August 2, 2007
Robert Scott, the interim head of the Texas Education Agency, promised swift and serious reform at Johnston High School, but he said Wednesday that the school won’t close. “Those students have not been served well, and we will no longer tolerate them not being served to their fullest potential,” Scott said. Johnston High School has been rated “academically unacceptable” for the past four years. The TEA threatened to shut the school down earlier this year. Texas law says the state may close a school after four years of low scores.But TEA officials agreed to give the campus more time to improve, since abruptly closing it would be hard on the Austin Independent School District and students.Johnston even underwent a redesign in curriculum in 2005 to help boost test scores. But in the latest round of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests, the overall scores dipped even lower.”Two years ago Johnston built its own plan. We removed all the administrators. The next year we removed the English and math faculty. We’ve been doing something aggressive every year. We hadn’t aligned it tight enough,” AISD superintendent Pat Forgione said. Students at Johnston are 80 percent Hispanic, 18 percent African American and two percent other. Twenty-two percent speak English as a second language. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is even involving himself in Johnston’s affairs. He said he’ll host a town hall meeting this fall about officials’ plans for the school. “I have been in contact with the commissioner of TEA, the commissioner of the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the superintendent of schools, and I have asked all of them if they would be willing to meet with me so that a plan could be created to ‘create’ a new Johnston High School,” Watson said. Forgione said Wednesday that Johnston will implement a curriculum called First Things First to help raise student performance. It uses three components:• Instructional improvement through rigorous standards-based instruction • Small learning communities of students and adults organized around themes• A family advocate system where each staff member becomes an advocate for 15 to 17 studentsJohnston will also create a truancy program for chronically absent students.