Metrics show GCCISD Early Learning Academy Experiment is a Success

By David Taylor
Managing Editor

No tests. No paperwork. Just fun learning.

It’s an experience that has Goose Creek CISD parents clamoring to enroll their students in the Early Learning Academy for Pre-K students who qualify for the groundbreaking program.

Three years into the Early Learning Academy in Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District and district officials are already seeing the success they had hoped for.

“We’re focused on building their executive functioning, teaching the brain how to learn,” said Susan Jackson, deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Goose Creek CISD. “Once that executive functioning continues to grow and build, they continue to learn on their own at faster rates.”

Keyshawn Battle, with Fueling Brains, the curriculum model adopted by Goose Creek CISD, explained how the program is gaining interest around the country.

“Those include nearby districts Sheldon, Pasadena, and Fort Bend and Lake Worth in the northern part of the state, and we’re expanding into Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arkansas,” Battle said.

“The absolute truth is no one looks like Goose Creek’s,” Battle said. “The way it looks, the way the curriculum is aligned.”

John Strycker, a former superintendent, left his education job to work at Fueling Brains and was at Pumphrey Elementary observing last week.

“When I saw these young people operating independently, I wish I would have known what I know now 20 years ago,” he said. “I would have been a much better leader. I was so focused on high school. It’s in brain development,” he said.

He said executive function is simply the way one organizes their thoughts and behavior.

“You only have so many years, up to five, maybe seven years old. After that, its remediation,” he said.

As a former superintendent of three different districts for over 20 years, Strycker said he had heard of the concept but never implemented it.

GCCISD has now gone through three cycles. The first was a pilot program and the data was overwhelmingly positive.

The second year, it was expanded to a total of three campuses.

Last year, Hopper Primary School was added to the list. Now the locations cover the north, south, east, and west of the district.

Enrollment is limited to those who meet federal requirements for pre-K including a second language spoken in the home, free and reduced lunch, homelessness, foster care, Texas STAR program, or child of military.

Any additional seats not filled in the classrooms are open for low, tuition-based fees.

The state of Texas only funds pre-K for a half day, but GCCISD has opted to pay the balance for the full day.

In the Winter 2023 edition of the Goose Creek CISD At A Glance magazine, Dr. Norma Martinez, GCCISD director of communications, cites numbers from the Kindergarten Readiness Data from 2021-2022 that show 82.4 percent of students who attended PK were ready for kinder versus the 62.0 percent of those who did not attend.

“We understand that children develop at different rates, and our experienced teachers tailor their approach to meet each child’s unique needs, focusing on movement and the different sides of the brain,” she said.

The program is the brainchild of Superintendent Dr. Randal O’Brien.

“I was blessed to be selected for an executive leadership training with Dr. Bob Thompson and Elvis Arterbury about 10 years ago. It was unique in that it’s a yearlong, professional development offered to CEOs and superintendents,” O’Brien said. The 40-member cohort met in Beaumont every month for three days—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—and they learned from other districts.

Thompson had a strong belief that they needed to go see how education is done in another state and he selected New York. Cohort members saw how pub ed performed in the Bronx, Harlem, and other boroughs.

One school, in Times Square, was a vertical campus.

“In Texas, we want land to go with our schools because we want outdoor activities,” he said, but the Times Square school had none. The eight-story building housed a different grade on each floor. PE classes and recess were on the top floor or the roof.

They walked over to Columbia University where a psychology professor friend of Thompson’s gave a lecture on brain science including left brain right brain executive function.

“We had never heard of this, and I carried that around for several years wondering how I could bring that to our school district,” O’Brien explained.

Years later they visited a Dallas school where they experienced play learning, but O’Brien didn’t like the fidelity of the programming.

O’Brien was having lunch with another professor friend who listened to his thoughts and struck gold.

“We’re having lunch, and he tells me he knows of a professor working with a company in Canada that would meet that need,” he said.

O’Brien met Dr. Anil Karim who presented him with the facts and figures he needed to convince him there was something legitimate to the research from Harvard and hard facts over a decade to show improvement.

“It is scientific, based upon the research provided to us through a decade of that utilization in Canada,” the superintendent said.

With that, O’Brien got the approval from his executive council and then took it to the school board where Fueling Brains made a presentation.

The board approved the measure after the presentation and for three years, the program has brought excitement and growth in the Early Learning Academy and the results are beginning to show in succeeding grade levels.

The program boasts more than 1,000 students spread across four campuses.

“It drew interest in employees, and we were able to hire some really top-notch educators to join us,” O’Brien boasted.

The district also doubled their Pre-K numbers in one year.

“It’s been a game changer. It’s changing the trajectory of that four-year-old because they’re no longer going to struggle the next three years with the content that’s coming to them because they’ve learned how to learn,” the superintendent said.