The Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) named Dr. Soner Tarim the Leader of the Year and Ms. Brooke Lucero the Teacher of the Year at the 2017 Texas Charter Schools Conference last week. TCSA’s Chris Busse presented the awards to Dr. Tarim and Ms. Lucero at a luncheon with Education Commissioner Mike Morath, and discussed their contributions benefitting students and the charter school sector in Texas.

TCSA’s Leader of the Year Program
This award honors one outstanding charter leader from across the State of Texas. As the second recipient of the award for Leader of the Year, Dr. Soner Tarim received a complimentary registration to the conference, a plaque, and a cash award of $1000. The award recognizes charter leaders that advocate for charters at the state and national level, have successfully replicated high performing charters that are innovative in their approaches to educating all students, and serve as a mentor to other charter leaders.

Dr. Soner Tarim is the Founder and CEO of Harmony Public Schools and he has been an educational advocate for more than 30 years, encouraging students in underserved communities to pursue learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. He is a driving force for STEM education throughout Texas and the United States. He brings decades of experience developing innovative educational programs for K-12 schools to Harmony, which has garnered state and national recognition for its high academic standards. Harmony was a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2017. The Broad Prize for Urban Education recognizes school districts in urban areas for closing the achievement gap by improving academic performance of low-income and minority students.

Under Dr. Soner Tarim's headship, Harmony has earned the reputation as one of the best charter schools in the country, many of its campuses recognized on prestigious high school rankings, such as News & World Report and Children @ Risk. These successes have only increased Harmony’s demand with 55 campuses scheduled to open in the 2017-18 school year in Texas and Washington D.C., educating close to 36,000 students.

Dr. Tarim holds a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University and is a trained biologist and ecologist. He taught courses in biology, ecology, general science, and physical education at the high school, college and graduate-school levels, and spearheaded scientific symposiums and international science Olympiads, such as the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering, and Environment Project – or ISWEEEP -- which attracts more than 600 top-ranking high school students from more than 60 nations.

Dr. Tarim continuously works toward building meaningful partnerships, maintaining effective communications and positive relationships with high-level corporate and civic leaders to advance high-quality, rigorous education throughout the state and nation.

TCSA’s Teacher of the Year program
This is the second year for TCSA’s Teacher of the Year program which honors one outstanding educator from across the State of Texas. As the recipient of the award for Teacher of the Year, Ms. Brooke Lucero received a complimentary registration to the conference, a plaque, and a cash award of $1000. The award recognizes charter educators that advocate for charters at the local level, are innovative in their approaches to educating all students, and serve as a leader on their campus and within their communities.

Brooke Lucero is a special education teacher at the Great Hearts Northern Oaks campus, and has 10 years of classroom experience. She inspires students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn. Ms. Lucero uses Socratic Seminar, knowledge of different learning styles, strategies, accommodations and modifications, knowledge of behavior analysis as well as multiple positive behavior supports and systems to work with the special education students she teaches. Great Hearts is passionately committed to cultivating the hearts and minds of students through the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.

Last week, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) held its largest conference to date with more than 1,600 attendees gathered from across the state. Conference attendees included public charter school administrators, principals, superintendents, teachers, and board members. More than 100 training sessions were offered during this three-day training event at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine. Additionally, there were about 150 exhibitors in attendance who provide educational products and services.

Here’s an overview of some conference highlights for those unable to attend this year’s Texas Charter Schools Conference.

Day 1
Eddie Conger of International Leadership Texas served as this year’s conference chairman and kicked off the opening session by welcoming attendees in English, Mandarin, and Spanish. He was followed by David Dunn, TCSA’s Executive Director, who reflected on the growth of the charter sector and outcomes achieved by students during his tenure at the association. Most notably, Dunn highlighted key successes of the charter sector including recently passed legislation, HB 21, which provides $60 million in facilities funds for eligible charters beginning in school year 2018-19.

Dr. Christopher Emdin delivered the keynote address and inspired conference participants with a lively, interactive discussion on the art of teaching and grit, among other education topics. Dr. Emdin is a professor of science education at Columbia University, author, and Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the U.S. Department of Energy. Additionally, there were student performances by Life School’s choir and the drum line from Faith Family Academy at the opening session.

