AUSTIN, Texas — According to Community Impact, during a Dec. 2 meeting of Austin ISD's Board of Trustees, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said that the State of Texas could take over the board if an AISD middle school's failing ratings don't improve.
Elizalde said that to avoid consequences from the State and to try to improve Mendez Middle School, the board will consider ending a contract with the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Coalition, or the T-STEM Coalition, a nonprofit that has been managing the in-district charter school.
Elizalde said that in 2018, AISD chose to turn Mendez into an in-district charter to prevent the State from shutting it down. But a lack of improvement could result in the State replacing all members of the district's board.
Community Impact reports that after a school goes three or more consecutive years receiving a lower-than-C rating from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas law requires that the commissioner of education choose to either close the school or appoint a board of managers to replace the elected board members for the school's district. By 2017, Mendez was in its fourth consecutive year of receiving a failing TEA rating, Community Impact reports.
The report states that Senate Bill 1882 gives Texas districts a last resort option to prevent either of those outcomes by allowing a district to covert a poorly performing school into an in-district campus charter through a partnership with an approved entity. Schools that undergo this transition get a two-year grace period to improve, during which time the campus doesn't receive a rating from the TEA. The school then gets two more rated years to receive a passing score. If it doesn't, the TEA chooses between a forced closure or replacing the board.
AISD used this last resort option to save Mendez in 2018. The pandemic then bought the school more time, as no Texas schools received ratings in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. However, Community Impact reports that Mendez received an F rating in its first rated year since becoming an in-district charter (2018-19), so if it receives lower than a C in its second assessed year (2022-23), the State could step in.
In response, AISD's board is considering ending its partnership with the T-STEM Coalition.
According to Community Impact, during the Dec. 2 meeting, Board Vice President Yasmin Wagner said she is not content to see Mendez closed.
"We haven’t been able to do right by Mendez yet, and the entire time I’ve been on this board it’s always been, 'Next year we’ll get it right, next year we’ll get it right,'" Wagner said. "We have to get this right."
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