Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson

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

When one administrative legacy ended in early June, another started in Waco Independent School District with the arrival of Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson.

But as he entered the district on the heels of former Superintendent Bonny Cain, he inherited several low-performing schools.

Nelson spent the first day of school in August going from campus to campus, evaluating with a critical eye where campuses could improve.

He came from Laredo ISD, a larger district that has a higher percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged than Waco ISD. In his last year with Laredo ISD, none of the campuses were on the state’s improvement required list.

When state accountability scores came out the same month, announcing six Waco schools had failed state standard for three consecutive years or more, Nelson was quick to promise those schools would be off the state’s improvement required list this coming year.

But then the Texas Education Agency warned that five of those same schools could be shut down in 2018 if academic accountability ratings didn’t improve.

Since the warning, overcoming the obstacle has been Nelson’s first priority.

He led several community discussions between October and November for the district to get feedback on developing alternative plans to stave off the closure under new legislation.

And his administrators have spent the last couple of months researching the best way to reconfigure or identify local nonprofit partners to operate Alta Vista Elementary School, Brook Avenue Elementary School, J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School under the new law, if the campuses don’t meet state standards in May.

The Waco ISD board of trustees has only until Jan. 25 to approve an alternative plan for the schools and then submit the plan for state approval by March 1.

As of December, district officials announced the plan would most likely involve building an in-district charter system with Prosper Waco, a nonprofit that can help coordinate wraparound services and partnerships with other nonprofits to operate the campuses.

If the schools meet academic accountability standards, the alternative plan won’t matter, but preliminary accountability scores aren’t expected to be released until August.

As he heads into 2018, Nelson is relying on the philosophy of “hard work pays off” and he’s pushing for more volunteers to join the fight, for more community partner support from churches, businesses and nonprofits and for a renewed focus on improving literacy skills to help turn the campuses around.

Closing the schools is not an option, he said.