Day 2
TCSA’s Member Council Meeting was held on the second day of the conference and we’re pleased to provide the 2017 election results with terms beginning on January 1, 2018. Congratulations to the newly elected board and advocacy members!

Member Council Vice-Chair
• Jennifer Goodman, Odyssey Academy

Board Member-Large School Representatives
• Brent Wilson, Life School
• Eddie Conger, International Leadership of Texas
• Matt Abbott, Wayside Schools

Board Member-Small School Representative
• Michelle Bonton, The Rhodes School

Board Member-Standing Member School Small Representative
• Alfredo Segura, Jr., New Frontiers Charter School

Elected Advocacy Committee-Large School Representatives
• Lisa Freeman Schutz, Brooks Academy
• Samuel Goessling, IDEA Public Schools

Elected Advocacy Committee-Small School Representatives
• John Armbrust, Austin Achieve Public Schools
• Rebecca Good, Legacy Preparatory Charter Academy

Elected Advocacy Committee-College Preparatory Representative
• Matt Abbott, Wayside Schools

Elected Advocacy Committee-Dropout Recovery Representative
• Brandy Schott, Winfree Academy Charter Schools

Elected Advocacy Committee-Early Childhood & Elementary Education Representative
• William Clark, STEP Charter School

Elected Advocacy Committee-Specialized Mission Representative
• Virginia Lannen, Pegasus School of Liberal Arts

Day 3
On the final day of the conference, TCSA held its annual award luncheon featuring a Q&A session with Education Commissioner Mike Morath. During this session, Commissioner Morath and TCSA’s David Dunn discussed A-F rating implementation, facilities funding for charters, Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, and charter-district partnerships. We appreciate Commissioner Morath’s support for public charter schools and we look forward to continuing our work with him and the Texas Education Agency.

In addition to the Commissioner’s remarks, the annual luncheon is a time to recognize significant contributions to students and the charter sector. Chris Busse, TCSA’s Vice President of Quality Services, presented Dr. Soner Tarim the 2017 Leader of the Year award and Brooke Lucero of the Great Hearts Northern Oaks campus the 2017 Teacher of the Year award for their efforts to help students and the charter movement.

Separately, David Dunn presented Charter Champion awards to Chairman Larry Taylor and Chairman Jim Murphy for their strong support of public charter schools during this past legislative session. Both legislators authored bills and were advocates for charter-friendly policies leading to the successful passage of legislation to provide facilities funding public charter schools; expand the capacity of the PSF Bond Guarantee Program; and address the “minutes bill.”

David Dunn and Tom Castro, TCSA’s Board Chairman, also called Veronica Garcia to the stage in recognition of her leadership in advancing TCSA’s priorities with the legislature during the 85th Legislative Session. Under Veronica’s direction, TCSA achieved several legislative successes including the passage of HB 21, which provides facilities funding to public charter schools for the first time in state history.

Additionally, there was a tribute from the charter community to David Dunn, as this is his last conference in his current capacity as executive director. It was a fitting way to end this year’s conference as we head into the next chapter for the organization and its members. Overall, the 2017 Texas Charter Schools Conference was a success and we’re thrilled so many of you were able to participate! We look forward to seeing you at the Marriott Marquis in Houston on October 24-26, 2018.

TCSA is excited to announce this year's Keynote Speaker for the 2017 Texas Charter Schools Conference: Dr. Christopher Emdin.

Dr. Emdin is an Associate Professor of Science Education and Director of Science Education in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University. He also serves as Associate Director of the Institute For Urban and Minority Education at the college.

Dr. Emdin holds a Ph.D. in Urban Education with a concentration in Mathematics, Science and Technology, a M.S. in Natural Sciences, and Bachelors degrees in Physical Anthropology, Biology, and Chemistry.

He was recently awarded the 2016 Early Career Award by the American Educational Researchers Association and 2015 Multicultural Educator of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Educators.

Professor Emdin was also selected as a STEM Access Champion of Change by the White House, and currently serves as Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the United States Department of Energy.

Dr. Emdin is also listed on the ROOT100 list of most influential African Americans in the fields of business, science, politics, technology, social justice, sports and entertainment.

He is founder of the #HipHopEd movement, and the author of the award winning book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation, and the New York Times bestseller, For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood...and the Rest of Ya'll Too.

