GALVESTON

Three public middle schools on the island will remain open and mostly unchanged during the 2021 school year after trustees late Wednesday night delayed a proposed realignment in favor of more study and development of a more detailed plan.

Galveston Independent School District, however, will eliminate competitive entry criteria for fifth- and sixth-graders seeking to enroll at top-ranked Austin Middle School.

Instead of assessing 9- and 10-year-old students based on test scores, attendance and behavior, the district will move to a lottery system to choose which students can enroll at Austin next year, officials said.

The decisions came after months of discussion about realigning middle schools in attempt to address criticism that the selective enrollment program at Austin was causing de facto racial segregation, performance disparity among students and causing discontent among parents of students who didn’t make the cut.

The program at Austin, 1514 Ave. N., is rated A under the state’s accountability system, while Central Middle School, 3014 Sealy Ave., is rated C, and Collegiate Academy at Weis, 7100 Stewart Road, is rated F.

Austin Middle School’s students are 43.5 percent white and 47 percent Black or Hispanic. About 56 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged, meaning students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Central Middle School is 82.5 percent Black or Hispanic; Collegiate Academy is 74.4 percent Black or Hispanic. More than 80 percent of the students at both are economically disadvantaged.

Administrators and some trustees have argued realignment would improve performance at, and public perceptions about, all three middle schools.

“We want to get there, but we want to get there the right way,” school board President Tony Brown said.

The district operates a fourth middle school, Crenshaw, on Bolivar Peninsula.

The outcome of Wednesday evening’s meeting left some trustees dissatisfied. Trustee Monica Wagner, who had advocated for a realignment to happen next year, said she was caught off guard by Brown’s proposal to delay action.

“I feel completely blindsided,” Wagner said. “It’s disappointing that all of this comes out tonight, when we have had months and months of opportunities to talk about this.”

Wagner said it was imperative for the board to address inequities in its system of educating students that make some students feel inferior to others because of what school they go to.

During the meeting, which didn’t adjourn until midnight, trustees ordered administrators to provide a final report and recommendation on reforming the middle-school structures by October.

The board was set to vote on a proposal to dedicate two campuses to fifth- and sixth-graders and a third to seventh- and eighth-graders.

The delay would allow administrators to draft a plan that wouldn’t cause undue disruption for students and would allow the district to have a clearer idea about which principals and faculty would lead the reimagined middle schools.

Dropping the enrollment criteria for Austin ended one aspect of the issue criticized by some parents and residents as unfair.

Austin Middle School operates as a magnet school with programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math. It has the smallest student body at about 560 and has traditionally received the school district’s highest state rating.

Students must apply for entry and are admitted based on criteria including tests scores, attendance and behavior history.

If more students apply than there are open spots, the highest-ranked students are accepted and lower ranked students go to other middle schools.

Critics argue the system perpetuates disparities among campuses siphoning off high-performing students to one school. The student body at Austin is whiter and less economically disadvantaged than students who attend the other two island middle schools, according to state statistics.

But a vocal contingent of parents and Austin school supporters, including some who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, called on the district to leave the program alone and focus on improving the district in other ways.

“It only makes sense to maintain and improve the current system that rewards effort and hard work,” said Mark Kellner, one of the speakers.

Realignment advocates wanted the district to “give” and “provide” things to them, while Austin families had “pushed themselves,” Kellner said.

The board voted to drop the ranking criteria for fifth- and sixth-grade students on the recommendation of campus administrators.

A small number of new spots typically are open in the school each year for seventh- and eighth-graders, but the educators worried a lottery system would set the older students up for failure. Austin’s curriculum begins higher-level math classes in seventh grade, officials said.

Official didn’t discuss much about what the next step in the planning will be, and there could be some time before there’s more clarity. The district announced its plans to hire a new superintendent, Jerry Gibson, next month.

Gibson’s hiring is expected to be finalized in January, and he won’t begin work until February.

