Dallas ISD Trustees Take A Look At Ways to Bring More Charter Schools Into the District

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A handful of Dallas Independent School District gatheredn the old board room at 3700 Ross this morning to poke at a question with big implications: How can the district get the most of its new partnerships charter schools, possibly even next school year?

Born out of April's West Dallas "School Zone" partnership between DISD, the Uplift Education charter chain and the Dallas Faith Communities Coalition, the committee is charged with a weighty mission: "To explore nationally best practices for interactions between public and charter schools and to envision the schools of the future."

The brave crew of DISD policynauts is led by trustee Edwin Flores and rounded out by Lew Blackburn, Nancy Bingham and Bernadette Nutall, and this morning they batted around a handful of basic questions, among them: Which charters to approach about partnership, where new charter schools could go, and which other school systems are worth studying. It was the committee's second meeting -- they'll gather again on November 17.

Nutall mentioned she'd heard Denver's schools are one of the country's best examples of public-charter partnerships, but trustees decided to focus on districts around Texas -- Houston, for one, and possibly San Antonio -- bound by the same state laws and saddled with similar problems. The specter of the district's partnership with for-profit charter group Edison Schools (now EdisonLearning), which ended badly in 2003, loomed large in the room, as trustees discussed how to reframe new charter partnerships for parents with bad memories from the last one. "Somehow we have to explain that this is not a repeat of Edison," Bingham said.

Flores suggested looking at local charter partnerships in Coppell, Keller and Mansfield, fanning out to tour possible model schools in groups of two or three in the next few months. Mansfield's career technology high school program was of particular interest to Flores, who said it's tied in with Lockheed Martin to create a pipeline to "high skill, high pay jobs."

"We don't have that pathway for our kids," Bingham agreed. "We've dropped it."

While all four were generally enthusiastic about the best of the charter school possibilities they'd seen, the morning's discussion leaves a long way to go before the committee settles on a vision for charter partnerships in DISD, and prepares some kind of proposal for the full board to consider as early as February. "We may end up with one way of looking at charter schools," Blackburn said, "or we may end up with three, four, five ways of looking at charter schools."

After converting a failing school to a charter, though, trustees discussed whether it'd be difficult to keep or attract teachers from within the district to charter school jobs that come without contracts -- they agreed it wasn't likely a charter would partner with the district if it couldn't hire and fire at will. Anyway, Nutall said, that freedom is one of the things that makes charters work better. "We have to go through too much to get rid of bad people," she said.

"Ineffective," Bingham corrected her.

"Ineffective," Nutall agreed. "That's not politically correct."

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