BASIS San Antonio families experience success, heartbreak, and everything in between

BASIS San Antonio families experience success, heartbreak, and everything in between | San Antonio Charter MomsBASIS San Antonio has completed its first year of operation. Here is an earlier post about its opening in August 2013, and a post about the dedication ceremony in September 2013.

My kids weren’t old enough, or I would have enrolled them in BASIS for 2013-14. But I keep in touch with a lot of BASIS parents, some of whom learned about the school from me. For many, the school has exceeded their expectations, giving their children a new level of maturity and sense of purpose. For some, the pressure and culture of the new school was a source of stress and heartbreak.

The BASIS parents have been buzzing about a blog post, “Parent Horror Stories from BASIS: Corporate Charter Hurting Children?”, Julian Vasquez Heilig, Cloaking Inequity, June 8, 2014. Dr. Vasquez Heilig relates the tragic stories of two families who experienced heartbreak at BASIS San Antonio.

I feel deep empathy towards the families whose stories are told in Dr. Vasquez Heilig’s blog post. Although not to the same degree, I experienced something similar when my son, F.T., was in kindergarten in 2012-13 in our local public school. This guest post from August 2013 talks in broad terms about our choice to homeschool. I have not written in detail about what happened in the 2012-13 school year; someday, F.T. might wish that I hadn’t. Also, it might be taken as an attack on our local public school, and I really just want everyone to get along. We can all work together to improve, rather than fighting each other. (However, I still feel a little sick every time I see a Go Public banner. See “School Choice Advocate Responds to ‘Go Public’ Campaign”, Inga Munsinger Cotton, Rivard Report, November 12, 2013.)

Like the parents in Dr. Vasquez Heilig’s blog post, I felt that my son was suffering, and I felt that the school was not communicating with me. It’s a terrible dilemma: I didn’t want to be a quitter, I wanted to try everything to make it work, and I felt social pressure to stay in the local public school. Ultimately, I chose to create the school I wanted—homeschooling—as discussed in this earlier post. Still, I have asked myself many times if I could have handled things differently. Was I an effective advocate for my son? Should I have realized sooner that the school was not a good fit? For now, I have forgiven myself, and made the most of my homeschool year with F.T.

Dr. Vasquez Heilig’s blog post makes me uncomfortable, however, because I feel like he is exploiting these parents’ stories for the purpose of discrediting BASIS. Also, he makes personal attacks against my friend Victoria Rico.

I am still recommending that parents look into sending their children to BASIS San Antonio and the new campus opening this fall, BASIS San Antonio North, which is still taking applications. BASIS is offering a rigorous education that is not otherwise available in San Antonio. I have met the leaders of both campuses and I trust they are learning from the experiences of the 2013-14 school year.

Parents need information about charter schools so they can make informed decisions, and that is my goal here. BASIS San Antonio parents, if you want to share your experience—good or bad—below, please leave a comment. Unlike Dr. Vasquez Heilig, I do not delete comments that I disagree with.

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  1. I actually thought the first parent was complimentary of Victoria Rico. I don’t know her personally and I don’t believe that she was critiqued or attacked personally in this post. That being said, I did write an oped in the SAEN disagreeing with her writ large assessment of charters previously.

    In regard to BASIS cheerleaders, there will be a future post that will respond directly to their comments. Most won’t be deleted.

  2. My son just spent a year at Basis San Antonio. Prior to that, some years at a private school and some years at a San Antonio public school. His last year at public school was full of tears, stress, anxiety, and headaches. Teachers yelled at him, complained about him, and made it known to me that he was not liked. He was an Honor Roll Gifted and Talented child with no discipline referrals but that did not matter. When we transferred to Basis, his life changed. His Basis teachers have sent me emails telling me what a wonderful child he is. Basis rewards and honors him. He is always relaxed and happy. He is never punished and frequently tells me how kind and fun his teachers are. He thanks me every day for sending me to Basis. At one point he had a problem in one class not understanding material, we met with his teacher, he gave us some guidance, then he tutored David after school to help him FOR DAYS. His grade immediately shot back up. This is a standard Basis process that teachers help kids who struggle as long as kids and parents ask for help. All the teachers have been eager to help, They truly love children and make it KNOWN. We are about to enroll our second child for Basis.

  3. I am so sorry that this family had a bad experience. However, my daughter and everyone she talks about at BASIS-LOVE IT and are so happy and proud to be there. I do not find the workload too unmanageable at all. I DO NOT think this story should get any publicity as it is not indicative of the BASIS experience. It should be noted that children can have bad experiences at ANY SCHOOL. Don’t pick on one that just didn’t work for you. There are too many others who love it.

