First, DISD Opened a High School for Over-Age Students. Now, Perhaps, Comes Middle School.

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Lots of interesting items to be found on the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees' briefing agenda for Thursday, and we'll get to 'em in short order -- which is to say, in the order the phone calls are returned on the myriad subjects of interest. But let's begin with this: At its first meeting of the new year, trustees will be given an update on how things are working out at the John Leslie Patton Jr. Academic Center -- the opened-this-school-year high school intended "to serve the special needs of over-age, undercredited students."

At the same time, trustees will revisit a subject very briefly introduced about a year ago but quickly shelved for a later date: the need for an "accelerated high school." Which is? The briefing doc says little, only this: "The district is exploring the possibility of creating an accelerated middle school to meet the needs of struggling middle school students." But per the U.S. Department of Education, which is studying the very subject, we find this better definition:

Accelerated middle schools are self-contained academic programs designed to help middle school students who are behind grade level catch up with their age peers. If these students begin high school with other students their age, the hope is that they will be more likely to stay in school and graduate. The programs serve students who are one to two years behind grade level and give them the opportunity to cover an additional year of curriculum during their one to two years in the program. Accelerated middle schools can be structured as separate schools or as schools within a traditional middle school.

I asked DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander: How does opening a new middle school jibe with the state's $27-billion budget shortfall and all the concerns over expanding class size and reducing the number of teachers? To which he responded: This new middle school would more than likely "be an extension of the over-age high school."

He says that "when we were doing our research on that a year or so ago, we realized we have a lot of middle school students who are over their age for their grade. In a presentation given to the board at the time, we said we need to do both. The board put off the middle school for a year, and it's coming back now, and while it's being called something a little different, it's more or less the same."

Dahlander says that quite possibly, the trustees would look at repurposing a current facility -- say, one of the district's so-called "alternative schools" -- where enrollment is "a concern." Updates forthcoming.

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