Photo Essay: This Charter School is Lovely

The Educators

A student recently asked me in class if there was a charter school I would recommend in Austin (besides the UT-Austin Elementary Charter School). This afternoon I visited one such school. There are some “reformers” in Austin that have criticized the Austin Independent School District for ending a partnership with the corporate charter chain IDEA. It turns out that Austinites are not opposed to charters, they just believe that charters should promote access and equity and should be led by the communities in which they are placed instead of by corporate-types and outsiders (Stay tuned for a new post coming soon to Cloaking Inequity on post-colonialism and charter schools in New Orleans) The Austin American-Statesman reported:

Prior to ending the IDEA partnership, trustees voted unanimously Monday night to approve a full-scale charter partnership for Travis Heights Elementary.

The charter will be managed by a board representing teachers, community members, the district’s labor group Education Austin, and Austin Interfaith.

But unlike IDEA, school leaders agreed not to move forward on the charter unless it had the support of a majority of its teachers and the neighboring community. The school’s leaders will have greater power over their budget and curriculum, which next year will focus on dual language instruction; technology and digital learning; and service learning, which teaches through community service projects.

I will have more soon on the educator/labor/district/community collaboration at Travis Heights Elementary, an in-district  charter school. It’s great to have good news to write about! …or in this case— share photos of.

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Categories: Charter Schools

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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13 Comments on “Photo Essay: This Charter School is Lovely”

  1. SOS from a Teacher in Distress
    March 19, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    Good for Travis Heights! Can this please be a model for other schools in AISD?

    The well educated and involved parents of Travis Heights are much better equipped to provide their children with a positive learning environment, as opposed to the punitive authoritarian AISD style. Now these children can have a curriculum that focuses on “real” learning, rather than test drill. Their children can enjoy outdoor studies in the nice parks and creeks and tree covered areas around the school, instead of sitting through torturous boring worksheets day after day with little or no outside time, like those schools on the east side of I 35. Their children will not be forced to take the weekly Friday Assessments for a half day every week; nor will they live in fear and intimidation from the dreaded reward/punishment system of domineering teachers in a bullying system that is AISD.

    Travis Heights children will have positive behavior modeled for them by pleasant teachers in a positive and nurturing learning environment. How long before the other elementary children in AISD are “paroled” from their “incarceration” to share that same freedom?

    How long before I can transfer out of the “wretched” bullying school I work in east Austin to Travis Heights? Yes, Dr Heilig, you are correct that it is a lovely charter school for a privileged few.

    • inspireteaching001123
      March 20, 2014 at 11:50 am #

      It’s important to remember that “punitive authoritarian AISD style” rather reflects top-down legislation imposed on local districts from the state level and on the state level by the federal level, both of which have merged with private interests disguised as good will charities aimed at converting the public good of education into a market to make money off children and drive teachers like you—without caring—“in distress”.

      One solution is Dr. Heilig’s bottom-up community-based accountability. We don’t need public schools that serve the purpose of supporting merged democracy-private interests disguised as KIPP type charter schools, we need public schools that serve the purpose of “creating” democracy. This is something we cannot achieve as long as we have high-stakes standardized testing, which serves to direct and control the thinking of children to four options rather than to encourage creative inquiry for innovation.

      The current ed. reform approach is like taping a child’s mouth shut until s/he is grown and then ripping the tape off their mouth and expecting them to speak and then to somehow be “innovative”. This is one reason teachers are so “in distress”; they’re teaching against their own morality.

      Look to the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of “innovation” to see what kind of education Rep. Greg Abbott and Dem. Arne Duncan support:

      A-2. What is the i3 definition of “innovation”?

      The 2013 i3 NFP defines “innovation” as:

      A process, product, strategy, or practice that improves (or is expected to improve) significantly upon the outcomes reached with status quo options and that can ultimately reach widespread effective usage.

      This definition tells you whose interest the educational reform efforts are aimed to serve—supporting inequality. Here’s the link for verification (p. 2): https://www.dropbox.com/s/clxa8k0f5kkls4m/faq130708.doc

      • A Teacher in the Race to Insanity
        March 21, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

        To: inspireteaching001123:

        State and federal mandates cannot be used as an excuse for AISD’s punitive test obsessed management style. That propaganda has been perpetuated by AISD administration way too long. Other school districts in Texas have the same mandates, but they do not punish their children in elementary school by forcing them to take half day practice STAAR every Friday, or taking away their “15 minute” recess during the months from January thru late April so they can have more test tutoring. Nor do they punish teachers by threatening them with their jobs if they attempt to improve the conditions.

        It is apparent to those of us who actually teach in AISD that we are here to follow their test script, and the children are here for the purpose of trying to make them look good.
        The physical and mental health of the children is not a priority of AISD. If it were, we would see more programs like that of Travis Heights.

