Andrea Lucas, SAISD's Lamar Elementary School fourth grade teacher, works with her class during "Tiger Time" next to covered walls in preparation for STAAR testing.
Andrea Lucas, fourth-grade teacher at SAISD's Lamar Elementary School, works with students in her classroom. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

With 22 offerings, San Antonio Independent School District is home to the highest number of in-district charter schools among Texas’ roughly 1,200 school districts. But up until now, SAISD has lacked a regular system to evaluate its charter schools.

On Monday, SAISD trustees approved new guidelines the district will use to evaluate its charter partners.

“The current policy says that [SAISD] will review the performance, but there was no procedure to necessarily always follow through on it,” said Mohammed Choudhury, SAISD’s chief innovation officer.

Among SAISD’s 22 in-district charters are Lamar Elementary, Mark Twain Dual Language Academy, and Stewart Elementary, which is run by Democracy Prep.

One of the approved changes to the district’s policy will require a petition with two-thirds support from all parents and guardians and two-thirds support from all teachers to submit an application for a school to become an in-district charter.

Previously, the district didn’t require participation from as large a group of teachers or parents; if an SAISD school wanted to apply for in-district charter status, policy only required 80 percent approval from submitted ballots, meaning if 10 people cast ballots, only eight affirmative ballots were necessary.

“It was submitted ballots, and people were holding [elections] who knows when,” Choudhury said at a meeting last Thursday, citing as an example a campus scheduling a vote in the middle of the workday, rather than at a time when the majority of people could participate. “That’s not authentic engagement.”

Under the new policy, a school with 300 parents would have to obtain at least 200 petition signatures in addition to support of two-thirds of the total number of teachers. That makes SAISD’s policy more stringent than the Texas Education Agency’s policy, which calls for a simple majority, Choudhury said.

SAISD Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Once a campus application team has the necessary two-thirds support, it can submit to the district the petition with its application for further review and an eventual trustee vote.

Choudhury described the change as raising the bar for interested applicants. “If you can’t convince [67] teachers out of a school of 100 teachers…then I don’t want to authorize you,” he said.

Once a campus is approved to become an in-district charter, SAISD must hold the school accountable for student performance and its performance agreement with the district. Choudhury proposed the district create a system that assesses the performance of in-district charters each fall based on state accountability standards, the school’s mission, and its overall operations.

In Choudhury’s model, district officials can recommend three options: that charters either proceed as-is if they meet standards, be placed on probation, or be revoked. Trustees can then vote to comply with recommendations and have the option to renew charters on three- or five-year cycles.

For newly established charters at existing campuses, SAISD officials will work with the campus’ chief operating officer in the fall of its first year to establish performance baselines and set goals over a three- or five-year timeline. For brand-new charters without an existing campus or student population, this process will take place in the fall of the second year of operation so baseline performance metrics are available.

In addition to SAISD’s new guidelines, all in-district charters are assessed on state accountability measures.

During the public comment period at Monday night’s meeting, trustees also heard from parents who sounded off on the district’s proposal to place its new central office headquarters on the football field at Fox Tech High School.

The district sold the Southtown property its current central office operations sits on in February and has until August 2020 to construct new headquarters. The new office would consolidate employees from six different facilities across the district.

Parents previously expressed concern at a July meeting at Fox Tech High School about how the office would diminish the existing green space on campus. While none of the schools located on that campus offer varsity football, parents said the green space is used for movement classes and other sports and is valuable to students and the community.

San Antonio Independent School District projects that the new central office will be located on the football field at Fox Tech.
San Antonio Independent School District plans to build its new central office on the football field at Fox Tech. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“Why are we always taking from the children space and their education?” said Melissa Acosta, a grandmother to a student at the Advanced Learning Academy. “Tell [the architects] to go watch the love that [the field] provides for that community and let them really think about the decision they are making. I just think it just needs to stand there as it is.”

Parents and district staff will meet again Wednesday night at Fox Tech to discuss family and student preferences for the new office space.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.