The Austin school board went with the will of the community in selecting a partner to operate Eastside Memorial High School, directing the superintendent Monday night to begin contract negotiations with Baltimore-based Talent Development Secondary of Johns Hopkins University.
Twenty citizens spoke to the board before the vote, with most thanking the district for including the community in the selection process.
“For the first time in many years, I can honestly say AISD has done an outstanding job engaging the community,” said Montserrat Garibay, vice president of Education Austin, a labor group that represents district employees.
A committee of Eastside parents, teachers and school district officials that evaluated two consultants vying to operate the school had recommended the firm. Members of 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.
The school board voted unanimously in favor of Johns Hopkins, showing more support for the group than the 6-3 vote in favor of IDEA Public Schools, which had an agreement with the district for a program at Allan Elementary School and was set to expand into Eastside Memorial. But the school board in December voted to terminate that contract, leaving the future of both schools uncertain.
Trustees returned the gratitude to the community for working long hours to vet the proposals on a tight timeline.
“That in itself was a demonstration of a miracle,” Trustee Gina Hinojosa said.
Others, however, expressed concerns about the partnership, emphasizing a need to work on improving the elementary and middle schools that feed into the high school.
“If we have not repaired the pipeline, this will not be successful either,” Trustee Cheryl Bradley said.
While district documents showed the administration was “concerned” about Johns Hopkins, citing the group’s ongoing struggle to turn around its flagship school in Baltimore, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said Monday night the group was the best of the five entities to turn in proposals to work with the school.
“Hands down, we’re all in agreement Talent Development Secondary is our best option at this point,” Carstarphen said.
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, who has told district officials they must find a partner as good as or better than IDEA Public Schools, will eventually review the partnership and Eastside could face closure if he doesn’t approve.
A rally in support of the partnership is set to begin outside of the high school at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The board is expected to consider approving the contract at its meeting next week.