Prosper Waco will have full autonomy over Waco’s five underperforming schools starting immediately, Waco Independent School District Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson announced Wednesday morning.

The Texas Education Agency approved late Monday an in-district charter partnership between the local nonprofit Prosper Waco and the school district, pending a minor technical language change to their contract, according to a letter the TEA sent to Nelson.

The partnership will be the first its kind in the state and is an effort to save the five schools from potential state closure for at least another two years.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done over the last six to eight months,” Nelson said. “I believe our community has been very responsive to some of the options afforded to us under Senate Bill 1882 and we’re excited to proclaim we have kept our schools under local control and have not surrendered them to charter schools.”

The partnership includes Prosper Waco operating its own second school board to oversee Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School.

It is part of a larger initiative involving a districtwide literacy plan, new technology and proposed pre-K programs for 3-year-olds.

Each of the five schools failed to meet state academic standards at least five years in a row, which triggered the state to consider closing them under a law passed in 2015. A more recent law, SB 1882, outlines the two-year reprieve requirements through the partnership.

“It’s already done, it’s already in place and Dr. (Robin) McDurham has already begun serving in her role,” Nelson said. “She’s working regularly with Prosper Waco and she’s working with the central office at WISD. We’re fast and furious focused on the first day of school for the 2018-2019 school year. We want it to be smooth and we want it to be well organized.”

McDurham, formerly Waco ISD’s assistant superintendent of student services and family engagement, will oversee the leadership and staffing capacity as the “transformation zone officer” for the five schools. The TEA required Prosper Waco create the position to assure an additional layer of independence from the district.

McDurham will no longer be on the district’s payroll, and Waco ISD will most likely not fill her position, Waco ISD spokesperson Kyle DeBeer said earlier this year.

Waco ISD will remain the fiscal agent over the schools, but the new charter school board will have the power to make budgetary decisions. And the partnership is expected to bring in $3.5 million in additional revenue to Waco ISD.

Prosper Waco officials will start engaging with students and families at the five schools and help bring in additional social services and support students and families need, Prosper Waco Executive Director Matthew Polk wrote in a press release Wednesday afternoon. The nonprofit will also work closely with Waco ISD leadership to fully evaluate overall campus needs, Polk stated.

“We are excited to see the ways the Waco community steps up to support these campuses over the next couple of years,” he wrote.

The initial proposal for the charter partnership, published five months ago, would have included South Waco Elementary School in the in-district charter and realigned grade levels at the schools. Board members voted in April to remove South Waco Elementary and the realignment plan from the proposal before it was submitted to the state. South Waco has not passed the threshold to be considered for closure by the state.

Officials will closely monitor schools not in the partnership that show signs of struggles and will take action as needed, Nelson said. If any other schools hit the state threshold for state intervention or closure, those schools could be added to the partnership later, he said.

If the current underperforming schools meet state standards when scores come out in August, they may stay under the district’s monitoring plan for a year, Nelson said. Even if a school meets standards, it would take at least a year for the school to be released from the partnership, based on the contract between the district and Prosper Waco, he said.

“We’re still in the fight to save our schools, and we really believe in our kids and our staff that we can do this,” Nelson said.

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