Some of the topics he'll be discussing include:
• The Crisis of Urban Education
• Teaching & Learning from the Student's Standpoint
• Hip-Hop & Education
• Rethinking STEM

Don't miss this exciting speaker and register today!  We look forward to seeing you next week.

Speakers and session content are now available for the 2017 TCSA Charter Schools Conference in the TCSA Conference App. The conference will convene national and state charter school innovators, reformers, and leaders at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine on October 11-13, 2017. Two new strands have been added to the conference this year, Strategic Planning and Focus on Growth, as many of our state leaders have been tasked with expanding their charter system to new areas.

Here are a couple of presentations that we are excited to see at the conference this year:

Creating High Performing High-Poverty Schools presented by Ericka Johnson from Responsive Education Solutions. In this session, Johnson will model how to transform a high-poverty campus that is low-performing into a high-performing campus in one year. Participants will leave inspired to transform campuses using best practices and shared leadership, parent and community engagement, and data driven decision making.

Delightful Customer Service presented by Dr. Becky Good from Legacy Preparatory Charter Academy. Come learn how Legacy Prep Charter rolled out the need to bring delightful customer service to internal customers (staff) and then external customers (students, parents, and other stakeholders).

Efficiency, Accountability and Transparency in Procurement presented by Mehmet Bayar from Harmony Public Schools. In this session, Bayar shares how to ensure efficiency, accountability and transparency in public procurement and why it is critical to stretch school dollars to best serve charter students. Bayar discusses how Harmony’s purchasing department ensured that purchasing and contracting activities are legal, accountable, auditable, ethically responsible, and economically effective.

Outside the Box: The first dual credit senior high campus in Texas presented by Dr. Joann Simmons from the University of Texas at Tyler. Join this session to learn how the campus uses a flipped model of instruction to teach students rigorous STEM content using project-based learning (PBL) strategies. Learn how accelerated content and high expectations changed student outcomes on this charter’s three campuses.

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell presented by Ana Medoza from Vanguard Academy. During this session, presenters will share a model used to implement leadership training with all central office and campus administrators.

Please review all of the sessions that will be presented at this year’s conference in the TCSA Conference App. We encourage you to register today. We hope to see you at the beautiful Gaylord Texan in October!

A number of TCSA staff members had the opportunity to attend the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference, NCSC17, earlier this week in Washington D.C. There were approximately 4,000 attendees representing all aspects of the charter spectrum including charter CEOs, teachers and staff, governance boards, state charter support organizations (CSO) like TCSA, foundations and charter grant funders, charter management organizations, legislators, higher education institutions, charter authorizers, state education agencies, state and national policy organizations, and vendors representing every aspect of the charter sector including curriculum materials, human capital management, and charter facility construction and financing. More than 200 breakout sessions were loosely grouped into five major strands targeted towards charter school operations, leadership, instruction, policy, and governance, while state charter support organizations were able to participate in sessions that were “off the grid” and specifically focused on improving the performance of CSOs in their support of member schools through the sharing of best practices in areas of legislative advocacy, leadership practices, special education support, and school performance.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, shared some recent public charter school accomplishments including that six out of the top 10 high schools in the U.S. are charter schools (US News and World Report); Colorado recently passed a law equalizing funding for charters and traditional public schools; the new administration has proposed an increase in spending for charter schools by 50 percent; and the creation of a unified traditional public school-charter board in Los Angeles. She also noted some setbacks to the charter movement, including the defeat of a Massachusetts amendment to lift the cap on public charter schools and the increase in litigation across the country that challenges the existence of public charters.