The school district hasn’t announced when it will open its applications for middle schools. Applications for high school magnet programs begin in January, and elementary school enrollment begins in February.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(5) comments

Bailey Jones

This will be an interesting experiment. A lottery system will test whether the success of Austin is due to its teaching methods and curriculum, or to merely skimming off the cream of Galveston's middle school students. If it proves to be the former, then those teaching methods and curriculum should be expanded to all three schools.

Roy Hughes

Written by Lynne Springer

The lottery will not be new if they really followed their own guidelines to get to this predicament. Students who had good grades, high scores on their STAAR test ( TAKS test), good attendance, no office referrals, etc. filled out a form for admittance in the past to get in. A lottery determined who would attend.I found it totally crazy that they set up their own problem. Now with a new Superintendent (well, now she is old since she has resigned) they want to change the problem that made. Who in their right mind would have shot themselves in the foot? Yep, GISD. With the amount of money they have wasted on all of their buildings after Hurricane IKE it is truly surprising they have any money left. The current problem I believe was caused by Lynne Cleveland. I think if they could hold the superintendents responsible ( monetarily) for their mistakes less of them would be made. Lynne Cleveland put the schools of choice into play. How on earth could the school district monitor those who might have been close to falling through the cracks if they had to keep up with the students who may have changed campuses each year. GISD has always been one to jump on the Merry-Go-Round band wagon: if it is a new concept it must be good as gold. When will parents understand that a building does not make students learn better, schools on different parts of the island do not improve cause students' learning to improve, computers do not improve one's learning.etc. ( Without textbooks computer might enhance their learning if they have a computer and the internet_

There has been one board member that has been there for the long haul and I thought he might have educated the new superintendent about the previous happenings from the previous board. That is not the case. David O;Neal was on the board with Lynn Hale, Lynne Cleveland, Kelli Moulton (sp.) and now the newest man from East Texas. It might be time to vote him out since he has not been educating the newcomers about the previous board and what he has voted for in the past.

When I taught there I was told that Galveston had always had a issue hanging over their heads about keeping all campuses racially balanced, L.A. Morgan accomplished that that by jumping on the fine arts band wagon.

Most district who have small numbers group the kids by grades. I do not think that is the answer.. I think the answer is to work especially hard with those they are not meeting the standard, So, as to not hold the top kids back they will need to keep them grouped somehow. May be the new superintendent will need to figure this one out.

Of course, those students who are performing at the top do not need lower students placed in their classes While one would think that they would be able to pull the lower kids up it will not work that way... it never has in Galveston.

As Laura Elfer mentioned in her article about finding a new superintendent the citizens should be more involved in that. The way the school district operates or changes their setup this must have citizen input. They have already proved that their previous plans do not work.

I think a good start would be to bring textbooks that cover the curriculum ( not the TAKS,TEKS, nor STAAR ) curriculum be good for starters. And please , please do not purchase any books written by Pearson or the current company test writing company. Pearson has already made a fortune off ( ripped off) of Texas schools.

I have studied what is expected of Kindergartners and first graders and unless these kids know the alphabet as a kindergartner they are behind when the first walk in. Good Luck GISD. You call need to set up a board and representative from the community need to be on there to make sure that you all keeping them informed . These citizens would then need to report to the community. If the community is left in the dark our kids will stay in the dark. Good Luck.

Charlotte O'rourke

I think it’s obvious the higher ranking students are skimmed off the top. All of our schools need to strive for an A ranking.

Galveston is sometimes very disappointing, The poverty level described is appalling, and the expectations are set too low.

As a parliamentary question or point of order - why was the agenda not followed?

I’m just 😞.

David Schuler

GISD new message to students: Forget that hard work and good attendance crap; your future depends solely on luck and happenstance.

Charlotte O'rourke

The message seemed to be every student counts equally, but differences of opinion and timelines existed on how to achieve equality of opportunity and education.

This is obviously a very important subject to everyone - students, parents, Trustees, staff, and the community.

For the discussion, it would have been helpful as a listener if project timelines were provided as part of the explanation and rationale provided on the motion to delay.

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