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.

Is your charter system blessed with an outstanding charter school teacher or leader that you would like to see recognized at the state level through the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) during our annual conference?  A board member, administrator, teacher, student or parent, or community member may nominate a fellow administrator through TCSA’s website for consideration of this award. Once nominated, the leader must submit biographical information and several essays through the online system. TCSA’s member panel will review the nomination, biography, and essays as part of the nominee’s application and select a winner. Nominations for each of these awards are due on April 15, 2017.

A candidate for the TCSA Leader of the Year award is an administrator who has demonstrated successful innovation in academics, operations and finance, and governance. The candidate is dedicated to the education of public charter school students in prekindergarten through grade twelve in an active administrative role. The TCSA Leader of the Year should:

  • Create innovative and creative spaces and approaches with the potential to be expanded or replicated either locally or statewide;
  • Earn the respect of students, parents and charter colleagues;
  • Advocate for the local and state charter movement and serve within their community;
  • Serve as a leader within their region, willing to mentor other leaders;
  • Have at least five years of experience working in a Texas public charter school;
  • Serve on at least one TCSA member committee or council; and
  • Work for a charter that is a current TCSA member.

Nominate an outstanding leader by clicking here.

A candidate for the TCSA Teacher of the Year award is an educator who is passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated to the education of public charter school students in prekindergarten through grade twelve in an active teaching status. The TCSA teacher of the year should:

  • Use innovative teaching strategies that inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn;
  • Earn the respect of students, parents and charter colleagues;
  • Advocate for the charter movement and serve in their community;
  • Serve as a leader on the campus, willing to mentor other educators;
  • Engage with students, parents and community members in a poised and articulate manner;
  • Have at least two years of experience working in a Texas public charter school; and
  • Work for a charter that is a current TCSA member.

Nominate an outstanding teacher for this award by clicking here

Awardees serve as inspiration and a model for other charter colleagues and their communities. Educators chosen for this award may be asked to represent public charter schools at state legislative and policy events when needed.  Winners will receive an award and cash prize during the TCSA conference in October.  Media releases in the charter system’s local area will be provided in addition to recognition in a TCSA newsletter, Facebook post and through our website.

Questions may be directed to Dr. Paula Moeller through email or by telephone 512.584.8272.

The Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) named Mr. Chuck Cook the Leader of the Year and Dr. Alissa Russell the Teacher of the Year at the 2016 Texas Charter Schools Conference earlier this week. Both Mr. Cook and Dr. Russell received recognition and their awards at a luncheon with keynote speaker Governor Greg Abbott and Deputy Commissioner AJ Crabill.

This is the first year for both the TCSA’s Leader of the Year and Teacher of the Year programs which honors one outstanding charter leader and educator from across the State of Texas.

The Leader of the Year 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.

The Teacher of the Year 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.

Mr. Cook is the Co-founder and CEO of Responsive Education Solutions (ResponsiveED) which was established in 1998. Since then, he has led ResponsiveEd’s expansion into one of the largest charter school systems in the state. ResponsiveED operates more than 70 campuses, employs more than 2,200 educators, and serves more than 22,000 students in grades K-12. The focus of these charter schools vary from credit recovery to STEM to classical education. His mission is to provide hope for students through innovative, character-based, personalized learning environments where they are academically successful and develop into lifelong learners.

Dr. Russell is an educator at the Life School Oak Cliff campus and has 13 years of teaching experience who inspires students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn. She uses Socratic Seminar, differentiated group modeling, and peer partnership grouping as innovative instructional practices in her mathematics classroom. She works to ensure each student in her classroom receives a customized instructional approach based on his or her individual needs. Dr. Russell is the secondary mathematics department head and works as an instructional coach for her peers to maximize instructional effectiveness. Additionally, she is a committed volunteer within her community.

TCSA thanks both Mr. Cook and Dr. Russell for their service and strong commitment to the students of Texas!

Photographs courtesy of Adam Sear

I still remember how crushed I felt when I was convinced that I wasn’t being chosen for the position at the first charter school I applied to in Austin. After weeks of applications and phone interviews, I was already planning to stay another year in Puerto Rico and try it again next summer. Even when I didn’t entirely know what working for a charter school meant, I immediately took to the high expectations that I saw during my sample lesson. I didn’t know what their secret was, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Three years later, countless hours of work, almost 300 students served and now becoming a Grade Team Lead for 1st grade at IDEA Rundberg- I am very happy they called me back and I got to learn what those high expectations meant in the context of charter schools.

