In the fall 2017, the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) began a partnership with Proximity Learning, LLC. to help our member charter schools find innovative staffing and curriculum solutions.

Proximity Learning, a Texas-based, fully accredited K-12 online education solution, offers schools more flexibility when it comes to course offerings, special education (SPED) services and staffing needs. Districts across the nation are using Proximity Learning to meet their needs through a variety of delivery methods. Spring Branch ISD and Garland ISD have both found success with Proximity Learning’s catalog of courses and virtual teachers.

Is your network growing?

Do you have a difficult time recruiting and retaining highly qualified staff for your students?

Are your families requesting more course offerings such as Mandarin, Latin or AP courses?

 

Proximity Learning may be the solution for you. TCSA is particularly excited about Proximity Learning’s synchronous (live) system for instruction: students receive instruction from live, highly-qualified and state certified teachers streamed straight into the classroom via a webcam. Teachers can be part-time or full-time, giving administrators the flexibility of choosing only the classes they need. Utilizing the live teacher option, Proximity Learning works one-on-one with each school to fully align with their bell schedule, parent teacher conferences, grading expectations and curriculum adoption – your normal operations won’t be interrupted. Additionally, Proximity Learning can take the curriculum from a district for any subject and develop and teach the course virtually using a state accredited instructor.

Is your SPED program understaffed? Proximity Learning can meet your SPED needs. We know that finding long-term SPED-certified staff is especially difficult. Proximity Learning’s full suite of special education services includes assessment, direct instruction, indirect instruction and administration to alleviate the burden on schools.

In addition to live instruction, Proximity Learning has a suite of self-paced online courses for 6th-12th grade students, including AP courses.

Proximity Learning’s suite of services includes:

  • Live Teachers (synchronous)
  • Online, self-paced course (asynchronous)
  • Live Tutors
  • Full course catalog for grades 6-12, including AP courses
  • Full suite of SPED Services, including assessment, instruction and administration

If you anticipate semester- or year-long teacher vacancies, want to expand course offerings or need to bulk up your SPED support, Proximity Learning should be considered as a viable and innovative solution for your school.

Contact Erin Tholen or Zach Harris to learn more.

An image of online teacher Julia Cooper is seen on monitors during virtual algebra course at Champ Cooper Junior High School in Ponchatoula, Louisiana September 8, 2010. Photo by Lee Celano

An image of online teacher Julia Cooper is seen on monitors during virtual algebra course at Champ Cooper Junior High School in Ponchatoula, Louisiana September 8, 2010. Photo by Lee Celano

In November, I went before the Texas Supreme Court on behalf of Neighborhood Centers, Inc. (Baker Ripley) to argue that public charter schools are not subject to the Texas Whistleblower Act.  You can listen to the oral argument and learn more about the case here

Our primary argument before the Texas Supreme Court focused on the legislative intent behind the 2015 amendments to Chapter 12 of the Education Code and the comprehensive statutory framework set forth by the state legislature for public charter schools in Texas. This framework preserves the fundamentally private nature of the non-profit corporate entities that operate charter schools, while allowing for treatment similar to that of governmental entities for purposes of some, but not all, specific statutes. Since Chapter 12 does not make an open-enrollment charter school a local governmental entity or a political subdivision for all purposes, or for the specific purposes of the Whistleblower Act, and since the Whistleblower Act does not by its own words apply to charter schools, it should not be subject to claims under the Whistleblower Act.

The First Court of Appeals in Houston initially reviewed these new amendments in Neighborhood Centers Inc. v. Walker, 499 S.W.3d 16 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2016, pet. granted), and held that open-enrollment charter schools can be sued under the Whistleblower Act, because the Whistleblower Act waives immunity for claims against school districts. Neighborhood Centers appealed that decision to the Texas Supreme Court, which granted review.

By way of background, in 2013, the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas reversed an earlier decision by that court to hold that private, non-profit corporations that operate open-enrollment charter schools are subject to the Whistleblower Act. In response to this and other cases, the 2015 Texas Legislature enacted House Bills 1170 and 1171, which amended certain provisions of Chapter 12. Under the new law, Chapter 12 states that open-enrollment charter schools and charter holders are immune from suit and liability to the same extent as a school district, whereas they had only previously been immune from liability. Language was also added to clarify that an open-enrollment charter school is not considered to be a “local governmental entity” or a “political subdivision” unless a particular statute specifically says that it applies to charter schools.

