An Early Look at "Repurposing" Plans for A. Maceo and North Dallas High Schools

Back to the Dallas Independent School District trustees' to-do list for Thursday ...

Like I said, lots of interesting stuff there, beginning at the top of the briefing agenda: "Discussion of 2010-2011 Repurposing Plans for Academically Unacceptable (AU4) Schools." That AU4 refers to schools that have been on the academically unacceptable for four straight years, of which there are two: A. Maceo Smith High School and North Dallas High School, as the Texas Education Agency reminded back in July. As mandated by the Texas Education Code, the district has to do something with those campuses, lest Commission of Education Robert Scott put them under someone else's control or order them shuttered further on down the line.

The district's still a good two years from having the state step in, but DISD wants to make the changes on both campuses regardless. And so begins the process of repurposing -- plans the board must approve before it's sent down to Austin for the TEA and Scott's OK.

For Smith, the district is proposing turning it into a so-called "New Tech High School," which is fast becoming all the rage in education reform. This has been Superintendent Michael Hinojosa's plan for A. Maceo since at least May, when he said he would apply for a $2 million grant. Says a PowerPoint prepared for Thursday's briefing, the new North Dallas would open next school year, be open to anyone in the district "per application and selection process," and it would a campus filled with "laptops and other technology for students to facilitate written essays, digital projects on web sites, power point presentations, photo essays, and other forms of technological presentations."

DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander tells Unfair Park that Smith's repurposing is "going to happen," and that trustee Lew Blackburn has been visiting other new tech highs to see what's what. But what of North Dallas High School?

Per the PowerPoint, at the beginning of the 2011-'12 school year, the 89-year-old school would begin its transition into a career academy. Says the PowerPoint, the district hopes to establish an Information Technology academy first, followed by one for Finance in 2012-'13. Then, in two years, DISD would put at North Dallas a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Academy, with an emphasis on robotics and engineering.

Says Dahlander, even if the TEA says in the spring that North Dallas is no longer academically unacceptable, the district still wants to make the change "because there are changes they want to make on campus, which is good. We have two, three years of wiggle room if the school performs at the same level [it is now], but we think these new plans will help the school."

One immediate concern involves the teachers, not the students: Per the plans, the new principal at A. Maceo Smith -- Brian Lusk, who came over from E.D. Walker Middle School last month -- "will interview for all new teaching positions on the campus for the 2011-2012 school year." Dahlander says teachers currently at A. Maceo Smith

will be given the opportunity to interview for positions at the "new" Wilmer-Hutchins High School, scheduled to open next school year. North Dallas will also have to find new teachers in most instances.

The district wants to get early approval from Commissioner Scott in order to begin the changeovers. I asked Dahlander: What if the commissioner doesn't like the plan?

"That's not a question I could answer," he says. "But our experience has been if the agency does not sign off, they'll give us some reasons as to why and tell us, 'You need to tweak your application and so this and this and this.' They'll at least provide us some feedback. But it behooves us to inform the agency so they let us know what to do and work with us."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky