Op-Ed: Collaboration with nonprofits will empower schools
San Antonio Express-News
by Patti Radle, Art Valdez and Debra Guerrero, April 1, 2019
Our students have achieved prolific measurable successes over the past four years under the leadership of the San Antonio Independent School District board. Measurements of success are reflected not only in an increase in graduation rates but in more graduates attending four-year colleges, from 40 percent in 2015 to more than 54 percent in 2018 and more than doubling the percentage of students at Tier 1 institutions.
Additionally, we take pride because we are on track toward becoming a B-rated district under Texas Education Agency standards by 2020. We were recently rated C and, according to the state, had SAISD been graded three years ago we would have gotten an F, meaning that 35,000 of the district’s 50,000 students were in the bottom 5 percent of the schools in the entire state.
However, the positive momentum and successes on behalf of our students have been mired with misinformation and false claims about SAISD’s transformational efforts. The most recent focus has been on 19 of our schools that requested and prepared applications to redesign their existing schools through new school models tailored to best meet the needs of the students they serve.
The reimagining of the campus provides greater flexibility and empowers the school leadership to create an environment that meets the challenging demands of their specific student population. These campuses continue to operate with the full support and oversight of the district, and in the case of 18 of the schools, they will have the additional valued assistance of nonprofits whose mission is aligned with the campus.
All SAISD schools were invited to present a proposal during this annual solicitation of campus strategies. Prior to board presentation for approval, these campuses were required to go through a detailed and lengthy engagement process to meet the approval requirements for teachers and parents. After an almost eight-month process that exceeded the expectations of public engagement, the SAISD board of trustees, at its March 25 meeting, unanimously approved the opportunity to empower these schools with strongly endorsed plans put forth by their principals and teachers.
Prior to approval, principals of these schools held multiple meetings with teachers and parents to discuss the in-district charter proposals and provided ballots for an official vote. The proposals passed with overwhelming support. Of those parents voting, the “yes” votes ranged from 85 percent to 100 percent, with the great majority in the high 90s.
We as a board dispel the rumors and intentionally misleading claims that our schools are “up for sale” or being “privatized.” Even though change is occurring, the core mission remains the same. NO tuition will ever be charged for our schools. NO child will be turned away from the neighborhood schools and ALL employees at the schools remain SAISD employees.
The nonprofit partners were selected by the schools to accelerate the great work they are already doing, build even stronger programs and provide deeper learning experiences for every child. These are NOT private management companies or charter operators. Campuses have brought in experts in areas ranging from early childhood learning to the International Baccalaureate program.
By approving the recommendations, the board authorized the nonprofit partners, school leadership teams and staff the responsibility to manage the schools’ day-to-day operations in collaboration with the district. This is a shift in allowing greater autonomy and more decision-making at the campus level by those who know our students best.
These plans and partnerships exist for one purpose: to provide greater opportunity, access and collaboration for our students in a system that requires innovation, creativity and commitment for one purpose — the academic success of our student.
That’s what this is all about — students are, and always will be, at the heart of every decision we make.
Patti Radle is the San Antonio Independent School District board president.
Art Valdez is the board vice president.
Debra Guerrero is the board secretary.