mindset.

“Our program is rigorous,” he said. “In fact, our students are taking college courses at the same time as their high school courses. So, they’re pushed academically. And we focus on academic behaviors, which are study skills, time management, note-taking and academic responsibility like they need to know when they need help as early as possible.”

The student body seems to hold these values as well with high participation and attendance rates, noted by a TEA 2017 Accountability report. These rates could be attributed to the high school’s open application process that ushers in 65 to 70 students from all over Dallas ISD.

“We look for students who have a motivation and strong work ethic toward school,” St. Ama explained. “These students may not be straight A students. They could be A and B students or D and C students, but they have a desire to be in this program taking college classes along with their high school classes.”

The active staff also played an important role in their recent accolade. The faculty practices an intensive monitoring system where they check student improvement every three weeks for intervention purposes and to help reach the school’s goal.

“It’s a culture here and the culture is college,” the principal said. “Our vision is that all students are going to graduate with an associate degree.”

Aside from Lassiter High’s comprehensive approach, a lot of recognition could be given to the school exposing students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to a college lifestyle.

“They are on a college campus so they are already in a college mindset,” St. Ama expressed.

The high school students are given the opportunity to attend a college campus for four years before graduating while occupying a high school ID and a college ID card at 14- or 15-years-old. All students are also required to take SAT and ACT prep elective courses by their junior year and graduate with endorsements from STEM, arts and humanities, and multidisciplinary programs.

These elements countered many issues that are often associated with schools in economically disadvantaged areas, which has resulted in school closures, such as low attendance, poor staff, and low academic performance and participation.

St. Ama advises Dallas ISD principals dealing with this dilemma to understand the key to overcoming these obstacles is ensuring staff, teachers, parents and students hold the same mindset to preserve “positive peer pressure.”

“I think all Dallas ISD principals have the same mindset, that Dallas ISD students can be successful in higher education,” he explained. “It’s just that the administrators and staff have to have high expectations and have the belief that these students – no matter what neighborhoods they’re coming from – have the ability to be successful in higher education. They just need the support and guidance to get them there.”

Children at Risk Top Ten Dallas ISD Schools

High Schools:

• School Of Science and Engineering

• School for the Talented and Gifted

• Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School

• Trinidad Garza Early College at Mountain View

• Dr. Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College

• School of Business and Management

• School of Health Professions

• Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at Darrell HS

Middle Schools:

• William B. Travis Academy/Vanguard

• Dallas Environmental Science Academy

• Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership Middle

• Harry Stone Montessori Academy

• Henry W. Longfellow Career Exploration

• George Bannerman Dealey International

• Barack Obama Male Leadership ACA at BF Darrell

Elementary Schools:

• William B Travis Academy/Vanguard For Academically TAG

• George Bannerman Dealey Montessori

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