Shirlean Law describes herself as a teacher of teachers.

“I’ll go in and observe classes and help teachers modify their teaching strategies,” Law said. “Then I’ll have sit-down meetings with them and help them with their learning plans.”

While Law has been an instructional specialist for several districts now, her job is especially pressing at Hitchcock’s Crosby Middle School, where 14 of the 20 teachers are first-year employees, she said.

“Given Hitchcock’s size, we don’t have the same resources as some of the other districts in the area,” Principal Kellie Edmundson said. The school district’s salary schedule is competitive compared with other small districts, but it’s surrounded by larger, more affluent districts and loses staff to them, she said.

“We are sitting across the street from districts where their teachers are making $4,000 to $10,000 more per year,” Edmundson said.

Crosby Middle School was one of two schools in Galveston County that received an “improvement required” rating in the most recent Texas Education Agency accountability results. The school did not meet state standards for student achievement and closing performance gaps, reports showed.

The rating is based on data collected during the 2016-17 school year.

Repeated failure to meet state demands for improvement can have a range of bad consequences for public schools, including intervention by state education officials.

The Texas Education Agency in 2015 announced La Marque Independent School District would cease to operate and be annexed by the Texas City school district, citing consecutive years of either poor academic or financial performance for the closure.

“When a school is five-year improvement required, then the commissioner under House Bill 1842 must either close the campus or appoint a board of managers to oversee the district,” said DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

Several school districts in the area, including Houston Independent School District, are at risk of having boards of managers appointed next year if academics don’t improve, Culbertson said.

Crosby Middle School has been an “improvement required” school for three years in a row, Edmundson said.

While the stakes are high for Crosby Middle School, district officials are confident that a recently developed turnaround plan will help steer the campus out of its academic malaise, Superintendent Carla Vickroy said.

“A turnaround plan is required by the state if your campus receives a rating of ‘required improvement’ two or more years in a row,” Vickroy said. “The campus has a leadership team and a TEA-approved professional service provider that worked with the campus last year to create a turnaround plan that will be in effect this year and run through next year.”

School officials this school year have emphasized professional learning groups to help overcome the issues related to the youngish staff, Edmundson said.

“Teachers are meeting together by grade-level teams and curriculum,” Edmundson said. “That way they get more feedback. And we’ve worked the master schedule so that they can meet for that.”

The learning groups are just one of several changes to the school this year. Edmundson is in her first year on the campus.

While Edmundson has been in the district for four years, she spent the past two as an assistant principal at Hitchcock High School before being named principal for the school year.

Law is also new to Crosby Middle School, having spent the past several years working in Houston Independent School District.

“We’re trying to put staff development and training in place,” Edmundson said. “That way, we won’t be building and starting over every year.”

School officials also have adjusted the schedule so that students have one period each day to spend getting extra instruction in trouble areas, Edmundson said.

“It also gives time for even the advanced kids to push further in the areas that they need,” she said.

While officials are hopeful the recent changes will push Crosby Middle School into a better academic future, the most recent Texas Education Agency results suggest the district as a whole is improving.

Hitchcock Independent School District joined High Island this year in both earning “met standard” ratings after ending up in the “improvement required” group for the agency’s 2016 ratings.

Statewide, about 95 percent of all districts, including charter schools, earned ratings of “met standard” or “met alternative standard.” About 3.7 percent of all districts earned “improvement required” ratings, officials said.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

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