XIT Secondary School offers far more than discipline
By Robin Scott
The XIT Secondary School has often been labeled the school for troubled or disobedient students. And it is true that students do attend the XIT Secondary School after attempts to cure behavioral problems at DHS or DJHS have failed. Students also attend the XIT Secondary School once they are involved in a criminal case. But what the school offers is more than policing of students who do not attend Dalhart’s other schools. The XIT Secondary School offers students the opportunity for success in many areas that they have previously or consistently failed.
Carolyn Field is the XIT Secondary School’s principal. She has dedicated her life to working with children, both as a teacher and administrator. Working with the students at her campus is both challenging and exciting, because the needs of her students are somewhat different than the students attending other DISD campuses.
Students with behavioral problems are only a small part of the student body. A maximum of eight students with behavioral problems attend the campus. Students do not attend the XIT Secondary School because they have failed. Field noted, “That is a misnomer that we would like to put to rest. For instance, some students get behind because of a serious illness and must come to XIT Secondary School to get caught up. Others come from other states and are behind; some have had to miss school because of family financial problems, and still others have dropped out of school for numerous reasons.” XIT Secondary School offers a smaller learning community with flexible individualized learning plans. Since there are no bells and no extra curricular activities, students can advance at their own rate and actually spend more of the day in uninterrupted learning.
This year’s student body at the XIT Secondary School consists of 38 children ranging in grades 7th through 12th. A main goal at the campus is academic recovery. Field stated, “I love the academic recovery and I am good at the discipline, but the difference at our campus is that academics come first. We want our students back on track. Whatever took them off track is our focus, and we work on getting them headed toward graduation. That comes first.”
When working with her students, Field noted that every student at the XIT campus goes through a 28-day period that she calls, “Stop, look and listen.” The 28-day period is level one at the school and each student must stay on level one for 28 days, regardless of why they were referred to the campus. Field stated, “We tell our students, whatever you’re doing is not working for you, so stop, look and listen.” Students are assessed during that time in math, science, social studies and English/language arts. Then each student enters into their curriculum based upon what their own personal shortcomings and needs are. Field noted, “We focus on what they need and what their shortcomings are. It’s an assessment period, a study of the child’s educational history, some testing is included, but it’s more diagnostic. That allows us as their educators to take them and close those gaps in their understanding and skills.”
Most students at the XIT campus generally complete a semester. Students sent to the XIT Secondary School for behavioral problems must stay at least 85 days or a semester, whichever occurs first. Field noted, “Usually within a semester the students are on a well-structured plan to close those gaps.” Not surprisingly, some students want to stay at the XIT campus. It may be hard to re-enter the mainstream classroom. Field stated, “We invite them to stay so that they may complete the school year.”
The first academic focus is on each student’s language acquisition skills. Field stated, “We are seeing a phenomenon in a lack of skills in acquiring another language because they not only have to learn the content of that subject area that they are studying, but they have to learn the vocabulary of the language. It sounds easy, ‘let’s fix it,’ but it is the same thing as if I started to speak to someone in Spanish. They would hear the words, but not gain the understanding.” Language acquisition is designed to get students to a level of understanding so that they may complete their course work more efficiently.
Field noted that the second focus is problem solving, and stated, “It takes time, after they’ve learned how to acquire language they must learn how to use that language to analyze and interpret what they are reading, or critical thinking and problem solving.”
A third focus is that the school works very hard to communicate with the parents. Parents are a very important part of the educational success of the student. Parents are required to meet with teachers at the beginning of student enrollment and at any point where there is a change in curriculum emphasis. Parents may also keep up with student progress online through Odysseyware.
Curriculum at the XIT campus is presented in two ways. One is a workbook called “America Preparatory Institute.” The work in that book is self-paced, and the student reads the information then takes a short self-assessment. If they do not understand the material, they go back until they achieve an 80 percent passing score. Each level requires a score of 80 percent before the student may go onto the next level.
The second method for presenting curriculum to the students is through Odysseyware, a computer-based curriculum that is designed to catch up the student that has moved or had some other occurrence causing them to get behind. Field noted, “They understand the material, they are just behind.” Field also noted that most of the students do well using Odysseyware, stating, “They are very good at that because they are so technology savvy.” She stated that she estimated that 90 percent of the students do well using the Odysseyware computer program and that students who do well using the actual hard-copy books do well in that method.
Field recognized that her students all have different academic needs. She stated, “Every child is referred from either the Junior High Principal, Counselor, High School Principal or a Judge. So part of what we do is behavior intervention.” She noted that alternative education began to accommodate children who were displaced or off track academically. If a student is charged with or convicted of a felony they are also placed in a separate program. They are not mixed with the other students and the state Legislature said that they had to be taken out of the mainstream school. The program had very strict guidelines. Field commented, “But then school districts decided there might also be some discretionary reasons for placement. Insubordination or failing to abide by those things listed in the student handbooks.”
Each student’s performance is reviewed weekly, every three weeks and every six weeks. The reviews assist the educators in keeping the students on track and ensure their success. Field noted that the success of the program also has a great deal to do with Special Education and the diagnosticians, who play a key role. She also stated, “Superintendent Foote and I speak the same language when it comes to saving children.” Even though the maximum enrollment at the XIT Secondary School is 45 students, the school sees about 70 students throughout the year. XIT School also graduates at least 10 students each year and helps many others get into a GED program so they may move forward with college or other endeavors.