    • Texas Parents Opt Out
      March 20, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

      Dear Distressed Teacher, my kid attends an “exemplary” school in southwest Austin. Last year at his elementary school, there was NO Spanish instruction, NO outdoor education and virtually NO literature-based reading instruction. They did, however; offer lots of threats and punitive measures which they often refer to as “incentives”. Only the good little boys and girls who score high on tests and complete the massive nightly load of useless homework are allowed 15-20 minutes of recess per day. The wretched top-down system of bullying teachers happens all over our area too.

  2. Rhonda Browning
    March 19, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    Bus has a lift. Good sign.

  3. Texas Parents Opt Out
    March 19, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Greater power over budget and curriculum; isn’t that what all schools need and want? Nice photos, sweet school.

  4. Shully Koenig
    March 20, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4665933

    More AISD parents should follow this example and get the kids involved in outdoor learning in their natural environment, not chained to a desk all day being drilled for tests.

    • Incarcerated Teacher
      March 21, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      I too hope Travis Heights can be a model for Austin, we need more “humane” schools like it!

      Yesterday was a gorgeous spring day outside, while I sat in my bleak portable monitoring my students for another day of test literacy drill during the time that should have been their recess. I feel like I have become a prison warden. Not only is my classroom portable like a prison for these children, but it has a sign from City of Austin on the wall advising: Notice of Asbestos.

      When I first moved in I called AISD central office to ask it was legal to have children in a school portable that contained asbestos. The representative said it was legal as long as the inspection sticker was displayed. He said the asbestos was in the floor tile. Then he proceeded to make a joke like “Just don’t let any of the kids eat the tile”!

      How can callous people be so blind to the punitive physical and mental damage being done to these children?

      Thanks Dr Julian Heilig for letting us know there are schools that serve children needs if parents get involved!

  5. English Teacher
    March 22, 2014 at 2:59 am #

    inspireteaching001123:

    AISD Totalitarian Management Style is by local administrative design and not a mandate from state or federal dictates. As a teacher, I do not have freedom to use my creative talent for planning lessons, but am forced to follow the test focused script provided by the literacy specialist. My 5th grade students do not have freedom to choose their own library books. They do not have recess at all this semester until after STAAR in late April. Those students who do well on weekly four hour practice STAAR are given “trinkets”, while others are given more after school tutoring and punished with “silent” lunch.

    Teachers who stay in AISD must become submissive to disrespect and abuse, just as the children do. The prison-like environment is my reason for leaving at the end of this year to pursue a non-teaching job.

    • inspireteaching001123
      March 24, 2014 at 12:38 am #

      The point is being missed. Top-down hierarchy systems have created the frustration you’re expressing with the “Totalitarian Management Style”. There’s is a cumulative effect: Federal to state, state to district, district to school, school to teacher. The teacher experiences the burden of every bureaucratic level above: district, state, federal. This needs to be flipped with teachers at the top and every level supporting the teacher.

      To: A Teacher in the Race to Insanity — Again, there is a misunderstanding. State and federal mandates aren’t being used as an excuse, but rather state, federal, and district mandates are the reasons to feel as you do. Like I said above, there is a cumulative effect.

      Geez — I’m on your side!

      • A Teacher in the Race to Insanity
        March 25, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

        To: inspireteaching001123

        Isn’t it rather presumptuous of you to tell me how I feel or what is causing how I feel. I think we as teachers can express ourselves very well without needing you to attempt to interpret what we are experiencing.

        It is impossible for you to know how I feel or what causes my frustration. Top-down has not created the frustration I am experiencing. My principal who bullies children and teachers is causing my frustration. She is not a puppet on a string. She is a principal who makes choices based on her own self interests and whatever it takes to make her look good. She has no empathy for children. I don’t think she even likes children since she seems to get pleasure from punishing them.

        If Travis Heights Elementary can have this opportunity to avoid the testing insanity in AISD, then it should to be offered to other schools as well. Perhaps this rosy article will help educate other schools of this option.

      • inspireteaching001123
        March 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

        You’ve told me and everyone else who has read your comments how you feel. Why would you expect me or anyone else not to interpret them?—better yet, why say anything at all if no one else can understand/interpret how you feel, because then your words have no meaning.

        In addition, I’m a special ed. teacher who works with kids who struggle the most with learning—yet they are still required to take the exact same test as every regular ed. kid. That’s quite frustrating. But, these requirements come from the state and not from AISD (top-down).

        I wish you the best of luck! I’d like to say we’re on the same team, but that’s up to you.

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  1. Photo Essay: This Charter School is Lovely | Educational Policy Information - March 19, 2014

    […] Julian Vasquez Heilig A student recently asked me in class if there was a charter school I would recommend in Austin […]

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