Giving Compass' Take:

• Bekah McNeel reports that schools in Brownsville, Texas, which has a high concentration of poor students, are producing strong results for their students. 

• How can other schools with high concentrations of poor students do more for those students? 

• Learn about states that voted to boost school funding

All but five of the 637 students at Gallegos Elementary in Brownsville Independent School District qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Many come from homes without plumbing. More than 50 percent have limited English language skills.

In most cases, numbers like that would spell disaster on state accountability tests, but at Gallegos, 91 percent passed their state math exams in 2018. In reading, the biggest challenge for non-native speakers, 85 percent passed.

In terms of poverty, Gallegos Elementary is not much worse off than other schools in Brownsville ISD. In the district as a whole, 96 percent of students meet the criteria for economic disadvantage — meaning their parents make less than $44,000 a year for a family of four. Brownsville frequently ranks among the poorest cities in the United States. In 2013 and 2016, it took the number one spot, according to Census Bureau data.

Such widespread poverty is an unfathomable scenario for many districts in Texas, and yet Brownsville ISD continues to outperform even some of its wealthier peers, earning accolades and recognition across the state and country. In the 2019 National Blue Ribbon Schools nominations, the district’s Putegnat Elementary was nominated as a “high achieving” school, and Hudson Elementary was nominated in the “closing the achievement-gap” category. Winners will be announced in September.

The border district’s success is due to what might be called a “yes, and…” approach to improvement. Every campus uses data-based interventions under the leadership of strong, proactive principals. Families and community members are deeply engaged in the schools, a by-product of social networks that are stable, even though they are poor. The district leverages its high poverty rates to bring more state and federal dollars into classrooms.

On top of that solid foundation, Brownsville ISD is always looking for ways to improve.

Read the full article about producing big results for students by Bekah McNeel at The 74.