AISD in Talks for Charter School
The Austin Independent School District has struggled for years with how to educate students at some of its lowest performing schools. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen proposed that an in-district charter school could alleviate some of these problems. KUT’s Nathan Bernier talks with Tom Torkleson, the founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools, about the program’s strategies, successes and stakes in a possible deal with AISD.
IDEA schools started small in 2000, based out of a church in Donna, Texas with just 150 students enrolled. Since then, it has grown to 20 schools with enrollment numbers of nearly 10,000. The program’s most effective boasting point is that it has had five consecutive years of graduating classes in which every student was accepted to a four-year university.
Everyone wants to know: What’s the secret to success? Torkleson credits “lots of small things that add up.” One of these, he said, was making a big investment of time and energy in the recruiting and training of IDEA’s teaching staff. Another is the seamless system of education – from kindergarten to senior year – that provides students with the comfort of consistency while encouraging college prep at every level.
Torkleson elaborates on IDEA’s fine-tuned focus:
“What that creates is a sort of environment where, if you’re one of the two or three students in a grade level who want to goof around or not work hard or study hard, you just feel so much peer pressure from the other 95 percent of the students that you’re going to get your act together and you’re going to really, really focus on working hard now so that you’ve got a better future five…ten…fifteen years from now.
We are really showing a proof point of transformational results for a population of students who traditionally have not been served well by the public education system.”
It would be IDEA’s first long-term partnership with a district. Nothing is final yet, but talks between AISD and IDEA are underway.