Mendez and Martin Sixth-Grade Elimination Will Create Overall Enrollment Boon, Says District

Parents and teachers maintain that the district’s priorities may be skewed

Mendez Middle School serves primarily Hispanic students (Photo by Jana Birchum)

As the communities at Martin and Mendez middle schools seek answers about a coherent plan following Austin ISD's announcement that those schools would no longer have a sixth grade, the district maintains that the decision will result in a net good for district enrollment, and therefore funding. "Our goal is to reduce the number of fifth graders who unenrolled from Austin ISD instead of attending those two middle schools," read an AISD blog citing the results of a recent survey of fifth-grade families in schools that feed into Martin and Mendez. "Our sixth grade transition plan is working." The statement indicates the district's goals may not be in line with those of families who believe the two schools are integral parts of their historically marginalized communities.

According to the district's survey, which was conducted after the announcement, about 66% of fifth-grade families at those schools have said they would keep their students enrolled in sixth grade at their elementary campus rather than move to a middle school where sixth grade is an option. Another 18% would move to a middle school that has sixth grade. The district said it believes this indicates an increase in overall enrollment because in the two years prior to the announcement, only about 35% of fifth-grade students in Martin's boundaries and 45% of those in Mendez's boundaries attended those campuses for sixth grade.

The district has cited declining enrollment as a key factor in its budgetary woes. It attributed an $18.6 million loss in fall of 2021 as the result of yet another year of underenrollment for the current school year. The district had already been facing a $43.6 million deficit, for a combined $62.2 million shortfall.*.

But teachers, families, and other stakeholders remain unconvinced that this is a sound plan for enrollment. More importantly, they worry that the district made the decision too hastily to ensure that sixth-grade students at the feeder elementary schools will receive a good education next year. They also have concerns about the district's history of taking away resources from historically Black and Latinx schools.

Meanwhile, the district has received only one application in its now-closed call for a new partner organization to take over administration of Mendez Middle School, which ended its existing partnership with T-STEM in the fall of 2021. "We think [this] is because of the timeline as well as the stipulation from TEA that a partner has to have been in operation for 3 years in order to partner with a campus that has an F-rating," said the district in an email. The one applicant, Third Future Schools, is a Colorado-based charter school network with several Texas 1882 partners, including in the Midland/Odessa area.

* Editor's note Wednesday 3-23 4:40 pm: This story has been updated to include that the district faces a total $62.2 million deficit, including an original $43.6 million deficit and an additional $18.6 million loss because of an enrollment shortfall.

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