The Daily News reported that the Department of Education recently named Calder Road Elementary School as Dickinson’s first National Blue Ribbon School (“Dickinson elementary school honored as National Blue Ribbon School,” The Daily News, Sept. 28).
The department selects these schools based on their overall academic results and how well they close achievement gaps for their low-income and minority students. The Calder Road principal said the honor is a point of pride because it is “the Super Bowl of academics.”
Dickinson isn’t going to close Calder Road Elementary.
But Galveston Independent School District is poised to close its only Blue Ribbon school, Austin Middle School, and merge all middle school students in each grade districtwide.
The committee recommending the change cites “equity” as the primary reason for its proposal. If all school boards evaluated their schools this way, every Blue Ribbon school in America would be closed for inequity.
Austin succeeds because all students in its STEM program are required to take an advanced curriculum for their four middle school years, including Algebra I in eighth grade. Mastering Algebra I in middle school is a key predictor of future success in math and science.
Students at Galveston’s other two middle schools also have this opportunity: Almost all the same academic curriculum, including Algebra I, is also offered there. Unfortunately, if the district’s trustees approve this proposal, that advanced curriculum will no longer be required for any student at any school.
Sixty percent of Austin’s students are low-income, and a similar percentage aren’t white. Their parents have attended many school board meetings to advocate for Austin’s future, often in Spanish. Great Schools, a nonprofit that rates American schools, writes this about Austin: “Underserved students at this school are performing far better than other students in the state, and this school is successfully closing the achievement gap.”
Rather than shuttering Austin, the district should make the school available to more academically-ready students and should continue efforts to increase minority applications, especially from Black students, who currently make up only 10 percent of the student body.
Both increased enrollment and more diversity are doable: Austin’s building can accommodate 100 additional students, and, through outreach, its administrators have already dramatically increased minority enrollment.
Hispanic applications rose from 26 in 2018 to 119 in 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available pre-COVID) and Hispanic enrollment in the entering class from 10 percent to 44 percent.
The fundamental issue isn’t that Austin is the only school offering advanced curriculum (it isn’t) or that it’s not diverse (it is); it’s that too many of the district’s elementary school graduates aren’t prepared for an advanced or even a grade level curriculum.
Although closing Austin may camouflage this by merging those students’ test scores with higher achievers’, it will not address the root of this difficult problem.
Voters told me during the campaign that they want to keep Austin and its STEM program. If you agree, you must act fast. All Galvestonians, whether or not you currently have school children, are stakeholders with an important voice. Contact your trustee or speak at Wednesday’s school board meeting.