Travis Heights Elementary is Austin ISD’s first in-district charter school. What does that mean?
Travis Heights Elementary’s in-district charter status gives the school a chance to meet students’ needs in ways that teachers, parents and the community believe matter most. From teaching methods to funding to schedules and other areas, the campus has freedom and flexibility in its approach.
Our school is governed by a board of teachers, parents and local community members we call the Thunderboard. There is no involvement whatsoever by for-profit or nonprofit charter school organizations.
At heart, we are an AISD neighborhood school, open to all students within our AISD-assigned boundaries as well as transfer students (subject to AISD transfer policies). Our administration and teachers are employees of AISD, subject to the same state and district requirements and accountability standards as other AISD schools.
As an in-district charter, we have five freedoms:
- Freedom to choose how we teach.
- Freedom to change our school schedule.
- Freedom to decide how to spend our money.
- Freedom to change our cafeteria menu.
- Freedom to add more Art, Music, PE, Technology, and exposure to Foreign Languages.
How did Travis Heights become an In-District Charter School?
In 2010, Travis Heights Elementary was chosen to receive the Innovation Grant, a national grant awarded through Education Austin, our local teacher’s union, and Austin Interfaith. This grant provided funding for our community to engage in conversations and research to create a vision for the future of our school. The core innovation the campus community called for was taking education back to “the village.” In other words, the focus was trusting our professional educators and families to partner together in serving students.
Extensive research went into planning. Travis Heights is known to be a diverse school, reflecting the greater Austin demographics. The plan prioritized ways to meet the needs of the diverse student body in our neighborhood, while keeping alive a Travis Heights tradition of providing a warm, welcoming environment for all learners.
The Innovation School Project—a grassroots initiative propelled by Principal Lisa Robertson, faculty, parents and community members—worked from the ground up. The planning team led hundreds of house meetings and conversations about the community’s hopes and dreams for the school, and several themes emerged:
- We wanted our children to be engaged in learning that was more hands-on and tapped into critical thinking skills.
- We wanted our children to understand the connection between what they were learning to applications in the real-world.
- We wanted our students to embrace culture and be enriched through languages other than English.
- We wanted technology to be integrated in the classroom so as to supplement learning, regardless of academic skill level.
- We wanted our students to have more physical movement and integrated physical activity within their learning.
- We wanted teachers to have flexibility and autonomy in how and when they teach, so as to create a framework for learning that inspires lifelong learners with everyday experiences that are engaging and exciting for children.
Autonomy to make decisions at the campus-level based on the school’s needs year to year was a key tenet to the emerging plan.Instead of being forced to take on district-mandated programs and policies, often blanketed uniformly across all elementary schools, ours would be a school that examines what benefits the needs of this campus. From changes in schedule to provide teachers with greater planning time/team building/professional development, to greater physical activity built into the school day, to greater opportunities to assess what programs benefit our children and add value, the school community wanted the chance to choose.
After many discussions, planning sessions, reports and meetings, a school wide vote was held in October, 2012. Volunteers worked to get input from every Travis Heights family, as the district noted the plan for the first campus-based in-district charter would only be able to move forward if at least 80% of parents, teachers and staff supported it. In the end, more than 95% of families, teachers and staff supported the plan.
On December 17, 2012, the AISD School Board vote unanimously voted to approve Travis Heights Elementary’s petition. Since then, school administrators, teachers, staff, the ThunderBoard, the PTA, parents, community advisors and students have worked diligently to implement the vision from the Innovation School Project, making our school the success it is today.