Two notable speakers highlighted the general session agendas. Dr. Steve Perry, CEO of Connecticut-based Capital Preparatory Schools, addressed attendees on Monday. You may recall that Dr. Perry served as one of the keynote speakers at our TCSA conference last October. Steve continued his “disruption of the establishment” theme, proclaiming that the most controversial thing we can do as educators is to give access to education to disenfranchised children. He declared that it should be offensive to us as educators that we must fight for something (school choice) that should have been given to us at birth. Perry’s message also outlined a call to action for charter leaders, including the admonition that our legislators should be notified every time a student enrolls in one of our schools or is put on a waiting list. He highlighted the need for more African American and Latino educators to take leadership roles in the charter movement, and he challenged educators to understand the necessity to support current political efforts to promote school choice, even if you may disagree with other elements of the current administration platform. At the conclusion of Dr. Perry’s remarks, IDEA CEO Tom Torkelson introduced the finalists for the $250,000 Broad Prize for the top public charter school, including the Denver School of Science, Texas’ own Harmony Public Schools and the Broad prize winner, Success Academy of New York.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed a standing-room only crowd on Tuesday, expressing her support of the charter movement as well as other forms of school choice including traditional public education, private schools, and vouchers. She stated that “a system that denies parents the freedom to choose the education that best suits their children’s individual and unique needs denies them a basic human right - it is un-American, and it is fundamentally unjust.” She detailed her history of partnership with the school choice movement, including her contributions in crafting Michigan’s charter law in the 1990’s and her involvement in the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter school founded by her husband. While reminding the audience that public charter schools prove that “quality and choice can coexist,” she added that they “are not the one cure-all to the ills that beset education” and provided an example of three successful Miami-area schools she recently visited – a public charter, a private school, and a traditional public school, noting that the common factor with all three schools was the satisfaction of the parents that their chosen school was providing their child a quality education.

As an association, TCSA staff members are working diligently to provide you leadership and value in the areas of charter school advocacy and quality member services for our great charter schools across the state of Texas. Conferences like NCSC 2017 help your organization to reinforce its commitment to the mission that we share with all of our member schools – to improve student achievement in Texas by advocating for and strengthening Texas’s diverse set of high quality charter schools.

Several staff members from the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) traveled to Nashville last week to join our charter school colleagues from across the country for the National Charter Conference. There were inspirational speakers and training sessions for the charter school community to share information and best practices at the conference. 

One of the most exciting parts of the conference was the announcement of the 2016 Broad Prize at the first general session. On Monday, June 27, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools named IDEA Public Schools (IDEA) as America’s Best Charter School Network and the winner of this year’s prize. The Texas-based charter management organization will receive $250,000 to support college-readiness for their largely Hispanic student population.

CEO Tom Torkelson and several of the IDEA team were called to the stage at Music City Center to claim their prize.

IDEA serves more than 24,000 students in 44 schools throughout the Austin, Rio Grande Valley, and San Antonio regions. Nearly 90 percent of IDEA's students are low-income, and 95 percent are Hispanic.

Two out of the three finalists this year were Texas-based charter schools and included IDEA Public Schools and Yes Prep Public Schools of Houston, along with Success Academy Charter Schools of New York. The first Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools was awarded in 2012 to Yes Prep Public Schools and in 2014, the recipient was KIPP Schools, which began in Houston, Texas.

It was exciting to cheer for our Texas friends at IDEA as they were revealed as the 2016 winner. TCSA congratulates IDEA on their success in providing a quality public education to students and we look forward to supporting and working with this network as it grows.

On June 27, 2016, TCSA issued this statement regarding IDEA's win.

Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) held its quarterly Member Council Meeting last Friday, February 5, 2016.  More than 30 attendees representing more than 20 organizations participated in this day-long meeting held at our sponsor’s, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, office in Austin. 

After a brief welcome and introductions by TCSA’s Executive Director David Dunn, General Counsel Lindsey Gordon provided legal updates to the group covering a range of topics including the impact of the new Open Carry laws (HB 910) on school campuses and separately, the new Open Meetings Act requirements.  Additionally, she provided a briefing on HB 2610; information on the issue concerning the disposition of charter school properties; and the open comment period for proposed rules.

TCSA Members also received a briefing from Veronica Garcia, the Vice President of Government and Public Affairs, on Charter Schools Now, a newly formed 501 (c) (4) non-profit corporation, as well as the current status of TCSA’s advocacy efforts including updates from the Senate Education Interim Hearing which discussed the implementation of SB 2, disposition of property, and public charter school facilities funding.

Laura Kelly, TCSA’s Director of Quality, gave a presentation to members on the TEA’s Charter Schools Performance Framework outlining important deadlines and concerns.  As part of the presentation, she walked through a sample report with our members.  Following this presentation, Director of Training Services, Paula Moeller provided dates for upcoming training and professional development events and showed the group the newly created Learning Zone, TCSA’s centralized training website.  One of the primary training opportunities is TCSA’s Annual Conference which will be held in Austin on October 3-5, 2016.  Make sure to sign up for early registration!

