Education
6:43 pm
Fri May 3, 2013

Update: Committee Recommends AISD Partner with Johns Hopkins to Keep Eastside Memorial Open

Update:  If there’s one word that sums up Eastside Memorial High School’s recent history, it would be, “change.”

In 2008, its name was changed from Johnston High School to Eastside Memorial.  In 2011, the School Board changed the way the school functioned. It partnered with the charter school company—IDEA—to run the school. Then, in 2012, the School Board changed its mind and canceled that contract. On Monday, the board is expected to vote on another change: a new partner to help AISD run the school.  

East Austin parent Luke Muskiewicz, with Pride of the Eastside – a neighborhood group that advocates on issues surrounding East Austin schools -  says students at Eastside Memorial hope a new partner brings some stability:

“Time and time again when you talk to students what I hear the most is ‘Things are always changing." Programs coming, programs are going. Administrators are coming and going, teachers are coming and going. And I think the school needs some consistency," he said.

The committee consisted of education leaders and community members. It whittled down five original proposals to two finalists: Johns Hopkins University and American Institutes for Research.  The two finalists presented their plans to the community last month. The committee used a scoring rubric to grade each proposal.

“The rubric looked for experience, qualifications and education planning and we heard from community members that they really appreciated Johns Hopkins as a partner and not as a take over system.” says Vincent Tovar, who leads Pride of the Eastside, and was on the committee that narrowed the list of proposals. He adds it also had the most community support.

But some district officials are expressing concerns with the committee’s recommendation. That’s according to the agenda for Monday's meeting. The administration says other schools run by Johns Hopkins are still underperforming on tests. They’re concerned the program won’t meet the Texas Education Commissioner’s standards.  But Tovar isn't concerned.

“We know that Johns Hopkins has worked with schools that were lower performing than Eastside currently is. So we’re optimistic Johns Hopkins can work with Eastside as it is now and make progress," Tovar says. 

If the Commissioner doesn’t approve the contract, the school could be taken over by the state or closed.

Another issue is whether Johns Hopkins has a plan for the elementary and middle schools that feed into Eastside Memorial. At his confirmation hearing at the state Capitol in March, Commissioner Michael Williams was clear about the School District’s responsibility

“They have an obligations to fully implement a plan that takes cares of all of those kids in that feeder pattern," Williams said.

If the partner doesn’t have a plan for the feeder schools, too, he could reject the district’s proposal. School Board President Vincent Torres says that’s a concern, but Board Member Ann Teich isn’t worried:

“Johns Hopkins did say in a presentation to Eastside Memorial that there are consultants would be available to work with middle and elementary with students that would go to Eastside Memorial," Teich says. 

If the board accepts the recommendation, it will direct Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to go into contract negotiations with Johns Hopkins.

If the contract gets state approval, the collaboration between the district and Johns Hopkins would be in place time for the beginning of the next school year.

Original Story(4:49): A 15-member committee is recommending the Austin School Board partner with Johns Hopkins University to improve Eastside Memorial High school and the vertical team.

The committee was made up of AISD employees and community members. It reviewed five proposals and chose two finalists from the pack: Johns Hopkins University and the American Institutes for Research. 

"They [Johns Hopkins] have worked in some of the most difficult schools in the nation, starting with Baltimore. So I'm very pleased with the choice," says school board trustee Ann Teich.

"I think they're very collaborative in nature, they don't come in and take over," she says.

The committee was created after the school board canceled its contract with IDEA Public Schools in 2012. IDEA was brought in to improve the high school. It was a controversial move that angered many residents in East Austin.

The district will meet Monday to vote on the recommendation. If it is approved, the board will direct Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to enter into contract negotiations with Johns Hopkins. The Texas Education Commissioner must approve the contract.