  4. Thank you, Inga, for this article. As a parent of a BASIS student, we have nothing but praise and respect for the education and support we experienced this year. Going into this school year, we were fully open to the fact that it was a first year campus and there would be hiccups. The staff has developed tremendously in learning how to more effectively communicate with the parents.

    When we saw our son struggling at times and asked if he’d rather change schools he immediately and confidently stated, “No. This is the best school I’ve ever been to. I don’t want to leave. I just need to get more organized.” As parents, all we wanted was for our son to be confident and challenged. We never wanted our son to settle. We wanted him to see his untapped potential. This year has been a breath of fresh air. His growth academically leaves me speechless and excited for what is to come.

    It is extremely unfortunate that isolated events have overshadowed all of the positive things BASIS has done for their students. All schools have issues – public, charter and private. If we truly support and believe in a program we should support them through the good and bad times as a community. I am thankful that the school continues to forge ahead.

  5. Inga, thank you for your balance in a media world that often blows information (good or bad, accurate or inaccurate) out of proportion, simply for ratings or status on social media.

    My son was a 6th grader at BASIS, and we have literally seen him “blossom” this year. The curriculum is rigorous, and he needs that to stay focused (he’s been craving that for years). The teachers and administrators have been continually focused on his growth as a student and more importantly, as a person. He is SO happy at BASIS.

  6. I think that some of the problems here may be due to a lack of understanding on the part of some of the posters and parents on Dr Heilig’s blog. Please understand that I mean no disrespect by making that statement, but I am concerned about comments made by posters Kara Myers and Lisa. So I address my comments to them as well as the rest of your readers. Any school, including BASIS, that is awarded a charter by the State of Texas must be open enrollment. That means that they are legally not allowed to pre-test students to ensure that they “meet the standard” or deny access to any student including those that are special needs. This is because they received State monies to run the schools, so as a tax payer you can understand why you would not want your tax dollars to go to a school that does not service all children. The only reason that they should/would not be admitted is if the school has reached their maximum enrollment as defined by their charter, or a lottery has been conducted and their child’s number was too high, i.e. there are only 20 slots in 1st grade and your number was 30. When Kara Myers states that “I would not have put a special needs child in this school because basis is clear about its curriculum. If you have a child that can’t stay organized, complete tons of homework (up to 2 hours a night), and stay focused in class to keep up, your child will fail here” she needs to understand that she is advocating for policy that is not only illegal, but harkens back to the days when children with special needs received their education in institutions. And when Lisa states “this is not a school for whimps (sp)” I assume she means that if your child is a different type of learner or is slower at understanding a concept, they should be excluded from what is described as an excellent educational experience? I can guarantee both Kara and Lisa that there will come a time in the upcoming years of their children’s education when they will struggle with a concept. I would ask that as you go through that experience that you look back on your comments and see if you feel that same way.

    • I was sharing my views on what I would do wih my children, you misinterpreted my phrasing. Since my post was pointed out, I just want to ask how is the quote you accurately attributed to me any different than what basis says about itself? I attended info sessions and this was all they talked about. If parents feel their child with special needs would thrive at basis then good for them. It is a choice I would have been scared to make. I think success or failure at this school is highly dependent on a child’s personality as much as any kind of “giftedness” so I do believe it is an open enrollment school, but it is also a sink or swim school and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

      • Kara – I think you are still missing the point. Open enrollment schools are required to provide special education services. They are not private schools, but funded with tax payer dollars. If any school, through group meetings or individually, gives the impression that a certain type of student is not welcome, they are “creaming”. This is the main complaint by ISDs against charters. So as charter school advocates, we all should be doing our best to stop the practices that are illegal and hurting the “cause”. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for this post, Inga. My children are in private school because it is the best fit for my family. Every parent deserves to find the right school fit for their child and Charter schools, in my opinion, provide that choice for a parent. Not all Charters are equal and not all public schools are equal. A true test of a school, in my opinion, is not when things go well, it is when things don’t well and how that school handles the situation.

    What struck me when I first read the blog post from Dr. Vasquez was his track record in being so anti-Charter and I questioned the rest of the post as it is so very slanted. I appreciate you recognizing that and stating that in your post. It seems his focus has moved from attacking KIPP to now moving to BASIS. Frankly, I was thrilled when KIPP called out the misinformation from this author and was quick to correct inaccuracies.

