In three years, under Sandra Barrios’ leadership, Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary School has transformed from a low-performing campus to an “A” campus as designated by the Texas Education Agency. Located in the center of refugee and immigrant communities in Dallas, this Title I school is a mecca of diversity. Lowe students come from 50 countries worldwide, representing 25% of the world’s ethnicities. The students and teachers collectively speak over 25 languages. Many students have lived in refugee camps and have not experienced a formal school setting. As a first-generation Mexican American child born to immigrant parents, Principal Barrios views education as a calling rather than a job or career. She vowed to not only turn the school around but to make an impact on the surrounding community. At Jack Lowe Sr. Elementary, the staff lives by and experiences the philosophy “It takes a village” every day.
Principal Barrios recruited an army of community volunteers and partners to aid the school in its journey to improvement. The school’s partners have not only provided resources but also created programs such as computer literacy classes and a Job Ready Program for parents. Through a partnership with a local church, the school acquired fully equipped collaboration stations for teachers and students and flexible seating for several classrooms. With uniforms donated by a church, the school created a soccer team and a cheerleader squad. It is now the norm for volunteers from the faith community, parents, and nearby industry professionals to donate time and money to the school.
Principal Barrios instilled strong systems within the school to promote academic achievement. For example, she implemented the concept of “positive office referrals” to recognize good student behavior to help eliminate the negative stigma associated with visits to the principal’s office. This school leader and her teachers recognize and reward such positive student behaviors as turning in lost money and other acts of honesty and displays of leadership. The positive referrals provide reinforcement for students to experience positive outcomes as a result of their “above and beyond” behavior choices. The impact of positive office referrals has been dramatic. During the 2015-16 school year, the campus had 67 in-school and out-school suspensions. By the 2017-18 school year, total suspensions dropped drastically to only nine, and in 2018-19, the campus saw a total of only four office referrals for misbehavior.
Known as a caring administrator, although Principal Barrios demands a high level of performance from her teachers, she makes every effort to recognize their accomplishments, praising achievements when warranted. She models a high level of personal performance, works with and for teachers on behalf of children and provides strong and vigorous support. A community leader who is both courageous and strong in expressing her convictions, she serves as a positive influence on students and parents.
Principal Barrios is a problem solver, an innovator and a critical thinker. In her first year as principal, she introduced the concept of personalized learning. In 2019, Lowe Elementary was designated as an innovative “Schools of Choice,” focused on personalized learning. The model has replaced whole group instruction with small group instruction, incorporating differentiated learning tiers, blended learning station rotations with novel engineering, and personalized pathways based on students’ learner profiles and performance data. Enter a classroom at Jack Lowe, and you will find 20 students working on different learning pathways created specifically for individual students.
Lowe teachers not only facilitate student academic learning, but also model to students how to make positive choices to further their education. Teachers encourage students to have an active voice in how they learn and to choose paths that will make them better student leaders and global citizens. Principal Barrios believes that personalized learning brings joy, creativity and student voice and choice into schools and views the model as the future of education.