As part of ongoing efforts to keep Eastside Memorial High School open, the Austin ISD board of trustees May 20 unanimously approved a $393,690 contract with Johns Hopkins University's School of Education program Talent Development Secondary to serve as the partnering entity to help lead school improvement at Eastside Memorial High School.
Trustees and Superintendent Meria Carstarphen have said they do not want to see the school close its doors, but Carstarphen said The Texas Education Agency commissioner now has the statutory authority to close EMHS based on AISD's failure to implement a reconstitution plan at the school. The district launched that plan several years ago to save the academically struggling campus and approved a contract with IDEA Public Schools in 2011 to lead improvement there. In December 2012, the board voted to cancel the IDEA contract, and as a result, the district must plan for the future of the school to prevent the TEA from ordering closure.
"I do not think that anyone has given up on Eastside Memorial, including me," Carstarphen said.
As part of the process to find a partner, AISD sought community input, sent out a request for proposals to potential partner entities to help lead academic improvement at the school and received five proposals. An evaluation committee including community members and teachers recommended Johns Hopkins, and the board approved the Johns Hopkins program as the partner entity May 6.
Now that the board has approved the contract, the district still needs to finalize how it will meet TEA Commissioner Michael Williams' other requirements—addressing the schools that feed into Eastside Memorial High School and establishing how the TDS program is "as good as or better than" IDEA, Carstarphen said.
"[Williams] did caution us that while we did come together as a community, he still remains focused more on the learning opportunity for the students and that AISD must have a plan that addresses those two conditions," Carstarphen said.
The board continued its discussion of how it will address the vertical team, which comprises EMHS and the elementary and middle schools that feed into it, including Martin and Kealing middle schools.
"You have to have some whizbang element in the vertical team," board President Vincent Torres said.
Trustee Robert Schneider said he would like to see career and technical education incorporated into the schools' feeder pattern, while trustee Lori Moya suggested expanding those schools' existing focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, and establishing a STEM-based signature program.
Conveying the successes of EMHS—including preliminary TAKS scores showing students have improved in multiple subject areas—to the TEA is critical during this time, several community members told the board during citizens communication.
Vincent Tovar, parent and representative of the community group PRIDE of the Eastside, who supported the board's approval of the Johns Hopkins partnership, pointed to vertical team achievements including increased student attendance at EMHS, Martin Middle School and Govalle Elementary School. He also said that it is unclear what Carstarphen has been telling the TEA commissioner about the school.
"This superintendent is the gap and hole in Eastside's plan," he told the board. "Please request all documentation of her communication with [the] TEA, and if this school closes, let's move on the quickest timeline to find a new superintendent."
Opposition to the Johns Hopkins proposal itself came from Gavino Fernandez Jr., League of United Latin American Citizens District 12 director and coordinator of El Concilio, a coalition of Mexican-American neighborhood associations. He said he conveyed his disapproval to Williams and the TEA.
"It's a Band-Aid approach for you to spend $500,000 to pay an advisory team. That [money] could be better used and invested in current AISD staff you have there or having someone else come in," he said to the board, adding: "We told [Williams] we wanted him to impose the real process where he takes over [EMHS] and brings us something that's going to be the best need for the children of our community, not special interests."
At its May 20 meeting, the board also approved a student reassignment plan in case the TEA commissioner rejects Johns Hopkins as the school's partner and orders EMHS to be closed. The board also recently approved a contingency plan for EMHS.