TCSA is proud that Texas’ very own Harmony Public Schools is receiving national recognition for providing outstanding public education to students. Earlier this week, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced Harmony Public Schools as a finalist for the 2017 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. In addition to Harmony, DSST Public Schools in Denver, and Success Academy Charter Schools in New York were also named as 2017 Broad Prize Finalists.

The winner of the 2017 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools will receive $250,000 and will be announced at the National Charter School Conference in Washington, D.C. on June 12. The winner is selected for demonstrating outstanding academic outcomes, especially among low-income students and students of color.

Harmony Public Schools is the second-largest charter management organization in the country, currently serving about 32,000 K-12 students in a system of 48 college-preparatory STEM campuses throughout the state. This includes locations in Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Bryan-College Station, Dallas-Ft. Worth, El Paso, Houston, Laredo, Lubbock, Odessa, San Antonio, and Waco.

A 10-member review board of national education experts reviewed publicly available student performance and college-readiness data for 39 of the country’s largest public CMOs and found that Harmony, DSST, and Success had the best overall academic performance, college readiness and progress closing achievement gaps. The review board considered student outcomes, college readiness indicators, scalability, size, poverty, and demographics.

Previous Texas winners of the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools include IDEA Public Schools in 2016, KIPP Schools in 2014, and YES Prep Public Schools in 2012.

Please join us in congratulating Harmony Public Schools!

Texas is home to innovative technology, energy, manufacturing and healthcare industries impacting millions of people across the globe. The freedom and passion in which our professionals pursue excellence results in the most cutting-edge advancements across America’s key industries in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). In an effort to ensure we maintain this lead, Texas schools have become increasingly more focused on providing high-quality education in STEM as we race to prepare our students to meet the demands of our society.

Harmony Public Schools, Texas’ largest charter school network with 48 high-performing campuses and 32,000 students, leads this effort, striving to give our students, most of whom are from traditionally underserved areas, an education which helps launch them to top-tier colleges and universities, and clinch careers with lucrative STEM companies across the nation.

As part of this mission, Harmony hosts an international science competition each year. International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering, and Environment Projects – or ISWEEEP -- attracts the brightest STEM students in the world to Houston. This four-day event draws nearly 400 international students whose research or inventions dramatically impact the energy, engineering or environment sectors. Research is judged by more than 300 leading industry professionals across Texas, including experts from Rice University, ExxonMobil, and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

ISWEEEP impacts thousands of students across the globe. Whether through supporting their innovative research, providing them access to current industry leaders, or inspiring them during a field trip, participation in ISWEEEP encourages budding scientists to reimagine the world around them.

This year, ISWEEEP will host a Public Day to inspire Texas students from around the state. Students will see dynamic and innovative science exhibits that strive to address, and in many cases solve, the most pressing needs of our future. Public Day kicks off at 9 a.m. Friday, May 5, and features explosive performances from the Texas A&M Chemistry Road Show, interactive robotics displays, and solar car races. Students will be given “passports” to use throughout the event which they will have stamped at exhibits from around the world. Educational vendors will be available to provide valuable information for teachers looking to strengthen their STEM education skills.

There are multiple ways schools can become partners in this exciting program to ensure ISWEEEP’s 10th year is the best year yet! First, teachers can encourage their students to begin their innovative research now to submit for our 2018 competition. Teachers and administrators can register to be a judge for this year’s competition, providing valuable and quality feedback for student projects. Finally, administrators can make it possible to bring students to view the exhibits for future inspiration.

Become a partner in Texas’ future by spreading the word about this amazing event and coming to Public Day to support these brilliant students in their work.

For more information on how to participate, please visit ISWEEEP. Make sure to reserve your spot today!

On March 29, 2016, the Senate Education Committee met jointly with the Senate Higher Education Committee to consider interim charges, which include studying the teacher shortage and retention issues in Texas and evaluate educator preparation programs to determine if these programs are preparing educators for the rigors of the 21st century classroom. In particular, examine the shortages of ELL, special education, and STEM educators across the state and identify the issues creating a shortage.  

Dr. Alexis Neumann, Superintendent of Rapoport Academy, appeared before the joint committees and testified at the public hearing.  The following is her testimony.  

