As mentioned in this earlier post, Great Hearts Texas is negotiating with Temple Beth-El, located at 211 Belknap Place in Monte Vista, for a 5-year lease to house the charter school’s first campus in San Antonio.
The temple board will vote on the lease agreement at an October 1, 2013 meeting. “Temple Beth-El weighs lease to charter”, Abe Levy, San Antonio Express-News, September 27, 2013 (for subscribers only). If the temple approves the lease, then Great Hearts will hold a community meeting there in late October to kick off enrollment for the 2014-15 school year.
Levy’s article is informative and balanced. Let me share some highlights with you.
Great Hearts offers a unique model:
Great Hearts says its schools offer college preparatory academics rooted in a classical, liberal arts curriculum. It reports high graduation rates and standardized test performance at its 16 schools in Arizona, which have more than 7,400 students.
A local teachers’ union leader criticizes Great Hearts because she claims it would not be a true neighborhood school:
“Whether (Great Hearts) is going to have a different model here (than in Arizona) is unclear. But they are in direct contrast to neighborhood public schools, the heart and soul of a neighborhood,” said Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, whose members work at SAISD. “I believe corporate chain charter schools contribute to the disintegration of neighborhoods and the sense of community that so many families desire.”
My observation, as a former Monte Vista resident, is that few neighborhood kids are currently attending San Antonio ISD schools, and that those who do are likely to be enrolled at Bonham Academy, an in-district charter located in Southtown. My prediction is that a Great Hearts campus located at Temple Beth-El would likely become a focal point for families in Monte Vista and the surrounding mid-city neighborhoods, and might even attract families from the suburbs back into the heart of the city.
What about the accusations of exclusivity that have been leveled against Great Hearts, especially during their failed attempt to expand to Nashville? What about fundraising? Transportation? Diversity? From Levy’s article:
Like the nonprofit foundations set up to help traditional public school districts, Great Hearts conducts a “community investment campaign,” Bezanson said. Fewer than half the parents at its Arizona schools contribute to it, he said.
“We’re completely tuition free,” Bezanson said. “It’s never understood in Arizona as anything other than a voluntary fund-raising drive.”
Great Hearts does not plan to offer transportation and is not seeking transportation funding; Great Hearts says it will work with families to solve problems.
Monte Vista is rather swank, but the surrounding neighborhoods are not. For example, look at the student data for nearby Mark Twain Middle School on the Texas Tribune Public Schools Explorer: 93.1% Hispanic, 3.4% Caucasian, and 2.8% African-American; 94.6% economically disadvantaged. Locating the first Great Hearts campus in the center of the city, rather than the suburbs, increases the likelihood of attracting a diverse student body. It would not be the first such school in the Great Hearts network. In Arizona, Great Hearts operates Teleos Prep, a predominantly African-American campus. I visited that campus back in April when Great Hearts invited me to a conference—mentioned in this earlier post.
Levy notes that another charter school, Eleanor Kolitz Hebrew Language Academy, is already leasing space at a different Jewish facility (the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Campus of the San Antonio Jewish Community); see more in this earlier post.
As soon as I hear the outcome of the temple board’s vote, I will post here and on Facebook and Twitter. Also, I encourage you to visit the Great Hearts Texas website and sign up for the interest list. Great Hearts Texas is also on Facebook.