The Austin ISD board of trustees discussed the future of Eastside Memorial High School during its Feb. 11 work session, taking into account community feedback gathered during the weekend at a public input session.
On Feb. 9, Austin ISD board trustees, EMHS teachers, parents and residents discussed what could happen to the school as a result of the board's decision to terminate the district's contract with IDEA Public Schools, which had planned to expand its programming into the high school.
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen explained that because of board actions, the Texas Education Agency now has the power to close EMHS or take over control of it, and AISD could maintain a role if it finds an entity to serve as a partner. Many members of the community said they were unclear on the process for finding such an entity as well as what local organizations might qualify, and some said AISD should demand a letter from the TEA giving more clarity.
The board reached a consensus that it does not want to request a letter from the TEA, citing possible ramifications that might hurt students. Instead, the board plans to seek clarity "in some other manner" regarding what options are left for EMHS and its vertical team—the high school and the middle and elementary schools that feed into it, including IDEA Allan Elementary School.
Trustees also agreed that continuing to work with IDEA beyond the end of the school year is "off the table." One suggestion of Commissioner of Education Michael Williams, who heads the TEA, was that the board could continue working with IDEA, Carstarphen said. Trustee Ann Teich asked whether the board could partner with IDEA for one more year to allow more time for long-term solution development.
"We've already worked with them enough to know that they don't want that kind of partnership with AISD," Carstarphen said.
Several education-related organizations including Big Picture Learning, Expeditionary Learning, Green Dot Public Schools, New Tech Network and Southwest Key were identified as possible partners to consider, trustee Gina Hinojosa said.
Jayme Mathias, the trustee for the district in which EMHS is located, noted that while the board wants to seek as much public input as possible, it could have to take action as soon as Feb. 25.
"Many deadlines are passing if they have not already passed," he said, pointing to deadlines for student transfers, staffing and budget decisions.
Trustee Tamala Barksdale said the process for determining the school's future should be as transparent as possible, but without asking the TEA for more time, that could be difficult.
Background and next steps
The Texas Education Agency allowed AISD to repurpose the Johnston High School campus in the 2008–09 school year after being ranked Academically Unacceptable due to Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills results, and the school was renamed EMHS. In 2011, the AISD board of trustees signed a contract with IDEA that aimed to improve education at EMHS feeder school Allan Elementary. By signing the contract with IDEA, the board linked that partnership to the reconstitution plan for EMHS, Carstarphen said.
On Dec. 17, 2012, the board approved a motion to end the IDEA contract at the end of the 2012–13 school year and prevent IDEA from extending into EMHS.
If the commissioner decides the reconstitution plan has not been fully implemented, or if students fail to demonstrate progress, there are only a few options under state law, Carstarphen said. The commissioner has three options for the school: repurposing it, closing it or turning it over to alternative management by an outside entity—but the district already used the repurposing option, leaving only the latter two choices.
The board plans to discuss its plans for the school at another meeting Feb. 18. More information is available at www.austinisd.org