San Antonio ISD thinking of tossing some of its in-district charters, outside partners

[San Antonio Express-News] San Antonio ISD thinking of tossing some of its in-district charters, outside partners

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San Antonio Independent School District officials are considering revoking six of their 39 in-district charters and outside management partnerships created in recent years to improve certain campuses.

The annual performance review of campuses operating under these models, presented to the SAISD board of trustees last week, included recommendations to renew, place on probation or revoke the existing arrangements at 24 schools whose contracts are up for renewal.

Based on their standing in three domains — academic excellence, organizational strength and financial health — the six schools deemed low-performing are the Henry Carroll and the Elizabeth Tynan early childhood education centers, Barkley-Ruiz Elementary School, Martin Luther King Academy, S.J Davis Middle School and Nathaniel Hawthorne Academy.

“This is not a school closure, this is not a reconstitution of the staff or the leadership,” Superintendent Jaime Aquino told the board. “We are committed, like with every school, to support them, and we hold all of our schools to the same level of standard.”

Conducting the presentation, John Norman, SAISD’s senior executive director of innovation and strategic partnerships, said the partnerships, when successful, can help transform the district into a destination for families looking for better options outside their own district lines.

“Charter and partnership schools are just one strategy that ultimately has to align with our overall district strategy,” Norman said. “We believe that in-district charters and partnership schools can be one strategy to particularly provide a destination for transformational learning.”

The district invested heavily in these models under former SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who was an early adopter of outside partnerships when they became available after 2017 under Senate Bill 1882 as an innovative option to turn around struggling campuses — an option that came with extra state funding.

The in-district charter programs widened SAISD’s portfolio of magnet programs, such as those in science, technology, engineering and math. The schools received federal startup grants of about $800,000 over two years and offered more autonomy to campus staff in exchange for higher accountability for student outcomes.

Under the SB 1882 partnerships, the district enters an agreement with an outside nonprofit organization, which helps run the school and takes responsibility for its performance. The state authorizes roughly $800 in additional annual funding per student in attendance.

The district has 31 SB 1882 schools and has agreements with 10 nonprofit partners that help run most of them. They include the Alamo Colleges District, Democracy Prep Public Schools, the University of Texas at San Antonio and CAST Schools, among others.

The two early childhood centers, Carroll and Tynan, could lose their partnerships with the organization HighScope, which provides their early childhood education curriculum. The curriculum could continue if campus leaders, the board and district officials agree, but the partnership that allows HighScope to run the campuses in tandem with SAISD would end.

These two revocations would mean a loss in additional annual state funding totaling nearly $320,000. The other four possible revocations would be for in-district charters that have no outside management partnerships and would not result in funding losses.

The process for changing these schools began in September, when officials shared the proposal with campus leaders who were given the opportunity to submit a response before the recommendation was presented to the board.

The next step this month involves holding hearings where district and campus officials answer questions at each of the campuses and survey the opinions of school staff and families. These results will be presented to the board in December before trustees decide on the final recommendations.

If the revocations go through, officials will work on a transition plan in the spring semester, Norman said, in order to be ready for the upcoming school year.

“The earlier the better, because then we need to transition them to be completely managed by us and make a decision on how we continue to support (those programs) in the absence of funding,” Aquino said of the SB 1882 partnerships. “When developing our budget, we need to account for that.”