    I too have had a child in a school when things were not going well and we had to make the tough choice to move schools. I don’t envy parents who are advocating the best for their child and find others are not doing the same. But as a parent, I hope before someone judges any school the experience the environment first-hand, take a tour, asks questions and check references. Please do not gauge it all through the lens of a person all-too-happy to use their forum to spout inaccuracies or to prey on those who have had a negative experience.

  8. In this inaugural year of BASIS San Antonio I had 2 children there. They are completely opposite in learning. So much so, that only one will be returning next year. My daughter that struggled with learning stuck it out for the year. I don’t know if it were more me despartely wanting it to work out for her so I didn’t have to put her back in public schools or her bound and determination to succeed at BASIS. Whatever it was she completed her year at BASIS. Through the year she didn’t have much of a social life. As soon as she would come she would have a snack then go straight to her room and get started on her homework. She would do an average of 5+ hours of homework, breaking for dinner and shower. We were told time and time again from an administrator to cut her off from her homework if it got too late. I couldn’t allow her not to finish her homework. Homework is given for a reason. Practice! Maybe her experience would be different if she started in 5th grade and got that foundation. We will never know. After seeing what her schedule looked like for next year (8th) my husband decided to put her back in public school. I literally broke down, because if any of the 2 schools were there more for her it was BASIS.

    As for my upcoming 6th grader she thrived at BASIS. She was sooo bored in the public schools. She was only a point or 2 away from getting into GT. I asked the school to start her homework early or to give her extra homework or more advanced homework. Their response…. We can’t do that. Out of all her teachers only one had an after school class for her advanced students. Something she did on her own time because the school system wouldn’t allow it any other way. The schools focused on getting other students to the level of my daughter. As for my daughter and other students like her spent a lot of time in class reading waiting for others to catch up. BASIS was what she needed. Her mind woke up from a deep sleep. She was challenged for the first time in years. She was enjoying school again and it has been awhile since I saw that love for learning in her. She will be returning next year and she has firmly told me that she will be graduating from BASIS SA. For the second half of the school year she has maintained being in the top 5% of her class and before that top 15%. As for her homework load she probably averaged about 2+ hours.

    For the first time I actually see them learning. They are not learning to test. They are actually LEARNING!! You never heard anyone talking about the STARR. They took a couple of weeks to review, took the test, then back to learning. Never stressed over it before and forget all about it after it was over. My 3rd grader, in public school,was stressing over the test months before.

    As for communication, I was always signing my girls CJ (communication journal). It showed when tests and quizzes were coming up and they even had to put there grades in their CJ and we had to sign them. Pass or fail. These parents complaining about lack of communication, where is your communication with your child/children? I believe that is part of the learning at BASIS. It starts with you and your child/children. Not you and their teachers.

    Not having a nurse is not a problem. My oldest fell and it resulted in a concussion. I was notified right away. I spoke with my daughter and told her to keep me updated on how she was feeling throughout the day. Later she called me from the schools phone with a severe headache and she had thrown up. That is when I went to pick her up. I don’t believe a nurse would have handled it any differently. All the teachers are first aid/CPR certified.

    BASIS is OPTIONAL! If BASIS was as bad as some parents are saying, why are they keeping their child/children in there for so long? We have been completely pleased with administration and all the teachers. Who better to teach our children then those who specialize in what they are teaching. I wish my 8th grader could handle it, but I am okay that BASIS is not for every child.

  9. Although I’d like to think that there is no bullying or other “human nature” issues at BASIS, it probably does exist. I seriously doubt that it is systemic, though. The thing is, we have a child who is doing extremely well at BASIS, but struggled to fit in in public school. He was bullied regularly by a teacher in an exemplary NEISD school — punished for reading ahead, punished for being creative, and picked on for not being like everyone else. We found out when other parents told us what they saw! That teacher refused to allow him to test for GT because he didn’t fit their profile. We had to pull him out of the school, thinking there might be something wrong with him psychologically. After a quick trip to the doc, we found out his quirks stemmed from the fact that he was functioning at a level 8-10 years beyond his peers (whoops, NEISD!). So, the bullying described also exists in established, top-end public schools. To think that BASIS would be immune to human nature, especially in its first year, would be naive at best.

    We don’t love BASIS as implicitly as many, but we do appreciate it for what it is. At BASIS, our son found a place where there are other quirky kids to befriend, many of whom, like himself, lie on varying points of the ASD spectrum. They (mostly) all struggled at the beginning, and (mostly) all pulled themselves up to 90+ averages by the end of the year. The teachers there have been ASTOUNDING, well beyond our highest hopes. They work hard to help kids like ours achieve great heights, even when the classes at BASIS can’t keep up. This is a luxury that the public schools, bound by rigid application of TEKS, cannot afford our kids.

