05 22 2015

Two Campuses Join College Readiness Network

Last week, J.E. Rhodes Elementary and Van Intermediate School were informed that they will join 168 other campuses across the United States as part of the No Excuses University Network of schools.
In e-mails from NEU Vice President of Network Development Frank Nardelli, both campuses were welcomed into the No Excuses University family — a goal they have been working toward since last fall.
“We could not be more excited to be part of No Excuses University,” Van Intermediate School Principal Marty Moore said. “Although we were not officially part of the NEU Network last year, we kicked off this concept, and the impact on our school and students was huge.
“When we began talking about college, what it was all about, and the importance of making college goals at a young age, so many of our students were clearly clueless about college,” she continued. “We talked about college every day during morning announcements. The teachers reinforced college awareness in the classroom, and we had special activities each week on ‘College Wednesdays’ when we all proudly wore our college shirts.”
Moore added that field trips to Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler helped reinforce the concept.
“What a difference we saw at the end of the year,” Moore said. “Our end-of-year student surveys … showed overwhelming support and understanding on the part of our students. They ‘get’ it.
“We are also excited because our efforts in developing the ‘six exceptional systems’ in our school has paid off with significant gains in student achievement. We are excited, and our kids understand that ‘After High School Comes College,’” she added.
The No Excuses University system was founded by Damen Lopez in 2004 to help build a bridge for all students to attend college by promoting a comprehensive college readiness model starting in pre-kindergarten.
The NEU philosophy is based upon the belief that every child deserves to be educated in a way that prepares them for college, using “Six Exceptional Systems” to be successful: a culture of universal achievement, collaboration, standards alignment, assessment, data analysis and interventions.
This program now affects the lives of over 100,000 students in 22 states.
“NEU has had an impact on all of our students in the area of college awareness and we plan to continue and build upon that,” J.E. Rhodes Elementary Principal Jonnie Smith said.
“Most importantly, I think that student achievement will make higher gains due to the beliefs of the faculty that it is our responsibility to make sure all kids leave each grade level with the skills they need to be prepared to attend college one day,” she said.
Last August, Lopez spoke to Van ISD teachers and encouraged administrators to begin working on and becoming proficient in the first two exceptional systems this year, and building on that base in the future.
“I am very excited for J.E. Rhodes Elementary and Van Intermediate schools. Not every school that applies for membership into the No Excuses University network of schools is accepted,” Van ISD Superintendent Don Dunn said.
“Furthermore, every accepted school within the NEU Network of Schools must communicate, collaborate and show continuous improvement in order to remain in the network. The act of being granted official No Excuses University status should not be looked at as an award,” Dunn added.
“Participating as a No Excuses University is so much more than that. It is a way of life. Schools are not asked to pay a membership fee, nor are they required to pay dues of any kind,” Dunn continued. “Schools are selected based on potential and retained based on performance.
“This endeavor can be successful at any school that is willing to participate in innovative practices that promote college readiness,” Dunn said.
According to the NEU website, in order for a school to become a No Excuses University, educators must believe they have the power to influence every student to be academically successful, even those who are most at risk.
While there are no annual dues or application fees associated with joining the NEU Network, schools that wish to join must first attend a No Excuses University Institute with a team consisting of the principal and a member from each grade level.
Campuses must then submit an application and video explaining why they want to be No Excuses University.
“At the beginning of school last year, our campus formed an NEU Leadership Team. We made a commitment to develop exceptional systems in our school, and apply to become part of the NEU Network,” Moore said.
“This Leadership Team met several times each month throughout the year to lead this process. We followed the process specifically outlined by Turnaround Schools and No Excuses University, and this involved continuous input from the staff,” Moore said.
“By the end of the year we had developed, adopted and endorsed a written commitment for several of the exceptional systems,” she added.
After the NEU Application Committee members reviewed each campus’ application, they noted the positive things already being implemented.
“We are proud of the powerful symbolism you include in your College Wednesdays. We appreciated your College Mystery Guest Program and we think this is a great idea to share with other No Excuses Universities across the country,” Nardelli said about Van Intermediate School, while noting that they “loved” J.E. Rhodes Elementary’s “Invite a Friend to College” concept by creating college-themed tables in the cafeteria.
“[J.E. Rhodes Elementary] is investing the time and effort necessary to build strong exceptional systems. Keep up the effort and continue to push forward,” Nardelli said.
Dunn noted that Van Middle School and Van Junior High will be applying for membership during the fall semester.
“It is important to note this is a pre-k through eighth grade initiative,” he said. “Pre-K through eighth grade is all about college readiness where all our students must be proficient in reading, writing, and math … ‘no excuses.’
“Grades 9-12 are concerned with college prep. We want an increasing number of our kids to enter high school with higher expectations for themselves and their futures,” Dunn said.
“Our goal is for all our seniors to continue their education after graduation by either going on to pursue a college degree or trade school certification. ‘After High School Comes College!’ has been our motto for two years and will continue from this point forward,” Dunn said.

Courtesy photo
In a photo taken earlier this year, students at Van Intermediate School, wearing college-themed shirts, gather outside the school’s marquee sign stating the school’s desire to become part of the No Excuses University Network. Van Intermediate and J.E. Rhodes Elementary have both been granted membership into the program for the 2013-2014 school year.

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