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Eight-graders from Houston's Harmony School of Innovation mounted a fashion show last week to promote a couple of good causes. The students raised $250 for the victims of Santa Fe shooting. In addition, clothes from the fashion show were donated to The Way Home Homeless Coalition. The students' efforts were featured during a local news broadcast:
Representatives from the Texas Charter School Association (TCSA) visited the Rio Grande Valley on January 12-14, 2016, and met with some member schools and local state legislators.
One of the highlights from the visit was a tour of the newly established Premier High SchoolSM CTE Center of Edinburg. TCSA’s Executive Director David Dunn and the Director of Advocacy Martha Fernandez were welcomed to the campus by students, teachers, and district staff members eager to share information about their new school and programs. This particular Premier campus provides educational programs in Health Science; Public Safety, Corrections, and Security; and Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications. This campus serves students in both dropout recovery programs and workforce readiness programs. In fact, Premier was awarded a federal grant to augment their workforce ready opportunities.
Dunn and Fernandez met with students who were grateful for the opportunity to learn subjects and skills equipping them for future endeavors. Overall, their visit was a success in learning more about the campus and hearing from students. TCSA looks forward to continuing the strong partnership with its member school.
By Jim Croswell
Last week, International Leadership of Texas (ILTexas) officially ended its series of four groundbreaking ceremonies on new campuses that will serve students in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth area and Western Houston. These new campuses will provide over 4,500 seats, making ILTexas one of the fastest growing charter schools in the United States. ILTexas has an aggressive growth plan to accommodate for the high demand made known by wait lists numbers reaching more than 5,000 students in just its third year of operation.
The move to Houston was initiated because of three local parents from Katy, TX who were seeking dual-language programs in the public school system. As a result of extensive grassroots efforts by local parents, the ILTexas expansion into Houston was granted the following Spring, and will open with two K-8 facilities in August 2016.
ILTexas is unique, requiring English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese as standard curriculum. ILTexas teaches Spanish and Mandarin Chinese to all students in every grade level beginning in kindergarten, requiring the two languages and an additional athletic conditioning course on top of the standard core classes.
ILTexas was founded by Mr. Eddie Conger, a retired Marine Corps Infantry Officer and former Dallas ISD high school principal. He will tell you the secret to the unprecedented growth is “Competent teachers, supportive staff, and administrators and parents who truly understand the value of our mission.”
ILTexas rallies around this understanding, and has created a vision for education unbound by borders. To fulfill this need, ILTexas has a growing international student program, and provides American students an opportunity to spend a month traveling to several cities across mainland China, and experiencing this world they’ve been learning about in their classrooms. The international student program currently educates 55 Chinese students who study alongside the American high school students, interacting daily, practicing their language skills, and developing relationships. With this program, American students are able to immerse themselves in a whole new world, and Chinese students are able to earn their diploma while studying in America. ILTexas is on the path to not only change public education, but to change the world.
One of the greatest aspects of working for TCSA is that I get to visit charter schools across the great state of Texas. I love touring schools, seeing children flourish and being inspired by passionate educational entrepreneurs. Last week, David Dunn and I spent three days in North Texas visiting seven schools, each with something special to share. From Dropout Recovery to an arts-focused curriculum to IB courses for students K-12, charters are truly offering a variety of high-quality educational choices to students in North Texas.
We were welcomed to Dallas with a tour of Winfree Academy, where we met soon-to-graduate seniors and learned of their plans for their futures, including the armed forces and photography. Afterwards, we toured La Academia de Estrellas’s beautiful new facility on Keist Road.
In Fort Worth, we toured High Point Academy, a charter we worked closely with during their application and planning phase. Walking the grounds with Lori and Katie was so inspiring: to see their vision come to life was an affirmation that charter leaders have unwavering grit and make dreams come true for so many families (and educators!). Our next stop at Texas School of the Arts was just like stepping into a museum – but more fun! Children’s art is displayed around the campus, 3rd graders gave us chills during their choir class, and watching Kindergarteners work on their splits was simply adorable.
