FORT WORTH — Sophomore Elvia Olmos doesn’t want to think about
going to another school. At Polytechnic High School, the 16-year-old said, she has dedicated
teachers who care and classmates she’s known since elementary
school. "The teachers find the time to help us out and get to know
what we’re going through in our lives and try to understand,"
she said. "If I had to go somewhere else, it would upset me. All
my friends are here." But the future of the academically troubled east-side school hangs
in limbo as Fort Worth district officials prepare to adopt a plan this
week on what to do if the state closes it for good next year. Trustees
plan to discuss options today and vote on a plan Tuesday night. The district must submit a plan to "repurpose" the school
— essentially shutting it down and opening something new in its
place — to the Texas Education Agency this month because Poly is in
its fourth consecutive year of being rated academically unacceptable,
the state’s lowest rating. It is one of six Texas schools in such a predicament. The state is
required to close or place under alternative management any school
rated academically unacceptable for five consecutive years. Superintendent Melody Johnson said the district hasn’t given up
on Poly. Principal Gary Braudaway and his teachers have made
significant progress in recent years, she said. "We believe in Poly, and we’re betting on those kids,"
Johnson said. Closing the school, a neighborhood icon, would be "depressing
to the community," said Trustee Christene Moss, who has
represented the area since 1990. "Poly has made a lot of gains, but it just hasn’t been
enough," Moss said.
Poly senior Sandra Martinez said the public perception of her
school is distorted. "It’s like any other school," she said. "They base
the school on past years and 'because it’s on the east side, then it
must be bad and dangerous.’ It’s really not any of those
things." Poly opened in 1937 at 1300 Conner Ave. as a Works Progress
Administration project. It was a larger home for the school,
previously on Nashville Avenue. Through the decades, the Polytechnic Heights neighborhood suffered
from crime and a steady decline in businesses. Home occupancy rates
started dropping in the 1980s; by the 1990s, 1 in 4 homes was empty.
City housing efforts have helped bring families back to the area,
though there are still few businesses near the school. From the time the state began rating schools, in the mid-1990s,
Poly alternated among the labels of low-performing, acceptable and
academically unacceptable. The ratings system got tougher in 2004, when the required passing
rates on standardized tests were raised. Tougher sanctions were put in
place for schools rated academically unacceptable. Since then, Poly has not meet standards in math and other areas of
the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Last year, only a third
of Poly students passed all portions of the TAKS, compared with 72
percent of students statewide.
Councilman Sal Espino was the 1986 valedictorian of the former
magnet program at Poly. His two younger brothers were also
valedictorian. Espino wants to know why more progress hasn’t been
made at his alma mater. "If we lose that school, we’re losing a valuable asset in
our community," he said. "How did we get to this point?
. . . Have we allocated enough resources there, and
are we doing every thing that we need to do?" Moss doesn’t think so.
"Sometimes central administration is not as proactive as it is
reactive," she said. But Johnson said that since she arrived in 2005, she has ensured
that all schools are treated equitably and have the tools they need to
be successful. That was one focus of the 2007 bond upgrades for all
campuses. "There is no lack of resources at that school," she said.
"I have made sure to ask teachers and the principal what does
Poly need that it doesn’t have." As to academic performance, Johnson said the issue is complex.
Poly often has the students most in need, such as its large numbers
of limited-English-speaking and special-education students. Johnson
said efforts to improve the school haven’t had time to yield
results. And, she said, many Poly students don’t feel support from
About 600 students from the Poly area attend other Fort Worth high
schools under the district’s open-enrollment policy, Johnson noted.
Nearly 215 students who live outside the area transferred into Poly. "It is a stark contrast from, say, Dunbar students, who really
feel strongly that the neighborhood really cares about them and their
successes," she said. "Poly students don’t feel that
If the state closes a school, the district can use the site for
another school. That process is called repurposing. The school board meets at 5 p.m. today to discuss the plan. The
board has scheduled a public comment period during a 5:30 p.m. meeting
Tuesday; afterward, a vote is scheduled. Texas has closed only two schools because of poor performance on
accountability ratings. Johnston High School in Austin and Sam Houston
High School in Houston were closed this summer. "It sounds good to say you’re going to close bad
schools," Johnson said. "But if you close the school and
disperse the kids throughout the community, is that going to help the
kids? That is my problem with this. No one knows if this will
help." Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott must approve any plan. He
said he wants to see that the district is charting a course for each
student’s progress. Scott visited Poly in September and said he was impressed with
administrators and teachers. "Every one of them is energized, and there were multiple
people I talked to who were on campus each and every day doing
everything they could to engage teachers and students to keep them
energized as well," he said. Braudaway, who took over the school in 2006, has not returned
recent messages seeking comment on Poly’s future. But early this
fall, he pointed to student gains on raw test scores as evidence of
About 80 percent of Poly’s teachers were replaced this year under
a pilot program aimed at placing the best teachers at struggling
schools. Curriculum revisions in elementary and middle schools have
boosted the performance of freshmen districtwide, including Poly,
administrators said. The school has had no major fighting incidents,
officials said. Martinez said she’s never seen so many students involved in pep
rallies or other events that show school spirit as she has this year. "Everyone is all filled up [with spirit], and everyone wants
to save our school and wants it to still be here," she said.
Restructuring a school If Polytechnic High School is rated
academically unacceptable next year, the state may close it or place
it under alternative management. The school district can ask to use
a closed campus for another purpose. But in that case, Texas law
requires that the new school must:
Have a new name.
Replace at least 75 percent of its teachers.
Move at least half of current students to new campuses.
Remove the campus administrator.
Provide a rigorous and relevant academic program.
Source: Fort Worth school district
The school, built in 1937, is a neighborhood icon.
About Polytechnic High School The Georgian revival building was
part of the 1930s Works Progress Administration construction
program. With room for 1,700 students, it was considerably larger
than the previous campus at 1201 Nashville Ave.
Campus facts (2007-08):
25.6 percent are limited-English speakers. Language center serves
students from Poly and O.D. Wyatt attendance zones.
78.5 percent are considered at risk of dropping out of school.
70.4 percent qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches based on
10 percent are in special-education programs.
7 percent are in gifted and talented programs.
143 students graduated in 2007; the school had 395 freshmen in
Source: Texas Education Agency, Tarrant County Historic Resources
If you go Trustees are expected to discuss options for Polytechnic
High School at 5 p.m. today and vote on a plan during their meeting
at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. A public comment period is scheduled Tuesday.
The board meets at 2903 Shotts St. in Fort Worth.
EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700