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LISD has partnered with East Texas Advanced Academies, a nonprofit organization, to manage six charter school campuses within the district at East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Johnston-McQueen, J.L. Everhart, Bramlette, Ware East Texas Montessori and Forest Park.

ETAA, LISD team-up for students, staff

Mon Jan 13, 2020

Finding better ways to operate and fund public education has been a hot topic of debate for several years now. 

The Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1882 two years ago and this legislative change means that the district could receive approximately $1,200 in increased state funding per student enrolled within the charter network, allowing the district to provide more resources for students and staff.

To this end, LISD partnered with East Texas Advanced Academies, a nonprofit organization, to establish six charter school campuses to take advantage of this opportunity. They are: East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Johnston-McQueen, J.L. Everhart, Bramlette, Ware East Texas Montessori and Forest Park.

Superintendent Dr. James Wilcox and the LISD Board of Trustees agree that additional changes are a possibility, but they are changes that will serve the interests of the young people in our care, as well as the entire Longview community.  

“We have to balance what’s best for every student in our district with what our taxpayers are willing to support,” Wilcox said. “That means never settling for the status quo, but always seeking more effective, more efficient, and more comprehensive approaches to public education.”

To help the public understand the proposed changes and to seek input regarding what the public would like to see achieved from the adaption of additional charter schools in the district, LISD held four public town hall meetings between September and November. Longview ISD and ETAA want to thank all those who attended the meetings and shared their questions and concerns. 

“We welcome constructive feedback and questions from our families and other area stakeholders,” said Chief Innovative Officer, Dr. James Coleman. “As excited as LISD is about these new initiatives, it’s vital that the community be just as excited as we are for the possibilities.”  

During these meetings, members of the community expressed concerns over what the designation of “charter schools” means for these campuses, and how this impacts students and staff.

Concerns about the charter school initiatives ranged from academic and financial questions, to those of logistics and district facilities.
 

ETAA Employees

The salaries of the five ETAA equal approximately $500,000 a year.

Some have members of the community expressed concern that the money the district will earn from the state for the existing charter schools will essentially just be used to pay for the administrators from ETAA. While a portion of the increased funds will be used to pay the ETAA employees, that is approximately 8.3% of the potential $6 million that the district could possibly receive. The rest of the money will be put toward the increased quality of education for the students.

As ETAA is a nonprofit, they have no shareholders to answer to about profits nor any way of using the money (aside from salaries and stipends) for anything other than taking care of the students.  

“Innovative campuses are more expensive to run,” Dr. Wilcox said. “It requires the normal operating budget plus the additional Senate Bill 1882 funding benefit to achieve the desired outcomes of innovative campuses.”
 

Additional Funding

It has been said that a big or even sole reason for LISD to take part in SB 1882 is to simply get more money. The truth is that the money the charter program brings in for LISD is being used to supplement those schools. Just as the TDA Food Service affords the ability for all LISD students from Pre-K through fifth grade to receive free breakfast and lunch, these funds simply allow the district to offer better opportunities to the students and staff. A breakdown of the various supplemental programs that allows the Longview ISD to better serve the community can be seen in Chart 2.

For the 2019-20 school year, LISD is spending approximately $113 million dollars. About 62% of that money, as shown in Chart 1, comes from the local tax base. 
 

How does this help?

With the increase of funds for these campuses, many new possibilities are opened up for the students. More intriguing field trips that help spark the interest in students such as a trip to NASA in Houston would become more realistic. Or keeping the students near, a tuition-free summer camp could help students to learn coding or experince building robots.

Dr. Cynthia Wise, CEO of ETAA, believes that the charter schools will allow teachers to implement STEAM better through more use of hands-on experience along with other methods.  

Other benefits of the campuses becoming charter schools are district-wide International Baccalaureate training, expanding programs like Montessori and East Texas Advanced Manufacturing. STEAM education will also be advanced.

Teachers and staff working at the charter schools will find increased opportunity to collaborate and innovate within and across the campuses. They will also have specialized professional development opportunities.

With the school year already half way through, some advantages have already been seen with the charter schools. zSpace has been brought into numerous campuses, allowing students learn with Virtual Reality and Altered Reality tools. STEAM initiatives and the Engage2Learn partnership have also been taking place. 

Dr. Cynthia Wise said building a “Culture Conscious Campuses” is at the core of ETAA’s work.

“Schools with strong instructional culture retain more teachers and have better student achievement,” she said. “While schools with weak instructional cultures lose twice as many effective teachers.”
 

Performance Standards

Some worry that ETAA administrators might adjust a student’s performance numbers to meet high performance standards. This is theoretically possible but it will not happen, not only because it goes against what ETAA stands for but also as Longview ISD still has a say over the schools. 

Although the charter schools are run by ETAA, they are very much still a part of LISD. The students are still LISD students and both the teachers and campus leadership remain LISD employees. As LISD School Board President Ginia Northcutt has said before, if the nonprofit organization is not doing what the district expects of them, they can terminate the agreement at any time. ETAA is accountable to the Longview ISD board — as the Board of Trustees is accountable to the Longview community — but the partnership is meant to be collaborative, by design.

The board of trustees empowers the non-profit to pursue innovative programs and attract top-quality staff, while ETAA seeks to fulfill their mission to ensure high student achievement. Both entities work in harmony with each other in the service of the best interests of Longview students, with the board maintaining evaluation authority prior to any future renewal of the charter agreement. 

With these campuses becoming charter schools run by ETAA, they will gain access to successful and innovative programming such as STEAM, dual-language and problem-based learning. The students will also be given broader exposure to career pathways.

ETAA’s goal is that by 2022 they will: Outperform all surrounding school districts and school districts across the state, with similar demographics, in all of the state indices; achieve 100% growth toward closing the achievement gap; decrease the mobility rate at each of the six campuses and increase student enrollment and socioeconomic diversity; attracting more white and more affluent students from surrounding schools and districts. Research shows that all students benefit when there is greater socioeconomic diversity within a school.

ETAA Leadership

Wise served as principal at Ned E. Williams for eight years before becoming the principal at Forest Park for two years until becoming CEO of ETAA. Wise once described her campus as a “culture-conscious” campus model and as a place that sets the bar high for both students and staff.  Not only did Wise lead Ned E. Williams to a No. 1 ranking on all state indexes in 2017 but in 2018 the TEA Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath, visited the campus to recognize it as the highest performing elementary school in the state for outcomes for African American students.

The ETAA staff consists of CEO Dr. Cynthia Wise, Deputy of Business Operations Dr. Donald Stewart, Deputy of Curriculum and Instruction Megan Burns, Executive Assistant Maci Wilcox and Business Manager Mary Hagler. The ETAA board members are Sam Satterwhite, Jud Murray, Alan Amos and Dr. Selwyn Willis.

“Ultimately, the purpose of this entire effort is very simple,” said Superintendent Dr. James Wilcox. “Public schools must evolve with the changing times, and that is what Longview ISD is doing here.”

For more information please email Dr. Cynthia Wise at cwiseETAA@lisd.org or call (903) 446-2524 or attend the ETAA board meetings. The board meetings can be found in The Longview Voice’s Coming Events. 

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