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.

On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA"). Many public charter school students, families, and staff are directly impacted by DACA and the Administration's decision to end the program. With the decision to end DACA, TCSA's Board of Directors stands in support of federal legislation that protects children and families' livelihood and opportunities.

Though TCSA anticipates further updates in the coming months, in an effort to assist your school communities, TCSA Legal provides the following guidance relating to DACA and serving undocumented students, families, and employees. We encourage each school to talk with legal counsel if they have specific concerns.

What is DACA?

The Obama Administration first implemented DACA in June of 2012. DACA allowed children who came to the United States, and met certain requirements, to request a renewable, two (2) year deferred action from deportation. Once an individual received DACA status they became eligible for work authorization and participation in the Social Security Program.

Eligibility requirements for DACA can be reviewed on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. These requirements are archived, as they are no longer current. 

How does the repeal of DACA affect current DACA recipients?

The Trump Administration's announcement to rescind DACA includes a six (6) month delay, and will not take effect until March 5, 2018. However, those with current DACA status may be able to renew prior to October 5, 2017. The Department of Homeland Security allows for a DACA recipient with current DACA status that expires between October 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018, to submit an application to renew for another two (2) year period. Individuals must submit all renewal applications by October 5, 2017. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security will process all applications for DACA status received prior to September 5, 2017.

For DACA recipients whose status expires after March 5, 2018, unfortunately, an individual will become eligible for deportation at the time of expiration. An individual who currently has DACA status and work authorization may continue work until their DACA status and work authorization expires.

More information regarding important deadlines and applications can be found on the Department of Homeland Security's website.

What does the repeal mean for other undocumented students?

Students previously eligible for DACA status, but have not applied will no longer be able to apply for DACA status as of September 5, 2017. However, undocumented students still have a right to attend school regardless of their immigration status. Schools may not request immigration documentation and must admit a student regardless of status. For more information regarding the educational rights of undocumented students, see TCSA's legal memorandum regarding serving undocumented students.

What can schools do to support undocumented students with or without DACA status?

In addition to ensuring students receive all services they are entitled to, such as free and reduced lunch programs, and special education, schools may provide students, families and employees with resources regarding changes to the DACA program. Resources may include FAQs about DACA, information to contact immigration organizations for assistance, and provide informational sessions on campus. However, all materials provided to students, families, and employees must first be approved by the school's administration to ensure the material is neutral and informational only.

Additionally, schools providing information about legislation considered by the United States Congress may count as lobbying. Prior to sending any material out encouraging staff or families to contact their legislators, the school should ensure they are following school policies, tracking all resources used, and ensure that staff and family members contact  legislators on their own time with their own resources. Schools may learn more about lobbying activities by reviewing the TCSA Advocacy FAQ

Other resources include:

When making changes or adopting new policies to address the needs of undocumented students, we encourage schools to work with legal counsel to ensure policies are consistent with current and changing law. If there are any policy or statute changes affecting the rights of undocumented students in public school, TCSA will provide additional updates. Please contact me with any questions. 

Over the past several weeks, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from parents across our state regarding the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) Report Card.

The report card contrasts dramatically from what had been shared with parents in previous years. The revamped report presents information in a more colorful, understandable and parent-friendly way. Student information includes how a child performed on a specific STAAR assessment, how the student is progressing from the previous school year, and the level of reading difficulty a student can successfully accomplish.

Every parent needs to know how their child is doing in school, but they also want to be in position to provide greater support for their son or daughter. The STAAR Report Card goes beyond providing a student’s information from the previous school year. It also gives every parent access to resources that can help their child as they move from grade level to grade level.

Beyond the report card itself, I’m pleased to see parents taking the extra step to “Log In & Learn More” at a newly-revamped website (www.texasassessment.com). With a student-specific access code (provided in the STAAR Report Card), parents see a variety of resources and assessment components, including STAAR assessment questions for grades 3 through 8 – along with their child’s answers.

The ability for each parent to view the actual STAAR questions posed to their child, along with the answers their child provided, gives greater insight into the expectations at every grade level. This website also makes available resources designed to help parents prepare their child as they progress from grade level to grade level. Resources include tools to support a child’s ability to read and write, as well as tips and questions to help prepare for parent-teacher conferences in the new school year.

I continue to encourage all parents to not only review their child’s STAAR Report Card, but also take that extra step to Log In & Learn More. The overall success of our Texas public education system can only be accomplished school by school, classroom by classroom and student by student. Parents play a huge role toward ensuring that success.

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.

Staff members of Nova Academy pose in their Breast Cancer Awareness T-shirts designed by teacher Sade Burkman and her students.

Staff members of Nova Academy pose in their Breast Cancer Awareness T-shirts designed by teacher Sade Burkman and her students.

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.

Sade Burkman, 7th and 8th grade English teacher at Nova Academy

Sade Burkman, 7th and 8th grade English teacher at Nova Academy.

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.

