Lamar Elementary parents reckon with Midland ISD giving control of the campus to a charter operator
Lamar Elementary’s auditorium was filled with community members last Friday evening to hear education officials outline what the future holds for the campus as it becomes a charter school.
“On behalf of the district, I do want to apologize,” said Stephanie Howard, Midland Independent School District’s new superintendent. “It is our goal to not ever let this happen again with a campus. We should have reacted much sooner.”
Less than a week before this forum, Midland ISD’s Board of Trustees voted to give control of Lamar to Third Future Schools, a charter school operator that’s active across four states.
Howard, who just began her tenure as the district’s superintendent in January, explained to parents that her staff had only recently discovered Lamar was on track to fail to meet state academic standards for the fifth year in row.
If the district didn’t take preemptive measures, Howard said the state could either “come in and close the school” or “come in and run the district.”
To avoid either of these possibilities, Howard said Third Future Schools will manage Lamar for the next three years, beginning in the 2023-2024 school year. The charter operator is currently running the district’s Sam Houston College Preparatory Elementary in central Midland.
Howard told parents — many of whom were wearing headphones to hear the presentation translated into Spanish — that unlike other in-district charters, families that live near Lamar will not have to apply to attend the campus once Third Future Schools takes over. But if parents do decide to pull their children from Lamar, she said the district will work to place them at a school with a high academic rating.
During the presentation, officials from the charter operator boasted about their history of turning around struggling campuses.
“We do see ourselves as turnaround experts,” explained Sandi Massey, the Deputy of Schools and Operations for Third Future Schools. “This model does work, if you give us a chance, we will show you.”
The district’s decision to give up control of Lamar came as a surprise for school staff, students and parents. Friday’s presentation did little to ease the concerns of some in the audience.
“Lamar has not been failing because of our staff, because of our teachers,” said Esmy Juarez, president of Lamar’s Parent Teacher Association. “They’ve been crying out for help to the central office, to their leaders, and have been turned away.”
Her son is currently a fourth-grader at Lamar, where, according to state data, about 75% of kids are economically disadvantaged and English is a second language for over a quarter of the student population. According to Juarez, Lamar’s takeover falls into a larger pattern of Midland ISD failing the local Hispanic community.
“We’ve seen it before, we’ve gone through it before,” she said, listing other Midland schools that have either been closed or become in-district charters.
“Nobody was paying attention and all of a sudden everyone wants to clean their hands,” said Juarez. “Let’s quit this cycle, because the only ones getting hurt is Hispanic schools.”
Over 80% of Lamar’s students and about 74%of the campus’ teachers identify as Hispanic. Those numbers far exceed the overall demographic across the district, where 65% of students and only 31% of teachers identify as Hispanic.
On March 27, at a Midland ISD Board of Trustees meeting, district officials admitted that mistakes had been made with Lamar. Then voted 5-2 in favor of Third Future Schools running the school.
“We didn’t insist that those teachers at Lamar got the support and services to be successful,” said Midland ISD Board President Bryan Murray. “I want to make sure that we’re very clear that this is on us.”
The district is now implementing a plan to provide more support to campuses that are failing to meet state standards. Currently, there are three other elementary schools in the district that have received a failing grade from the state within the last year.
While the district intends to provide more resources for at-risk schools, school board member Katie Joyner said giving control of Lamar to Third Future Schools is still the best option.
She said, “I think that the reality is we are in a very difficult position. I think ultimately this is the best decision for the kids of Lamar.”
That’s not much of a comfort for Juarez and other parents. She plans on sending her son to a different school next year.
“At the end of the day they are going to do what they want,” said Juarez. “They don’t want to hear what we have to say, they are just going to replace our staff and the teachers that our kids know, feel comfortable with and love.”