The plaintiff’s attorney argued that any type of claim that can be brought against a school district should apply equally to charter schools, and that authorizing this personal cause of action for aggrieved employees is essential to protecting the public school students that make up a charter school’s enrollment.

Applying the Whistleblower Act to Texas charter schools would result in a significant increase in cost and risk to charter school operations. More importantly, ignoring the plain language of Chapter 12 would open the door to other types of claims that the Legislature never intended, and further erode the fundamentally private nature of the non-profit corporate entities that operate charter schools.

We expect the Texas Supreme Court to issue an opinion by the end of June 2018 that answers this important question for all charter schools throughout the state.

The Texas Charter Schools Association’s (TCSA) Interim CEO Chuck Cook tapped former association staffer Amanda List to serve as Interim Vice President of Government and Public Affairs.

Amanda is a principal of AList Consulting and served as TCSA's first director of advocacy. As one of the earliest hires for the association, she helped recruit new members during the organization's formation. Amanda has extensive state government affairs and public charter school experience including strong ties to the Texas Capitol and the Texas Education Agency. She will work with the TCSA Advocacy Team and the elected member advocacy committee as the association prepares for the next state legislative session in 2019.

"It's great to be back at TCSA during the transition to new leadership. I look forward to working with member schools to ensure our grassroots network continues to grow. Public charter schools had a great legislative successes this year and now we must defend our gains and do the work to prepare for what is next on the horizon," she said.

"Amanda has longstanding relationships with member schools and a great working knowledge of the legislative process and the players. She's a natural fit for the interim post," Chuck Cook said. Veronica Garcia left the senior advocacy post at the conclusion of the special session in August. The new CEO will hire a permanent vice president in 2018.

There are several reasons to join or renew your membership with the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA), and one of the primary reasons includes TCSA’s support in addressing the challenges that you and your charter team are wrestling with right now.

TCSA assists charters and their boards with a wide array of subject matters, all of which fall into one of the systems in your TCSA Quality Framework. As Director of Quality Services, I assist campus and district leaders and governing board members in resolving or addressing areas of struggle by improving performance and/or processes.

I am ready to help your team with any of the following tasks:
• Develop logic models and action plans (Leadership/Planning)
• Refine governing practices and optimize board composition and norms (Leadership/Governance)
• Refine improvement efforts and data review processes (Data Driven)
• Conduct an organization-wide analysis to determine expansion readiness (Leadership/Planning)
• Develop, launch and analyze surveys to inform practices or address issues (Staff/Stakeholder)
• Conduct an organization-wide analysis to identify gaps and strengths and craft improvement plan (Leadership)
• Refine mission/vision statements, develop values or norms, or improve organizational culture (Mission Vision Values)

Public charter schools with strong systems and good leadership remain sustainable over time. Join or renew your membership with TCSA today and let us help your team advance to the next level.

HOW TO JOIN OR RENEW:

Step 1: Login to the Quality Member Portal 

Applications will be completed in the Quality Member Portal. Once logged in, click the 'Membership' tab at the top. Please click here if you have forgotten your password.

Step 2: Complete the 2018 Online Membership Application

Upon submission of the online application, an invoice will be automatically generated and sent directly to the accounting contact email listed on the application.

Step 3: Remit your Membership Dues to:

Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA)   

700 Lavaca Street, Suite 930   

Austin, TX 78701

If you have questions about TCSA membership, please contact Nadia Luna. Thank you for your continued support of charter schools in the great state of Texas.

One of the benefits of membership with the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) is representation at the Texas Capitol. On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, TCSA’s Bruce Marchand appeared before the House Public Education Committee to advocate on behalf of public charter schools and students. Below is the testimony he provided to the Committee to support students and public charter schools impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Interim Charge: Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.

Good morning Chairman Huberty and members of the Committee. My name is Bruce Marchand and I am the Director of Charter School Growth and Development of the Texas Charter Schools Association, or TCSA. TCSA represents 172 public charter holders and approximately 675 campuses that educate nearly 300,000 public charter school students.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate today on the discussion related to recommendations on measures needed to prevent unintended punitive consequences in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. While TCSA is a strong proponent of school accountability, we also recognize that the impact of Harvey on our public schools and students in those regions is unprecedented.

And, while we do not support a complete waiver from the state’s accountability system for this school year, we do encourage a state effort to recognize and make an accommodation in the academic accountability system for those schools and students impacted by Harvey.

