Selected readings on US charter schools
Public schools and charter schools often have relationships that range from wary to downright hostile. But in the Spring Branch school district, covering parts of Houston, they’re co-existing — in the same buildings. Could this unusual partnership be a model for North Texas?
One recent school day, students sang “I want to be happy, but I won’t be happy ’til I make you happy too…” — it seems like a typical fifth-grade boys choir class in Spring Branch’s Landrum Middle School.
Jaime Trigo led students through the lyrics and dance steps for an upcoming concert.
What’s not typical?
Some students are public school kids, but others belong to the KIPP Courage charter school. Students from both are in the same building.
That doesn’t happen in Dallas because of friction between public schools and charter schools. Maybe that’s because charters don’t offer teachers the same employment benefits. Or because teaching methods are different. Public schools also accuse charters of cherry picking better students.
To Trigo, the choir director, kids are kids.
“And once they get in my class, they sing,” Trigo says. “We got both kids coming in here all the time and so we see all the KIPP kids coming over here. It’s awesome.”
Two years ago, Spring Branch ISD formed a partnership with two charter schools. Under that partnership, charter students started attending classes in public middle schools. All the kids come from the surrounding neighborhood, which is low-income and home to Hispanics and blacks.
“My choirs are great, but with having this extra, you know, kids in here, so it’s like a huge group, it makes a great partnership,” Trigo said.
This acceptance by Trigo and other teachers didn’t always exist. Eric Schmidt is the KIPP principal in Landrum.
“I go into the elementary school and give a spiel about KIPP. It sounds a lot different than how the KIPP spiel used to sound,” Schmidt says.
“KIPP used to be ‘come to KIPP because we’re not them.’ Which is not OK in the partnership we have. Our spiel is ‘Come to KIPP, it’s a different opportunity.’ Every kid needs a different like option.”
The change in the spiel came from the top — Spring Branch Superintendent Duncan Klussman, whose three children taught him about school choice. He says they have different needs, and so, while close in age, they attend different public schools. He’s the one who welcomed the charters into his schools.
“I just wanted to meet the needs of my own children,” Klussman says. “And I think that’s what any parent wants in a public school setting. So I really look at it in those terms and a parent can look at our three programs, they can dive deep into them and say which one best fits the needs of my kid.”
The two charters both have longer days, teach motivational skills, and emphasize college. Spring Branch has more arts, sports, and special education options. Math or English are taught in separate classrooms. But some classes, like physical education, blend kids from both schools.
In the gym, students stretched and warmed up while chanting multiplication drills borrowed from KIPP schools. Klussman, the superintendent, also borrowed some core values from the charters, such as kindness, or grit.
“It’s as important to teach culture before you jump into teaching content,” Klussman said. “That if you just want to jump into teaching content and you don’t pay attention to culture, that has an effect on the campus and a classroom and a whole school system.”
Longtime Landrum art teacher Andres Bautista adopted some KIPP values.
“Right now, the character strength we’re focusing on is grit, and it’s getting toward the end of the school year,” Bautista said. “So the kids are always ready for summer. I said: ‘Wait, we need to finish this, show grit, until you accomplish your goal.’”
Partnership leader Mandele Davis hopes the schools are accomplishing the goal of working together so kids can benefit.
So instead of having a charter put in a building in our neighborhood to take our kids, let’s go ahead and work together because we’re aiming at the same goal,” Davis said. “So we’re not competing against each other. We’re competing and cooperating.”
Davis says it’s too soon to measure the program’s success. After it was launched, the partnership received $2 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 2010, the foundation has invested in public school-charter school collaborations in about 20 cities.
Source: KERA News – by Bill Zeeble