Thank you for the opportunity to share our story and struggles with each of you.  My name is Dr. Alexis Neumann.   I come today on behalf of the students, parents, and staff of Rapoport Academy in Waco, Texas as their Superintendent.  We are a pre-K through 12th grade public charter school and were the first in Texas dual-designated as T-STEM and Early College High School.  Our 800 students are majority minority and majority low-income.  Also you will find in the school’s most current report card that we received 6 out of 7 academic distinctions, only missing the 7th because our students took college-level chemistry as sophomores and, as such, were not included.  Our mission is to help students from low-income families overcome the educational gaps and be prepared academically to successfully complete college coursework by 9th grade.  As you can imagine, not an easy task when you consider that less than five of our students start pre-K with an understanding of the most simple academic concepts.  Today, I will focus on challenges we encounter in securing qualified teachers for our Early College High School (“ECHS”) and T-STEM areas. 

Before joining Rapoport Academy, I was an administrator at the Texas State Technical College (“TSTC”) in Waco and was fortunate to experience the creation of Rapoport’s high school and the budding ECHS partnership.  We have continued to develop that partnership with TSTC and have recently begun to finalize an agreement with McLennan Community College.  Through these partnerships, we have created multiple pathways for our students to obtain a Level 1 Certificate or full Associate’s degree before they graduate from high school.  Our pathways address each of the endorsement areas of HB5 and aid in consolidating the offerings for students to ensure that maximal application of coursework occurs should they continue their education elsewhere. This also allows our students to take foundational coursework in their respective areas of interest without tying them to a specific career path.  As an ECHS, it is also our commitment to provide this opportunity at zero cost to the students or their families in order to create more access for students who otherwise would not be able to afford this type of opportunity.    This means we cover the costs for all transportation, books, fees, tuition, etc. These costs total approximately $75,000 and are expected to triple in the next five years.  TSTC currently waives tuition and McLennan waives that for those who qualify based on income.  I am sure that you are all familiar with the discussion related to funding for education, particularly smaller charter schools.  I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Preparing these students to be college ready cannot start in 8th grade.  It does not start in middle school.  We begin with a college mindset at pre-K.  Our STEM curriculum is targeted and begins in kindergarten with focused efforts on the engineering design process at developmentally appropriate levels as students progress through the district.  What we have discovered with our students is that academic preparedness, though difficult, can be achieved.  However, finding staff who can bridge the gap of a 15 year old’s social maturity while teaching English 1301 or psychology is challenging.  Experiences with professor/student interactions, high school/traditional college student interactions, and parent/professor interactions,  both on and off of the college campus, have led us to the practice of hosting most 9th and 10th grade college courses on our own campus, either through online courses or visiting college adjuncts.  This is where one of the most significant issues we face comes to a head.  We find it seemingly impossible to find a magical combination of teachers who are qualified to teach for college credit, want to interact with still-maturing teenagers, and do this for a salary considerably lower than larger districts around us.  We can compound this problem even more when we try to seek a candidate that can and will do what I just mentioned and has real-world experience in any of the STEM fields.  Why would one leave a $70,000 engineering job to come to our little charter school and make exactly half of that salary?  For those that do, the rewards are priceless.  However, priceless does not pay student loans and grocery bills.  Currently, we could add a core teacher in each of the four areas if they were eligible to teach dual-credit, possibly serving an additional 100 students and enabling more students to complete an Associate’s degree before graduating high school.

I want to be clear that the teachers we have – from pre-K through 12th grade are mission-driven, focused on student outcomes, passionate about making a difference for these children, and committed to the Rapoport way of education.  However, when every dollar Rapoport receives is split to pay the light bills, building maintenance, intervention materials, classroom supplies, and a host of other necessities, what is left in the end does not allow for salaries that can even compete with larger districts, and especially not with professorships or industry.  Though we have participated in college job fairs, community job fairs, Region Service Center job fairs, maintained relationships with the city, four area chambers of commerce, and advertised in local print media, we have continued to see little increase in the number of qualified teaching applicants with industry experience or qualifications to teach dual-credit.

I appreciate the Senate Education and Senate Higher Education Committees addressing this issue today.  Thank you for working towards crafting solutions that will help us find those people who are willing to put their real-world experience to use in expanding and nurturing the minds of our future workforce.

The views and opinions expressed in guest blog posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Texas Charter Schools Association.

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Now is your chance to comment on Commissioner of Education rules, but your window of opportunity is short. Below is the deadline for comment submission and the associated rule:

  • July 13 – Regional Education Service Centers (19 TAC Chapter 53), includes board of directors, charter school representation on the board of directions and ESC performance standards and indicators.
  • August 3 – Educational Programs (19 TAC Chapter 102), includes SENSR Grant Program, early childhood educational grant programs, master teacher grant programs, coordinated health programs, early college high schools, designation of STEM Academies, Texas High Performance Schools Consortium, pilot programs and educator award programs.

If you'd like to join the conversation, review the rules and submit a comment on whether the reason for adopting or readopting the rule continues to exist.

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