Principal Amy Taylor gave a presentation about the proposal to change Clint Small Middle School into a Green/Tech charter school.
by Ann Fowler
The Clint Small Middle School Parent-Teacher Association hosted a meeting on Tuesday night, April 30, to offer information on current discussions about transforming the school into an in-district charter school for grades 6 through 12. Principal Amy Taylor gave a presentation about the proposal.
Parents were told that all local students could continue to attend Small. The students would have a choice whether to continue their high school years there or switch to Bowie or Austin high school. And the proposal requires the support of 80 percent of Small parents and 80 percent of classroom teachers to move forward.
Small is a “Green-Tech” campus, offering classes in environmental studies and technology. Students have planted more than 300 native plant species around the campus. And in the 2009-2010 school year, through Small’s MS Tech-Know program, students refurbished more than 300 computers that went to needy families in the Austin area.
Taylor said students who thrive in the Green and/or Tech programs find few local high school electives to foster those interests.
The principal added that advanced planning with a quality master schedule—which combines qualified teachers with students’ elective choices—has been a challenge because a significant number of students enroll after schedules have been made.
Said Taylor: “When I know … as late as June, who my kids are coming in August, I can hire the best teachers, I can make sure there’s elective seats, I can make sure the class size is right and we’re ready to go in August. But [currently] as of August and even September 1, kids are still walking in my door—it overcrowds classrooms. Kids don’t get their elective choices. We’re not able to do academic teaming.”
Academic teaming groups students with a core team of teachers to meet the needs of the middle school student. The process is designed to promote belonging within the group and increase student enthusiasm.
The driving factors for exploring an in-district charter include the current lack of Green and Tech elective offerings in high school and the ability to have advance notice to build a quality master schedule. Other driving factors are:
• Expansion of Problem-Based Learning (PBL)-Blended Learning (currently in 8th grade) at middle school and high school
• Flexibility in sequencing of AISD Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) with creation of Interdisciplinary Units 6-8 and 9-12
• Expansion of Small’s Innovation Lab (iLab) (Gifted and Talented services) for high school
Taylor said a campus-initiated in-district charter would support student choice, comply with all federal and state laws, and would be operated under the legal auspices of the school board.
AISD Trustee Robert Schneider attended the meeting. He said any change would require community support. He told the Gazette: “Personally, I like the idea of a 6-12 school with some specialized focus. Over a third of the kids that end up at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, which is housed at LBJ High School, come from ZIP codes in Southwest Austin. If there were a focused academy of some kind in South, or Southwest Austin, it might offer an opportunity for some of the kids that go to LASA to not have to trek to LBJ every school day or perhaps provide an opportunity for kids that do not want to make the trip to LBJ but would like to do something similar without traveling so far from home.”
Taylor told the group that as an in-district charter, Small would remain a comprehensive middle school, offering fine arts and athletics. She said, “Our arts here at Small are some of the strongest of the district. Our athletic programs, some of the strongest. None of that will change. Our proposal…maintains the middle school comprehensive model.”
As an in-district charter school, teachers will continue to receive AISD benefits. Neighborhood children will continue to be accepted. They do not have to take the Green or Tech electives.
Taylor said currently “kids are in and out of the tech [classes]. We have a certain group of kids who want to stick with that path because that’s their thing. The arts may not be their thing. Athletics may not be their thing. Green and/or Tech might be.”
Addressing concerns of combining middle school and high school populations, Taylor said high school students would likely have different start and end times, with separate learning environments from the younger students. In fact, with parent approval, high school students may serve as positive mentors to the middle school students.
No decisions have been made about enrollment sizes, high school course offerings, facility expansion or funding.
In December 2012, AISD cancelled an experimental partnership between AISD and IDEA charter at Allan Elementary. The program was designed to target and help students who would attend Eastside Memorial High School, which has struggled to meet state academic standards. However, community members did not support the experiment and voted in board members who then cancelled it.
At that same board meeting, an in-district charter school was approved for Travis Heights Elementary, an idea under consideration for three years. It had the support of the AISD employee association and more than 90 percent of parents and classroom teachers.
Taylor said advantages of becoming an in-district charter for middle school students who want to continue to a vertical team high school at Austin or Bowie include:
• Autonomy in 6-8 curriculum sequencing with a focus on interdisciplinary units
• PBL-Blended learning model expansion to 6th and 7th grade levels with a 1:1 technology initiative (with grant funding)
• High school credits offered in middle school for advanced students (i.e. Foreign Language starting in 6th grade and Biology in 8th grade)
• Reinstatement of Academic Teaming (MS Philosophy) with advanced notice of student enrollment
• Alternative food services would allow for organic/healthier alternatives to the AISD Food Services currently offered. Food from the Small MS Gardens could be incorporated into the food offerings.
Another community meeting is scheduled for May 22. The deadline for the petition signed by 80 percent of both Small parents and classroom teachers is October 31. The AISD Board of Directors would then have to agree to the proposal by February 20, 2014, and then be approved by the Texas Education Agency in order to start the program for the 2014/2015 school year.
If the program is approved, a 9th grade class would be approved for the 2015-2016 school year, adding 10th grade in 2016, 11th in 2017 and 12th in 2018.
“The Future of Small MS” Committee meets every Wednesday at Small from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Room 112. The public is invited to attend.
The next Community Meeting will be on May 22 at 5:30 pm in the Clint Small Middle School library. The school is located at 4801 Monterey Oaks Boulevard.
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