New program at APS showing early optimistic results

Published 8:52 am Friday, November 17, 2023

A program being utilized by Austin Public Schools and designed to empower students in all areas is seeing early results.

The Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) is in the first of a three-year build up in Austin Public Schools designed not only to focus on what is termed the whole student, but also to provide development for teachers, counselors and administrators.

Developed by the BARR Center, the organization pairs schools with BARR Center coaches that meet with staff four times during the year and so far, the results are promising. 

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According to APS BARR Coordinator Angie Taylor, who along with Austin High School Principal Matt Schmit and Assistant Principal Kim Goblirsch, presented to the Austin Public Schools Board Monday night, progress has shown the district to either be emerging or in place across a variety of core areas.

The progress stemmed from a report from BARR Center coach Sarah Thoreson during her first visit on Sept. 26.

“This is only a short two months into our work,” Taylor told the board.

There are two prime areas BARR looks at: Empowering teachers and inspiring students.

Through the use of a tier system, the staff empowerment portion includes weekly meetings with the BARR team and BARR coach to review data at Tier 1.

At Tier 2 there are weekly meetings with the BARR team, counselors and administration to create student goals and interventions and at Tier 3 there are weekly meetings with a BARR coordinator, administration and community resources to provide intensive interventions.

On top of that, the four BARR teachers at the school also have dedicated time to work together to further strengthen the process and collectively move forward based on emerging data.

Meanwhile, there’s a focus on inspiring students through the use of I Times once a week among rotating BARR teachers, which focuses on making connections and building relationships between students and students and staff.

In this first year, 103 freshman students have been enrolled in the program and are passing 87% out of 700 total classes. Just 91 out of the 700 classes are currently failing.

This compares to non-BARR students passing 81% of their classes leaving 340 classes out of 1,805 marked as failing.

Statistics are also showing that students in the BARR program are less likely to have behavioral referrals or to reoffend.

Overall, what BARR is doing is building a strong base to prepare students for the future at Austin High School.

“I would say what I appreciate about BARR is that it provides a structure for teachers to have time to discuss students and come up with quality interventions and support them in areas of academics, behaviors and attendance,” Taylor said Thursday. “The reason we can do really good work is because of the structure we have in place.”

Three more site visits are scheduled for this year and the three-year plan includes an escalation of the program through the 2026-27 school year. 

The District’s BARR programming intends to scale up in its second year to include all ninth grade students, followed by a move to include 10th grade students in the third year.

Taylor said that BARR programming doesn’t extend to 11th and 12th grade students typically because options to enhance education grow for students during those years, but added that there is an opportunity to build on what BARR will have accomplished up to that point, thus extending the ideas in some way.

“There are creative ways schools have continued BARR that have worked in 11th and 12th grade, but they look a lot different,” she said.