By CATHY MOUNCE
Register Staff Writer
The approximately 83 students who will be attending pre-k through eighth grade at Walnut Bend school this fall have a lot to be proud of as the tiny Cooke County school achieved “Met Standards” in the recent accountability report of the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
Superintendent Matthew Davenport is excited about the progress his school has made at Walnut Bend and looks forward to improving on the scores during the next school year despite the somewhat confusing regulations and changing parameters imposed by TEA each year.
Davenport who has been on the job at Walnut Bend for the past 18 months, said that the Index 1 score of the 39 students taking the test during this past year was 75 percent and that the scores could have been higher if some of the students who took the test had not moved to another district.
He said, “We were not allowed to include the scores of the transferring students from Walnut Bend due to TEA regulations.”
Davenport said that although TEA sets the criteria for the class curriculum, Pearson Education actually writes, distributes and grades the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test results.
According to an investigation by NBC 5 in April, Pearson is a London based education services company that has a five-year contract with the TEA that costs tax payers roughly $90 million per year.
Davenport said, “The main issue that I have with this testing and state standards is that it is a mile wide and one inch deep with too much coverage and not enough depth. Students are not given enough time to thoroughly learn something before teachers have to move on to the next mandated instruction. Kids are then having to sometimes relearn the same thing over and over again.”
Davenport is a supporter of CSCOPE which is a web based curriculum management system developed by Texas teachers to benefit Texas students. It allows districts to customize content to better address the unique expectations of that district and is aligned to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). It covers the required state standards approved by the Texas State Board of Education.
Davenport said that the Walnut Bend teachers and staff go above and beyond what they were hired to do. He said that more technical equipment and computers would be a great asset and could replace textbooks that are many years out of date and are not replaced timely.
At Walnut Bend with only a limited number of classrooms and with student count low in each class, two grades are sometimes combined into one classroom which allows one teacher to teach two grade levels at one time. For example fourth and fifth grade students can learn math and science together.
In addition to a regular teaching schedule, one teacher also drives a bus and other gaps are filled by others where needed. Everything is geared to making sure the students are taken care of and their needs are met. If a student needs a ride home, a teacher will make sure they get there.
Davenport has been pro-active in taking care of safety at the school. The plain glass has been changed out of the three exterior doors with metal grid reinforced glass. He has also installed a security entrance system at the front door to prohibit unauthorized entry.
“I would hope that we would never need such safety measures but it is my responsibility to take care of our students. I treat all of these kids as my own and I know them all by first name. How many superintendents can say that?”
Davenport, originally from Collinsville, received his bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State university and his masters from Texas A&M at Commerce. He comes from a long line of educators and he is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Beryl Mackey, who was superintendent in Sherman for several years.
His wife Rhea is a teacher at Sadler and Southmayd and his three children Abbie age 10, Jonah age 9 and Sarah age 6 all attend the Walnut Bend school.
Wearing many hats, Davenport not only is superintendent for Walnut Bend, he is the school principal, part-time coach, bus driver when needed, enthusiastic supporter and most recently gardener and lawn care expert.
Upon moving the lawn sprinkler around at the front of the school he said, “I like for the kids to see grass on the first day of school so we are watering to green things up a bit.”
He has received welcome cards from students on his first day at the school 18 months ago and cards from students who no longer attend Walnut Bend thanking him for the extra time he and the Walnut Bend teachers spent with them.
“You don’t go into teaching for the pay,” he continued. “But when you receive letters like these it is rewarding to know that you have made a difference in the life of a child. I think that is truly what constitutes the heart of a teacher.”