The Dallas ISD board of trustees voted Thursday night to close a struggling alternative high school and replace it with satellite programs at three campuses.
Patton Academic Center, in Oak Cliff, is an alternative school for students who either are over-age or behind in class credits needed to graduate. It's the only school in the district that received back-to-back failure scores in the Texas Education Agency's A-F ratings.
In the most technical sense, the school is still open. But at the beginning of the school year, Dallas ISD officials told the 32 students who were enrolled there that they would be sent back to their home campuses while school leaders worked out a new plan for over-age students.
The board voted 9-0 Thursday night to close the campus officially and replace it with a new initiative called the Phoenix program, which would place similar services for over-age and under-credited students at sites across the district.
District officials plan to open pilot Phoenix program sites at Hillcrest, Skyline and Spruce high schools. Each would take 75-100 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.
Stephanie Elizalde, the district's chief of school leadership, said the district needs to close Patton because the school hasn't met either the needs of its students or state accountability standards for the last two years. Because of the way the Texas Education Agency calculates its annual school scores, it's unlikely Patton would ever fare well, she said.
"It is virtually impossible, given the current standards and given the current student needs, that this setup would meet the needs of our students or would meet the state accountability," she said.
Officials had planned to place Phoenix program sites at Carter and Pinkston high schools, as well. But after community members — including trustees Joyce Foreman and Maxie Johnson, whose districts include those two schools — balked at the idea of having sites there, district officials scrapped those plans.
Foreman and Johnson had also criticized the way district officials handled the plan. During a community meeting Monday night, Foreman said she was angry she hadn't been notified that district officials were moving students out of Patton, which is located in her district.
But during Thursday's meeting, both Foreman and Johnson said they would support a revised version of the plan that allowed for more community input before the district rolls out an expanded version of the plan at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
During a public comment session before the board meeting, Aubrey Hooper, president of Dallas NAACP and a member of the DeSoto ISD board of trustees, encouraged the board not to close the school until it had completely considered the consequences.
Hooper, a Dallas ISD alumnus, said he doesn't think education officials in Texas, including those at the TEA, fully understand the needs of over-age and under-credited students.
"They're not concerned about the 17-year-old sixth grader — that is a reality," Hooper said. "They're not concerned about the 17-year-old seventh grader — that is a reality."
Paola Avellaneda, a former Patton student, said she was frustrated at how her progress has slowed since district officials moved her out of Patton. Avellaneda, now 18, enrolled in the school last year, after a series of family emergencies knocked her off track. She walked into the school with seven credits and finished last year with 16.
"That's something to be proud of," she said.
Avellaneda was enrolled at the beginning of the year at Spruce High School, where she'd been told she would start the Phoenix program. But more than a month into the school year, that program isn't running. Waiting for that program has been frustrating, she said. She's worried that wait will delay her graduation.
"It just feels like they're wasting my time," she said.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.