Five Waco Independent School District schools would likely be governed by two school boards if the Texas Education Agency approves a proposal to build an in-district charter system with Prosper Waco.
Waco ISD trustees approved a local policy and a draft campus partnership application at Thursday’s school board meeting that outlines the process for defining details of the partnership.
The documents are a step toward state approval for part of a larger transformation plan that would ensure five underperforming schools stay open next year under a law passed in the summer, Waco ISD spokesman Kyle DeBeer said.
“These campuses are still part of Waco ISD. The students, as far as I understand, and all their official data with the TEA and everything still says they’re enrolled in Waco ISD,” Prosper Waco executive director Matthew Polk said of the proposal. “Waco ISD has said, ‘This is our campus, you’re on our campus, but these folks are running our campus.’ ”
Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School failed to meet state academic standards at least five years in a row, passing the threshold for the state to consider closing them.
The Prosper Waco partnership would let the district keep the schools open another two years.
“By implementing the board policy and application, we’re implementing the process TEA has outlined so we know it’s going to fit their expectations for a rigorous vetting process,” DeBeer said.
Thursday’s step is like someone presenting the answer to a math problem and being asked to show the work behind it, DeBeer said.
Prosper Waco will fill out the newly approved application and submit it back to the district by March 30 for review, and Waco ISD will submit the application, along with a contract, to the state by April 30, DeBeer said. The district may not get approval from the state until after June, he said.
State testing for Waco ISD runs from mid-April to mid-May, and schools typically do not get official results until August. If the schools pass state accountability requirements, the partnership would not be needed to keep them open.
“This is really the next step in ensuring that all five of our campuses that face a deadline this year stay open if for some reason one or more of them don’t meet state standards,” DeBeer said. “That’s what we heard from the community meetings as the priority for our community, that these campuses stay open and continue to serve students in their neighborhoods.
“(Superintendent Marcus) Nelson, the rest of us, have said it. We certainly believe all of these campuses can reach state standards this year, but at the same time, we recognize that’s hard work and if for some reason one of those campuses needs more time, we want to make sure they have it.”
Officials are still waiting for the state to finalize rules governing the partnership before working out some details, but Prosper Waco would effectively be the school board for the campuses in the partnership. It will have authority over typical board decisions, but its focus will be on coordinating social services and supportive resources for students in the struggling campuses, Polk said.
“What I emphasize, and will continue to emphasize, is that we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time worrying about that operational stuff. We’re going to contract all that back to the district,” he said. “This board is certainly not going to be looking over the details of our transportation contract or our food service contract. What I will present to them is, ‘Here’s our plan to contract this back to the district,’ and they will approve it. I can’t imagine another scenario.”
The district already handles those operational elements well, and taking them over would not help improve student outcomes, Prosper Waco spokeswoman Christina Helmick said. Prosper Waco’s board will, however, approve the budget over the five campuses, DeBeer said.
Because the state has yet to determine final rules, it remains unclear if Prosper Waco’s board of directors would oversee the schools or if it would form a separate board.
The state rules may affect how the groups navigate a potential conflict of interest. Waco ISD Board President Pat Atkins is also president of the Prosper Waco board, and Nelson is also a Prosper Waco board member.
“My ideal scenario would be the kids and families on these campuses don’t feel like anything is different, that they haven’t been ripped away from Waco ISD, that they’re still part of the district and still attending a Waco ISD school, except that they feel there is an enhanced investment in these campuses,” Polk said.
The TEA is expected to publish final governing rules Monday.