Therefore, TCSA’s proposal is to exempt students, who are identified through TEA’s PEIMS crisis codes as students impacted by Harvey and other recent hurricanes, from the school’s district and campus accountability subset for the 2017-18 school year. Again, this is not a recommendation for exemption from testing, but simply the one-year exclusion of these impacted students from a campus and district or charter holder accountability subset.

TEA established PEIMS crisis codes to track students impacted by Harvey (5A-C) and any other hurricanes (06) – such as Irma and Maria to identify these affected students:

5A – This specific code indicates a student was enrolled or was eligible to enroll in an LEA impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and the student enrolled in a different LEA during the 2017-2018 school year.

5B – This specific code indicates a student was enrolled or was eligible to enroll in an LEA impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and the student enrolled in another campus in the same LEA during the 2017-2018 school year.

5C – This specific code indicates a student is identified as homeless because of Hurricane Harvey but has remained enrolled in their home campus during the 2017-2018 school year.

06- Indicates that a student enrolled in a Texas public school during the 2017-2018 school year as a result of being displaced from their residence by Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, or any other hurricane labeled as such by the National Hurricane Center, other than Hurricane Harvey.

As for precedent, in 2006 students who were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and/or Rita were tested in the state assessment system but their results were removed from the accountability subset, as noted in Appendix I of the 2006 accountability manual. As justification for this approach, I would refer you to a March 24, 2010 study conducted by Student Assessment Division at TEA that examined the performance of students who were identified in the 2005-2006 school year as being displaced by Hurricane Katrina or “Katrina students”. This study examined the performance of these displaced students for three years and found that in the first year after the storm that Katrina students tested in Texas (2006), the percentages of these students passing was far below the passing percentage of all Texas students in reading and mathematics.

Hurricane Harvey has caused similar conditions for Texas students. The living conditions as well as the educational programs of displaced students due to Harvey have been severely disrupted. Many schools have spent, and continue to spend, considerable resources addressing not only the academic needs of these students but also the socio-emotional needs brought about by students’ suffering and displacement.

In light of these circumstances, and the challenges faced by public schools in ensuring these students are mastering grade-level TEKS, and the evidence as noted in the Katrina study that many of these students may well perform below state standards in their tested areas as compared to their non-affected peers, it is logical that students who are identified by these specific PEIMS codes should be excluded in the 2017-2018 accountability subset for public schools. To be clear, the students would still test. It is important for schools to have the data necessary to assess the progress of students. Our recommendation is simply that testing results of these specific students, similar to what TEA has done in the past, be excluded in this school year’s rating.

With that I conclude my testimony, thank you again for the opportunity, and welcome any questions.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has just posted the RFQ announcing the need for qualified external reviewers to score Generation 23 charter school applications. The application packet can be found here. The deadline to apply is Monday, December 11th.

What is an independent external reviewer of charter applications, and what do they do?

As most of you know, the Texas charter authorization process consists of four major components: external review, a panel interview by TEA staff for applicants who were successful in external review, recommendations for approval of charter applicants by the TEA commissioner, and ratification of those recommendations by the State Board of Education (SBOE), where the proposed contract to charter is upheld or vetoed by the SBOE.

Those individuals selected as independent external reviewers will attend a day of training at TEA, tentatively scheduled for January 10, 2018, where they will be trained in the scoring process. Upon completion of the training, reviewers will be assigned applications to score – usually between 8 and 10, depending on the number of applicants as each application is scored by five reviewers. Typically reviewers will have about 30 days to complete the scoring of their assigned applications. Thanks in part to the efforts of the Texas Charter Schools Association, applicants who receive a cumulative score of 80 to 84 percent may request an additional sixth review of their application to allow for the opportunity to raise their score to the 85 percent cut score minimum to proceed in the authorization process.

Why is it important for you as a charter leader to consider this opportunity?

As charter leaders, we have very little say in the charter authorization task with one notable exception: the external review process. And as charter leaders, if we don’t take the opportunity to add high levels of competence and collective years of educational expertise to the authorization effort, we are at risk of undermining the foundation of the charter growth movement – the creation of more high-quality seats to provide a world-class public education to the students of Texas.

Successful reviewers need to have a solid background in curriculum and instruction, operations, finance, personnel, governance, and charter law in general. That sounds like a description of many of our great Texas charter school leaders. The hours are long and the pay isn’t great, but the cause is worthy.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the process. Thanks ahead of time for considering making a difference in the Texas charter application review process!