TCSA’s members last met in October at the annual conference in San Antonio, so this was an opportune time to share information and best practices, receive updates, and ask questions from the staff.  We want to thank our sponsors, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for hosting the meeting and for their services as one of our solution providers.  We encourage all of our members to attend the next Member Council Meeting on April 28, which will be held at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Conference Center in Austin at no charge for TCSA members. Look for more information on the events section of TCSA’s website.

See photos from the February 2016 Member Council Meeting

By Samantha Womack, TCSA Communications Specialist

About 1,500 charter leaders and innovators participated in the 2015 Texas Charter Schools Conference this week in San Antonio.

Hundreds were inspired and energized by opening keynote David Robinson, education advocate and Spurs center, during the opening session on Wednesday.

“Charters are where my heart is,” Robinson said. “Leaders, thank you for bringing promise to our students.”

See the tweets of audience members.

The Honorable Joe Straus, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, also welcomed charter leaders and innovators to San Antonio.

“I appreciate all you do and want to continue to be your partner,” Straus said.

Thursday was packed with a variety of educational sessions, from advocating for your school to the Texas Education Agency on the Performance Framework.

Closing out the conference, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and TCSA Executive Director David Dunn participated in a charter school Q&A.

Bush explained how his role enables him to support public charter schools through the management of the Permanent School Fund assets. It’s access to the PSF bond guarantee program that has saved charters millions of dollars and returned that money to the classroom.

We hope you will join us for the 2016 Texas Charter Schools Conference October 3-5 in Austin.

By Dr. Maria Lourdes "Marylu" De Hoyos, TCSA Director of Data Services

Public charter schools offer a place to practice true school reform and transformation. We can transform schools into a place for children to experience exponential growth of their mind and spirit.

Dr. Maria Lourdes De Hoyos

Dr. Maria Lourdes De Hoyos

I am an immigrant who came to the U.S. in search of education, the master key that opens the door of opportunities. In my journey, I learned English as a second language. My parents instilled education as one of our most cherished values at home. Parents that choose public charter schools have that same desire to provide the best possible education they can find for their children.

TCSA’s work brings together my two greatest loves: People and data. I joined TCSA because I am committed to education innovation. Data is of crucial importance to documenting the achievement story and facilitating the understanding of where we need to devote more resources.

I look forward to helping our data tell the story of Texas’ public charter schools. I look forward to working with our charter leaders and innovators, so that all children can achieve their highest potential and parents can choose the best education for their children.

By Samantha Womack, TCSA Communications Specialist

A recent Gallup poll illustrates students who have at least one teacher who excites them about the future are 30 times more likely to be engaged. Furthermore, if the principal is engaged, there’s a trickle-down effect on teachers, students and families.

Unfortunately, the polling indicates only 31 percent of teachers are highly engaged, with only one-in-three showing involvement, enthusiasm and commitment to their school and their work.

Teachers and staff who have an engaged principal say:

  • I have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last seven days.
  • Someone at work has talked to me about my progress in the last six months.
  • My opinion seems to count at work.

Gallup found hope and engagement are significant predictors of academic achievement.

But more than 50 percent of students don’t feel they get to do what they do best every day.

When asked what makes a school effective, survey results show its dependent on:

  • Percent of students engaged with their classwork (78%)
  • Percent of students who feel hopeful about their future (77%)
  • Percent of students who graduate from high school (69%)

Standardized test scores came in last.

Additionally, only one in five parents are fully involved with their students’ school. These parents are your vocal advocates and ambassadors of your school—going above and beyond to share their pride.

In contrast, the banking, insurance and healthcare industries have 30 to 40 percent of customers who are fully involved!

Building an engaged school takes a long-term commitment, hard work and dedication to changing your school’s culture.

Where can you start to help your school?

1. Register for the free Gallup Student Poll by October 30 to gauge your students’ engagement. Then analyze the results for what needs changing.

2. Learn more at the Texas Charter Schools Conference at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa from October 28-30. The advocacy session track will cover how to start, build and grow your grassroots advocates on your campus. Register today.