Edgewood Superintendent Eduardo Hernández will negotiate a performance contract that will detail specific goals for the partnership. Credit: Stephanie Marquez / San Antonio Report

Edgewood Independent School District will partner with Texas A&M University-San Antonio to operate Gus Garcia Middle School and the Burleson Center, which serves special education students age 18 or older.

The board, with trustees Frank Espinoza and Timothy Payne absent and no discussion on the subject, voted unanimously Tuesday evening to formalize an agreement with the South Side public university.

Board members granted charters to the Texas A&M University at San Antonio Institute for School and Community Partnerships, a nonprofit developed by the university, to run both Garcia Middle and the Burleson Center as in-district charter schools. They also authorized Superintendent Eduardo Hernández to negotiate a performance contract that will detail specific goals for the partnership. Should the university fail to meet the goals, the district could end the partnership.

The new partnership agreements will go into effect in fall 2020.

“We’re able to utilize the resources that something like the Texas A&M system can bring to bear,” said Deputy Superintendent Phillip Chavez in his presentation to the board. “There’s also brand recognition. Who doesn’t know of the A&M system across the state and United States?”

A partnership with TAMU-SA would also bring expertise, Chavez said, citing the resources and knowledge available through the school’s department of education.

Chavez touted the resources TAMU-SA will bring to Edgewood, including greater mental health support, curriculum development, clinical teachers, resident university professors at each campus, and greater funding both from the state and from philanthropic contributions.

TAMU-SA will run the campuses as lab schools, allowing education students to learn more about best education practices in a functioning environment. Resident university professors will be stationed at each school.

“It gives us a chance for our students to get really extended clinical experiences, and what we will be doing is paying our clinical teachers to do one-year focused clinical teaching experiences,” said Carl Sheperis, dean of TAMU-SA’s College of Education and Human Development.

After the TAMU-SA education students graduate, they would be considered for jobs within Edgewood ISD, Hernández said.

After Tuesday night’s board action, TAMU-SA is the official charter partner for both Gus Garcia and Burleson. The new nonprofit created for the purpose will continue planning to start up operations in the fall. Sheperis is in the process of searching for an executive director to run the nonprofit, he said.

With Tuesday’s board action, Burleson will no longer operate as a district center. Edgewood plans to ask the Texas Education Agency to grant it stand-alone school status. TAMU-SA plans to use it as a training ground for applied behavior analysts, in-demand specialized positions that help analyze special education needs. There are only two in Bexar County currently, Hernández estimated.

TAMU-SA also plans to change the name of Gus Garcia Middle School to Gus Garcia University School, emphasizing the curriculum’s focus on college-readiness. Garcia received a D grade in the State’s accountability system for 2018-19 performance.

The district forged a similar agreement in 2019 for Pre-K 4 SA to run Gardendale Elementary. The partnership-run school opened in fall 2019 for students in kindergarten and prekindergarten, but the school plans to eventually serve up to second grade.

Both partnerships were made possible by Senate Bill 1882, a law passed in 2017 that financially incentivizes school districts to partner with community organizations including nonprofits, universities, and charter operators. The district plans to submit an application to TEA for additional funding from the TAMU-SA partnerships.

Hernández plans to leverage the benefits of the bill to introduce new school models and community partners to Edgewood ISD. If successful, his five-year plan would bring new school models to campuses, converting some to in-district charters.

Edgewood will become the first San Antonio school district to partner with TAMU-SA to run district campuses. It was one of seven South Side-area school districts that partnered with the university in November to tackle common issues, like a need for more targeted programming to enhance college readiness. The other school districts involved include East Central, Harlandale, South San Antonio, Southwest, Somerset, and Southside ISDs.

The collaborative, dubbed ASPIRE, was given $1 million in startup funding from the Charles Butt Foundation. The superintendents of the seven districts identified three main emphasis areas, including one focus dedicated to districts partnering with TAMU-SA on university-run lab schools and developing best practices for new educators.

While Edgewood was the first district to approve a partnership with TAMU-SA, more could be coming soon. Other districts are still discussing the possibility, Sheperis said.

There is also the possibility for additional TAMU-SA lab school sites within Edgewood ISD in future years, Hernández said.

Hernández also indicated the Edgewood board could still consider more partnerships that would change school models at some campuses by fall of this year. The principals of Perales Elementary and Las Palmas Elementary have been planning to innovate their schools in a year-long fellowship at City Education Partners, the superintendent previously said.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.