BRIGHT SPOTS: South Hi Mount Elementary
What drives third-grade reading success? Great teachers, engaged families, dedicated volunteers
Ask South Hi Mount Elementary Principal Melissa Bryan what drives academic achievement at the Arlington Heights neighborhood school, and she is quick to answer: Great teachers who are vested in their students and in each other.
The school also benefits from strong Pre-K 4 enrollment, engaged families and a partnership with Christ Chapel Bible Church, which has placed 65 volunteer reading mentors to work one-on-one with children, Bryan said.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price visited the campus Monday as a celebrity reader and someone who has walked the halls before. Both Mayor Price and Principal Bryan attended South Hi Mount as children. Bryan returned as principal in this fall.
“Reading is essential to getting a good education. You learn to read until the third grade – after that, you read to learn,” Price said. “As Fort Worth continues to grow, it is important that we cultivate a culture committed to producing strong readers and lifelong learners. Fostering a love of learning should start as early as possible, and I love visiting classrooms to spread the message that reading can be fun!”
South Hi Mount students are among Fort Worth ISD’s bright spots for growth in reading skills. The school has gained 15 percentage points in third-grade reading proficiency since 2014. In 2017, 44 percent of third-graders scored as the recommended level on the Texas STAAR Reading exam, up from 29 percent in 2014.
Third grade is a critical time in the academic life of a child. Children who read well by third grade are likely to succeed in fourth grade, fifth grade and beyond. Those who do not are four times more likely to eventually drop out of school and to experience other setbacks.
Assistant Principal Carolyn Blackwell, a campus veteran, said South Hi Mount teachers make effective use of planning time and use data to zero in on skills that they may need to reinforce with students. That team approach keeps teacher turnover low, Blackwell said.
“They strive, they’re anxious to see the growth from one testing period to the next,” Blackwell said. “They are willing to do whatever it takes.”
Increasing family engagement is a South Hi Mount goal this year, and Blackwell said she is pleased that the school has a bilingual PTA president this year. About 72 percent of South Hi Mount’s 540 students are Hispanic, while 39 percent are classified as English language learners.
Bryan is a social media enthusiast who uses Facebook, Instagram and e-newsletters to engage parents. She encourages teachers to connect with families through apps like Classroom Dojo.
“That one-on-one reading time matters. Of course it does,” she said. “It builds relationships, confidence. There is growth.”