The Waco Independent School District (Waco ISD), like many urban school districts serving low-income students, is under great pressure from state education officials to dramatically improve outcomes. Based on the district's poor showing on state achievement tests in the last five years, the district has an end-of-school-year deadline to demonstrate progress or face a forced major restructuring of how education is provided within this Texas city. In reaction, school district leadership is trying to finalize a partnership with a community-based nonprofit to implement an all natural approach to their educational challenge.
School district leaders notice that student performance is impacted by forces that go well beyond what happens just within each school's walls. In an October community meeting held included in the planning process, the district's superintendent, A. Marcus Nelson, told a packed audience, \”That's why we push our kids so difficult. We have very little charge of the things they go home to. I know kids in Waco ISD at this time the biggest problem they've is, are they likely to go to Texas Tech or are they likely to Texas A&M? But sitting right alongside that student is a student who has no home support. They go home, and they are the oldest in their family and have to take care of their siblings. With that kid, you have to level the playing field and also have to visualize personal responsibility, this kid needs more support and help.\”
The actions being threatened by Texas education officials are similar to those that have been tried in struggling districts across the nation. The district can be instructed to relinquish charge of five of the lowest performing schools, with programs that provide about 16 percent of their student population, and switch them over to independent charter school managers. More drastically, the state could disband the board and assume direct control of some or all of Waco's public school system, creating what has become known in Louisiana like a \”recovery school district.\” In the two cases, local charge of schools is diminished to acquire solutions that have not proved successful in other locations.
In response, the district is partnering with Prosper Waco to create a comprehensive community school approach. According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, the arrangement allows Prosper Waco to do what it really does best and \”coordinate services for college students, while leaving the majority of the management to Waco ISD.-The arrangement would involve an increased focus on the needs, both in and out of the classroom.\”
Unlike other communities where schools happen to be turned over to personal organizations (nonprofit or for-profit) to operate as independent charter schools, the Waco idea seeks to draw around the unique strengths of the nonprofit organization to boost the present operation of the school. Matthew Polk, Waco ISD's executive director, shared with the Tribune-Herald his vision of the emerging partnership:
This is something educators discuss all the time. They talk about a holistic approach to education. Educators who're teaching and serving in Waco ISD be aware of impact of poverty on the kids they serve and their academic performance-It's an excessive amount of to inquire about educators who are running a school, who're preparing lessons every day and teaching kids, also to be social workers, also to try to figure out this complete maze of organizations and programs in the community that will help their kids.
Prosper Waco brings assets to the table. Formed in 2021 \”to build an atmosphere in which all members of our Waco community are able to measurably improve their education, health, and financial security,\” PW sees itself as organizing its community partners to do what no single organization can do alone. Prosper Waco spokeswoman Christina Helmick told the Tribune-Herald that \”We don't have to go outside to look for other things we need to generate. We have everything we want right here in Waco. It is simply we need to take it all together in a coordinated way.\”
The WISD-Progress Waco partnership can comprehensively address the needs of the children they serve and mitigate the negative impact of poverty, homelessness, and bias while retaining local charge of schools. It will work when the resources are sufficient to satisfy the promise and the community remains an active part of the equation. Martin Blank, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership, emphasized in the Huffington Post that \”community schools do concentrate on organizing health insurance and social supports, but family and community engagement, along with a robust curriculum with expanded learning opportunities during and past the school day will also be part the equation.\” As currently envisioned, Waco students may benefit from this comprehensive vision staying at the core of the reinvigorated schools.