Jubilee Academic Center is a neighborhood concept school. Everyone knows everyone else. Everyone is family. Everyone feels safe.
That’s how Daniel G. Amador, Superintendent of Jubilee Academic Center, described the school culture to me. I recently toured the elementary school at Jubilee Academy, 4434 Roland Rd., San Antonio, Texas 78222 (map), on the southeast side of town, and met with school and parent leaders. Jubilee is an important part of the charter school landscape in San Antonio, and I want my readers to know more about it. There’s a lot to cover, so I will break it down into three parts: the classroom experience, leadership, and growth plans.
The Classroom Experience
Jubilee Academy makes a positive first impression. As we approached the front doors (F.T. came with me), two middle school students greeted us, both wearing yellow fleece scarves for School Choice Week. (Read about Jubilee students ringing the bell at the whistle stop in this earlier post.) I met Cheryl Stewart, Principal of Jubilee Academy, and then went around the corner to visit a pre-K classroom.
Jubilee offers full-day pre-K for four year olds, even though state funding only covers a half day of pre-K. (Follow the link in this 2012 post to read a Jubilee teacher’s arguments in favor of full-day pre-K and her support for the program that became Pre-K 4 SA.)
Our tour guides led us down the hallway into more elementary classrooms. In each classroom, I was greeted by a student who met me at the door, introduced herself, and explained briefly what the class was working on. Every student keeps a binder, but it’s not just a place to store papers: the binder is organized around Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. So, a student’s binder might include a list of ways to “begin with the end in mind” (Habit 2).
In each classroom, I did a quick headcount. The elementary classrooms I saw each had 12, 14, or 15. Small class sizes are part of what gives Jubilee that neighborhood feeling.
A Jubilee classroom is like a workshop: there is a tool for everything, and everything has a purpose. Every inch of space is used, in a design that has evolved over time.
I spent so much time in the classrooms that I threw off the tour schedule, but it was worth it, because I felt like I began to understand what the Jubilee teachers are doing.For example, the students in a third grade reading class showed me the essays they were writing. Their teacher explained that they were doing a multi-week unit about processes. The unit started with reading a recipe for lemonade and explaining all the steps. (It’s trickier than it sounds: “Add ice,” but where? Did you put the ice in the pitcher, or leave it on the kitchen counter to melt?) They also studied an ice cream recipe (yum!) and instructions for folding origami cranes. The students were proud of their work and excited to share it with me.
This may seem like common sense stuff, but common sense is not as common as it should be. It’s refreshing to see lesson plans with so much face validity.
The 7 Habits are woven into the classroom experience at Jubilee, and the school leadership embraces the approach, too. Jubilee Academic Center was the first charter school in San Antonio to participate in The Leader in Me, a leadership program that applies the 7 Habits to education. Last month, San Antonio hosted The Leader in Me Symposium, and attendees from all over Texas went on a tour of Jubilee Academy.
Superintendent Amador gave me a copy of Covey’s book, The Leader in Me. The message is that even young children can learn leadership principles. A successful school leader, Muriel Summers, shared what she learned from talking to parents (at page 23):
[W]hat parents said they wanted their children to gain from school was the ability to get along with others and to be responsible. They wanted their children to be tolerant of people’s differences, to become problem solvers, and to learn to be creative.
These parents were more concerned with leadership skills than with pure academic success. From what I have seen at Jubilee, they are faithfully carrying out the 7 Habits principles, and passing on these leadership skills to their students. They also place a high value on parent involvement and the home-school connection.
After the school tour, I sat down with Jubilee leaders, including Superintendent Amador, Director of Schools Thomas Koger, and PTO President Mrs. Sanchez.
Amador said, “We believe in parent choice.” He sees Jubilee its the context of the other public and charter schools in San Antonio. Jubilee operates in neighborhoods with high dropout rates and a low college graduation rates, but maintains a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Recent Jubilee graduates (some with 6-40 hours of college credit through the early college high school program) are now studying at community colleges, UTSA, Baylor, Incarnate Word, and Texas A&M. Jubilee leaders do not see the school competing with high-performing charter schools such as KIPP or IDEA Public Schools, but offering more of a neighborhood school feeling. Also, Amador distinguishes Jubilee from Premier High School and other programs that offer second chances to students who are over 18 and want to go back to school to earn a high school diploma.
I asked Mrs. Sanchez, the PTO President, for the parent perspective. She said, “Jubilee feels like a family. The kids all know each other.” Mrs. Sanchez’s and Mr. Koger’s kids went to school together. There are now second generation Jubilee families, and Jubilee graduates are forming an alumni organization to help support the school.
Jubilee has an active parent organization. Parents help manage the school library. They organize a Fun Fest every year, and rummage sales twice a year. The PTO is partnering with Education Service Center Region 20 to offer adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The classes are free to the community, and Jubilee parents help get the word out by leaving flyers at local businesses.
In the lobby, I stopped to admire a giant mural of a tree. Mrs. Sanchez’s daughter, Kassandra Sanchez, painted the mural; she was also the winner of a 2011 art contest, and saw her work displayed on a VIA bus. “Student’s art is as big as a bus”, Jennifer Lloyd, San Antonio Express-News, May 23, 2011. The Jubilee charter school network is going new places, too.
Jubilee Academic Center started in San Antonio 13 years ago, and has grown to 15 campuses. Eight campuses are on the southside of San Antonio, including Alamo Leadership Academy, Alpha Academy, Highland Park Gifted & Talented Academy, Jubilee Academy, Jubilee High School, Live the Life Leadership Academy, Premier Leadership Academy, and Soaring Heights Leadership Academy. Jubilee has four campuses in the Rio Grande Valley (Brownsville and Harlingen), two in Kingsville in the Coastal Bend, and one in Austin; each of those regions has its own school board that is responsive to local concerns. Here is an earlier post about Jubilee’s expansion in the Rio Grande Valley.
Jubilee has plans to open three new campuses in 2014. The groundbreaking for Athlos Leadership Academy San Antonio will be on February 19, 2014. The other two campuses new will be in Brownsville and Austin. Athlos Leadership Academy will begin taking applications soon.
I hope this post gave you a better understanding of Jubilee’s school culture, emphasizing leadership skills and a family environment, and sense of their place in the community of charter schools in San Antonio and south and central Texas. What else do you want to know about Jubilee?