We sat down with Craig Sims, the Superintendent of Arlington Classics Academy to discuss the Performance Framework and learn about the good work the school is doing for nearly 1300 students in Arlington. At Universal Academy, we caught the end-of-day activities (including new bus transportation) and learned about their strong college prep curriculum and plans to expand throughout North and East Texas.
Our final stop was Imagine International in McKinney. Julia Brady, a founding member and now Assistant Superintendent, walked us through the campus and the IB curriculum. Imagine’s IB program spans from K-12 and they are getting ready to celebrate their first class of graduating seniors!
Thank you to all the leaders, students and faculty for hosting David and I last week. We came back to Austin more inspired than ever!
My most recent charter school tour across Texas brought me to the “#1 Small City in America to Move To” – Rowlett, Texas. It is here where I landed at Education Center International Academy (ECIA).
ECIA has been serving students in the Dallas area (Rowlett and Sunnyvale) since 2001. As I migrated through the campus, one could easily see that its class sizes were small and my tour guide Bob, the school’s Assistant Superintendent, knew each and every student. Students’ smiling faces appeared as I stepped into each classroom. There was definitely an upbeat learning aura abode.
The campus houses approximately 200 students and employs teachers and administrators with a multitude of nationalities that help educate its diverse set of students. Parent participation is high, which helps further engage students to learn.
This campus will never grow larger than its 200 or so students it serves in Kindergarten through 8th Grade. The small size is critical to its mission of providing tools and resources to its population. One such example of innovation I found was a university professor teaching ECIA students in Computer Science.
It is a Wednesday in early December as I wind down the road to Bryan Texas – where I find “The Good Life – Texas Style” just down the street from Texas A&M. It is here where I pulled into 410 Bethel Lane – the home of the Brazos School for Inquiry and Creativity’s Bryan campus.
The school is nestled amongst a quaint neighborhood. As I stroll through the campus with Principal Chris, its 145 students are located in a microcosm of a university. Classrooms are placed in such a way that you have the feeling that you are walking through a college campus. Class sizes for all students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade are intentionally small in an effort to help foster a pristine learning environment.
Texas Charter Schools Association’s Executive Director, David Dunn, and Director of Advocacy, Martha Fernandez, had the honor of touring El Paso Leadership Academy earlier this week. El Paso Leadership is in its second year of operation serving grades 6 and 7 with plans to expand up through grade 12 soon. EPLA has more than doubled their student enrollment from 80 to 180 after only one year in operation! The YWCA facilities they now call home is being continually rehabilitated and renovated to form the ideal innovative public charter school.
Upon entering each classroom, visitors are approached by a class ambassador who bring them up-to-speed on what students are learning, what activities are taking place and what lies ahead. It was evident during our visit that students thoroughly enjoyed their new school. We witnessed plenty of teachers with smiles on their faces along with a handful of parents being readily welcomed into classrooms.
TCSA is eager to see growth and renovations like EPLA’s throughout public charter schools across the state. Please share similar stories from your school with us. We hope to see your smiling faces as David and the rest of the TCSA staff continue to make school visits.
Congratulations to EPLA on their continued success!
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.”
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 Barbara Mallory Caraway, Special Projects Director, Nova Academy, Dallas
Inspired by a cause close to her heart, one Dallas middle school teacher galvanized her school to action.
When her aunt died of breast cancer in 2014, Nova Academy English teacher Sade Burkman was devastated. Her aunt, Elizabeth Oyetunde, 50, of El Paso, lived with the disease for eight years and is survived by her five children.
She turned her grief into action and took up the crusade to educate others about breast cancer. She began before her aunt’s death, wanting to share risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options. In 2013, Burkman asked and received permission from her administrator for Nova Academy to join the public awareness campaign.
That first year, she handed out pink ribbons in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The second year, Burkman created an informational display on breast cancer that included pink-colored paraphernalia.
