Gary Figirova

Already familiar with the El Campo Middle School campus and its students, the new principal has plans to hit the ground running to close achievement gaps and make kids feel welcome the first day of class.

Gary Figirova, former assistant principal at the middle school, replaces Mark Freeman as principal. Freeman is now the district’s director of transportation, replacing Chris Burrow who transferred to the high school as head basketball coach and geometry teacher.

Figirova’s No. 1 goals for his students is to help them close the achievement gaps on the STAAR test by scheduling intervention classes and mentor programs to give them targeted help.

“We are looking at different tutorial schedules to put in place whether it’s in the morning, lunch or after school. We’ve also been looking at the data from STAAR results, and following that data will help us know where our needs are at,” he said.

Figirova also wants to continue creating a safe, positive learning environment.

“In the last two years, we’ve felt like we’ve done a pretty good job of providing a safe place for our kids to go to school,” Figirova said.

Professional development is another of Figirova’s goals.

“We’re all working together. We have teachers who have taught for 20 years who have a lot of experience and great ideas, and we’ve got young teachers coming in who are fresh to education who could use the help from our 20-year teachers. At the same time, those younger teachers are bringing in new ideas that can help our teachers who have been here awhile.

“We are trying to link them both together to make sure we are using everything we can — all the old and new experience we have — to be able to reach our kids to get to the point where we’re maximizing student achievement on our campus,” he said.

Developing student and teacher leadership is also a priority.

“We feel like if we have people who can lead, we will go a long ways. It’s about our students stepping up and showing other students the way to get there. Whether they are a peer, mentor or a student leader, our students are the best people who can relate to students because of their age,” Figirova said.

The principal feels positive reinforcement will go a long way with his students. He wants to continue positive office referrals from teachers and recognize them as Students of the Week.

“We will continue to have the kids come down to the office for the good things they do,” he said.

With the help of PTO, Figirova wants to develop an on-campus store the kids can come to “purchase” items as a reward.

“We’ve had a Ricebird Pride card system. They will get their Ricebird shirts and caps, PlayStation cards, chips or ice cream.”

Rewards for good behavior and good deeds remain important for students at the middle school level, he said.

“We will still do the attendance incentives for kids getting to school. If they are here every day, we will reward them, tell them they are doing a great job. This is your payment for being here.”

“It will encourage them to say to their parents, ‘I need to get there. I want to be there,’” he added.

Figirova is looking to expand student club involvment particularly for incoming sixth graders.

“We’re trying to make a smooth transition for our sixth graders from Northside. They’re also coming to school for the social part, too, where they are in the chess, fishing, crochet or Promise Club so they have a place to go. They have somebody they can go to, and a group that will provide them support.”

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