Board talks plans for early college high school

Published on Thursday, 23 January 2014 23:05 - Written by By Emily Guevara

A Tyler ISD early college high school would provide another way for the district to engage struggling learners and create a pathway to higher education, a district administrator said.

Dr. Christy Hanson, the district’s chief academic officer, said research shows this program improves academic performance, promotes a college-going culture and raises the educational expectations of families.

“The administration feels like this is almost a perfect fit to build the capacity of our students to go to college” and to go locally, she told the school board Thursday during its monthly meeting.

The Texas Education Agency defines an Early College High School as an innovative high school located on or close to a college campus that allows the “students least likely to attend college an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and 60 college credit hours,” according to information provided by TISD.

The program would target ninth through 12th-graders who are either first generation college students, come from low-income families, are a minority or are otherwise at risk of dropping out.

These students would then have the opportunity to earn dual credit, meaning college and high school credit simultaneously, at no charge; receive academic and social support; and move into the college environment more smoothly, according to TISD.

These students would be able to earn college credit up to an associate’s degree while still in high school.

TISD officials have discussed the idea of early college high schools for several years and even visited campuses that had the program, but this is time they’ve announced a timeline for the possible opening, fall 2015. Their higher education partner in the process would be Tyler Junior College.

The idea at this time would be for the district to start with about 75 to 100 freshmen students and add that many each year. The goal would be to eventually have 300 students from ninth through 12th grade.

Students would attend a stand-alone TISD campus during their ninth and 10th grade years and move to the TJC campus for their 11th and 12th grade years.

TISD is considering using a wing of the Stewart Middle School campus for the program because Stewart will no longer serve as a middle school in fall 2015 when the new southwest Tyler middle school opens.

Although early college high school students would attend a separate campus, they would still be considered John Tyler or Robert E. Lee high school students.

This is because the early college high school would be considered a program they are in, rather than a separate high school they attend.

This leaves the door open for those students to participate in extracurricular activities on the main high school campuses. However, those details would have to be worked out, Dr. Hanson said.

The selection process for these students has yet to be determined. However, Dr. Hanson said, “there would have to be some indication that they have the potential to be a high performer.”

TISD would continue to offer dual credit courses to its regular high school students even if it starts an early college high school program.

There still are many details to be worked out. TISD Superintendent Gary Mooring said the program could cost up to $400,000 to start.

Although TJC would cover the cost of the courses for the student and pay their on-campus professors, TISD would have to have at least eight staff members.

That said, the district could eliminate some full-time positions at other sites in the process, so that could cancel out some of the staffing costs.

Dr. Hanson said there are grant opportunities that could be available to the district as well.

Dr. Hanson said the next step is to hire an Early College High School director. This person would be responsible for helping the district decide on the model for its program, starting the extensive Texas Education Agency application process and planning with TJC.

The board would have to approve this position and it has not yet been presented to them.

Dr. Hanson said just because the district hires a director does not mean it is for sure going to get this program. It would be up to the board to decide that once they are presented with a proposal.

If the district wants to open a school in fall 2015, it has to submit its application to the state by November.

Texas has more than 60 Texas Education Agency designated early college high schools.