San Antonio ISD will close or merge about 15% of its schools for “academic and financial sustainability”
The school closure recommendations came after analyzing student enrollment at each school and how much it would cost to sustain them. Many who opposed the move noted the impact of previous closures on academic achievement.
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The San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees voted 5-2 Monday to close 15 schools and merge others, capping a four-month process that will shutter over 15% of the shrinking urban school district’s educational facilities.
Trustees voted, after a lengthy discussion, on a list of closures and mergers finalized by district staff that was formulated based on student enrollment, facility usage and cost per pupil. The moves are designed to better align the district’s resources with the student population.
Trustees Art Valdez, Christina Martinez, Alicia Sebastian, Leticia Ozuna and Ed Garza voted for the measure while Stephanie Torres and Sarah Sorensen voted against it.
Before the vote, Sorensen attempted to remove six schools from the closure list, and then two, but both adjustments failed on 5-2 votes.
Parents, teachers and community members continued to protest the closures until the final hour, with 57 speakers signing up to comment during the meeting, mostly in opposition to the closures.
Many pointed to an equity audit that, among other findings, explored past school closures in the district, which resulted in academic declines.
Terrance L. Green, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy authored that report, which was commissioned by the district. Before the vote, he spoke to trustees about the study.
“The historical data would suggest that if things weren’t done significantly differently, then the same thing could happen,” he said about the academic outcomes. “I don’t have a crystal ball … but there is a major onus on the district.”
Green also said that charter schools, which the district has said account for 20% of recent enrollment loss, could siphon off more students in the wake of closures.
“Charter schools may not have been the primary reason why the district has lost things in the past,” he said. “But I feel confident from my qualitative data for the people who are in the neighborhoods and communities, that those charter schools are salivating at the opportunity.”
Before the vote, district officials played a video recording of Superintendent Jaime Aquino walking through the final recommendation for school closures and mergers, which includes fewer campuses than an initial list released in September.
“We hope the community understands that while closing schools is a difficult decision, it is absolutely necessary for the academic and financial sustainability of our district,” Aquino said. “This journey is not just about numbers and budgets; it’s about creating a more equitable, inclusive and thriving educational environment for all our students.”
Sebastian echoed that in her comments before the vote, noting that the parents protesting the process don’t represent her community or the Black students in the district who have historically been underserved.
“For me, this is about equity. Every student in every one of our schools should be valued and supported as the same, and the reality is they are not,” she said.
Sorensen, who has criticized the way the district determined which schools would close, repeated her objections before the vote, saying that the community deserved more time.
“We’re still changing the plan at the moment we are talking about it tonight,” she said.
The schools that will close at the end of the 2023-24 school year include:
Green Elementary School
Foster Elementary School
Miller Elementary School
Highland Park Elementary School
Knox Early Childhood Center
Nelson Early Childhood Center
Tynan Early Childhood Center
Douglass Elementary School
Forbes Elementary School
Huppertz Elementary School
Lamar Elementary School
Storm Elementary School
Other schools will merge: Beacon Hill Dual Language Academy and Cotton Academy, Kelly Elementary and Lowell Middle School, and Gonzales Early Childhood Center and Twain Dual Language Academy.
Another two schools, Baskin Elementary School and Carroll Early Childhood Center, will close in later school years after construction at campuses where those students are moving to is completed. Gates Elementary School will be closing at the end of the 2023-24 school year and students will be sent to M.L King Academy after renovations on that campus.
While those renovations are taking place, however, the Gates campus will house both MLK and Gates students.
Other temporary shuffling is also proposed to accommodate construction, including Foster Elementary closing at the end of 2023-24 and its location temporarily housing students from Schenck Elementary until the new Schenck facility is renovated.
Foster Elementary school students in the Ball and Highland Hills Elementary attendance areas will return to their home schools in 2024-25.
Schools that were initially slated for closure but were omitted from the final list include Pershing, Collins Garden, Ogden and Riverside Park elementary schools.
Riverside Park Elementary School will stay open and accept students from Green Elementary, while the campus formerly known as Green will become an extension of Bonham Academy, which currently has a waitlist.
Community members from those schools thanked the district for sparing them in the final recommendation.
In addition to those removals, Rodriguez Montessori was added to the list of schools to be relocated in the new proposal, with a plan to move the program to Ogden Elementary School’s campus.
But after receiving swift and intense pushback from families, who said the change came with no chance for meaningful input, the district reversed course and paused that aspect of the plan Sunday evening, notifying parents in a letter.
“We have heard your concerns, and we thank you for bringing them forward,” Aquino said. “We will pause the recommendation to relocate Rodriguez Montessori Elementary at Ogden Elementary School and continue its dual language program for four weeks, allowing the district and the Rodriguez community time to come together for a public meeting.”
Following that public meeting, the district will discuss the school’s future and present it to the board for a vote on Dec. 11.
Montessori schools use a teaching philosophy that focuses on hands-on, student-led learning that differs significantly from a traditional elementary school.
Juliette Montoya, who has one child at Rodriguez, and another she plans to enroll there, said combining it with a non-Montessori campus wouldn’t be the same.
“True Montessori is a campus-wide effort,” she said.
Aquino said Friday that he was disheartened by how much of the debate in recent months has focused on adult issues, like keeping schools open because someone’s parents or grandparents had attended there, instead of on the current students, who he said are suffering under the status quo.
“They’re living in the past,” he said. “As much as I love to hear that … you know, we need to think about the kids.”
Noah Lipman, a teacher at Highlands High School, was one of a handful of speakers to support the proposal.
“I address the board tonight to voice my support for the SAISD realignment plan that will, by necessity, close under-enrolled elementary schools,” he said. “The status quo is no longer a viable option.”
Lipman also lauded the process, which he said was the most transparent he has seen in a long and varied career.
A parent, Jessica Torres, also said the San Antonio community could lead by example.
“We tell our students to have a growth mindset and to be able to embrace the change,” she said. “Why is it that we, as adults, can’t embrace the change?”
Former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson and District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez both spoke out against the school closures during the public comment session.
Jake Tucker, who has friends and family throughout the district, called on the board to vote down the proposal. He was one of several speakers to continue speaking after his allotted minute-and-a-half, until the microphone was cut off.
“Your responsibility as an elected board is to reject the proposal and tell the district that they failed,” he said. “Whether it is a bad plan, poorly communicated to parents, staff and community … or maybe we have all lost trust in the district to act in the interest of our community.
“We’ll find out tonight if you democratically respond to the will of your constituents or carry this … plan forward that communities have repeatedly demonstrated that we are against.”
Parents, teachers and employees from each impacted school will start to receive information on the next steps Tuesday as the district prepares to open registration for open-enrollment and choice campuses next month.
Students at closing schools will get priority when choosing a new school to attend.
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