The same expectations that originally drew me to charter schools is also often the reason that working in a charter school can feel so exhausting. One of the main purposes of charter schools is to give families more educational options for their children, and hopefully, to make sure that at least one of their options is a phenomenal school at no cost to them. And while providing students and families with a school system they deserve feels like a large expectation on its own, that usually isn’t the only expectations we in the charter school world face daily. With charter schools carrying an inevitable political charge with them, the high expectations within the school are matched with high expectations externally. So with the daily work teachers like me commit to daily: staying at school until 9 p.m. creating materials, being available to parents over the phone until late night for any questions on homework, and of course living on coffee. It can be overwhelming when met with the feeling that you are trying to prove your school works when so many are expecting you to fail. If you are a charter school teacher, and thus totally dedicated to the mission of giving ALL kids and families the chance to go to and graduate from college, the weight of high-expectations is a daily reality.

The commitment to excellence in charter schools is something usually spoken about in the context of the commitments of kids and families, but is also so much a part of the daily lives of teachers. Expectations, and the monitoring of teachers progress towards those expectations, is the way we ensure that charter schools are indeed committing to excellence for kids and families. We see this in the feedback that is provided on a weekly basis if not more frequent depending on the teacher’s need. We see this in the way areas of strength and areas of growth are described on various categories like culture, delivery, professionalism, etc., with clear next steps following every observed behavior. We see the commitment to excellence and the high-expectations in the whole process, a process that includes weekly or biweekly meetings with your manager to discuss rationale around feedback and ways to improve. For me, seeing was believing, because this system worked. Not just for me, as it did make me the teacher leader I am today, but also for the kids and families I serve. We both were held to high expectation, and with the school’s clear commitment to excellence, we both met them.

The expectations that are set on charter school teachers took on new meaning as I learned that founding charter schools are no exception to these astronomical standards. Don’t get me wrong, I had the wonderful privilege of being part of two founding schools, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience. It was a trial and error process from day one with a steep learning curve and short timeframes. We tried different behavior management programs, we tried and retried hallway procedures, we tried, learned and implemented various assessments, and all with the knowledge that we had to get it right fast, because we were serving kids and families that deserved a terrific school today, not a terrific school tomorrow. Though that could have felt like more of a weight being added to our daily work, it actually felt great to be part of a team of educators that got to put a school together, and to realize that with our dedication to a common mission, we could provide what our families deserved. Now on my path to leadership, I realize that working at a charter school, not to mention founding a charter school, is no easy task. Commitment to your team, to your kids, and to your families is non-negotiable. But at the end of the day, those expectations don’t become a weight anymore. They become the standard that you realize you can actually rise above, and in doing so, a mission that unites schools and communities to do something exceptional.

Being a charter school teacher has made me the best teacher I could be, because I was given high expectations, the rationale for why they were important, and the tools I needed to meet them. I’ve grown in more areas than I knew existed in teaching: my classroom management-stronger, the way I deliver my lessons- tighter, my communication with parents- more humble, establishing culture- responsive to my kids. My time as a charter school teacher has allowed me to internalize the weight of high expectations, and realize that they are the key to achieving our mission of making college a reality for all children. The expectations that drew me to charter schools, that often led me to points of exhaustion, and that allowed me to help increase the educational opportunities for communities are the same reason that in 5, 10, or 15 years you will find me at a charter school, hopefully in a position of leadership, continuing to set and meet high expectations for kids.

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 Dr. Paula Moeller, TCSA Director of Training

2015 TCSA Con logos_v2cb-02

Struggling to hire quality teachers in critical areas such as mathematics and science for your campus?

Finding it difficult to locate certified bilingual and special education educators?

You are not alone!

The Texas Charter Schools Conference Principal Workshop will feature panelists from across Texas to discuss hiring and retaining strategies for outstanding teachers with a passion for educating charter school students.(View the full TCSACon workshop and session schedule)

The Texas Charter Schools Association is committed to providing support, training and technical assistance to Texas charter schools on the newly developed teacher and principal evaluation systems, Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) and Texas Principal Evaluation and Support System (T-PESS). These systems will replace the current PDAS evaluation system as the new state-recommended appraisal systems in the 2016-2017 school year. While charter schools aren’t required in statute to implement these new appraisal systems, learning about new ways to evaluate and provide feedback to educators is critical for continual improvement.

Join us for three credit hours of training on Wednesday, October 28, at the Texas Charter Schools Conference at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa.

Register today! Space is limited.

Principal Workshop Presenters:

Sheila Collazo, Academy Director, T-TESS, National Institute for Excellence in Teaching

Tim Regal, Texas Education Agency

Paula Brown, COO, A.W. Brown – Fellowship Leadership Academy

Michelle Holland, Principal, Leadership Prep School

John de la Cruz, Principal, Sanchez Charter School

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