2 New Charter Schools Readying For Fall Openings
By EMILY GUEVARA
At UT Tyler's Innovation Academy, school already has started -- at least for the teachers.
The university charter school, which is set to open this fall, is in the middle of a seven-week training program for its 15 recently hired teachers.
During teacher training last week, the staff worked in groups by subject area to write curriculum and plan projects for the school year.
Brian Weaver, Innovation Academy curriculum director, said two priorities throughout the process are determining where teachers need to focus their efforts to get the best results and how to best integrate the curriculum to show the connections between different subjects.
Project-based learning will be a central part of the school's program with the idea that every project will provide a meaningful way for students to experience their education.
"This is a big way (of) mixing relevance with rigor ..." Weaver said. "It's a very creative process. It's not a cookie-cutter process."
The Innovation Academy is one of two charter schools opening in Tyler this fall. The other is the Vista Academy of Tyler.
As open-enrollment charter schools, there is no tuition at the campuses and the schools will admit any students who applies, provided there is space.
These schools will add to five other charters schools already here.
School administrators recently shared about the progress made in student enrollment, hiring and facilities.
The Innovation Academy has enrolled about 290 students combined at the three campuses. The schools will be at facilities on UT Tyler campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.
In its first year, the academy will serve third- through sixth-graders with an additional grade added each year until the school serves third- through 12th-graders.
The Tyler campus has the largest student body with about 160 kids, Innovation Academy executive director Eli Crow said.
It has reached its cap. Palestine has enrolled about 70 and is expected to enroll more on July 23. It will cap at 80 students. Longview has enrolled almost 60 students and will cap there.
There are eight teachers in Tyler, four in Palestine and three in Longview. With more than 100 applicants for the 15 positions, school officials had a large candidate pool to choose from.
"We are just ecstatic about the folks that we've hired," Crow said.
The new hires come from a variety of backgrounds some being recent top college graduates while others have several years or more of teaching experience, Crow said.
The Innovation Academy will serve students through a combination of online instruction and project-based learning.
Students will attend school on-site from 8 a.m. to noon, five days a week, with that time reserved for project-based learning, fine arts and physical education. In the afternoons, they will be expected to engage in at least 1 1/2 hours of offsite learning, much of it online.
Each student will be provided with a university-owned iPad.
Crow said they are ecstatic about the response to the school.
"There's just been such a positive atmosphere both with the parents and with the community ..." he said. "The teachers are really working hard in the training. They just have a sense of that this is really a different school."
The Vista Academy of Tyler has enrolled about 200 students in kindergarten through fourth grades, director Keith Garcia said.
The charter school is a part of ResponsiveEd, one of the largest charter school districts in the state. The campus will be located at 3105 University Blvd., Suite B, in the facility that formerly housed Stepping Stone Elementary and C. Brown Middle School.
Garcia said capacity is 340 students, so it still has openings. However, he said, they are pleased with where they are now.
About 75 of the 200 students so far are kindergarteners. He said they still have room in every grade level.
The academy is purchasing new furniture and equipment for teachers such as whiteboards, cork boards and desks. With space for 17 classrooms, they have students for 10 classes right now.
"We're ecstatic about where we're at," Garcia said. "I mean the numbers that we have are just awesome. We're very pleased with the students that we have coming in. It's really moving in the direction that we want it to go."
School district officials have said the focus of the school will be to provide a college-preparatory environment with a rigorous education system and a focus on character development.
Garcia said one of the greatest parts of the school's program is the individualized education plan for the students, something they call the horizontal learning path. He said with this path, all students' needs are met from those who are struggling to those who need a greater challenge.
"The thing I like saying is our system is amazing because we don't let any of the kids fall through the gaps," he said.