AISD's first homegrown charter school promises real life lessons


by JADE MINGUS / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist MATT OLSEN

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Posted on August 26, 2013 at 5:31 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 26 at 5:41 PM

AUSTIN -- The students and staff are the same at Travis Heights elementary this year, but the first homegrown in-district charter school has undergone several changes before welcoming students back to class.

The transformation gives the campus flexibility when it comes to curriculum, testing and schedules. The school is still under the umbrella of the Austin Independent School District, but now teachers have a bigger impact on what's taught in the classroom.

"I'm so excited about the things we are going to get to do and try," said teacher Mary Friedman. 

AISD Teacher Union, Education Austin, and Austin Interfaith worked with parents and staff over the span of four years to make the first day back a reality. Education Austin also won a $500,000 grant to train teachers and staff.

"This is a campus based charter. It's developed by the campus and community. We think it's a model far superior to an outside entity coming in and taking over our schools," said Education Austin president Ken Zarifis.

Travis Heights is offering students a blended learning classroom with technology, language programs that include Spanish and later Korean, and service learning projects. This school year, the fifth grade class will study the topic of bullying.

"Once they are empowered, and they know they can make a difference, then they become leaders. That's what we want them to develop," said Travis Heights Principal Lisa Robertson. 

"It's so important for schools to get the opportunity to innovate and for kids to have really meaningful lessons that ties them into the real world," said Zarifis.

If the model is succesful, more AISD campuses could implement a similar in district charter school.