By Paola Gilliam, January 21, 2021
Midway through its first year of Opportunity Culture implementation, the Midland, Texas, school district shared Opportunity Culture impacts so far with its school board on Tuesday.
“Opportunity Culture brings our teachers together, and it provides them the courage that is contagious in the classrooms we have,” Chris Hightower, the district’s Opportunity Culture lead, told the board. He introduced an Opportunity Culture principal, multi-classroom leader (MCL), and former teacher resident turned first-year teacher to share brief thoughts.
“Opportunity Culture has made a positive impact at South Elementary with teachers, students, and has contributed to our culture of collaboration,” Principal Leticia Camarillo said. “We have been able to reach more students with excellent teachers, our teachers receive more support, and our staff culture has improved… The support includes professional development, planning, collaboration, coaching, modeling, and co-teaching. Teachers get daily support from MCLs so they may continue to improve and meet the needs of all students and more teachers achieve high growth. Students are impacted by Opportunity Culture by gaining consistent access to excellent teaching through leadership and collaboration.”
Camarillo also shared statements from several of her teachers:
“Having an MCL through Opportunity Culture has provided me with weekly feedback on my teaching. As a result, I am able to focus on specific strategies to help me become a more effective teacher to my kiddos faster than I would on my own.”—Third-grade teacher Lauren Carter
“Coming into a new district, I quickly learned how the district functions with having an MCL’s guidance. His leadership has given me insight into the classroom that I had not had before. I feel like I have a partner teaching fifth-grade math with me versus feeling alone.”—Fifth-grade math teacher Nicole Trujillo
Veteran educator Elizabeth Fernandez shared the perspective of an MCL; she became a first-grade MCL at Scharbauer Elementary this year.
“This is my 23rd year with Midland ISD,” Fernandez said. “I’ve been a reading specialist, I’ve been a classroom teacher, and I’ve even worked at the central office. Being an MCL in an Opportunity Culture has made my passion for working with teachers and students come together. It is truly the best of both worlds: Seeing the daily impact I have on both teachers and students makes me feel like I am exactly where I need to be.”
Fernandez leads a team of four first-grade teachers and a reach associate, meaning she is accountable for the learning results of all 88 students taught by the team.
“Because I am working alongside with the teachers and not asking them to do anything that I am not doing myself, I feel the buy-in from them is greater. This helps build the culture of ‘our’ first-grade students, and that we are in this together, especially in a very difficult year like this. I have seen positive culture shifts with the staff. We’re doing the hard work, and we’re doing it together. And they always know that I am on their side.”
With Reach Associate Shandy Jeter at her side, Fernandez highlighted the value of the reach associate role on MCL teams. “She is a vital piece to the success of Opportunity Culture in our classroom. Shandy not only supports me, she supports our entire first-grade team. She teaches math, science, and social studies, so I have the chance to leave the classroom and work with the other teachers on my team. She has complete ownership over the subjects that she teaches, and she works hard to guarantee that our students are successful.”
Fernandez also shared a quote from a longtime Scharbauer teacher on her team: “Having an MCL on our team has made us, in my opinion, the strongest team on our campus. The classroom training I have received from my MCL this year is better than all the trainings I attended in my 10 years of teaching first grade.”
Chelsea McMahan started as an Opportunity Culture teacher resident in August at Yarbrough Elementary. She graduated from University of Texas Permian Basin, Midland’s university partner, in December, and took a position as a sixth-grade teacher at De Zavala Elementary, another Midland Opportunity Culture school. (Although the residency is ordinarily a yearlong position, the university admitted a few December graduates into its pilot cohort this year.)
“I was able to not only observe great teaching, but practice great teaching and collaboration, which allowed me to flourish not only as a university student, but as an educator to students who need someone to be zealous about each of their futures,” she said.
“Now that I have transitioned into teaching at De Zavala, I have come into the classroom with the urgency that I needed to ensure that my students will thrive in every facet of life not only the classroom. I am so grateful that I am a part of Opportunity Culture because I believe that this program is solely centered on providing as much equity as possible to every student, which is of extreme importance. The goal is to create lifelong learners, which I feel is possible through the reach Opportunity Culture provides.”
Board member Robert Marquez praised the district’s Opportunity Culture work.
“I’m very inspired by what I heard here tonight,” Marquez said. “Opportunity Culture—this is something very specific that the community has asked for. You know we’ve heard that we’re not supporting teachers, that we’re not doing anything to help our veteran teachers, and the logic and skill sets that are applied here…I can just see the fruition coming from that action. I like the testimony from the young teacher. If she can transition from one place to another seamlessly, that’s a big win for Midland ISD.”
Read more about Midland’s work, with a spotlight on Fernandez and Jeter: In a Texas Opportunity Culture District, MCLs and Reach Associates Build Partnerships