Wayside Schools became a member of the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) five years ago when I joined the Wayside staff as CEO. I have been a passionate supporter of TCSA for many years and share the belief that every parent should have the opportunity to choose the free, public school that best fits the needs of their scholar(s).

TCSA is a great partner in advocacy efforts and one primary example includes the passage of HB 21, which provides $60 million in facilities funding beginning in 2018-19. Like many public charter schools, our small charter network is impacted by the disparity in funding. However, we worked with TCSA during the last legislative session to pass HB 21! Public charter school students will receive about $200 per pupil, which is a first step in closing the funding gap. Unlike any single charter network, TCSA is able to bring together multiple voices and multiple communities, to advocate on behalf of increased funding and other important policies affecting charter school operations.

As a member organization, Wayside Schools receives special help scheduling legislative visits and engaging legislators to attend individual school events. TCSA staff work alongside our parents helping them to practice their talking points and prepare for advocacy activities. TCSA is there every step of the way so that parents never feel they are acting alone. Their staff go above and beyond to provide the support we need to have a voice in the world of education public policy.

As a network leader, they have helped me connect with other charter leaders to share best practices. TCSA offers many trainings and workshops that give insight into charter and school policy changes that will impact how our school operates. They also provide a comprehensive analysis tool as part of membership. More than anything else, I recommend a TCSA membership because they make you feel like you are never alone and provide support while navigating the world of running a charter school.

As a founding board member of the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA), I have been passionate about this organization since its inception. TCSA’s mission is to improve student achievement in Texas by advocating for and strengthening a diverse set of high quality charter schools. I’m thrilled to be a part of this mission both in my capacity as the CEO of ResponsiveED and now as the Interim CEO of TCSA.

I made a commitment to TCSA’s Board and to you to serve as the Interim CEO while the Search Committee conducts a national search for a permanent CEO. I want to assure you that my aim includes supporting and strengthening the good work already happening at public charter schools by providing continuity of services at TCSA and transparency in our efforts.

The future is bright for charter schools in this state and for the association. Last year, there were nearly 273,000 students at 675 public charter school campuses across the state and we continue to see growth in enrollment and campuses. Texas families want options within public education to meet the needs of their children, and these options come in various forms such as college preparatory charters, charters at residential treatment centers, STEM-focused campuses, and dropout recovery models. Public charter schools are meeting their promise by providing innovation in education and offering flexibility in the classroom.

While there is tremendous diversity in the scope, size, and mission of our public charter schools, we must work together as one voice to represent our sector and achieve our common goals. Whether we’re advocating for charter-friendly policies at the state capitol or sharing best practices through continuing education and training, we’re more effective as one body.

That’s why I encourage you to either join or renew your membership with TCSA today.

TCSA members receive:
• Representation with the Texas Legislature, Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education.
• Discounted legal products including model board policies, Student Code of Conduct, and a Personnel Handbook
• Access to the Learning Zone, TCSA's robust online training portal, and discounted registration rates for the Texas Charter Schools Conference
• Legal information and advice, as well as updates and alerts on specific matters pertaining to charter schools
• Tools to engage parents on advocacy efforts with the Texas Legislature
• Access to a growing market of solution providers and strategically-aligned partnerships with negotiated pricing and contract terms
• Resources and advice for navigating TEA requirements for your school's growth and expansion

Please, take this time to renew or begin a membership with TCSA. Add your voice to the conversation and ensure the charter movement continues to grow and succeed.

HOW TO JOIN OR RENEW:
Step 1: Login to the Quality Member Portal
Applications will be completed in the Quality Member Portal. Once logged in, click the 'Membership' tab at the top. Please click here if you have forgotten your password.

Step 2: Complete the 2018 Online Membership Application
Upon submission of the online application, an invoice will be automatically generated and sent directly to the accounting contact email listed on the application.

Step 3: Remit your Membership Dues to:
Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA)
700 Lavaca Street, Suite 930
Austin, TX 78701

If you have questions about the membership process, please contact Nadia Luna.

Thank you for your continued support of charter schools in the great state of Texas.

The Rhodes School opened its doors in 2007 to educate pre-K through eighth grade students in Houston, Texas. Throughout our decade of serving the northeast part of Houston, we have never experienced anything near the devastation that Hurricane Harvey brought to our community’s doorstep.

