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Eastside Memorial Partner Search Narrows

Potential partners present Saturday on campus
Richard Whittaker, 6:41pm, Fri. Apr. 19, 2013
Photo by John Anderson
National-level education and policy groups make their pitch for Eastside Memorial's future on Saturday

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has set a harsh deadline for Austin ISD: Have an acceptable external partner to help run Eastside Memorial selected by the end of the school year, or the campus might close. This weekend, the Eastside community gets a chance to review two proposals by major education groups to save the school.

Five groups submitted proposals to the district: Johns Hopkins University Research Projects Administration Talent Development Secondary; Turnaround Solutions Inc. out of Jacksonville, Florida; Editure Professional Development; The American Institutes for Research; and Southwest Key Programs, Inc. When the district's evaluation committee reviewed their submissions, Johns Hopkins and the American Institutes for Research made the short list.

This means tomorrow, Sat. April 20, is the first chance for the general public to have their input on the proposal. The meeting begins at 10am at the canteen at Eastside Memorial (1012 Arthur Stiles) with a presentation by Chris Caeser and Jeffrey Robinson of Johns Hopkins, followed by Tino Pania of the American Institutes for Research. Each group will make a half hour presentation, followed by a 45 minute Q&A session. The public response will then be factored in to the evaluation committee's final recommendations to the board, who will then present their choice to Williams.

The search for a partner began after AISD's Board of Trustees cancelled their contract with IDEA Public Schools to turn the entire Eastside Memorial Vertical Team into a charter school. Commissioner Williams argued that they needed an external partner to fulfill the terms of their reconstitution plan, and only gave them until May 31 to present a fully-rounded plan to him. Considering how short a time frame he has given them, many were concerned that there would be no applicants at all. Instead, the short list has two candidates that Education Austin President Ken Zarifis has called top notch.

The Johns Hopkins Talent Development Secondary group has nearly two decades of experience in working with schools to ramp up performance. Their research argues that educators need to start targeting low-performing students between grades six and nine, as those are the real building block years for high school performance.

The American Institutes for Research may not have the Johns Hopkins name recognition, but it's a major player in multiple fields, including education policy, at the national level. The DC-based research group and think tank does not have the longevity of Johns Hopkins in direct school intervention: Instead, the bulk of its education work has been in major studies, such as the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind. However, more recently they have worked with Chicago Public Schools to build its Community Schools Initiative.

Both program proposals could provide the long-awaited win-win for all parties. The community may like that, unlike IDEA Public Schools, these aren't charters taking over a campus. Williams, who has the final say on whether the AISD submission is up to snuff, will be able to bring in a nationally-recognized education group to change the school's structure. And the educators and kids at the campus would finally have the breathing room to let a program really take root, rather than suffer yet more unnecessary changes and upheavals.

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