    BASIS administration is minimal at best, which is a real problem for helicopter parents, but not so much for us. We would like the school to support a little more differentiation for gifted learners, but beggars can’t be choosers. The school has to teach at the same high level regardless of a child’s ability, and there are kids of many different abilities in each class.

    As a former public school teacher myself, I understand the dilemma facing today’s teachers. They are forced to contribute to unions that actively promote state laws to prevent deviation from low norms (TEKS). Low-performing teachers love it, but the ones that really care hate what it does to outlying kids on both ends of the scale, particularly on the high-performing end. There are federal laws to protect kids with disabilities, but not to protect the other kind of special needs. BASIS may not be perfect — no school is — but at least they don’t turn a blind eye to those kids. The unions (NEA and AFT) use thugs like JVH or DR (another anti-charter activist) to trash anything that dares to be different, such as schools that help kids with advanced needs.

  10. We have three daughters attending Basis and my husband I could not be more pleased with the experience our children are having. Each of our girls approach learning in their own unique way yet the amazing teachers of Basis have successfully reached each of them. My daughters’ personal and academic growth in this first year has been astounding. Their drive to learn more and go farther is exciting to see.
    Our youngest was a child disinterested in school and now she is pushing us out the door early each morning to get to school for “biology jeopardy” or teacher hours for extra credit assignments. The entire facility and staff are aligned in their effort to create a community of well rounded, well adjusted young people.”It is like going to school in a think tank” our oldest has said. We feel blessed to be involved.

  11. I have 4 kids who just finished their first year at Basis Schools in Tucson- one boy in 5th grade at “North” and triplets (2 boys, 1 girl) in 3rd grade (Central). So far, it has been a very satisfying, actually I really need to say “exciting”, experience – for them and for me. I used to joke when they went to public school that they went to school during the day and came home for homeschooling after school. What I meant was that I was always trying to identify and provide work in the areas where they needed extra help or needed additional challenges. I did see that their good elementary school also tried to do some of this – within the restraints of the time and structure they were working in. Also, we have always tried to balance extracurricular activities, school, and reasonable bedtimes. All my kids played baseball, basketball, tried swim club, are very active in the chess community here, ride horses, and love electronics (aaarrrggghhh)! Their various testing scores throughout the years have shown they vary (by kid) from average to higher average in certain subjects (math mostly). Some needed help in reading or speech and received it in both their public school and Basis.
    With that said, I was very curious to see how each child, with different strengths and abilities would do. It was a great year – for all of them – and they are all so happy and excited about their return next year. Even though I had come to believe that I had some lower performers from their public school and I was beginning to see a bored/”disliking school” attitude developing in my older boy (in spite of him being selected to be in “advanced” classes where I thought the challenge would keep him engaged), we enrolled all 4 at Basis not knowing how it would go. What an “eye-opener” – all four felt proud to be going to such a highly rated school – then they began to realize they actually had to study and do homework every school night. They started to learn (with help from their Dad and me) time management (taking into consideration their age and maturity), study techniques, and personal responsibility. Sometimes they did great, sometimes things didn’t go as well. We even did what it is difficult to do at Basis – we played “hooky” to spend some time on a vacation. In the end, two were always in the 90+ club and two were in it occasionally and always very close. That was also a learning moment because I told them it wasn’t always the grade that mattered – but whether they were learning and having fun with their new knowledge. And they all agreed they were enjoying school.
    I have also experienced the animosity that Basis can cause and am confused by it. Why don’t I have a right to try to find the right school for my kids. Over the years I have watched parents move from this public school to that charter school and vice versa. I have heard the comments on this great teacher or bad teacher, that great administration or bad administration, those great or terrible private or charter or public schools. I have heard from so many parents the same concerns I’ve had – does my child have a learning disability, is it a focus or maturity issue, why aren’t they being more challenged in school – do they only teach to the lowest level? So, now that I have found a good fit for my kids, why should someone (expert or not) be so intent on criticizing my choice. I have to ask – what’s in it for them?! Looking at how poorly US education has performed in general (not in all cases) internationally and who’s getting the good jobs, including all the recruiting done outside of the US, shouldn’t we be embracing schools that are trying to find a new way?
    Ultimately, who knows how it will go in the future for us. We will take it one year at a time. As we would no matter where they were going to school. But, I am already grateful for what they learned this year and really excited about what they are planning for them for next year. Their world is expanding, their excitement is contagious, their futures are brighter because of this past year. I wish that same success for all families – no matter which school they attend.

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