Given the challenges facing several academically struggling Waco Independent School District campuses, the best news school board members could’ve gotten came last week when Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson revealed that, in the wake of community meetings, the district has seen a spike in volunteers willing to help. To our thinking, this should not only impress others to do likewise but further encourage the partnership Waco ISD has developed with the Texas Education Agency.
“Individuals are raising their hands to volunteer in our schools,” Nelson told the board. “A host of businesses are coming forward to provide incentives for our students. In fact, we have nearly 200 more active volunteers today than we did at the end of the school year last year. We’re trying to create a movement and this movement is focused on saving our community schools.”
Nelson stressed that Waco ISD is also consulting with local nonprofits to better understand their expertise and how they can help. School officials are researching best practices at other inner-city districts across the state on such matters as single-gender campuses and grade configuration. All of this should lend some momentum as the district pursues a $450,000 state grant to help with plans to keep open five schools marked for possible closure due to flagging test scores.
Yet news of a swelling of community volunteers eager to help the district is especially encouraging — a Christmas present to the district and a harbinger of hope for 2018. It suggests a certain community engagement with this crisis is evolving. If Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School falter again in academic testing this spring, the district must then take extraordinary measures to prevent those schools from state-ordained closure. And some in the surrounding neighborhoods may not relish those final options.
Superintendent Nelson recently touched on the need of community volunteers to stay the course rather than showing up to help once or twice, then going AWOL. It was a key concern that Peaches Henry, president of the NAACP’s local chapter, pressed on friends and neighbors at a community meeting in October, even as she acknowledged how past differences have sometimes hindered community volunteers in working with the district.
“We as a community need to set a standard for ourselves,” she said. “I no longer have a child in Waco ISD. However, I am committed to being in that school that needs me. And when I say that, we have got to devote the time. We have to say, ‘I can give two hours every week,’ and every week at that time you have got to be there. That’s what these children need us to do, and if we cannot support them, then we’ll be here again.”
Noble and important words. Yet these come amid other words evoking a sense of déjà vu about this dilemma. Both time and opportunities are running out for second and third chances for struggling neighborhood schools. Their success or failure will either embolden or indict the neighborhoods that now surround them.