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. 

 

The TCSA Model Policies and Legal Authorities are updated and in the Quality Portal! 

After a very busy legislative session the new Model Policies provide a framework for truancy and how to ensure compliance. There are also new requirements for teacher training in suicide prevention.  Additionally, we added language to address the new open carry law, which went into effect on January 1, 2016. These just highlight a few of the numerous changes that were included in our January updates, so make sure to review all of the modules in the Quality Portal to see more.

During 2016, TCSA will continue to provide updates to all members with a current 2016 Model Policy Subscription. In April, TCSA will provide member subscribers with a complete update to the Special Education Framework. Each charter school will be required to post their updated legal framework to the ESC 18 website prior to the 2016-2017 school year.  July will bring new policies regarding transgender youth, residency, and retention and promotion. Our final 2016 update will be published in October, including any necessary updates to the Personnel Handbook. 

To ensure access to all of the Model Policy updates, renew your 2016 Model Policy Subscription today. Members can renew subscriptions at the same time as you renew your membership through the Quality Portal. If you have already submitted your membership application, but forgot to purchase the 2016 Model Policy Subscription, please contact Christine Nishimura at 512-584-8272 ext. 306 or cnishimura@txcharterschools.org

We look forward to working with our members and providing continued support to meet our members’ needs. 

 

The Texas Charter Schools Association applauds Governor Abbott’s selection of Dallas ISD Trustee as the next Commissioner of Education. Abbott’s bold selection signals the Governor’s strong commitment to meeting the needs of all students. Morath is a thoughtful, student-centered advocate, who is driven by research. He is unafraid to tackle tough issues facing our public education system. We are confident he will work hard to ensure the 227,000 students enrolled in public charter schools are well supported by his office.

During his tenure as a Dallas ISD Trustee, Morath has focused on innovation, smart resource investment, school leadership, and parent engagement. These are all policy areas where charter schools are leading the way for all public schools.

We welcome the new Commissioner and look forward to working with him to meet the needs of the more than 100,000 families waiting for a seat at a public charter school. Morath is the right leader to ensure the public charter school sector in Texas is the strongest in the nation.  TCSA will work with Commissioner Morath to meet the needs of students seeking innovative public school options.

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!

Monday, December 7th, the Senate Education Committee held an interim hearing to consider testimony on the implementation of SB 2 from the 83rd Legislative Session, the disposition of state property, and charter school facility funding. Interim hearings are held during a legislative interim for legislative committees to hear testimony on specific issues identified by either the Lieutenant Governor or Speaker of the House. There are no specific bills or proposals that are considered during this time; it is more of a research period for the legislative committees with the goal of the committee developing policy recommendations to take into the legislative session. 

Those present to testify at the hearing on behalf of the charter school movement included: TCSA’s Executive Director, David Dunn, Jennifer Goodman, Superintendent of Odyssey Academy, John Murphy, CFO for KIPP Houston, Kathleen Zimmerman, Executive Director of NYOS, and Kalese Whitehurst, Chief of Staff with Responsive Education Solutions. Russ Simnick with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools also attended to present testimony as to how other states fund charter school facilities. One of two topics that day, the charter school issues took longer than one may have guessed for an interim hearing – about five hours!  The length of time it took was a good sign as it showed that the members of the Senate Education Committee were actively engaged in our issues, listening to testimony and asking many insightful questions. 

Testimony during the hearing spoke to how SB 2 has fundamentally changed the way Texas approves, expands, and revokes charters. TCSA pointed out that we continue to strongly support SB 2, however while the state has moved to implement SB 2 in regards to revocations, the state has not moved with equal vigor to implement the other provisions in SB 2 which allow for the expedited expansion of effective existing charter schools as well as the ability to grant new charters to proven models. Effort needs to be made to speed the expansion of charter schools to meet the large student waiting lists. 

Those that testified to the disposition of state property issue all agreed that the issue is complex as there are several interests at play when a charter holder ceases to exist. All agreed that the critical issue must be studied carefully or else we jeopardize the ability of all charter schools to secure affordable financing for facilities. 

And speaking of financing facilities, the testimony addressed the fact that charter schools receive no state funding for facilities and state funds meant for instruction are diverted to facility needs. Last Legislative Session the Committee passed SB 1900 by Senator Donna Campbell, a bill that would have aided with charter school facility funding. Different policy options discussed during testimony included a per-pupil facilities allowance, charter school facility grant program, charter school facility loan program, access to existing state facilities programs, and access to local property tax dollars generated for facilities. Of course, some options would be more controversial than others, but that is what the legislative interim is for – for all stakeholders to come together to formulate solutions that most can agree to. 

The interim hearing was a window into the next legislative session. There will be much work to do and much ground to cover. We have strong support, but we also have the challenge of strong detractors. With everyone organized and speaking with one voice we will meet the challenge of passing sound and effective public policy that supports the charter school movement in Texas. TCSA looks forward to continuing to work with our membership, legislators, and other stakeholders to meet the needs of charter school students in Texas. 

Rowlett, TX:
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.

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Bryan, TX
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.

We know you labor day-in and day-out to create a new generation of passionate and engaged students. We know there is an always-changing to-do list before you. We know the work never ends, yet you continue to push on and support Texas charters and TCSA, for which we are both grateful and proud. TCSA is proud to represent nearly 90% of charters across the state year-to-year; we’re proud that 1,000 supporters rallied at the capital this spring; and, we’re proud that nearly 1400 charter leaders, teachers, and supporters came together in San Antonio to attend the 2015 Annual Conference. We are grateful that you choose to stand with us.

