As the threat of the state taking over Austin ISD’s board still looms, the district has laid out next steps in its plan to improve Mendez Middle School’s rating from the state.

The school has received poor ratings from the Texas Education Agency for several years. If Mendez Middle School receives a poor rating from the TEA for the 2022-23 school year, the state’s Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will have the option to either close Mendez or replace Austin ISD’s elected board with a state-appointed board of managers.

At a community event Dec. 15, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said the district aims to decide whether to run the school itself or partner with a new outside organization before spring break.

Austin ISD’s board of trustees will vote Dec. 16 on whether to end a partnership with Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Coalition, or T-STEM Coalition, a nonprofit that has been managing the in-district charter school. Should the board vote to end that partnership, the district will have to decide whether to run Mendez autonomously or install a new partner, maintaining the school as an in-district charter.

Elizalde said the district will also consider turning the middle school into a junior high, meaning sixth graders will stay at their respective elementary schools and move to Mendez in seventh grade. Elizalde promised all Mendez teachers will have a job in AISD regardless of the district's decisions, though they may not be placed at Mendez during the 2023-24 school year.

Parents of Mendez students and Mendez teachers said they hope AISD will run the school and maintain the positions of three current assistant directors under the principal.

Senate Bill 1882 gave the district a last resort option to prevent closure or board replacement by entering a partnership with a nonprofit. AISD chose T-STEM.

“I can honestly say that getting rid of staff that wants to be here is going to be a very big mistake,” said Liliana Barrientos, a teacher at the school, during the event.

Barrientos said she has seen several administration changes during her time at Mendez. She said the three current assistant directors—Juan Haney, Yolanda Rodriguez Pacheco and Roxanne Walker—all taught at Mendez, know the students and are the strongest group of administrators she has seen there.

She said current teachers also are not the problem.

“We’ve kind of rolled with the punches for years, and it’s for the students,” Barrientos said. “Every year we come back to serve our students.”

Carlos Contreras, a history teacher at Mendez, also said turnover has been a major problem, so maintaining staff would be beneficial. He said the bureaucracy involved in a charter school partnership creates unnecessary hurdles, while AISD’s leadership would be more efficient.

Veronica Gonzalez said she attended Mendez Middle School and has worked at AISD for more than a decade. She is currently an office staff member at Odom Elementary School. She said her daughter, who is in eighth grade, struggled at a previous AISD school but, after switching to Mendez, she comes home happy. She said she hopes the school will be run by AISD if the T-STEM partnership ends.

“I see my daughter’s attitude,” Gonzalez said. “There is something going on right.”