At a sparsely attended meeting Tuesday night, San Antonio Independent School District trustees voted to approve a new partnership with Alamo Colleges that, if approved by the state, will turn over day-to-day operations at three campuses to the community college system.
The board also approved the expansion of an existing in-district charter network and applications from three campuses to become new in-district charters.
SAISD’s new partnership with Alamo Colleges was forged under Senate Bill 1882, a law that incentivizes these kinds of agreements with additional state funding. SAISD officials estimate they’ll receive an additional $800 per student under the Alamo Colleges partnership.
This money could go to support dual credit opportunities or campus operations, among other things, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said.
Under the agreement, also approved by Alamo Colleges trustees Tuesday night, the community college system will become responsible for day-to-day operations at Travis Early College High School, St. Philip’s Early College High School, and Fox Tech Health and Law Professions High School. Together, the three schools will become the Alamo Collegiate Network.
Alamo Colleges’ primary responsibilities include overseeing academic programs, supporting college partnerships, managing the school principals, providing financial oversight, and meeting school performance goals.
The partnership will establish the three high schools as “learning labs” and expand dual credit and internship opportunities, district officials said. It will also create a grow-your-own teacher program across all three high schools so students interested in becoming teachers can start their studies in high school and eventually obtain a four-year education degree from Alamo Colleges. A new state law allows some community colleges to offer four-year degrees, and Alamo Colleges is developing some four-year degree programs, including one in teaching.
Under terms of the partnership agreement, SAISD will maintain control over enrollment and hold Alamo Colleges accountable for the schools’ performance.
The school district will next submit the joint Alamo Colleges-SAISD application to the state for approval.
Trustees also approved Cameron Elementary’s request to join an existing SB 1882 partnership with the nonprofit School Innovation Collaborative, which was created in 2019 for the purpose of the partnership. Bowden Academy, Gates Elementary, and Lamar Elementary are already part of this agreement. SAISD first approved the partnership with the School Innovation Collaborative in March 2019.
San Antonio ISD has approved more so-called 1882 partnerships than any district in the state. Should the state approve the newest application, SAISD would have partnerships with nine entities that run 26 campuses.
The district’s goal in implementing 1882 partnerships is to work with groups with similar missions that can bring additional resources and experts to campuses, Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury said.
Board members also approved in-district charter applications for Cotton Academy and Rodriguez Montessori. Neither are part of an 1882 partnership, but requested in-district charter status to implement new school models focused on leadership and Montessori learning.
All of Tuesday night’s votes have been months in the making. Last June, SAISD opened applications for schools to propose new school models and become in-district charters. This was the second time SAISD has initiated this process.
To become an in-district charter, schools must circulate petitions to teachers and families and receive support from at least two-thirds of parents and at least two-thirds of classroom teachers.
All 1882 partners agree to meet academic and financial standards and use district services for school operations like transportation, food services, technology, and facilities, Choudhury said. The 1882 partnership schools are governed by a nonprofit board that is subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act.
In March 2019, trustees approved the first round of applications to turn day-to-day operations at 18 campuses over to nonprofit partners and granted a total of 19 schools in-district charter status.
Some of these partnerships have proved to be lucrative for SAISD. Young Women’s Preparatory Network, which runs the Young Women’s Leadership Academy and YWLA Primary, got an additional $613,682 in state funding in 2019-20.
The Texas Council for International Studies operates eight SAISD campuses that use the International Baccalaureate education model. Those schools drew about $4.8 million in additional state funding last school year. SAISD doesn’t expect the same kind of returns next year, estimating the average additional revenue per student will decrease by about $200 per student.
SAISD trustees met under unusual circumstances Tuesday night. Hours earlier Superintendent Pedro Martinez announced campuses would be closed through April 3 as more coronavirus cases are confirmed in San Antonio.
With the City barring public gatherings of 50 or more people, only essential staff was in attendance and a large monitor flanked the dais, livestreaming the meeting to those who didn’t attend in person. The 15 or so attendees who were not trustees all sat several feet apart.
The board condensed its agenda and heard abbreviated presentations. Still, trustees emphasized they had taken care to understand Tuesday’s votes.
“The amount of time we are spending discussing your presentation tonight is inversely proportional to how seriously we take this and our obligation to approve these and vet these robustly,” Trustee Steve Lecholop said in reference to Choudhury’s presentation on new school models. “I don’t want anyone watching or writing about our meeting tonight and these partnerships to think because we are only spending five minutes on this, we are not taking our obligation seriously, or we are not sufficiently and robustly vetting these programs.”
It was unclear how future meetings would be conducted. Trustees plan to meet next Monday, but Board President Patti Radle hinted the gathering might be held via telephone or video conference. This could put SAISD in line with guidance from Gov. Greg Abbott, who suspended part of the Open Meetings Act on Tuesday to allow for virtual meetings.