The Austin Chronicle

Hanging TEA Fire at Eastside High

By Richard Whittaker, February 15, 2013, News

After years of feeling alienated by AISD, Eastside Mem­orial High School community members are praising the administration for seeking genuine input about the future of their school. But Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams has set a clock ticking that puts pressure on that process.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, educators and stakeholders met at Eastside Memorial to discuss options for the campus, now that trustees have reversed their plan to turn the entire vertical team into an in-district charter under IDEA Public Schools. Both PRIDE of the Eastside spokesman Vinc­ent Tovar and Education Austin Pres­ident Ken Zarifis praised AISD for the roundtable event: That's a big step forward, since both have regularly criticized the district for a top-down approach to community outreach. How­ever, their enthusiasm may be muted by Williams' statements that, since the AISD board voted to cancel the IDEA contract, he expects them to deliver a replacement plan for Eastside before the end of the 2012-13 academic year in June.

The state's reconstitution plan for the embattled campus gives the Texas Education Agency the authority to close or take over the campus if state administrators are dissatisfied with the district's plans. Community members and educators came away from their meeting with one point of consensus: that they need more time to develop and endorse an effective and successful proposal. Any imposed plan could result in the same kind of backlash the district saw when they first signed up IDEA, and they have asked AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to relay this to the commissioner. However, at the Feb. 11 board meeting, members said they were concerned about asking for a formal written statement from Williams, since that could limit their options.

Even though he has no background in public school policy, former Railroad Commissioner Williams has been aggressive in implementing TEA policy. Since his appointment by Gov. Rick Perry in August 2012, he has already instructed that the failing North Forest ISD be annexed by Houston ISD, and he replaced the elected El Paso ISD trustees with an appointed board in the wake of a testing scandal. On Feb. 10, Williams told KXAN that it was premature to gauge what the district will present for Eastside, but that he would expect something that would perform at least as well as IDEA. However, since the Legislature is reviewing the entire school accountability system – and there have been no state ratings for Eastside since it was reintegrated in 2011 – Eastside's supporters hope Williams will give them the time to create a community-developed project.

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