ECHS: Model of Education

Leaders tour Early College High School
By: Todd Martin
They accepted the challenge to blaze a new trail in secondary education in this region and four years later they are preparing to graduate twice and their school is a model in the state.
Top leaders in Killeen ISD and Central Texas College welcomed Educate Texas and community guests Thursday as KISD Early College High School students offered gratitude for their unique opportunities, validating the school’s designation as a model for Texas.
Educate Texas, a foundation that partners with the Texas Education Agency and numerous government and charitable groups, named the KISD Early College High School a model College and Career Readiness School.
In celebration, students welcomed guests and led tours through the school’s two buildings on the CTC campus in Killeen where juniors and seniors attend and its building on Fort Hood where freshmen and sophomores attend.
Appropriately, it was the trailblazing students leading the way, guiding tour groups, performing through its award-winning step team and giving testimony through panel discussion.
The KISD Early College High School, which celebrates its first graduating class this year, is one of three schools in the state to earn Educate Texas’ model designation and the only early college high school on this year’s state tour list.
Killeen ISD Superintendent John Craft recalled initial conversations about five years ago that led to a blueprint that launched the school a year later in partnership with CTC and Texas A&M University-Central Texas. Students have a chance to earn an associate’s degree concurrently with their high school diploma.
What Craft said he recalled clearly is that in numerous discussions no one said it couldn’t be done. “It was always encouragement,” he said, “everyone said, ‘let’s make this happen for students.’”
The notion of students attending high school and college simultaneously was so popular, the school expanded its second year and has continued that growth annually.
Any measure you use shows the Early College High School has grown and thrived.
It opened in 2015 in a single hallway at Central Texas College with 150 students and 14 staff members and it took four buses to transport the students from throughout the school district.
Today, the full four-year high school occupies portions of two buildings on the CTC campus and a separate re-purposed school building on Fort Hood. A total of 25 buses transport a portion of the 973 students and the staff includes 93 employees.
Demographically, the Early College High School matches KISD as a whole. Student retention rate minus out-of-town moves is 86 percent.
Academic performance is impressive, with more than 99 percent of seniors meeting state standards to take college courses. On 2018 STAAR testing, 100 percent passed math and social studies, 99 percent passed science and 95 percent passed reading. On the PSAT test, freshman test 55 points above the state, sophomores 81 points above the state and juniors 49 points above the state.
Among this year’s first senior class, all 165 are on track to earn their high school diploma and 153 are expected to earn their associate’s degree.
Initially, Craft acknowledged, he referred to those first students as guinea pigs, but he was quickly corrected. “They are trailblazers,” he said, turning to the students who were part of the welcome ceremony. “Without you, there would not be a trail for others to follow.”
Principal Kathleen Burke, who has led the campus since it was an idea, praised the collaborative teaching staff members in the school district and the college. She and other leaders said the school continually challenges the staff to remember “the why” of what they do.
“It’s all about the students,” Burke said. “To be here, you have to love our kids,” explaining the necessary support for guiding eighth-graders into college work in one year.
First, in a welcoming ceremony and later in a panel discussion, students described a close-knit environment with mandatory tutoring and courses like Advancement Via Individual Determination and PATH that help students with study skills and organization and address changing curriculum needs each year.
Students described a welcoming environment, where they built their own traditions like homecoming, intramural sports and a summer orientation for new freshmen to lay out expectations and build unity.
Junior Connor Cole said in middle school he was quiet and misunderstood due to a disability, but at the Early College found acceptance and now has the confidence to manage rigorous coursework and a job.
Senior Satchel Bellard, the class president, said he always knew he would pursue an academic path beyond a bachelor’s degree and that the early college gave him a head start toward graduate school.
Other students, like junior Maddie Spear, explained that she was intrigued at the resources available through the college, but decided to stay because of like-minded peers who genuinely love to learn.
Senior Joshua Munroe, class reporter, said his parents did not complete college and that he entered the school to help ease financial needs, but also found a caring group of friends that made it easy to stay.
The school’s mantra, which sophomore Keyonna Dorvill included in a poem is “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”