Dallas ISD Wants to Shutter Patton Academic Center. What Happens Now?

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Dallas ISD is seeking to shutter an alternative high school for over-age and under-credited students.
Nearly everyone involved, including Dallas ISD officials, trustees, parents and students, agrees that something needs to be done about John Leslie Patton Jr. Academic Center.

Exactly what should be done is another matter. District officials want to shutter the school and move its students and the services it offers them to other sites around the district. Some parents, students and community members want the struggling school reopened. Others want the district to reconstitute Patton, replacing the school's entire staff as a way to give it a fresh start.

Patton Academic Center is an alternative school for students who either are over-age or under-credited. It's the only school in the district that received back-to-back failure scores in the Texas Education Agency's A-F ratings.

The school is, at least on paper, still open. But a few weeks before the school year began, district officials told students enrolled at Patton that they would be sent to comprehensive high schools for the beginning of the school year. Meanwhile, officials have been working out a plan to close the school and launch satellite programs at five comprehensive high schools across the district.

District officials' plan would place so-called Phoenix program sites at five comprehensive high schools around the district. Each would take 75-100 over-age and under-credited students and offer them accelerated classes designed to help get them back on track. Each site would have math, science, social studies and English teachers, as well as a "Phoenix liaison," an extra staff member who would do attendance checks and coordinate services for those students.

Dallas ISD trustees are scheduled to vote on that plan Thursday evening. But the plan faces pushback, including from trustees Maxie Johnson and Joyce Foreman, who represent southern Dallas. Both trustees have said they plan to vote against the plan, saying they're opposed to having Patton students on comprehensive high school campuses in their districts. Both trustees said they were concerned about the effect those students would have on those campuses, many of which are already struggling.

During a community meeting Monday evening, Foreman, whose district covers southwest Dallas, said she was angry that district officials moved students out of Patton at the beginning of the current school year without consulting the board. Foreman said district officials, counselors and others haven't done a good enough job of letting students who might be good candidates for Patton know about the school.

"The district has not done our best job at trying to get students to this campus," she said.

Foreman argued that the issue should be pulled from Thursday's agenda to give trustees, district officials and community members more time to talk about the plan.

Paola Avellaneda, a former Patton student who is enrolled this year at Spruce High School, said Patton was a good fit for her and many other students like her. When Avellaneda, 18, came to Patton, a death in the family and other issues had knocked her off track, and she was badly behind in course credits. Now, she's just six credits shy of graduating.

Having a single school that serves over-age and under-credited students is helpful, she said, because students can avoid the social stigma that comes with being behind in school. At comprehensive high schools, students make fun of those students who are behind or are older. That kind of teasing can be the factor that persuades a student who was already marginal to drop out, she said. But that didn't happen as much at Patton because the 

"I feel like separating all of us is just a bad idea." — Paola Avellaneda, former Patton student

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students there were all in similar situations, she said.

"I feel like separating all of us is just a bad idea," she said.

At one point during the last school year, as many as 160 students attended Patton, but all but 32 of those students have moved on. Sherry Christian, the district's assistant superintendent for student services, said low enrollment at Patton makes it impossible for the school to offer the kinds of extracurricular activities and events that a comprehensive high school would. Students there can't take band and choir, the school can't hold a prom and students have to go back to their home campuses if they want to play sports, she said.

Christian said it's also difficult for officials to persuade students from far-flung parts of the district to come to the Oak Cliff school. The school isn't mandatory for any student, meaning students who enroll there have chosen to be there. That isn't a convenient choice for students who live, for example, in North Dallas, she said.

Although the school was created to serve over-age students — high school students age 19-21 — most of the students enrolled there last year were younger high school students who had fallen behind on course credits and needed help getting back on track, Christian said.

The district hasn't nailed down a final list of schools that would serve as Phoenix program sites. During a board meeting last Thursday, officials proposed five comprehensive high schools: Carter, Hillcrest, Pinkston, Skyline and Spruce. But Foreman balked at the idea of housing those students at Carter, saying that while larger schools like Skyline, which has an enrollment of more than 4,000 students, may be able to absorb the Patton students without a noticeable difference, smaller high schools like Carter can't.

During Monday night's meeting, Christian said Carter is no longer being considered for the program. But Pinkston, in West Dallas, is still on the list — a fact that angered Johnson, whose district includes West Dallas and a large portion of South Oak Cliff.

Last week, Johnson told district officials he's opposed to dropping students from Patton into high schools in southern Dallas, many of which are struggling already. Doing so amounts to inequity, Johnson said. During a board meeting last week, Johnson said parents at Pinkston High School in West Dallas have made their feelings on the matter clear.

"The community is very adamant about not having this in Pinkston," Johnson said. "My phone is blowing up now, because the community is very adamant."

During Monday night's meeting, Johnson said he was frustrated that the school was still on the list despite his objections and those from the community. He said district officials need to do a better job of bringing parents and other community members into the conversation about Patton and the Phoenix program and listening to what they have to say.

The district will hold a public comment session on the future of Patton Academic Center before the board's Thursday night meeting. The comment session begins at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Turney W. Leonard Governance and Training Center, 5151 Samuell Blvd.