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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Integrating by choice in San Antonio

San Antonio is using school choice to integrate its schools — and to raise test scores, report Beth Hawkins on The 74.

San Antonio’s booming economy hasn’t reached the 78207 zip code on the West Side, she writes. Three years ago, a new superintendent, Pedro Martinez, “created a map showing the depth of poverty on each city block and in every school in the San Antonio Independent School District.”

With an enrollment that’s 91 percent Latino and more than 6 percent black, Martinez decided to integrate schools by income, parents’ education levels and other factors such as homelessness.

. . . Martinez rebooted dozens of schools, reorganizing them around the kinds of programming — Montessori, dual language, gifted and talented — that families in wealthy communities paid private school tuition for. He recruited master teachers and pushed existing ones to retrain. Lacking the money of neighboring districts, he tapped civic organizations and philanthropies to pitch in.

The plan sets aside seats for students from neighboring, more affluent districts. It’s working, writes Hawkins.

The district’s diverse-by-design schools now have long lists of well-to-do families waiting for a seat to open up alongside students from working-class households and destitute neighborhoods. Families from the affluent communities on the city’s north and northwest sides are indeed now eagerly applying to share classrooms with families from the 78207. Student learning has accelerated — in both the new, marquee programs and existing schools.

Martinez’s initiatives aren’t universally popular, notes San Antonio Magazine. Some worry about bringing in out-of-district students. The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel has filed suit to block a charter school, Democracy Prep, from taking over a failing elementary school. Posters have “appeared on telephone poles with the hashtag #byepedro,” writes Hawkins.

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