February 7, 2024

In Texas, Martin Elementary School Helps a Century-Old District Leap into the Future

By Transcend
State representatives took note of the “Martin model” and invited Beaumont ISD Chief Innovation Officer Anetra Cheatham to share with the legislature how their approach to innovation led to high student achievement.

Beaumont, a city on the southeastern coast of Texas, is rich in history and opportunity. Founded in 1838 based on farming and port industries, Beaumont soon became a Boomtown with the discovery of oil. Today’s residents proudly share in Beaumont’s legacy of progress while also facing unique challenges, which range from enduring hurricanes to evolving a 140-year-old school system.

Like the city itself, Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) has a rich history and has been serving the community since 1883. While it’s easy to look back on the centuries of Beaumont residents who gained their life skills from the district, there’s growing recognition that the district needs to meet the needs of today’s students.

“What we see clearly as a community now is that what prepared students for life a hundred years ago won’t prepare them for life today,” says Anetra Cheatham, Chief Innovation Officer of BISD. “We’re innovating and creating a modern education vision rooted in local values.” 

Reimagining Learning with the Leaps

At Martin Elementary School (Martin Elementary) in North Beaumont, Cheatham partnered with Martin Elementary Principal Tamara Long, BISD Chief Academic Officer Kandiest Martin-Brock, and the entire North Beaumont community to reimagine learning for Martin Elementary students. What resulted is a new school experience grounded in high expectations, affirmation, and relevance—delivered with deep connection and community. 

“The very first thing we did was involve the community,” says Principal Long. “For our students to thrive, we knew our school needed to look and feel different. But it wasn’t up to just school leadership to make those decisions.”

Cheatham, Long, and Martin-Brock—alongside Transcend Design Partner Courtney Bell—convened the North Beaumont community to reflect on the community’s strengths and growth areas, and helped crystallize a plan for education innovation. The plan was guided by Transcend’s Leaps for Equitable, 21st-Century Learning, which describe key ways the student experience must change so that schools can prepare all young people to thrive in and transform the world.

“When we reviewed the Leaps with the community, we heard clearly that everything we planned needed to move Martin Elementary learners from an experience of isolation to an experience grounded in connection and community,” says Bell. “Creating a relationship-rich environment where learners are deeply known and feel they belong—everything would stem from there.”

The other leaps prioritized by the North Beaumont community included moving from a learning experience with unequal expectations to one with high expectations and unlimited opportunities for all; from a culture of assimilation and marginalization to one of affirmation of self and others; and from learning that feels disconnected from young peoples’ lives and interests to learning that is relevant and authentic.

Designing a New School Experience

With a clear charge from the community and using the Leaps framework, school and district leaders went about designing a school experience like none other in BISD. Martin Elementary transitioned to a school week consisting of four regular days and one “passion day.” 

Passion days blend genius hours (remediation or enrichment, based on that week’s exit tickets) with passion blocks—a wide range of courses that students opt into based on their interests. In the first year of passion blocks, judges guest-taught law and a local musician donated time to band and choir. Seniors from the high school’s new gymnastics team taught the sport and a local pharmacist conducted titration-based science experiments. Sewing, cooking, tennis, and graphic design were also offered.

The leaps weren’t only incorporated during passion days; they were woven throughout all instruction:

  • High expectations: Chief Innovation Officer Cheatham helped the school implement a more rigorous curriculum better prepares all students for college, career, and beyond
  • Affirmation of self and others: Principal Long used empathy interviews, emotional check-ins, and community circles to ensure all students felt supported.
  • Relevance: Dr. Martin-Brock and school staff sought student input on how to connect their interests and goals to their broader communities to help students see more value in learning and increased motivation and engagement with content.

Transcend Design Partner Bell credits much of Martin Elementary’s success to building a stronger school culture, including for teachers. “The leaps we focused on provided clarity to teachers on what kind of environment we were building. We also went on a leadership journey with our teachers, implementing an adult social-emotional learning series, engaging them in StrengthsFinder and conflict style exercises. We saw more buy-in and a better sense of belonging amongst teachers, and that had a trickle-down effect for students.”

The leaps made at Martin Elementary helped the school move from an F to a B grading by the Texas Education Agency in just two years. State representatives took note of the “Martin model” and invited Cheatham to share with the legislature how their approach to innovation led to high student achievement. Today, more schools in North Beaumont are looking to adapt Martin’s methods.

I’m excited about the opportunities and learning experiences being developed in Beaumont. The 21st century skills they’re getting at schools like Martin Elementary will carry them and our entire community into the future.

Anetra Cheatham, Chief Innovation Officer of BISD

Transcend supports communities to create and spread extraordinary, equitable learning environments.

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