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AISD Moves Forward With Partners for Eastside High – But Makes Plans For Possible Closure

Williams Eastside.jpg
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The Texas Education Commissioner has until June to decide if Eastside Memorial High School in Austin will be shut down for poor academic progress.

The Austin Independent School District Board approved a plan last night that will guide their steps in case the school is closed. But AISD hopes instead the district will be allowed to partner with an outside group to run the high school.

AISD is considering two partners: Johns Hopkins University and the American Institutes for Research, based in Washington, D.C. On paper, both programs seem very similar. They both encourage professional development and family and teacher engagement. They even use the same phrase to talk about their goals:

“We work ourselves out of a job," Tara Madden with Johns Hopkins Talent Development Secondary said.

“Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job," Tino Pania with American Institutes for Research said.

Both groups refused to talk specifically about their proposals until a decision is made. Neither group would provide a cost estimate. AISD also said it would not release specifics about the proposals before a decision.

Madden – from Johns Hopkins – says what separates her program are its “Four Pillars Of Transformation.”  She says the pillars focus on teacher teams, curriculum and professional development, student support and creating what it calls a “can-do culture.”

“Constantly helping students and teachers feel like ‘We can do this, We can be successful.” This is a school and a culture in which students are going to be successful in any post-secondary option," Madden said.

Johns Hopkins’ program would start out with one year of planning. AIR would spend the first six months collecting and analyzing data from the school. Both programs say that’s so it can better understand the specific needs of teachers and students at Eastside Memorial. Pena says AIR wants to create a long-term model for the high school.

“We build the inherent ability within the school district to maintain these improvement efforts, long after AIR has exited from the stage," Pania said.

AISD narrowed down the list from five proposals. Only one was a local company – Southwest Key, which runs the East Austin College Prep charter school. Juan Sanchez is the president of the group. He says he’s disappointed the only local company wasn’t asked to present its plan to Eastside residents.

“We know that community, we understand that community and we work in that community," Sanchez said.

Regardless of which program AISD signs up for, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams must approve it. If he doesn’t, the school could be put under state control or closed completely. That’s something some Eastside students are hoping doesn’t happen. Last week some students at Eastside made a video pleading with officials not to close the high school.

The school board has until next month to make a decision.

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