South San Antonio Independent School District is the latest Bexar County school system to consider partnering with a higher education institution to run a district school. In recent weeks, Alamo Colleges discussed such a partnership with Edgewood ISD.

At a school board meeting Monday night, South San trustees learned more about Senate Bill 1882 partnerships and discussed what one could look like with Texas A&M University–San Antonio.

These school-district-and-university collaborations were made possible after a 2017 law financially incentivized schools to turn the day-to-day operations of campuses over to outside organizations, including nonprofits, higher education institutions, and government entities. In the three years since the law’s passage, San Antonio ISD has been one of the State’s most prolific collaboration approvers, entering into nine partnerships. Edgewood ISD also recently entered into a partnership with Texas A&M University–San Antonio and Pre-K 4 SA.

With State approval, school districts with collaborative partnerships receive more money per student, are eligible for more grant opportunities, and can get a reprieve from accountability requirements should the partnered campus receive multiple consecutive failing grades.

An education consultant presenting to South San’s board Monday night estimated the district could receive roughly $1,500 additional per student under the agreement.

Board president Gilbert Rodriguez noted that this amount could change depending on the outcome of the upcoming legislative session, where it is anticipated legislators will slash budgets to meet the demands of an economic downturn.

Several South San trustees asked about the chain of command and how decisions would be made in the partnership. In these agreements, the partner organization retains control of fundamental elements of the school.

The partnership also has a board that governs the partnered campus, but the school district’s board remains responsible for holding the partner organization accountable for performance standards, set out in a performance contract.

“The decision rights remain closest to the students as possible,” said Karen Weissinger, a consultant with expertise on district-university partnerships. “The partner does have sole autonomy and authority over staffing, curriculum, budgets, and calendar, but ultimately the district has the authority to monitor and provide oversight. The district, the district’s board, is the one who gets to decide whether to extend the charter after the term is up.”

The four trustees present at Monday’s meeting – Stacey Alderete, Homer Flores, Kevin Rasco, and Rodriguez – expressed enthusiasm for the potential partnerships. They heard from officials at TAMU-SA about what a partnership could look like with the Southside university.

An existing partnership nearby could serve as a model: TAMU-SA is in its first year of a collaboration with Edgewood ISD, managing the day-to-day operations at Gus Garcia University School, previously Gus Garcia Middle School, and the Burleson Center.

However, because the partnership is still in its inaugural year, there are no results for the South San board to review, Alderete pointed out. Still, she said she felt like the proposal sounded promising for South San students.

It wasn’t clear which campus or campuses the TAMU-SA agreement might involve. Superintendent Marc Puig mentioned exploring collaborations at elementary schools, where the district is “hemorrhaging” students. A partnership with a university might attract students to enroll in South San schools, Puig suggested.

District officials also mentioned the possibility of a partnership at West Campus High School, where South San plans to open a P-TECH program, focused on cybersecurity.

If the board wants to move forward with the TAMU-SA partnership, they’ll have to amend their district policy to allow for such agreements and request for potential partners to apply. By next March, the district would have to submit an application to the Texas Education Agency to receive the benefits of such an agreement.

Approving in-district charter partnerships would be notable for South San Antonio ISD – a district that joined the State’s System of Great Schools cohort in its first year. The System of Great Schools model encourages a portfolio method for school systems wherein districts bring in partners to run campuses and convert some to in-district charters in the name of offering a variety of options to students.

San Antonio ISD was also part of the first cohort and has introduced a multitude of learning models including Montessori, dual-language, and single-gender academies. Edgewood ISD joined the second cohort of System of Great Schools and began reimagining its school system soon after. South San Antonio ISD introduced new choice academies at the middle school level and envisioned a career-focused model at West Campus High School but has not otherwise introduced in-district charters.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.