Written in a green marker on the white board directly across Wilbert Andrews’ desk are three words: “continuum of excellence.”
The new Forest Park Middle School principal is ready to start the school year with that mantra in mind.
Andrews is starting his 24th year in education and his 11th as an administrator. With a background in teaching math, he has worked in Port Arthur, Beaumont — yes, the district Longview High School football beat in 2018 to become state champions — and DeSoto.
Now, he is getting ready to begin his tenure at Longview ISD at his first charter school.
“I was interested in the charter school movement,” he said. “I have been a pro-public school educator because that’s what I came up under. However, I’m also interested in what our commissioner of education, what his take is on charter schools and the possibilities to excel even more.”
Forest Park is one of six schools in the East Texas Advanced Academies network of charter schools under Longview ISD’s Senate Bill 1882 approval.
Cynthia Wise, CEO of ETAA and former Forest Park principal, said in a written statement she is excited to welcome Andrews to the campus.
“He comes with an impressive background of turning around schools with student populations similar to that of Longview ISD, and an extensive knowledge of the curriculum,” she wrote. “I am confident that he will contribute to the continued success of the campus and will provide valuable guidance to both students and staff.”
Andrews said he is interested to see what a charter education looks like, because he always worked in a public school system.
“A charter school, it’s going to give us a little more freedom to do things outside of the box, to do innovative things, to help students’ performance in the classroom,” he said. “I’m very excited to see the options for charter schools as far as innovation goes and for these kids. I just can’t wait to get started.”
An example of that innovation is technology, he said. Forest Park is in the process of installing Smart Boards, interactive projection/white boards, in classrooms.
“Being a charter school, we can get some extra funds that will allow us to purchase new technology for the kids and have technology integrated with regular curriculum to excel our students’ performances,” Andrews said.
But Andrews does not want to just add technological innovations. He said he wants to change the way his students think about their future.
“I also look at the amount of kids that go away to college and the amount of kids that don’t come back with a college degree or the amount of kids that come back that have dropped out of college because they weren’t prepared,” Andrews said.
He also said he wants to prepare students ready to be competitive in a 21st-century economy, students who are able to go to college and come back with a degree and help create jobs for the next generation.
Andrews has a plan for how to make middle-schoolers care about something so far in their futures, he said.
“In order to effect the kid and the way they think, the adults who are around the kids have to live it, have to be real about it,” Andrews said. “Many of the kids that we serve at this specific school don’t have the benefits of having parents that can see far ahead to get them ready right now, because those parents are working hard right now. So our job at this school would be to help those kids get a vision of what they need to do to prepare for the future.”
The new principal also said he wants the campus to go from a B rating with the Texas Education Agency to an A. Additionally, he wants to one day see eighth-graders take the Texas Success Initiative Assessment.
The TSIA helps determine if a student is ready for college. Andrews said many districts give the test to eighth-grade students, and it helps measure reading, writing and math. Results can help assess where the student needs improvement.
And student improvement is what drives Andrews to do a good job as a principal, he said.
“I’m very student-centered, oriented. If there’s ever a question about doing a right or wrong thing, I’m going to do the right thing for students, the right thing for parents,” he said. “It’s an awesome responsibility to be a principal ... I still can’t believe that I was blessed enough to be given the opportunity to bless so many lives. I’m very humbled. I’m still humbled by an opportunity to impact children’s lives.”