Dallas ISD has a bit of a quandary — they need to formulate a plan for what to do with the four long-term “improvement required” schools on its books, but guidelines that go with a new law regarding the other options haven’t been provided by the state yet.
The new law, which was passed in the last legislative session, allows districts with long-term IR schools to convert them to charter schools, contracting with outside companies to run them. But without those guidelines — and no real timeline for when they might arrive — the district was left with little option but to proceed with plans to close and consolidate those schools if necessary.
When the Dallas ISD board of trustees met for its board briefing, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa explained that because these “rules of engagement” weren’t available, “we have no idea how we can proceed” with any plans to convert the struggling schools to charter schools.
“What has not changed, is these four schools — if they don’t get out of IR this year — we have two choices: close them or school board dissolved and replaced with a board of managers by TEA,” Hinojosa explained.
If those four long-term IR schools — Carr Elementary, Titche Elementary, Ray Learning Center and Edison Middle — remain so this year, the Texas Education Agency will be required to close the schools or take over the district.
While the district has made strides in reducing the number of its IR schools — 13 are currently on the IR list, down from 43 students just four years ago. That equates to roughly 14,000 fewer students attending an IR school now. Houston ISD — the state’s other large urban district — added more than 2,000 students in the same time frame.
At the board briefing, Stephanie Elizalde, Dallas ISD Chief of School Leadership, said she had obtained approval from the TEA to have two plans (a Plan A and a Plan B) in place for whatever eventuality the test scores revealed. Those test scores — which will determine whether a school stays on the IR list or meets standard — will be released in June.
“He (TEA commissioner Mike Morath) indicated he would be in favor of approving a plan with both Plan A and Plan B, instead of having to come back and have you approve another plan at that time,” Elizalde said.
“The thinking here is that we either have an option of securing our own destiny, or we leave it up to chance,” Elizalde told the board. “We believe that all four of these campuses will be able to pull it off.”
Elizalde said that a plan to close each school had to be discussed because that’s what the law required — and that it was also the option that would need the most careful time and planning since it would cause a lot of disruption to the communities.
If Carr closes, its attendance zone would be parceled out to Arcadia Park, De Zavala, Eladio Martinez, and Gabe Allen.
Titche’s attendance zone would be doled out to Pleasant Grove, Runyon , nd Tatum. Ray’s attendance zone would be consolidated with Kennedy Elementary, and students would attend Chavez Elementary. Ray students would also have first stab at acceptance at the new Ignite Middle School.
De Zavala Elementary and Ignite Middle School are part of the district’s Public School Choice Initiative.
“Edison has always been up for closure,” Elizalde said, explaining that environmental challenges like a smelting plant and dangerous roads students had to traverse made it an undesirable location for a school now, regardless.
“It’s a good building, but not a good location,” she said.
Edison’s closure isn’t an indication that the district expects the school to not meet standard this year, but instead was just a reflection of a desire to put the students in a safer location, she explained.
“Edison could be repurposed for district use, but not for students,” she added.
Plan B, of course, would be that the IR elementary schools would meet standard this year, and not need to be closed. The district won’t know if the schools scrapped their way out of IR until June 15.
“This (closing the elementary schools) is not actually what we think is going to happen,” Elizalde said.
“We are managing expectations. Prepare for the worst, expect the best,” Hinojosa said.