City could soon have 1st campus-based in-district charter school

City could soon have 1st campus-based in-district charter school

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The faces that make up Travis Heights Elementary School, are as diverse as the colors decorating the cafeteria.

"They're making friends from kids from all walks of life and that was really important to me and my husband," said Kim-Marie Hernandez O'Driscoll has two daughters enrolled in the public school's dual language program.

"Public education was a very conscious decision, my husband and I both grew up in private and parochial schools," O'Driscoll said.

This campus is headed for a landmark change.

One Travis Heights teacher said, "In ten days of voting we reached 90% of our households and 99% said yes!"

If the AISD school board also says "yes", Travis Heights School will be the city's first campus-based, in-district charter.

"In the past couple of years, there have been a lot more restrictions put on the schools from the district, and so that's when we as a campus started saying, we think there's a better way to do this," said another teacher, Kellie Marino.

It took 18 months and hundreds of conversations with community members to determine their own priorities for the campus.

"We believe if we do it together, we do it better," said Ken Zarifis, President of Education Austin.

The proposal is to blend technology with student empowerment, while integrating real-world issues.

Marino said, "You have to make sure you're honoring and making sure that the students are going to grow up in a society where they can communicate with everybody and they can relate to everybody."

"The teachers and the parents and the community members, making decisions about the school, as opposed to a traditional charter, where there's a private entity or business that applies their model to the school," said Blake Trabulsi, President of the PTA.

School administrators say they would remain part of AISD, but be able to make key decisions at the campus level.

"It also allows us to understand where we're going and focus on those steps, without other programs or other new things coming in...and having that autonomy allows us to do that," Travis Heights Principal, Lisa Robertson, said.  "So that they can see the skills I'm learning in the classroom can actually go forward and be used to solve some problems in our community."

O'Driscoll said, "When we moved to this neighborhood, we were very mindful of Travis Heights Elementary School, that it reflected the real world."   

These Thunderbirds consider themselves "the future" and in the real world, progress and success usually spawn a following.

"I think it depends on how we do...but yes, I'm very optimistic that this will become a model for other schools in Austin and beyond," Trabulsi said.

The school board's next regular meeting is scheduled for the 17th - - that is when they will vote on the application of Travis Heights to become a campus-based, in-district charter.

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