Fort Worth ISD: Partnerships & Accountability

Fort Worth ISD: Partnerships & Accountability

Guest blog written by David Saenz, Ed.D.
The March 2024 episode of Community Conversations with NACSA told the story of Fort Worth Independent School District’s Leadership Academy Network, a unique partnership, resembling that of an authorizer-school dynamic, between the district and local partner Texas Wesleyan University. In this blog, David Saenz, Chief of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships at FWISD, expands on the unique accountability framework of the partnership.  

A New Approach to Turnaround 

In 2017, the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) faced a breaking point with five chronically low-performing schools. In an effort to provide students the supports needed to achieve academic success, we adopted the Accelerated Campus Excellence (ACE) model, which had been effectively implemented in the Dallas Independent School District. Implementing the ACE model not only required additional resources, but also additional autonomies, which caused us to quickly face questions about sustainability.  

Texas Senate Bill 1882, which provides financial incentives for school districts to partner with carefully vetted nonprofits to operate district schools, was a lifeline for the initiative. It not only allowed for the additional funding and autonomy we needed to sustain our implementation of the ACE model, but to bring in Texas Wesleyan University (TXWES) as a partner to operate these schools.  

A Unique Shared Accountability Model 

Today, TXWES operates the Leadership Academy Network (LAN) under contract with FWISD, an arrangement very similar to that of a charter-authorizer relationship. LAN operates similarly to a charter school network, with its own governing board, its own budget, and charter-like autonomies covering staffing, instructional practices, and the school calendar. TXWES is held accountable to the performance standards set forth in the contact. However, unlike district-authorized charter schools, LAN school accountability ratings are included in Fort Worth’s district accountability rating.  

When we entered into a partnership with TXWES under SB 1882, the schools received a temporary pause on state accountability ratings and interventions. After the pause ended, however, both FWISD and the TXWES became accountable for the school’s performance. As a result, we are all collectively invested in the success of the partnership and all five of the once low-performing schools have shown remarkable, and sustained, improvement.  

This shared accountability has also allowed us to grow as a system. We have learned from each other on how best to serve students through the streamlining of services and resources. The LAN also has the support of the comprehensive resources that come with being a large urban school district, (e.g., transportation, food services, back office support). This is a mutually beneficial agreement with student success as its core guiding principle.  

Accountability Matters 

In 2021, FWISD entered into another 1882 partnership with an out-of-state, proven charter school network to operate a single school. As with the LAN schools, the school would remain a district school, employ district staff, and the school’s accountability ratings would count towards FWISD’s rating. But after two years, we mutually agreed to terminate the partnership. The biggest reason was we realized that the best chance we had for increasing student outcomes at this school was outside of this partnership. We could not have taken this difficult, but necessary, step without a true partnership in which both organizations were invested in the growth of the students at the school.  

With the shared accountability system of the partnership model, we are incentivized to intervene when a partnership is not working and to take a different approach in an effort to turn the school around. In this case, the impacted school was added to a support system for low-performing schools born out of the learnings from the partnership work that started with the Leadership Academy Network. 

Policies and practices such as these create accountability systems that expand access to high-quality schools for all families. We hope other districts and education entities feel empowered to embark on partnerships that help improve access to quality education and result in better outcomes for students.

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