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Clock ticking on BISD’s effort to avoid 3 campus closures

November 16, 2018

Nearly 30 organizations have applied to run some of Beaumont ISD’s struggling campuses, a final effort to save three schools at risk of closing next year for repeatedly failing to meet state standards.

Fehl-Price Elementary, Jones-Clark Elementary and Smith Middle School have been “chronically” flagged as improvement required by the Texas Education Agency for at least four years, Superintendent John Frossard said at Thursday’s school board meeting.

If the schools don’t come out of improvement-required status by the end of the 2018-2019 school year, they will be closed by the state for one year, he said.

“Some of these schools are the hub of their community,” said Frossard. “It would be detrimental if we allowed them to close.”

School officials are hopeful the district’s Call For Quality Schools Program will lift up the targeted campuses by allowing inside and outside partners to run either the whole school or programs within the school.

Such partnerships, which are open to nonprofits, charter school operators and universities, would give BISD two more years “to turn around these schools,” Frossard said.

He said the district wants to “offer parents and students more choice of schools and programs.”

Twenty-eight applications, including talent programs and whole-school models, were submitted to BISD from different organizations, said Shannon Allen, associate superintendent for secondary schools. The groups included one Texas university and one out-of-state charter school.

A dozen potential partners were selected for interviews, she said.

Partners were invited “to design new and reimagine existing in-district schools, programs, and to identify new and existing talent to support our most at-need students,” according to the program application.

Ten campuses were rated improvement required in 2016-2017, up from six the previous year. Fehl-Price, Jones-Clark and Smith would have been at risk of closures or takeovers if the state hadn’t granted waivers for schools affected by Harvey.

Other Texas districts, including Spring Branch ISD and Grand Prairie ISD, have launched in-district charter partnerships. While charter schools typically compete with public school districts for students, in-district charters are run within the administration but have more autonomy than traditional public schools.

Frossard said the partnerships would not just be “turn(ing) the school over to an outside entity” and standing by as “whatever happens, happens.”

BISD is in the process of negotiating memorandums of understanding with each partner to “negotiate performance standards” that would give BISD “some control” in the deal, he said.

If campus performance still isn’t up to par, the district can “reclaim the school” from the partner and run it themselves or seek a new partner, Frossard said.

A vote to approve the Call For Quality Schools Program is tentatively set for Dec. 13. The Texas Education Agency would have to approve any plans.

Another key element to improving campus performance is the creation of a district-wide school performance framework, basically a rubric “to measure what good schools look like in Beaumont,” Allen said.

“BISD will not wait for the TEA to tell us” what a good school is, she said. By using its own guidelines, Allen said, the district would be able to measure its own success while taking into account both local factors such campus culture and climate, attendance and college and career readiness.

State data will also be considered for the framework, which Frossard noted show “only a part of the total picture.”

The guidelines are currently being created by district-level committee members. Once a draft is complete, they will be subject for input and review by campus and community members.

Board members also voted Thursday to raze South Park Stadium, the last remnant of a beloved Beaumont high school.

The deteriorated bleachers and its nearby buildings are a safety hazard, Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Hernandez said.

Buildings near the stands, including the concession stand, press box and restrooms, have been locked up but continued to get broken into and vandalized, Hernandez said.

A quote from a Beaumont-based construction company said the project would cost about $58,187, which would be pulled from the district’s general fund.

The district will look to get smaller stands suitable for the middle-school venue, Hernandez said. The current stands date back to South Park High School, which was torn down in 2010.

phoebe.suy@beaumontenterprise.com

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