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.