Just three years ago Blanton Elementary School in Pleasant Grove was one of Dallas ISD’s lowest performing elementary schools. In 2015, administrators say many of their fifth-graders were reading at a kindergarten level.
But three years later, the school has turned around. State testing in April showed that over 82 percent of Blanton’s fifth-graders tested at grade level or above in math, compared to just 15 percent in 2015.
"There was no consistency with the leadership and now having effective leaders in place, that’s what made the difference for the teachers that were coming in," said Alicia Iwasko, who is one of the administrators of DISD’s "Accelerating Campus Excellence" program and will take over as principal at Blanton later this month.
Among the teachers who exemplify Blanton Elementary’s turnaround is Josue Tamarez Torres, who was named one of DISD’s teachers of the year.
"You cannot understate the connection component in education, when they see a teacher with whom they can identify themselves with, it brings the best out of them," Tamarez Torres said.
Tamarez Torres is originally from the Dominican Republic and, like many of his students, said he grew up poor, with parents who worked long hours in pursuit of a better life.
"(The students) hear my story and they hear their stories, so when they see me they see someone that has overcome those challenges that is in front of them teaching them and I’m pretty sure it brings the best out of them because they say it’s possible," Tamarez Torres said.
Blanton Elementary is currently one of thirteen schools that participate in the district's "Accelerating Campus Excellence" program. ACE extends the school day by one hour and adds staff and resources to schools in need.
“With that new blood that came into the building also came a new energy,” Tamarez Torres said.
Teachers and administrators credited the program with laying the groundwork for the turnaround of Blanton Elementary. DISD said it plans to expand the number of schools participating in the program in years to come.