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Leaders reflect on opportunities of rightsizing

Primary student at schoolFenwick Academy Principal Cassie McClung sees the possibility of positive change in San Antonio ISD through rightsizing.


McClung hasn’t seen a lot of change at Fenwick Academy. The school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students lacks some of the class offerings and resources that other schools have, and it only has one counselor.


But rightsizing could change all that.


“I know this is something that we need to do, and I have a very positive outlook on it,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”


On June 20, the SAISD Board of Trustees approved a resolution to study school building capacity for the purpose of supporting thriving schools, students, teachers and staff. Through the study, school officials are assessing student enrollment, the quality of education and resources provided, and the use of space at each campus.


The result of the study may lead to restructuring, or "rightsizing," school sites to better serve students. Rightsizing may involve closing school buildings, co-locating schools to the same campus or consolidating multiple schools into one school. The board will make the final decision on whether to restructure schools on Nov. 13, based on an initial recommendation package of schools presented to trustees on Sept. 18. If the board approves, SAISD will implement the changes in the 2024-2025 school year.


This process may feel familiar for some SAISD staff. The district closed six campuses in June 2008 to control costs and eliminate campuses that weren’t being used to their full potential. This resulted in about $6 million in savings, according to SAISD’s 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.


This time, the goal of the rightsizing study is for the district to live up to its promise of an excellent education for all students, Superintendent Jaime Aquino said.


“We want to do better for our children by ensuring each student has the same access to extraordinary educational experiences and resources regardless of the campus where they attend,” he said. “Rightsizing will allow us to reimagine the way we support all students so both children and educators benefit.”


Rhodes Middle School interim Principal Blanca Rojas remembers the uneasiness and fear among staff, students and families leading up to the school closures in 2008. People were afraid of losing their jobs, and some communities in the district protested louder than others, leaving some unheard. Rojas hopes SAISD has learned from that process.


“We should be very transparent,” she said. “We should know what the plan is, what the pathways are for every level of employee so that people aren’t afraid of losing their jobs.”


Rojas knows that the district cannot make any guarantees right now, but she still fears losing high-quality teachers, instructional coaches and administrators who truly love working with students and who lead with heart to other districts because of the uncertainty. That is what happened in 2008. She said teachers and staff need to know SAISD values them in this process.


“We already lose so many people for different reasons,” she said. “I would hate for rightsizing to be another factor.”


“If rightsizing is approved by the board, we will stand by our staff and families throughout this process,” said Ken Thompson, deputy superintendent over Human Capital Management. “Throughout the spring and summer, all families and staff will be fully supported with their enrollment and career options in the district. SAISD expects to keep most, and preferably all, staff.”


While Oscar Garcia is worried about what will happen to teachers and staff, he is more concerned about what will happen to students. He vividly remembers how scary it was to move schools when Crockett Elementary School closed in the late ‘70s.


The J.T. Brackenridge Elementary School senior program coordinator remembers holding hands with his siblings on the longer walk to the new Crockett Elementary so they would feel safe. He remembers feeling like an outsider because he didn’t know anyone, and he remembers his mother internalizing her children’s anxiety about their new school.


For Garcia, these are the things that SAISD should be considering as the district moves forward with rightsizing and potentially closing and consolidating schools. The concerns of teachers and staff should come secondary.


“For kids, it’s scary,” Garcia said. “It’s a cultural shift, and it’s challenging.”


McClung believes the benefits to students will outweigh the costs. At Fenwick, some teachers don’t have another teacher in their grade and subject to collaborate with, particularly in grades 6-8. There are only two sixth grade teachers – one for science and math and one for literature.


“They don’t really have anyone to bounce ideas off and to plan with and to collaborate,” she said. “They plan with each other, but when it comes to their content areas, they’re lacking that network.”


Additionally, the campus only has one counselor for all students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. That is a vast array of emotional issues and situations for one person to address, McClung said.


“We have to do something in order to make sure that our students are getting everything that they need,” she said.


Rightsizing will enable SAISD to provide more resources to all students, distributed equally across all campuses, McClung said. Fenwick doesn’t offer every class, elective and extracurricular activity that a traditional middle school does because the school is not fully enrolled.


“Being able to have a wider range of offerings for our students is going to help them in their futures and on their educational paths,” she said. “It would create a more well-rounded school environment.”


But like Garcia, both McClung and Rojas know this process will deeply impact students and their families, especially those whose histories are intertwined with their neighborhood schools. Some families have attended certain schools for generations and maintain relationships with campus staff. Schools anchor these communities, and closing them could send them into a spiral of grief.


“There’s going to be some sadness, and there’s going to be some heartbreak,” McClung said. “Passion runs deep, and that’s a wonderful thing to have.”


To ease the transition, Garcia suggested that students and families have time to visit the school that would receive students from a closing campus, allowing them to get familiar with the new building, teachers and schedules. The teachers who would receive the transitioning students should visit the classrooms in the closing or consolidating schools to introduce themselves to students and their families and begin building those bridges.


“You need that connection with your teachers,” he said.


If campuses close, Rojas recommended that SAISD hold events to allow families to grieve the loss of their schools, which also means the loss of certain traditions. Mascots and school colors could change; relationships in the community could shift. Rojas emphasized the need for that part of process to be extremely empathetic for families.


“Those community events need to be strategic and loving,” she said. “We are a familia.”


Deputy Superintendent Patti Salzmann said the district plans to honor the legacy of schools that may potentially close and their communities.


“Our schools have played an important part in the lives of our neighborhoods and families. We will hold those memories dear in the next spring, next fall and in the coming years through ceremonies, community displays and other forms of commemoration,” she said. “But we must always keep in mind that education is about our children's future, so we must dedicate ourselves to schools that thrive as we go forward.”


To participate in the process, all families, employees and community members are encouraged to attend meetings in their neighborhoods that outline the draft decision-making framework. 


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