See how this Texas district found rigor, alignment, teacher agency, and more under her exceptional leadership.
Success Spotlight 1 of 3 in our series celebrating Spring Independent School District. See Part 2, Success Spotlight: Teacher Creativity Shines in Texas Middle School Math Classrooms, and Part 3, Math Professional Learning Empowers Spring ISD Teachers.
The best journey takes you home. That’s what they say, right?
Phonisha Hawkins, Middle School Math Specialist at Spring Independent School District in Houston, Texas, would agree.
She began her career as a 7th-grade math teacher with Spring ISD in 2010 when the district was in between math curriculums. And although this time of uncertainty may have been intimidating for many new teachers, Mrs. Hawkins discovered it was a blessing in disguise.
“I started writing lessons, activities, and assessments,” she shares. “And it became my passion. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to be in administration—I wanted to be involved with the curriculum.”
And so Mrs. Hawkins’ journey as an educator continued when she took that love of curriculum with her to another district, this time closer to her actual home—but Spring ISD knew what they were missing. Mrs. Hawkins is an educator overflowing with enthusiasm, creativity, and an unmatched passion for student success.
When the Spring ISD Middle School Math Specialist role became available, she had to strongly consider it because it was exactly what she knew she wanted. The distance from her actual home was no longer a concern because returning back “home” to where her career began just made sense.
What enticed Mrs. Hawkins to consider returning to her Spring ISD home? It was the middle school math curriculum of her dreams. The Texas Education Association-approved Texas Math Solution had it all, and Mrs. Hawkins knew she couldn’t walk away.
“It was one of those things where you don’t even know how badly you want it until you’re actually there,” she says. “And I knew I wanted this job when I had to present a professional learning experience for the Texas Math Solution as part of my interview. When I saw it, I fell in love. It was the curriculum I wish I’d had as a teacher!”
And so, under Mrs. Hawkins’s enthusiastic and unwavering leadership, Spring ISD's middle school math staff dug in and did the work to support their students—and now have some amazing results to show for it.
Mathematical Rigor Through Collaboration and Student Engagement
Before implementing the Texas Math Solution, Mrs. Hawkins and Robyn Carrier, Director of Middle School Curriculum, saw their teachers and students struggling with a lack of rigor and engagement. But Ms. Carrier knew her students were capable of becoming confident mathematicians who could handle any level of rigor thrown their way.
“Before the TEA approved the Texas Math Solution, we were using a different state-adopted book,” Mrs. Carrier shares. “But the teachers thought it wasn’t rigorous enough and wasn’t a comprehensive resource. Classrooms were traditional lectures and, for the most part, quiet.”
And now, supported by Mrs. Hawkins’s passion for the Texas Math Solution, a curriculum that encourages collaboration and discussion, the middle school students of Spring ISD are blossoming into confident learners who are gaining deep levels of mathematical knowledge.
“Classrooms are no longer silent!” Mrs. Carrier says. “Teachers pose questions to students, and the students can explain concepts and processes using academic vocabulary. They’re talking more like mathematicians every day.”
And that engagement is for all students. “I’m seeing the quiet ones raise their hands,” Mrs. Hawkins shares. “The lesson clicks and they’re engaged! I recently watched a very timid child blossom in confidence throughout a lesson. By the end of the class period, she was explaining the math to the student next to her.”
Mrs. Hawkins gushes, “Everyone is talking and explaining the math to each other, and it makes my heart smile to know that our teachers have activities that our students are able to connect with. They’re building capacity in our students to be successful in their learning.”
“It’s amazing,” Mrs. Carrier agrees. “When we go into classrooms, there are conversations and chatter. Students challenge each other, saying, ‘Let’s talk about that. I think we can solve it this way. Why did you solve it that way?’ To hear them learn math like that is great.”
The Texas Math Solution also addresses Spring ISD’s need for a curriculum that encourages authentic learning, not just memorization.
“It’s given me a new lens to look at how we can teach math, and teach it in a way where our kids can begin to conceptualize their learning and not just have us tell them to memorize,” says Mrs. Hawkins. “The Texas Math Solution is full of questions our teachers can use to help students increase their mathematical discourse and problem-solving. And that’s what we want: more students talking about math and internalizing it, and less of teachers lecturing and just giving information. It’s developed a new love of math for me, and a new love for learning.”
Equitable Access to High-Quality Instruction
Spring ISD is a large district with a highly mobile student population of 7,162 across nine middle school campuses, which brought forth another struggle for Mrs. Hawkins and Ms. Carrier to address: consistency. Students needed consistent learning experiences if they moved from one school to another and teachers needed to be able to gather reliable district-wide data.
The solution to both? Ms. Hawkins’ leadership and passion for implementing the Texas Math Solution with integrity in every Spring ISD middle school classroom. She and Mrs. Carrier knew their students should never enter a new classroom feeling behind or intimidated, and a consistently implemented curriculum would help teachers keep those learning experiences uniform while gathering the data they needed to measure student success.
“Before the Texas Math Solution, each campus was using the curriculum and resources in different ways and on different schedules. And teachers couldn’t compare or share data. Instead of comparing apples to apples,” Mrs. Carrier shares, “We were comparing a whole mixed bag of fruits. It wasn’t good for anyone.”
But under Mrs. Hawkins’ guidance, consistency across campuses has been on the rise. Teachers at one campus with some of the lowest data in the district have really embraced the Texas Math Solution and Mrs. Hawkins’ energy.