This year, marks the first since Burkman’s aunt died and it holds special significance for her. She partnered with her students to design a T-shirt that would memorialize those impacted by breast cancer.
“I told them I wanted a heart (love), wings (faith), and ribbons (hope). After three tries they got it right,” she said.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women and one in eight U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. If found and treated early, many women can survive the disease. Burkman said it is important for students to understand this disease because of its broad implications for the victims and for surviving family members.
Participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month helps to heal the pain of losing her aunt, she said. And having the school support her in the awareness efforts has been invaluable, she said.
“I am most grateful to [Nova Academy CEO] Donna Houston-Woods -- for her encouragement and support,” she said.
“I mentioned to her last year that I wanted to do something a little more, and I left it at that. When school started she reminded me of my intentions. She supported the T-shirt idea," Burkman said.
Staff members now wear the T-shirts every Wednesday in October.
With tears, she said, “I’m happy.”
Nova Academy serves more than 900 students at three campus locations in Dallas. The charter's mission is to educate all students in a multi-cultural environment where parents and the community will serve as partners in achieving academic excellence of our students.
By Dorothy Gentry, 4th Grade Teacher, A.W. Brown Leadership Fellowship Academy
Note: A.W. Brown charter leaders will be presenting at the 2015 Texas Charter Schools Conference during the Principals Workshop on Wednesday, October 28, to discuss hiring and retaining high-quality teachers.
Angela Brown is a true example of a success story in teaching. The long-time employee of A.W. Brown Fellowship Leadership Academy in Dallas, a successful Texas charter school, is passionate about the field of education and about teaching at the two-campus academy.
Brown began at A.W. Brown as a substitute teacher in January of 2005 and was officially hired as a teacher’s assistant in March 2008. Ten years at the school and she said, “I’ve loved every moment.”
As the special education teacher for the past three years at A.W. Brown’s Early Childhood Campus she said the school’s vision is key to why she stays.
“First off, what made me get on board with this school was the vision that it has for its students and the community,” Brown said. “They want to make the world a better place one student at a time and it has been an amazing privilege to see it unfolding and steadily coming to fruition right before my eyes.”
Brown said the school supported her in efforts to gain additional education.
“[They] allowed so many doors to open up for me once I was ready to move up. They continue to support and nurture my growth by presenting multiple opportunities to get involved,” she said.
The school feels like a family, where she can speak openly with others about any concerns, Brown said.
“Words cannot express the joy I have of being able to watch these children grow from babies to teenagers, and then they come back to visit as adults,” Brown said. “They thank us for all we instilled in them and taught them. My own daughter was 3-years-old when she started here, and now she is in the 7th grade.”
Brown said she feels “secure and comfortable” at A.W. Brown and plans to stay as long as possible.
“With the constant growth and success at this school I feel like the sky is the limit and I have no reason not to continue to be loyal to them as they have been to me,” Brown said. “This is one district that I truly feel secure in. They make me feel appreciated in everything I do.”
Other schools can adopt those practices by starting with the board and administrators, she said.
“Ours is awesome. They do a great job letting us know how much we are appreciated and acknowledge that none of this would be possible without us,” she said.
Brown believes the regular evaluations and continuous positive feedback is crucial to the success of the school. Also important is having a good vision of what you are trying to accomplish and then determining what steps are necessary to achieve it.
“They do a good job making sure new teachers are aware of the vision and the steps and why we are all here. For veterans they never let us get complaisant. They find new exciting ways to break down the vision and mission and those steps we need to complete in order to accomplish them,” Brown said.
The vision of A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership Academy is to provide a learning environment in which children are trained, prepared and equipped for life leadership and academic excellence. The mission of A.W. Brown-Fellowship Leadership Academy is to produce smart, effective, efficient, disciplined students by creating an environment in which teachers feel safe and free to teach and students feel safe and motivated to learn.
A.W. Brown serves more than 2,000 students on two campuses in grades PK thru 8th grade and has more than 200 full- and part-time staff. A.W. Brown has been in existence since 1998.