As Austin ISD faces the possibility of shuttering Mendez Middle School due to repeated unacceptable accountability ratings from the Texas Education Agency, trustees are considering converting the school into an in-district charter under Senate Bill 1882.
Located in Southeast Austin, Mendez is in its fourth consecutive year of Improvement Required ratings under the TEA’s accountability system. After three consecutive years Texas Education Code requires the state’s commissioner of education to close the school or appoint a board of managers for the entire district.
SB 1882 could provide the district a mechanism to avoid closure. Under the bill districts may convert a school to an in-district campus charter by partnering with approved entities such as a charter-management organization.
Campuses that take advantage of SB 1882 receive credit for school performance and are also exempt from the TEA’s accountability system for two years, said Jacob Reach, AISD’s assistant to the superintendent. Financial incentives, including grant opportunities, are also offered.
AISD has crafted a plan that would redesign Mendez’s academic curriculum to focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM; leadership; and/or literacy. The program would be operated by an external partner and would be implemented in the 2018-19 school year. A new governing body created by the district would oversee, at minimum, Mendez’s budget, curriculum and hiring.
Trustee Yasmin Wagner questioned whether specialized academic programming would help Mendez students whose needs are not currently met.
“If we are still not seeing the results we want to see, what needs to change there beyond just plugging in a magnet?” she asked.
Ensuring solid literacy instruction and continued teacher training is how Terrance Eaton, associate superintendent of middle schools, said Mendez’s administration plans to help students on a broad level.
“We are very aggressive in terms of looking at instructional time students are spending in the the area of literacy and also working on teacher development,” he said.
On Nov. 15 the TEA is expected to release the first set of rules regarding the creation of partnerships and requirements for the program, followed by a final set of rules and information on how to apply Dec. 15. The application would be due in February.
Next steps, as outlined by the district, include identifying an external partner, creating a governance structure and drafting an agreement, which would outline the roles of both groups as well as the district.