She says, “Their numbers are better than last year by leaps and bounds. And that’s a direct reflection of the teachers really digging in and internalizing the math. One of those teachers tweeted about his lesson on proportions and was like, ‘Hey, Hawkins! Look at what I did!’ They’re really proud of the work that they’re doing. As they should be!”
With the Texas Math Solution, Spring ISD has been able to align assessments across all campuses to gather information and work together to support student learning.
Mrs. Carrier also recognizes that all students, from the lower-performing schools to the top, are now getting equitable access to high-quality instruction.
“The Texas Math Solution has leveled the playing field for students and given everyone a new perspective,” says Mrs. Carrier. “All nine campuses are aligned and seeing success.”
Many teachers fear that a robust and rigorous curriculum like the Texas Math Solution will take away their day-to-day (and sometimes even minute-to-minute!) instructional choices, but Spring ISD teachers found that this was far from the truth. All middle school math teachers are using the same curriculum, but they still get to teach it in their own way.
“The teacher agency is absolutely there,” says Mrs. Hawkins. “It took some time and support from our math coaches, but now we see teachers living out of the workbook and making the learning visible.”
Ms. Hawkins gushes about how Spring ISD teachers have run with the materials and made math come to life in their classrooms.
“One of our teachers, Mr. Curtis Mickens, took a lesson on matching different representations of proportions and made it into a real-life drag-and-drop activity,” she shares. “The students were up and moving around, matching images he had taken from the workbook and posted on the wall. He could take the Texas Math Solution and make it his own.”
Another math teacher and Instructional Coach at Spring ISD, Ms. Jasmine Wyatt, went the extra mile to personalize the grade 8 lesson “U.S Shirts,” a Texas Math Solution lesson that asks students to compare linear representations using tables, graphs, and equations. The students explored linear relationships within the context of starting their own t-shirt business!
Instructional Coach Wyatt @BaileyMSBucs and her math students turned @carnegielearn US Shirts lesson into their own t-shirt design business ❤️❤️❤️..where is the @cricut ��? @brown_shundra @wondrousepp @rlc1908 @SpringISD @HilarionMartin1 @LaTracyHarris @SISD_CoA pic.twitter.com/pNxungJboN— Phonisha Hawkins M.Ed (@HawksMathamagic) November 29, 2022
A Curriculum That Naturally Prepares Students for the STAAR
Mrs. Hawkins may love the Texas Math Solution for a variety of reasons, but she’ll need high State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores to show that it really works. She’s excited about the early results!
“We combined some released STAAR questions with the Texas Math Solution End of Topic and End of Module assessment questions,” she shares, “So our students have real-life experiences practicing what they’ll see when they take the STAAR in the spring.”
“On the most recent checkpoint assessment, district-level data shows that 70% of 6th-grade students are at ‘Approaches,’ compared to 58% on this assessment last year,” says Mrs. Hawkins. “We have 36% at ‘Meets,’ compared to 26% last year. And ‘Masters’ is at 17%, compared to 10% last year. So for just the 6th grade alone, we’re seeing great gains—even though the 6th grade is a transition year and often challenging for our students. We’re seeing tremendous results with the Texas Math Solution.”
If the number of 6th-grade students achieving ‘Masters’ jumped by 70% in just one year, the sky’s the limit for next year! The students of Spring ISD are crushing it, thanks to their hard work and staff who believe in the power of communication, collaboration, and the idea that all students can become good at math.
“I don’t believe in teaching to the test,” says Mrs. Hawkins. “But the Texas Math Solution gives our students the skills they need to be successful on the STAAR. When we looked at the redesigned questions, so many teachers’ mouths just dropped. But then we looked at the alignment of the Texas Math Solution and MATHia to the STAAR test and made a ton of connections.”
Among those connections were the TEKS Mathematical Processing Standards that are interwoven throughout all Texas Math Solution lessons. These standards require students to engage in complex, high-order tasks with a mathematical mindset, while also engaging in problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
“We know our test is changing,” Mrs. Hawkins shares. “And we know the STAAR is now really heavy on the processing standards that require students to deeply understand the math. The Texas Math Solution addresses exactly that.”
Exceptional Leadership Makes a World of Difference
Phonisha Hawkins is an exceptional math leader who has made an indelible impact on math education at Spring ISD. Although she admits she had big shoes to fill when she transitioned to Spring ISD, she took the baton and ran with it.
In such a short amount of time, she’s moved the district forward in rigor, alignment, teacher agency, and setting the stage for STAAR success. Sure, the district had the help of a curriculum that provided the tools to give students high-quality learning experiences, but it wouldn’t have happened without Ms. Hawkins’ talent, skills, leadership, and passion.
Ms. Hawkins speaks highly of our math solution when she says, “There isn’t a product that gives us everything the Texas Math Solution gives us. There’s not another curriculum that delivers it all.”
But we can’t speak highly enough of how she’s brought it to life.
Before joining Carnegie Learning's marketing team in 2022, Karen spent 16 years teaching mathematics and social studies in Ohio classrooms. She has a passion for inclusive education and believes that all learners can be meaningfully included in academic settings from day one. As a former math and special education teacher, she is excited to provide educators with the latest in best-practices content so that they can set all students on the path to becoming confident "math people."Explore more related to this author
When I saw [the Texas Math Solution], I fell in love. It was the curriculum I wish I’d had as a teacher!
Phonisha Hawkins, Middle School Math Specialist, Spring ISD, Houston, Texas