Select community residents will receive letters in the upcoming weeks requesting their participation in new “community transformation committees” as the Waco Independent School District’s board of trustees tries to ward off potential school closures looming in the 2018-19 school year.

House Bill 1842, which went into effect Sept. 1, reduced the time a campus may remain open with failing scores from six years to five years.

Six of the district’s two dozen schools have failed state academic accountability ratings for at least three years, but because of the phase-in period in the new law, those campuses have extra time before the threat of closure. Even without improved scores, Waco campuses would not be closed until the 2018-19 school year.

“The impact of this legislation is potentially devastating,” Trustee Angela Tekell said during Thursday’s board meeting. “And not just to one neighborhood but all of Waco.”

The board unanimously approved starting three committees Thursday, and if residents solicited for the spots agree to serve, board President Pat Atkins will appoint them in January.

Superintendent Bonny Cain said the committees are inclusive and designed to bring district stakeholders to the table in an effort to brainstorm methods to improve the schools’ ratings.

The board hopes to have 25 to 40 people on each committee, with each group assigned to two of the struggling campuses. They will be tasked with investigating efforts specific to those schools.

“We need some ideas for turning the ship around,” Trustee Cary DuPuy said.

G.W. Carver Middle School, Indian Spring Middle School, Alta Vista Elementary School and South Waco Elementary School have failed three years in a row. J. H. Hines Elementary School and Brook Avenue Elementary School have failed four years in a row.

Under the new law, campuses that have failed state ratings at least two years must now submit a “turnaround plan” to implement by the third year. By the fifth year of failing academic standards, the state will either replace the board of trustees with a board of managers or close the campus.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said the turnaround plans are less stringent than the previously required “reconstitution plan,” which required up to 75 percent of a school’s staff be replaced.

The new law gives the district flexibility on staff but requires a detailed description of the academic programs to be offered on the campus, written comments from a campus-level committee and a detailed description of the budget, including the staffing and financial resources required to implement the new plan.

Before the plan is submitted, the campus also is required to give parents a chance to see it, Culbertson said.

Atkins said that the greatest benefit from these committees is the ability to communicate with people who could be the most impacted by the legislation and a potential school closure.

“I think that’s one reason these committees are so important, is to really begin to communicate what we’re looking at and what is the main thing we want to do,” Atkins said.

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