With all the hard work you’ve contributed to the charter movement this year, we want to celebrate you before we head off for the holidays.

Here’s how we want to thank you: if someone (anyone!) from your charter attended the 2015 conference and you’ve submitted your 2016 membership dues by December 15, 2015, you are eligible to win your choice of one of the following:

  • 50% off Board Training
  • One-on-one grassroots advocacy training with parents
  • 2 hours of Model Policy, Personnel Handbook or Student Code of Conduct consultation with TCSA legal staff

The raffle winner will be drawn on December 15 and announced in the Friday newsletter.

TCSA will continue to offer promotional discounts, raffles and prizes for our members throughout 2016 (celebrations shouldn’t just happen once a year, after all). Thank you again for your continued support – without you, so much would not have been possible in 2015.

We look forward to working closely in 2016!

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Join or renew today:

Step 1:  Login into the Quality Member Portal

Applications will be completed in the Quality Member Portal. You will need your login information to access the application. Once logged in, click the ‘Membership’ tab at the top. Please contact Erin Tholen at 512.584.8272 ext. 316 for assistance. 

Step 2: Complete the 2015 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

Or, call 512.584.8272 ext. 316 and speak with Erin Tholen to pay by phone.

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

The other night while I was buckling in my 4 1/2 year old son into his carseat he asked, “Dad, what do you do?” I thought for a second… what’s the best way I can respond that he can digest? And then it hit me… “I help schools, Graham.” 

When it comes down to it, at it’s simplest level, that is what the Texas Charter Schools Association does, day-in and day-out. We all wear different hats with a different set of skills and duties, but at the end of the day we all have the same purpose—to help schools.

Education is the one industry which can change so much in its wake—it has the power to end conflicts, prevent hunger, provide healthcare, house the homeless, thwart poverty… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yet it is the one industry we seem to take for granted, not spending nearly enough resources on. There’s literally not a more sound investment for our future than in educating our youth. What they learn today will change tomorrow—for better or worse. It’s our duty to ensure what they soak in is enlightening, substantial, accurate and comprehensive. This is what public Texas charter schools do. This is what public Texas charter schools do best.

Just prior to starting at the Texas Charter Schools Association I spent almost a decade in the finance industry. I acquired plenty of investment knowledge, but it was soulless work. I felt like a hamster in a wheel of red tape. I earned my MBA toward the tail-end of my tenure there. Also my wife Jen and I welcomed our first child, the aforementioned curious Graham. Time in grad school and becoming a new father has a way of putting things in perspective—what I didn’t want to do with my life and what direction I wanted it to head suddenly came into focus. I realized I was happiest when I was helping others. So, loaded with this newfound insight, I decided my path moving forward must combine making a living with making a difference.

I spent much longer than I wanted to searching to meet this new-found goal, but was determined. After growing frustrated numerous times with dead ends, I stumbled upon the Director of Marketing role at TCSA. It was exactly what I was looking for. So I applied and flooded my peers’ inboxes whom I hoped might be able to provide a referral on my behalf. Well, my friends came through and the stars aligned. I started in April of this year and I couldn’t be happier. There’s so much to like about this job—the autonomy, the energy, the support, the camaraderie. it’s a joy to spend my days providing support to over 600 TX charter schools with over 225,000 students, all with the same purpose—to provide more innovation in education with the flexibility to adapt to individual student’s needs.

But the best part of working at TCSA—
Now when my son asks me what I do I have a simple, straightforward answer… one which he easily grasps, and I do as well: “I help schools.”

Every day TCSA works to increase our membership’s reach at all levels of government: federal, state, and local. Did you think we got to take a break at the end of a Legislative Session? Oh no! At the end of each Legislative Session is when we take a moment to assess our work and then drive forward to build upon our previous efforts.

Our membership’s participation in TCSA is vitally important at all times, but I call upon you to be equally, if not more involved during the Legislative Interim – the time in between Legislative Sessions. There is a lot going on during this time; just a few examples include:

  • In collaboration with our TCSA member schools, we begin to develop and finalize TCSA’s legislative agenda for the upcoming Legislative Session;
  • In collaboration with our TCSA member schools, we provide feedback and engage in the rule-making process with the Texas Education Agency to help guide the drafting and implementation of rules and regulations;
  • In collaboration with our TCSA member schools, we engage in grassroots advocacy efforts to strengthen and empower our member schools’ parents so that they advocate on behalf of their charter school;
  • In collaboration with our TCSA member schools, we provide testimony before the Texas State Board of Education, advocating for charter-friendly SBOE policies; and
  • In collaboration with our TCSA member schools, we visit with our elected officials and guide them through school tours so that our elected leaders can see first-hand the difference our member schools are making in the lives of our students.

As you can see, there is a common theme throughout our work…collaboration. Yours are the boots on the ground, doing the work of educating our students day in and day out.   TCSA’s efforts are not meant to operate in a vacuum – we need the input of our member schools and your collaboration to facilitate and instruct our advocacy efforts. Partner with us – join your voice to our work today to move the charter school movement in Texas forward.

Sincerely,
Veronica L. Garcia
VP of Government & Public Affairs
Texas Charter Schools Association
______________________________________________________________________________

Join or renew today:

 Step 1:  Login into the Quality Member Portal
Applications will be completed in the Quality Member Portal. You will need your login information to access the application. Please contact Erin Tholen for assistance. Once logged in, click the ‘Membership’ tab at the top.

Step 2: Complete the 2015 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

Or, call 512.584.8272 ext. 316 and speak with Erin Tholen to pay by phone.
Thank you for your continued support toward charter schools in the great state of Texas.

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