Austin ISD is one step closer to converting Mendez Middle School into an in-district charter.
At a November meeting trustees began discussing the possibility of employing Senate Bill 1882 as an alternative to shuttering Mendez, which has repeatedly been assigned an accountability grade of Improvement Required by the Texas Education Agency. After three or more consecutive years of that rating the Texas Education Code requires the state’s commissioner of education to either close the school or appoint a board of managers for the entire district.
But SB 1882 could provide an alternative. 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.
According to the district its administration has developed a draft request for proposals, or RFP, for possible partners. Feedback from the Mendez community and staff has also shaped the RFP, and once proposals are received, the district said those groups will also play a role in reviewing potential partners.
The chosen partner would have authority over duties, such as staffing, funding, academics and any other requirement assigned by the district. A recently released set of rules by the TEA said all charter-management organizations would be automatically approved as partners, and other entities would be subject to additional review.
The chosen partner should have roots in Texas and an understanding of the Mendez community, trustee Ann Teich said.
“Mendez is a fiercely committed community,” she said. “I would want that partner to fit in. If that partner does not know or cannot appreciate the culture they are coming into, I would be extremely cautious. You can bet your bottom dollar I will be researching that final partner, and if I don’t like that partner, I’m not voting for it.”
Trustee Jayme Mathias expressed his dismay over the root of the issue, which is repeated poor standardized test scores.
“This is what happens when you take a population of students with need and put them in an environment of high-stakes testing,” he said. “There are other ways to assess the beauty of our students at Mendez Middle School, and it doesn’t all come down to tests. We want them to know that they are more than test scores, and they will get through this.”
The district’s administration said it plans to publish its RFP by Jan. 11 and will accept submissions through Feb. 6. An application to convert the school is currently under development by the TEA and would be due to the state by March 1. If approved, the school would launch as an in-district charter in the 2018-19 school year.