The Austin School Board Monday night approved a contract with Johns Hopkins University to implement its program — Talent Development Secondary — at Eastside Memorial High School. The decision comes after AISD canceled a contract with a charter school company to run an elementary school that fed into the high school.
The contract now goes to the Texas Education Commissioner for final approval. Although the vote was unanimous, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen questioned if the commissioner would approve the contract.
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen last night told board members the Texas Education Commissioner has concerns about the program despite community support for it.
“He did caution us, that while we did come together as a community, he still remains focused on learning opportunities for the students and AISD must have a plan that addresses those two conditions," Carstarphen said.
The first condition is Talent Development Secondary’s program must be as good or better than the former partner that worked with an Eastside Memorial vertical team school: IDEA Public Schools. Education Commissioner Michael Williams wants the program to address english language l5earners, special education, how to retain students and more of a focus on Science, Math, Engineering and Technology—according to Carstarphen.
“In their questioning to TDS directly to get their own performance data, these are things they felt like were not fully answered," she said.
The second condition is the program must have a plan to work with the elementary and middle schools that feed into Eastside Memorial High School. Tara Madden with Talent Development Secondary says the program does not work with elementary schools.
“Talent Development Secondary is only 6 through 12. We have not had experience with K through 5," she said in an interview earlier this month.
But some board members and Eastside residents say they aren’t concerned—the elementary schools that feed into Eastside Memorial are successful. The TEA told Carstarphen the agency would work with AISD to fill some of those holes.
Carstarphen said she needs some kind of plan to bring to the Education Commissioner.
“If you send me in there with more than “we don’t have a feeder component,” we will be more successful in insuring that the commissioner will approve the plan," she said.
But by the end of last night’s meeting, it was still unclear what that plan was. The board approved the contract and approved a letter to send to the Commissioner, urging him to approve the contract. But it didn’t address the feeder pattern. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says the school board must be clear it hasn’t solved that issue:
“We should just tell them the truth, I mean we’re on TV—I’m sure someone’s watching it—just the truth that we haven’t resolved it all, but here’s some of the ideas just so he has it in writing, just so he knows what we might be looking at," she said.
She says the district will have to work out these issues with the TEA before submitting a final contract. The TEA must approve a contract by June 5 , and it wants a week to review the proposal.
“We are down to the last 72 hours in trying to figure out the feeder piece," she said.
Meanwhile, Eastside community members are hoping some preliminary TAKS scores for 11th graders released recently will help. According to a presentation for Eastside Memorial teachers yesterday, 90 percent of 11th graders passed the English/Language Arts exam — a nearly 20 percent increase from last year. That number could change when the final scores are released.