Promesa Academy is a proposed public charter school that, once approved, will open in August 2019 on the near west side of San Antonio. The school promises to offer high-quality, college-preparatory education in an underserved area. I recently attended their first information meeting at the Bazan Library and learned about the school’s education model and leadership team.
Ambika Dani, the founder of Promesa Academy, recently relocated to San Antonio as a Building Excellent Schools (BES) Fellow. (Compass Rose Academy, which opened in August 2017, was founded by another BES Fellow, Paul Morrissey.) While applying for a Texas charter and preparing to open Promesa Academy, Dani is also traveling around the United States visiting high-performing charter schools to learn best practices and sharpen her ideas for her own school.
The school’s mission statement states: “Through rigorous and engaging academics, high-quality instruction, and a commitment to excellence in all that we do, Promesa Academy Charter School ensures every kindergarten through fifth grade student has the skills and knowledge for middle and high school success, college graduation, and a life filled with opportunity.”
At full development, Promesa Academy will serve approximately 480 students in grades K–5. In its first year, Promesa Academy will serve 80 kindergarten students and 80 first grade students, adding another grade level every year. The school year will be longer than the state-required number of minutes.
For enrollment, the school will focus on families living in the 78207 and 78237 zip codes, an area just west of downtown San Antonio that has experienced generations of poverty and low educational attainment. (As a public charter school, Promesa Academy will have a wider enrollment area, but the campus location and student recruitment efforts will target a high-need area.) Dani plans to arrange home visits, either in the family’s home or at a local public space, such as a library, to get know each enrolling family and their needs.
Promesa is the Spanish word for promise, and the school intends to make a promise to its students that they will receive a college-preparatory education. In the classroom, an inquiry-based approach will give students to raise questions and follow where they lead. That latitude will be balanced with practices that collect data about student progress so the school can fulfill its commitment to excellence.
A key element of Dani’s vision is hiring teachers who are subject matter experts. In elementary school, it’s common for a classroom teacher to prepare lessons in all subjects, from English and math to science, history, and art. In practice, it’s difficult for teachers to bring depth and inventiveness to that many subjects at once. By allowing teachers to specialize, they can teach from their strengths and make the most of their out-of-classroom time. Dani also places a high value on time and resources for professional development of teachers.
Every attendee at the information meeting got to try some logic problems designed by Dani. The instructions are simple and written in English and Spanish. On each side of the equation are simple shapes that represent different values. By comparing the two sides of the equations—also represented concretely as balancing a scale—the reader can make educated guesses about what values the shapes represent. When presented in a simple, concrete way, even young children can apply what they know to solve problems.
Where did Dani get her passion for founding a school? She shared a story from her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. During the summer when she was 14 years old, she invited neighborhood children into her family’s apartment for lessons. The group grew to 20 students who came at 4:00 p.m. and stayed until 7:30 p.m. They had a thirst for knowledge that was not being met by the schooling available to them. “Every child needs access to the education they deserve,” she said. This experience put Dani on the path to becoming a teacher and school founder.
In addition to Dani, the founder, several board members attended the information meeting:
- Eliana Rodriguez, a Digital Marketing Manager at the San Antonio Area Foundation
- Franco Cruz, San Antonio Regional Director for Be A Champion
- Sally Aguilar-Roberston, a co-founder of The Workery and an investor and entrepreneur
Not present at the information meeting, but also serving on the board of Promesa Academy, are Abigail Hasberry, a Project Director at The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and a former BASIS Head of School, Alberto Herrera, Principal at the Educational Resource Center, part of the John H. Wood Jr. Charter District, and Jared Sorensen, Senior Director of Finance at Rackspace.
The board reflects a balance of education leadership experience and entrepreneurial knowledge. Also, Dani and her team are working hard to connect with nonprofits and organizations in the community where they intend to locate the school.
Promesa Academy is on the path towards getting a Texas charter. Their application is due in December 2017, and they may be invited to appear before the State Board of Education for an interview in early 2018. The commissioner should make a decision about their charter application by June 2018. If Promesa Academy is granted a charter, then enrollment for prospective families will begin in late 2018 and the school will open in August 2019. So, the founding families of Promesa Academy are among those with children in pre-K 3 and pre-K 4 in the current 2017–18 school year.
To stay informed about the school’s progress, you can follow them on social media on Facebook and Twitter. You can reach them through their website, promesaacademy.org, or by email at email@example.com.
It gives me hope to see the process of a new school being formed, especially because Promesa Academy is so dedicated to bringing high-quality education to an area with such historically low educational attainment. I will follow their progress and share updates with my readers.