The Austin school board could pick a group Monday night to operate Eastside Memorial High School.
The Baltimore-based Talent Development Secondary of Johns Hopkins University should run the troubled high school, according to a committee of Eastside parents, teachers and school district officials that evaluated two consultants vying to operate the school.
The community overwhelmingly supported the decision via comment cards turned in after representatives from Johns Hopkins and the other finalist, Washington-based American Institutes for Research, made their pitches at Eastside Memorial last month, according to district documents.
“Educational turnaround is extraordinarily difficult. Johns Hopkins approaches it the right way because they value every single person in that school and that neighborhood,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, a labor group that represents district employees. “And that’s what our community wants. They want to be respected. This is not going to change overnight. This is generations of challenges, but I believe this is going to turn around. I absolutely believe we have the right partner to do this.”
Documents show the district administration is set to recommend a contract with Johns Hopkins but is “concerned” about the group’s ability to meet the performance requirements of Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, who told district officials in January that they must find a partner as good as or better than IDEA Public Schools, which had an agreement with the district for a program at Allan Elementary School.
IDEA was to expand into Eastside Memorial in August and begin teaching high school students in two years, but the school board in December voted to terminate that contract.
“There is substantial risk in moving forward with the RFP Evaluation Committee’s recommended partner and impending contract negotiations,” district documents say.
The administration also worries that the group cannot meet the expectations of the district’s performance targets in its school improvement plan, according to district documents.
In a staff report explaining its concerns, the district’s administration cites test results at the Johns Hopkins flagship school and longest-running program, the Baltimore Talent Development High School, which are still low, even after the group has supported the school for more than six years. Scores include passing rates of 26 percent for 10th-grade English, 28 percent for 10th-grade biology and 31 percent for 10th-grade algebra I, according to district documents.
Zarifis said that Baltimore is known to be a tough area for education and that the group has had greater success in other places. He said Eastside and the Austin community are not good comparisons with Baltimore.
The school board is set to consider the recommendation at its meeting Monday night.