Houston ISD board OKs Kashmere High's 3rd turnaround plan amid intervention threat

Friday, 01 December 2017, 08:10:06 AM. Houston ISD board members approved Kashmere High School's state-mandated turnaround plans for a third time Thursday, a proposal that must be approved to avoid campus closure, new management at the school or takeover of the district's board of trustees.

Houston ISD board members Thursday for the third time unanimously approved Kashmere High School's state-mandated turnaround plans, a proposal that must be approved to avoid state intervention.

The turnaround plan, required after Kashmere High School received an eighth straight "improvement required" rating for low academic performance, now includes additional detail requested by the Texas Education Agency. If state education officials don't accept the district's plan for Kashmere High School, the state education commissioner must close the campus, order new management of the school or take over the district's board of trustees.

District officials voiced optimism that the plan will satisfy requests from the Texas Education Agency. Houston ISD administrators communicated with state education officials in recent days about any shortcomings in the amended plan, and Superintendent Richard Carranza spoke with Education Commissioner Mike Morath over the week, district officials said.

"We went beyond, adding additional supporting details, so there's no question about what we're doing to turn Kashmere around," Houston ISD Chief Academic Officer Grenita Lathan said.

In a letter to the district, state education leaders said Houston ISD's second plan for Kashmere High School fell short in several areas, including a lack of documentation about budget, staffing and input from campus committees.

Carranza said some of the state's reasons for rejecting the plan were subjective, and district officials have responded to those opinions. The plan largely follows the district's $24-million "Achieve 180" initiative to improve 32 lower-performing campuses.

"I have never seen a turnaround plan with this much documentation in my 29 years of education," Carranza said.

Kashmere High School is the only school in Texas that has failed to meet state academic standards for eight consecutive years or more. About 5 percent of Texas schools fall short of those standards each year.

But school leaders and board members have touted progress at the campus in the past two years under Principal Nancy Blackwell. After falling significantly short of state standards before Blackwell's arrival, Kashmere High School missed the mark by a sliver in 2016 and 2017.

"Those things that are in this plan are the things that we're already doing," said Houston ISD Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, whose district includes Kashmere High School. "I have confidence that they're working."

Even if the turnaround plan receives the Texas Education Agency's blessing, Houston ISD remains under threat of state intervention on another front. If 10 chronically low-performing campuses, including Kashmere High School, don't meet state standards this year, Morath must close failing schools or replace the district's entire board of trustees. Several campuses could get a reprieve if they convert to in-district charter schools.

Skillern-Jones and Trustee Jolanda Jones expressed frustration over the Texas Education Agency's level of involvement in Houston ISD's affairs, including the turnaround plan demands. Ultimately, both joined four other board members in approving the plan. Trustees Anna Eastman and Michael Lunceford were not present.

"I hate this TEA mandate that looms over us, but what I don't want to risk is closure of this school," Skillern-Jones said. "My students don't deserve that. So if this is what it takes to keep the school from being closed, then I'm all in."

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