At Eastridge Elementary School, Principal Genie Baca’s teachers have enough challenges. Their students are mostly refugees, recent immigrants from countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Vietnam and Burma, among many others. The parents are often shift workers at local meatpacking or poultry processing facilities, meaning that no one’s home to ensure the children are fed and put to bed on time.

“We were having kids coming to school tired, or very late, or even not at all,” she explained. “The parents may not get home until 1 or 2 a.m., and sometimes their children are still up, waiting for them.

Principal Baca’s solution? It’s simple and direct. She’s scheduling a sit-down with the plant managers.

“We have school covered,” she said. “Now, if we can just get the employers to work with us.”

That has been Baca’s approach in her 15 years at Eastridge Elementary, one of Amarillo ISD’s most challenging schools. She’s a problem-solver. So when she learned the state of Texas was looking for schools to try out its new high quality instructional materials (HQIM), she wanted to learn more.

For years, Eastridge was making slow but steady gains—despite the factors working against it.

“It was a troubled school, in trouble with the state,” she explained. “We brought in consultants, Solution Tree. And for 10 years, my teachers were learning how to plan lessons, how to unpack standards, how to make their assessments and how to respond to kids who aren’t learning. But my teachers were worn out. And it never let up, because our [migrant] students start out three or four years behind, and we have a steady flow of new refugees.”

The state’s new HQIM program seemed as if it might help. It might let teachers do what they signed up to do—teach, rather than spend hours every day doing lesson plans and prep work.

“We used to have teachers staying late, bringing in dinner, working on lesson plans,” Baca said. “Now, I’d say 99% of my teachers are gone by 4 p.m. They have a work/life balance again, and they love that. They know they’re ready for class. That’s what the high-quality instructional materials have done for my school.”

Texas state Sen. Brandon Creighton and state Rep. Brad Buckley both chair their chambers’ Education Committees. Writing recently in the Dallas Morning News, they explained the reason Texas chose to develop its own instructional materials, rather than buying from vendors.

“For years, Texas teachers have been overworked and have contemplated leaving the profession,” they wrote. “In the 2022-23 school year, 51% of Texas students across all grades were below grade level. If we do not address this, millions of young people will be left behind and unable to reach their potential, which will also harm the health of the Texas economy.”

That’s why the HQIM program was launched. They goal, they explained, was to “provide much needed relief to teachers by eliminating the need to spend dozens of hours outside of the classroom developing curriculum.”

But it was also to ensure that what’s being taught in the classroom is being taught at grade level. That’s something that Principal Baca’s teachers at Eastridge Elementary struggled with at first.

“They looked at the materials and said, ‘Oh no, that’s too hard for my kids,’” she said. “And that’s when many of us realized that we weren’t doing grade-level work. And what the research shows is that if you’re a student of color, you may never be in a class teaching on grade level in your career.”

Learning that was “a game-changer” for Baca’s teachers, she said—“because they have kids too. They want their kids learning what they’re supposed to be learning.”

Still, some had questions. Does the new material take away a teacher’s autonomy? Does it stifle a teacher’s creativity? Baca dismisses those fears. The lessons are customizable, and there’s plenty of room for a teacher’s creativity and personal style. They’re also optional—teachers can use as much or as little of the materials as they wish.

“What the HQIM does is a lot of the prep work, so teachers can focus on what they do best,” she said. “And the teachers are excited about that. They’re learning how to close the gaps and they’re sharing best practices.”

The results have been amazing, she said. “Our writing has improved 10-fold. Kids are making up for being three years behind in one academic year.”

Eastridge Elementary has its challenges—its cafeteria has given up on trying to provide meals in keeping with the various dietary restrictions observed by the school’s families, and simply made the campus pork-free. Its students speak 38 different languages. And many arriving students aren’t simply behind—they’re completely unschooled.

But the HQIM helps, Principal Baca said.

“Every lesson is set up so that there’s a win every day,” she explained. “Our students are mastering something every day. That’s how you make progress.”