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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - August 2009

Law enforcement officials have long understood how integral healthy neighborhood schools are to ensuring vibrant and safe communities. Police officers who serve as school resource officers and mentors and who patrol around schools understand the direct relationship between healthy schools and safe neighborhoods. Closing schools as a strategy to improve academic performance could result in similar unintended consequences on communities as when community or retail centers are shuttered. A void is left where there used to be activity and energy.

Like so many others, I was caught off guard last month when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Pearce Middle School would close due to unacceptable academic performance. The Texas Legislature had just provided TEA with additional flexibility to help keep schools open. Overall student test scores at Pearce had improved significantly even though eighth grade science scores were weaker than hoped. On June 10, TEA awarded Pearce a $50,000 grant. Inexplicably less than a month later TEA Commissioner Robert Scott announced Pearce would close.

For years the overall academic performance of Pearce students has been unacceptable. No one suggests otherwise. Ninety-five percent of Pearce students are considered economically disadvantaged which compounds their challenges. Some community leaders have expressed their belief that AISD officials share some blame for the closure as a result of years of neglect and because of failure to provide the attention and resources that Pearce needed to remain viable.

While many people take issue with closing struggling schools, it has been understood that schools should only be closed as a very last resort. If the academic scores at Pearce had not measurably improved this school closure would probably not be so controversial. Pearce students, teachers and parents developed a plan to improve academic performance and for the last two years test scores increased significantly. One would have expected TEA and AISD to praise and embrace this progress while pledging to aggressively attack the weaker science scores. Instead, even with other options at his disposal and a contrary recommendation from staff, Commissioner Scott chose to give up on Pearce.

The Texas Education Agency should vacate this decision to close Pearce and instead challenge them to build on their progress. AISD officials should commit the necessary resources and enlist community partners to help ensure success. Academically underperforming Texas schools which demonstrate meaningful academic progress deserve to know they will be supported and assisted, not shuttered.



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