Waco ISD Kicks Off Community Meetings

Waco ISD Kicks Off Community Meetings
Posted on 10/27/2017

This week Waco ISD kicked off a series of community meetings to discuss the future of five schools. About 70 people attended the first meeting, which was held Monday night at the Waco ISD conference center. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the City of Waco Multi-Purpose Center (1020 Elm Ave.).

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a law that will require the commissioner of education to close any campus that has been rated “improvement required” for five or more consecutive years or to replace the school district’s elected board of trustees. When accountability ratings are released next August, this legislation could affect five Waco ISD schools:  Alta Vista Elementary, Brook Avenue Elementary, J.H. Hines Elementary, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School.

The legislation passed in 2015 and another law passed earlier this year provide school districts with limited options to repurpose schools prior to the release of accountability ratings. Those options include dramatically changing the programs offered at each school and partnering with non-profit organizations to operate campuses.

The community meetings build on work that the school board and administrators have been engaged in for the past two years. That includes transformation committees formed in 2016 to support campuses rated “improvement required” and to inform the community about the deadline imposed by the 2015 law. 

“This isn’t new,” superintendent Marcus Nelson said. “Our school board has been focused on this from the moment that House Bill 1842 was signed by the governor. What has changed is that we have one year for these five schools to make it off of the improvement required list. I believe that every one of those schools can make it. However, if one doesn’t, I’m not leaving it up to somebody in Austin to decide what happens. That’s why we’re talking now about this legislative mandate and the limited options that the state has given us.”

The accountability ratings released next August will determine if the commissioner is required to close a campus or replace a school board, and they will be based primarily on standardized tests that students will take in April, May and June. However, if a district opts to repurpose a campus or partner with a non-profit organization to operate it, the district must submit that plan to the Texas Education Agency by the end of February.

“I want to be absolutely clear about one thing,” Nelson said. “I will not recommend any plan that closes a single school in Waco ISD. These meetings are an opportunity to talk about how we ensure that these schools continue to serve students in their neighborhoods.”

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith will moderate the next community meeting on Oct. 30. The Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news organization. Since its launch in 2009, the Tribune has won international acclaim and numerous honors, including a Peabody Award, 13 national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, and three general excellence awards from the Online News Association. Smith is also the host of “Overheard with Evan Smith,” a weekly half-hour interview program that airs on PBS stations around the country. Previously he spent nearly 18 years at Texas Monthly, including eight years as the magazine's editor and a year as its president and editor in chief.

Smith’s participation is made by possible by the generous support of Waco Foundation. 

“Part of Waco Foundation’s mission is to promote solutions to community challenges,” foundation executive director Ashley Allison said. “The quality of life in McLennan County is closely connected to the quality of our schools. We want to help facilitate a conversation about what we as a community need to do so that our local students have the infrastructure and support they need in order to be successful.”

A third community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (915 La Salle Ave.).