Cleto Rodriguez Elementary School.
San Antonio ISD plans to reopen Rodriguez Elementary School next fall under a new academic model. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

San Antonio Independent School District officials notified families and staff of the district’s westside Rodriguez Elementary School that the school will close at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Rodriguez is one of six San Antonio schools that was in danger of closure if it did not improve its scores in this year’s state accountability system. State law mandates that after two consecutive years with a failed rating, schools have to submit a turnaround plan to make pointed efforts to improve. If schools receive three more consecutive failed ratings, they are subject to closure or the Texas Education Agency could appoint a board of managers to govern the district in place of an elected board of trustees.

Rodriguez’s five counterparts, including Stewart Elementary, Irving Middle School, Ogden Elementary, Tafolla Middle School, and Dorie Miller Elementary are projected to escape consequences through state sanctioned partnerships with charter operators, SAISD phasing the campus out, or anticipated improvements on accountability scores.

Throughout the next school year, SAISD will discuss with families alternatives to Rodriguez for 2019-20. Rodriguez students, about 300 in total, could receive priority for in-district choice options and transportation to their new schools, Superintendent Pedro Martinez said.

SAISD officials said Friday that all Rodriguez staff will continue to be employed by the district beyond the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Ultimately, the district plans to open a different school at Rodriguez’s same location in the 2020-21 school year. State law only permits a district to reopen a closed campus in the same location if it has a substantially different model and serves a majority of grade levels not offered at the original campus.

“Part of our worry is what happens to the fabric of that community, as that has been their school for decades,” Board President Patti Radle said. “To force them into a situation where they have got to travel to a different building and to not be allowed to do something there for those families is very interruptive to the pattern of their life.”

Martinez said he will collect feedback from parents and families of the Rodriguez community to learn what kind of a school they want SAISD to reopen. He also noted that SAISD is interested in lobbying for a change in this law to allow districts to reopen closed schools.

This “restart law” could have a chance of passing as early as the next legislative session that begins in January 2019, although district officials still say the Rodriguez campus likely would reopen in fall 2020 at the earliest.

At a time when SAISD is already losing students each year to charters and other districts, keeping enrollment steady or growing is an important factor for district officials to consider. It’s unknown how many displaced Rodriguez students will choose a new school to attend in 2019-20, and then return to the new Rodriguez school in 2020-21.

Students also could choose not to start the school year at Rodriguez with the knowledge that the campus will be closed before next summer.

“That’s why it is so important for us to find a quality choice for them so we don’t lose them,” Martinez said. “They have been losing children every year…Our goal is working with our teachers so parents can see how much progress they did make and if they give us a chance, to look at what options they have.”

Earlier this week, the SAISD superintendent told the Rivard Report that although results aren’t official until Aug. 15, he felt confident that Miller, Tafolla, Irving, and Stewart all “met standard” for the 2017-18 school year.

The district is not entirely confident Ogden also secured a “met standard” rating based on the students’ STAAR scores. However, Ogden is not at risk of school closure because of a partnership the district leveraged with Relay Graduate School of Education that allows the school two additional years to meet state standards.

Under the new accountability system scores, officially released on Aug. 15, that rates schools and districts on a score of 1 to 100, the assessment categories are different from the previous accountability system. Districts are given a letter grade, which SAISD projects will be a C, and campuses are given a pass-fail “met standard” or “improvement required” grade.

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With the previous assessment system, last used to issue scores at the beginning of the 2017-18 year, SAISD had 19 schools that were deemed “improvement required” or failing. If the state used the same system this year, SAISD projects it would decrease its number of failing schools to 12.

When using the new system, which uses three different categories – student achievement, student progress, and closing achievement gaps – SAISD projects it would have had more than 30 failing schools in 2017-18. This year, the district projects SAISD will have 15 or 16 schools rated “failing” depending on how final accountability scores come out next week.

At the time Martinez first started in SAISD, he projected the district had close to 36 schools that realistically could have been ranked as “improvement required” even though closer to 20 were actually designated as such. With the new standards in place for the first time this year, Martinez said many of his schools that were on the bubble newly qualify as “improvement required.”

“We have a few new campuses that had been on the bubble but had been able to stay out,” he said. “We’re looking to see what drove changes in those campuses, whether it was the new standards or something else.”

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.