Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Based on preliminary STAAR scores, San Antonio Independent School District officials are cautiously optimistic about Stewart Elementary's upcoming accountability rating from the Texas Education Agency.
Final STAAR results and accountability ratings for the state's public schools won't be released until August, but Deputy Superintendent Pauline Dow said Tuesday she believes Stewart can obtain a passing, or "met standard," rating from the state.
"Stewart ... has been so close to the line for so many years that, I hope it is going to be great news for them, and I am optimistic it will be, but we just have to wait until ratings come out in August," Dow said.
A passing grade from the state would shift the circumstances under which SAISD's board of trustees first voted to enter into a charter partnership with New York-based charter operator Democracy Prep to take over operation of the campus next year.
For the past five years, the elementary school on San Antonio's East Side received a failing grade from the state. If Stewart were to post another failing grade for the 2017-18 school year, the state's Commissioner of Education would be forced to close the school or appoint a board of managers to govern SAISD in place of the district's elected board of trustees.
However, state law also allows districts to partner with outside operators – charter schools, nonprofits, higher education institutions, and government entities – to take over operations at failing campuses and delay state action for two years while the operator attempts to turn things around.
In March, before most STAAR exams were taken, SAISD trustees voted to partner with Democracy Prep at Stewart. The contract is set to take effect July 1.
Stewart's results from the first round of fifth-grade student testing show increases in passing rates on reading from 30 percent to 57 percent, and a bump from 41 percent to 78 percent students passing the math exam. These results don't reflect STAAR scores from Stewart's third or fourth graders, or results from students who did not pass initially and were re-tested.
SAISD continues to move forward with plans for Democracy Prep to take over Stewart, a decision that has drawn fire from the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, which tried unsuccessfully to stop the agreement. Alliance President Shelley Potter also has said that Stewart's STAAR results indicate potential for the campus to get out of "improvement required" status, negating the need for a charter partner.
"Our goal with Stewart is to continue [the STAAR] gains and have this school become a strong option for the neighborhood," SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said in an email. "We believe that Democracy Prep will provide that, and we hope in time, it will bring back the many families who have left Stewart over the years for other charter schools.
"Democracy not only has a track record of turning around struggling schools, but also of sustainable academic performance in their schools, and strong graduation and college-going rates."
Gains at Stewart are reflective of SAISD's performance across the district, Dow told the Rivard Report. SAISD saw gains in grades 3-8 STAAR scores that matched or exceeded improvements in most performance levels for reading and in almost every performance level for math, Dow said.
The deputy superintendent attributed this progress to a more stable cadre of principals, the district's master teacher program, and the 230 instructional coaches deployed across the district.
"I have a lot of faith in the [Stewart] principal that was brought out of retirement to move student achievement," Dow said. "[The Stewart team] did an incredible job because at the end of the day what we care about is that school becomes super strong. ..."
One of the Alliance's biggest complaints has been that Democracy Prep retains all rights over employment, meaning teachers and staff who remain at Stewart would cease to be SAISD employees and would become Democracy Prep employees.
SAISD employees at Stewart were told they had to re-apply to Democracy Prep to continue at Stewart. At the Alliance trial seeking the injunction, Potter testified that only two teachers applied to stay at the campus.
"All of this turmoil was completely unnecessary," the Alliance wrote on its Facebook page on Monday. "Too bad the superintendent and Board had no faith in the students and staff. Now the students and families lost the teacher and staff who built relationships with them and worked so hard with them."