Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson

Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson talks with residents during a community meeting Oct. 23 about the district’s struggling schools.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

Waco Independent School District has seen an uptick in volunteers committed to helping five schools avoid closure next year since a series of community meetings about the struggling campuses about a month ago, Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson said Thursday night.

Compared to the end of last school year, the district has almost 200 more active volunteers, Nelson said during a school board meeting. A lack of community engagement and support was one of the main factors residents suggested at the meetings for why the schools might be struggling.

“Individuals are raising their hands to volunteer at our schools, and a host of businesses are coming forward to provide incentives for our students,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to create a movement, and this movement is focused on saving our community schools.”

The district also applied for a $450,000 transformation zone grant this week through the Texas Education Agency to help support the district through its planning process to save the schools, he said.

The deadline to apply for the grant was Thursday, and the district expects to hear back from the state in January, Nelson said.

“Since the conclusion of our community meetings, we continue to receive feedback from our community members and we’re considering all input very carefully,” Nelson said.

The grant coincides with the time frame for when the school board must submit a plan to the state to reconfigure Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School. Each has failed state academic standards for five consecutive years or more, which leaves them open to closure if they don’t pass this year, according to state law.

The state is expected to then approve the plan in February.

Nelson also addressed administrators research into other ideas proposed at the community meetings, including transforming the two struggling middle schools into single-gender campuses, focusing more on professional development and student engagement.

“We’re really digging deep into some of the campuses in our state that have already had that model, particularly on the boys side, and the data’s not as clear,” Nelson said.

District officials are also continuing to meet with local nonprofits to understand their areas of expertise and consider possibilities for more partnerships, Nelson said.

“Our primary focus remains on the intensive data-driven work necessary to move all of our WISD campuses that are IR (improvement required), close to IR or anywhere near IR off those lists,” Nelson said. “We believe fervently our instructional program has been reorganized to accomplish all our academic goals.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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