The waiting game begins again for Ector County Independent School District after the board of trustees unanimously approved an agreement between the district and Ector Success Academy Network, a nonprofit entity, to operate Ector Middle School starting in the fall.
The Texas Education Agency, which shot down ECISD’s last proposal to partner with Texas Tech University College of Education, has 15 days to approve it.
ECISD has eight campuses on improvement required status under state accountability regulations. Ector Middle School, Noel and Zavala elementary are in their fifth year. If the campuses don’t come off the list, they will face closure or the Texas Education Commissioner will appoint a board of managers over the whole district.
The district was notified at 4:45 p.m. Friday that its memorandum of understanding with Texas Tech University College of Education would not be sufficient to meet statutory requirements under Senate Bill 1882, which allows these types of partnerships.
ECISD is one of six districts that submitted requests to TEA for Senate Bill 1882 benefits for locally developed turnaround partnerships. Other districts seeking approval include Austin ISD; Hearne ISD; San Antonio ISD; Victoria ISD; and Waco ISD.
SB 1882 relates to a school district contract to partner with an open-enrollment charter school in good standing or other eligible entity (including institutions of higher education, non-profits or government entities) to operate a district campus.
With a midnight deadline, the board spent about 40 minutes in closed session before coming out to approve the agreement with the nonprofit unanimously Monday during a special meeting.
Board President Carol Gregg opened the meeting with an explanation of how things got to this point. She said this is the first time this legislation has been implemented and everyone involved, including TEA, had to work through the obstacles.
Late Monday, Texas Tech issued a statement regarding last week’s events.
“Texas Tech University is unable to move forward with the proposed plans for a partnership with Ector County ISD. We appreciate the work of both sides, but the university is not able to adequately address the detailed requirements of a performance contract at this time,” the statement said.
Superintendent Tom Crowe said the district talked to Robert Bleisch, a lecturer and doctoral candidate at Texas Tech College of Education, about the possibility of forming a nonprofit, which he has filed paperwork for. Bleisch presented the concept of Ector College Prep Success Academy in April to a packed house in the Ector Middle School auditorium.
Bleisch, who also is director of Safety Net Domain for the East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood Grant, said the Texas Tech Turnaround model will be implemented. It is designed to provide academic and behavior support to struggling students. This includes at-risk students, English language learners, special education and intentional non-learners who show excessive misbehavior, office discipline referrals, and in school and out of school suspensions, an executive summary provided by Bleisch said.
He said the discipline will be similar to ECISD policy.
“We’re coming in with a really strong student piece where discipline is going to be taken care of. It’s going to be a mandatory type thing where kids are going to have to come to school. They’re going to have to behave. They’re going to have to do their homework,” Bleisch said.
“That’s something that should not be negotiable. Kids that are two or three years behind should not have the option of not coming to school, so we have some strong systems that we believe will take care of most of it right away. It’s going to be a work in progress. There’s no perfect system out there, so there are a lot of similarities between our system and the one the district uses,” he added.
On the curriculum front, Bleisch said he will first listen to people and talk to them about what’s already been done.
“We want to come in, meet with the principal, meet with the staff, watch, listen, learn and then kind of tailor our approach based on the needs of that specific campus,” Bleisch said.
He has said he hopes to keep the current administration and teachers at Ector.
He added that it will be a few months before the nonprofit becomes official, but it’s his understanding that the process can move forward while that’s happening. He said his role with Texas Tech is still under discussion.
Bleisch said things like transportation, food service and special education, for example, will flow through ECISD. The district will bill the nonprofit for the services and get reimbursed, he said.
Bleisch said the plan is to keep as many of the teachers and administrators as possible at Ector.
He said he has had experience with school turnarounds, but not necessarily using this avenue.
Expertise from Texas Tech will still be used and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test, will still be the measuring stick, he said.
The school will have its own board that will meet monthly or quarterly. Currently they include Superintendent of Cloudcroft Municipal Schools Porter Curtell, Ravi Shakamuri, Ron Leach, Sondra Eoff, all Ector County community members, and Zinab Munoz, adjunct faculty at TechTeach at Texas Tech University.
Bleisch said he has worked closely with Curtell in the past and he has worked at alternative and early college high school campuses.
Board member Delma Abalos said she would recommend that another Hispanic and an African American be added to the board.
Bleisch said he plans to be in Odessa the majority of the time, but he’ll probably commute. He said that hasn’t been figured out yet, but he plans to work hand-in-hand with Principal Charles Quintela.
He said the agreement, which takes effect in July, could potentially last 10 years, but if quick success is not achieved they could be out in two years. TEA’s sanctions would be stayed for those two years.
“We have a two-year grace period to be able to do this work,” Bleisch said.
Crowe said he was pleased that the agreement with the nonprofit being approved, but it’s not a done deal until TEA approves it.
“It’s really the same deal as before, it’s just that Tech is not legally responsible or officially involved. But it was his (Bleisch’s) program all along. He’s the one who put it together. He’s the one (who has) done it before, so I’m excited about it. I think it’s going to be great for our community,” Crowe said.
Quintela said there’s a lot of hard work to come, but there are no options except to move forward with a student-centered, student-driven program.
“We’re going to have barriers we’re going to have to knock down in order to get parents and students to think school’s doing what’s best for us, so we’ve got to be on board. If they’re not, we’re going to make believers out of them,” he said.
Robert Bleisch, a lecturer and doctoral candidate at Texas Tech College of Education and director of Safety Net Domain for the East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood Grant, presents the proposal for Ector Middle School at a special ECISD Board of Trustees meeting Monday in the board room of the administration building.
Ruth Campbell|Odessa American