I encourage you to donate to the TCSA Harvey Relief Fund to help public charter school communities like mine that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Out of our four school facilities, one was severely damaged and a second is a total loss. The damage is so extensive it is difficult to list it all but primarily includes:

• The loss of nine classrooms, two cafeterias, 90 percent of administrative space for one location, 100 percent loss of all offices and space for central office staff in a second location, and also the loss of four school buses and one delivery van;
• 318 brand new Chrome Books that were purchased for student use as digital textbooks were totaled;
• Brand new library books, teacher supplies, special education testing materials, speech language testing materials were damaged; and
• Four copiers, three commercial refrigerators, furniture for all nine classrooms and several administrative offices were lost.

Painfully, a large portion of our musical instruments, costumes, set designs, and theater program props were also damaged beyond repair. I want to point out that Rhodes is a fine arts public charter school and it is the primary reason that our parents choose to come to our school. Therefore, the loss of the fine arts equipment is particularly devastating for our program.

Many of you may be familiar with the stories surrounding Hurricane Harvey and know that several road closures meant people could not get to their buildings to begin the recovery process. This meant we could not begin cleanup efforts at Rhodes until nearly a week after the storm, leading to significant mold issues that we are now working to remediate.

What I have described to you is merely the physical impact of Harvey. The gravity facing our community is much more severe. Our largest school campus is located in one of the hardest hit communities in Houston with more than 70 percent of families displaced in the weeks immediately following the storm and about 40 percent who remain displaced today. We have a double-digit increase in the number of students now legally classified as homeless as a result of the storm.

At Rhodes we are working to meet the very real basic needs of several of our families and staff. I wish I could say that our story is unique, but I know that many of my public charter school colleagues are also on the front lines working to rebuild and provide a much needed sense of normalcy for their families. To all of you that have reached out in support, thank you. Our community has suffered much loss, but it is with everyone standing together in support of each other that we will come out stronger on the other end.

Your donation to the TCSA Harvey Relief Fund will help public charter school communities that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey. 

My final day as TCSA Executive Director approaches and it is definitely bittersweet. The opportunity to serve as a leader in this vibrant and successful movement has been extremely rewarding. As most of you know, it also has been quite challenging.

As I reflect on our shared journey over the last nine years, I think one word expresses my feelings best: proud. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished together. I think each and every one of you – whether a teacher, or a leader, or a parent or an advocate – should be proud as well.

We have come a long way baby!

When I started TCSA back in October of 2008, there were 90,000 students attending school at 374 charter campuses around the state. Last year, there were nearly 273,000 students on 675 campuses! On average, student enrollment at charters has grown at a rate of 12 percent annually and I have every reason to believe this phenomenal growth will continue for years.

In the early years, there were many challenges. Frankly, in the late 1990s there were charters granted to entities that never should have been allowed to educate our state’s youth. National studies showed that charter student performance lagged behind students in the traditional ISDs they left behind.

Over the last nine years, TCSA has maintained a laser focus on improving the quality of the sector. We have partnered with charter and school leaders across the state to improve governance, fiscal management, and operations. And, these improvements have allowed charter leaders to keep the eye on the ultimate prize: improving student outcomes.

And, yes, we have worked to ensure that charter schools that are not meeting the needs of kids or are not good stewards of taxpayer funds are shuttered.

We are seeing the results of this work. CREDO, out of Stanford University, released a report this summer that showed – in an apples to apples comparison – that charter students were outperforming their traditional ISD peers in Reading, and had completely closed the gap in Math. In fact, public charter students received the equivalent in learning of an additional 17 days in Reading. Over three weeks of additional learning!

The Texas Education Agency recently released its performance reports, once again showing that public charter schools serve higher proportions of students who are economically disadvantaged, African-American, Hispanic, and/or English language learners. These student groups outperformed their district peers in reading, writing, and social studies last year.

And, we are now seeing the results of this hard work pay off in a more charter friendly environment in Austin and elsewhere throughout the state. In the 85th Legislative Session the charter movement scored historic wins: Funding for facilities for the very first time; an additional $3 billion in Permanent School Fund Bond Guarantee capacity; and we were able to protect the funds for charters serving our most vulnerable youth, and charters that have implemented truly innovative programs.

So, yes, I am very proud of our work. I think you should be too.

And, I am fully confident no one will rest on these laurels. The work continues. The challenges remain. I can’t wait to see future results.

Thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving as a leader in this movement. There is no more important work than serving students.

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