San Marcos CISD tables potential changes to alternative learning center

San Marcos CISD may soon have a second high school, but that will ultimately come down to what the board of trustees wants to name what is currently called the Phoenix Learning Center.

The board discussed creating a more clear distinction between the Phoenix campus and San Marcos High School at their regular meeting Jan. 25. In the eyes of the Texas Education Agency, the Phoenix campus and San Marcos High School are one entity, said Freeman Cone, SMCISD director of secondary curriculum, instruction and accountability.

The Phoenix campus is considered an alternative education accountability campus, which is geared toward at-risk students. Because Phoenix and San Marcos High School are simply shown as “San Marcos High School” on Texas Education Agency reports, it inflates the high school’s at-risk and drop-out rates, among other academic indicators.

“Those [teachers at alternative education accountability campuses] work very diligently and they care about their job, but you’re working with a group of kids who are much more likely to drop out, who are much more likely not to be as successful,” Cone said.

Combining the two campuses into one report causes problems when trying to compare San Marcos High School’s academic success to that of nearby districts such as Hays CISD, which delineates between Hays High School, Lehman High School and the district’s alternative education accountability campus, Live Oak Academy.

For example, according to the 2014-15 Texas Academic Performance Report, San Marcos High School had a dropout rate of 3.8 percent in the 2013-14 school year. That exceeded the state average of 2.2 percent. By comparison, Hays High School, an HCISD campus, had a dropout rate of 1.1 percent during the same period. Live Oak Academy had a dropout rate more than twice as high, at 2.4 percent.

Disagreement arose over whether to call the facility a high school or learning center.

The district is considering renaming the campus Lamar High School or Lamar Learning Center.

Superintendent Mark Eads said district faculty preferred to call it a high school because graduating students would feel “more accepted and appreciated” to be able to say they graduated from Lamar High School as opposed to Lamar Learning Center.

Trustee Lupe Costilla said she would prefer the new facility be called a learning center.

Trustee Miguel Arredondo said with so much turnover at the district—a search for the new superintendent is underway and the superintendent of curriculum and instruction position is still vacant—the district should wait to make any final determinations.

“I don’t think more time would be detrimental to have this conversation as a team and in the community,” Arredondo said.

Cone said because the board opted to delay a final decision, the delineation between San Marcos High School and the Phoenix campus likely will not take effect until the 2017-18 school year if trustees approve it. A new Phoenix campus is being built off Hwy. 123 near De Zavala Elementary School. The campus is being built using $5.07 million from the district's 2013 bond election.