An A.W. Brown teacher who has been with the school nearly since it began in 1998.

An A.W. Brown teacher who has been with the school nearly since it began in 1998.

“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.

By Lindsey Gordon, TCSA Director of Policy and Legal Services

TEA released a change document that indicates certain changes that will be made to the forthcoming 2015-2016 Student Attendance Accounting Handbook based on House Bill 2610 (Rep. Ken King), the new law that changes the number of days a school district must operate from 180 days to 75,600 minutes.

Lindsey Gordon

Lindsey Gordon

House Bill 2610 does not apply to open-enrollment charters. However, based on the changes proposed to the 2015-2016 SAAH and conversations with TEA, TCSA member schools and charter hopefuls have concerns as to how FSP funding for charter schools with shortened or flexible school days might be impacted under the new minute based attendance accounting system.

TCSA received confirmation from TEA that for the 2015-2016 school year, charter schools that offer flexible school days may continue to do so and their full day funding will not be impacted. There is less clarity as to how charter funding may be impacted in the future. In the SAAH change document, TEA sets forth the following: ”Charter schools are not subject to the 75,600 minute requirement, however most charter schools typically offer 75,600 minutes of instruction.”

TCSA will continue to work with TEA staff to gain clarity on this issue and to ensure Texas charter schools’ missions and unique operational models remain uncompromised.

For questions or concerns please contact Lindsey Gordon or Laura Kelly.

There's less than a month left to register for the only statewide conference for Texas public charter school leaders and educators!

The Texas Charter Schools Conference is early this year on October 28-30, so don't miss out on specialized workshops, dozens of educational sessions and networking opportunities with industry experts. You make the conference better each year and we hope to see you in San Antonio!

Check out the great video below to review fun snapshots from at last year's Texas Charter Schools Conference.

Houston Gateway Academy students at the Texas Charter Revolution rally at the Capitol in April.

Houston Gateway Academy students at the Texas Charter Revolution rally at the Capitol in April.

Update: Learn how to build grassroots advocates on your campus for your public charter school students at the 2015 Texas Charter Schools Conference on October 28-30. View workshops and session

Earlier this year, we asked you to share why you love your charter school. It's critical to share your stories so the community, elected officials and local leaders understand the importance of public charter schools in Texas. Our students and families deserve the right to choose the best fit public school for them. To get involved please join the Texas Charter Revolution.

In case you missed the responses, below are some of the highlights.

"Our students come from a diverse set of backgrounds. Seeing them grow and learn daily reminds me why I wanted to become an educator." - Educator at Harmony School of Science Austin

Harmony educators at the Capitol rally.

Harmony educators at the Capitol rally.

"I love my charter school because they are big on building lasting relationships and training life leaders....The teachers and staff genuinely care for the kids they teach, doing what it takes to help the [students]." - Parent, Advantage Academy, Waxahachie

They care about each student on a personal level, and each student and their parents, know it and see it on a daily basis. The entire staff is amazing and they take so much time out of their own lives....I feel like my child really matters!" - Parent, Vista Academy of Hickory Creek

"My public charter school actually cares about the students and helps them to succeed in their class work. The wow factor for us is the way students are treated with respect and are allowed to move forward with their studies on an individual basis." - Parent, Premier High School, New Braunfels

"Where do I start? My grandson attends this school and I am so grateful for all they have accomplished in him. He is nonverbal and they are so patient and kind in his instructions and because of their diligence, he is able to speak a few words now." - Guardian, Foundation School for Autism, San Antonio

"[My school] is caring, respectful and mindful of kids, not only their education but their feelings too. They know they are dealing with the future and give these kids the right steps to be great leaders and mindful adults." - Parent, International Leadership Texas, Garland

"I love my public charter school because I have students that actually want to learn and they have a choice to go any where. The thing my school does that wows me is that we make sure every child is learning and getting the support that they need." - Educator, Houston Gateway Academy

"I love my public charter because they are big on building lasting relationships and training life leaders. Life's love for us WOWS me and helps me understand what "Life" is all about. My public charter school ROCKS! There is no other place like it!" - Educator, Life School Oak Cliff

Houston Gateway Academy marching band

Houston Gateway Academy marching band

And a letter from Abigail, a 9th Grader at Houston Gateway Academy

My school, Houston Gateway Academy, is very great. I love that my school has a band and a few other activities. My school makes me want to be the best of the best. It encourages me to never give up and accomplish my many goals.

I love the education I receive. The teachers really care about grades and are able to give us students one-on-one education when we need it. Our teachers know us so well, they can tell when we don't understand something or are struggling

My teachers are always pushing us to give everything our all.

My charter school makes me feel like I can be myself, and I'll always be understood.

I love my charter school. There's no other school I'd rather go to than Houston Gateway Academy.

Be sure to attend the 2015 Texas Charter Schools Conference, where the advocacy and grassroots track will give you the tools needed for strong advocates on your campus.

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