Education
10:14 pm
Mon May 6, 2013

Update: AISD Board Approves Johns Hopkins As Eastside Memorial Partner

Update (10:14 p.m.): The Austin School Board Monday night unanimously approved a committee recommendation to partner with Johns Hopkins University to help run Eastside Memorial High School. The decision comes after years of debate between community and school board members over the future of Eastside, a school that has been underperforming for almost a decade.

"I think this is just the beginning," Trustee Gina Hinojosa said at Monday's meeting.

More than 15 community members spoke in support of Johns Hopkins University's Talent Development Secondary program. It was recommended by a committee of parents, teachers and AISD officials. The committee reviewed five proposals before making its recommendation.

In its recommendation, the committee expressed some concerns with Johns Hopkins University's program, including the organization's knowledge of Texas education standards, the performance of other schools in which Johns Hopkins is involved, and the ultimate cost of the program.

Right now, the estimated cost is $491,550.

Trustee Lori Moya supported the proposal, but says she won't forget about those concerns. She said more research will be conducted.

"I need a comfort level to move on, but I believe in my heart of hearts that this is the right thing to do," Moya said.

Trustee Cheryl Bradley was specifically concerned about what's called the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team -- the elementary and middle schools that feed into Eastside.  Bradley said the district needs to make sure the elementary, middle and high schools are succeeding.

"We’ve got to do that because if we don’t, I don’t care what you put in here, the other one no one cared for, Johns Hopkins, anyone...If we have not fixed the pipeline this is not going to be successful either," Trustee Bradley said. "We’ve got to make this a vertical team effort. I’m not saying I do not support this, but I do know, while we’re doing this we better be doing something parallel."

In a phone interview today, Tara Madden with Johns Hopkins University said the program only works with sixth through twelfth graders. It currently does not have any plans to work with Kindergarten through fifth grades.

The contract with Johns Hopkins University needs to be approved by Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams. If the commissioner rejects the proposal, Trustee Tamala Barksdale says she would support asking the commissioner for more time to find a suitable partner. 

(Original Story 7:43 p.m.): The Austin School board is meeting tonight, expected to vote whether to approve the recommended partner to help run Eastside Memorial High School: Johns Hopkins University program, Talent Development Secondary. A 15-member committee of community members and AISD officials is recommending Johns Hopkins to help run the high school that has been underperforming for years. Committee members say Johns Hopkins presented the most qualified proposal out of the five applicants, but also say the program has some weaknesses.

The committee’s main concern is that some of the other schools run by Hopkins around the country still have lower test scores—especially Hopkins’ flagship school in Baltimore. According to Administration Considerations memo on the School Board meeting agenda, the district is also concerned about the test scores. It focuses specifically on average scores for 10th graders in Algebra, English and Geometry at Baltimore Talent Development High school, Johns Hopkins' flagship school. According to the Maryland Department of Education, 31 percent of students at the school passed Algebra, 28 percent passed Biology and 26 percent passed English. However, students in higher grades scored higher on assessment tests. According to the data from the state, 58 percent of 11th graders passed English.

Tara Madden with Johns Hopkins says the challenges facing public schools in a city like Baltimore are different from challenges facing Austin.

“It’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges in that the contexts are very different than what we would be implanting at Eastside Memorial and the context in which we’re entering there," Madden says. 

She says that includes problems with consistent leadership and the school’s status. Johns Hopkins started Baltimore Talent Development High School from scratch, whereas Eastside Memorial already exists. Madden says that means there is a lot of infrastructure and programs that are already established.

The committee also say there is concerned that Johns Hopkins' program is too expensive. Madden says JHU expects to negotiate a price with the district during contract negotiations. 

There are also concerns that Johns Hopkins’ program doesn’t address elementary schools in the feeder pattern—just grades 6 through 12. Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams says whatever program is selected must address all schools that feed into Eastside Memorial. It's part of the reconstitution plan established for the high school.  If the program does not meet all of the statutes, the Commissioner could decide to shut down the school or transfer it to state control.

Madden says while Johns Hopkins' program does work with middle school students, its program does not include kindergarten through 5th grade.