UT Elementary School Frequently Asked Questions
What is a charter school, and how is a charter school different from a traditional school?
A charter school is a public school that operates independently of the district board of education. In effect, a charter school is a one-school public school district. A group of people — educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs or others — write the charter plan describing the school’s guiding principles, governance structure, and applicable accountability measures. In our case, the charter is held by The University of Texas Board of Regents, approved by the state in 2003.
The charter leaders can make hiring and curriculum decisions that work best on its own campus rather than using curriculum from an administrative office of a large district. Charters are still held to the same standards as traditional public schools in terms of accountability for student learning of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), are required to administer standardized tests such as the STAAR, and are rated using the same criteria the Texas Education Agency uses for all public schools.
Charters also have the capability to limit class size. UT Elementary believes strongly that class size does matter – and that even the very best teachers should be allowed ample time to address the individual needs of each student.
Charters receive public average daily attendance funds per pupil to educate students. However, charter schools receive no facilities funding, as traditional public schools do, in accordance with state law.
Do charter schools have admission policies? Can they “pick” who attends?
Charter schools are public schools and therefore cannot “choose” which students attend. By law, charter schools must have a fair and open admission process, conducting outreach and recruitment to all segments of the community they serve. Like other public schools, charter schools are nonsectarian and nondiscriminatory in admission and employment practices.
Eligibility for enrollment at UT Elementary is based solely on a family’s residence within our geographic service area. Our students are admitted on a first-come, first served basis, or by lottery when applicants exceed available slots. No tuition may be charged.
Is this school really for the young children of UT faculty and staff?
The school serves the children of East Austin, and our students must live in one of seven zip codes: 78702, 78721, 78722, 78723, 78741, 78744 or 78724. Anyone who resides in these zip codes is eligible to apply.
Our student demographics are 87% ethnic minority. Seventy percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch based on a household annual income of $41,000 or less for a family of four. Most of our students will be first-generation college students.
What makes UT Elementary School different from other public charters?
As the first university-sponsored charter school in Texas, UT Elementary School was created to be a model and research demonstration school. Our mission is to not only serve the students on our campus with high-quality education, but also to put into practice the proven-effective research about teaching and learning that comes from University of Texas faculty. We also help to train and mentor future educators from the university. In addition, we have an obligation to share the practices we use and disseminate them among educators to help spread effective, quality education to as many educators and students as possible.
Are you funded by The University of Texas?
You can find information on how The University of Texas is funded here: http://giving.utexas.edu/why-give/why-we-need-your-support/.
The University of Texas invested resources to create and build our school, and also provides us an enormous wealth of intellectual resources in the form of faculty and staff who provide training, mentoring, and time to assist the school in its mission.
The University of Texas at Austin provides ten percent of our general operating budget, which helps provide the facilities funding that the state does not provide. The University means for us to serve as a model school whose methods can be replicated elsewhere.
Do your students pay tuition?
No. Just like any other public school, our students are served free of charge. We do require uniforms of either a burnt orange,white or navy blue polo shirt with khaki pants, shorts, or skirts. Each child is gifted two shirts through the generosity of The University Co-Op at the beginning of each academic year.
The only exception to this is pre-kindergarten. Pre-K is not funded through government sources unless students come from families who are in the military, fall below the poverty line, or are English Language Learners, and then are only funded a half-day via the federal government. Because we feel a full-day of pre-Kindergarten is important, half of our 40 pre-K slots are reserved for students who are partially federally-funded, and this is subsidized through a paid program for the other 20 students.
How many students apply versus how many are admitted by the lottery?
This number varies by grade level and the number of applicants is generally higher in the lowest grades. We have very little attrition at our school. We also have a sibling rule in order to keep families together, which means that a child whose sibling is already enrolled or accepted has first priority. There are times at which we have so many siblings, only a handful of spots are available for the lottery. Because of all these variables, our rate of applicants versus available spots can fluctuate considerably from year to year.
For the past four years, we have had the following rates of acceptance through the lottery system versus number of applications: 2011-12: 31%, 2010-11: 18%, 2009-10: 33%, and 2008-09: 58%.
Tell me more about your programs
Our mantra is to “teach to the spirit of every child,” meaning, the teacher is always aware of what each student needs to reach his or her fullest potential – whether that’s special education support, a little extra small group instruction, or challenges through gifted and talented programming. Not a single one of our students falls through the cracks because we are constantly monitoring the progress of each child and recording that data to make sure they receive any intervention necessary. This is true not only for academics, but social skills, health, and special-area courses.
UT Elementary School makes sure that kids excel in the basic subjects like language arts, social studies, math and science. In addition, we have been extremely successful over the past ten years in teaching students specific skills like respect, empathy, and collaboration through Social & Emotional Learning, which Austin ISD recently adopted as well. We also teach them philanthropy and service learning, sustainable gardening and healthy nutrition, the importance of living an active and healthy lifestyle, , Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and multi-cultural fine arts for all students Pre-K through fifth grade.
Where do your students go after elementary school?
We have now graduated four classes of fifth-graders. Most of our students go on to other charter schools or magnet schools, such as the Ann Richards School for Girls, East Austin Charter Prep, KIPP, Fulmore Magnet Program or Kealing Magnet Program. Some go on to attend private schools if scholarships are available, and others go on to their assigned Austin ISD middle school.
Are you tracking your students to measure if their success continues after leaving UT Elementary?
UT Elementary is currently undertaking a project to research and create the best kind of tracking system for our students. We aim to have the system in place and continually working by December 2012.
We currently track where our students enroll once they graduate from our campus. Many of our graduates still have siblings at the school. We have anecdotal evidence from teachers and administrators at middle schools that tell us our students are easily identifiable by their outstanding academic success and eager attitudes.
Do you have plans to expand?
We do not have plans to expand our enrollment beyond 300 students, which is the maximum allowed by our charter. We do aim to continue expanding our outreach to our local partner schools, to students and faculty at The University, and to educators throughout the world through dissemination of effective instructional methods, and collaboration with other outstanding schools on best practices. We are a member of the Austin Charter Collaborative group, which means we have formally committed to openly sharing best practices with our local community district and other high-performing charter schools.
Your mission talks about how you serve the university as an outreach. Can you tell me more about how this is done?
The relationship with The University is reciprocal in terms of benefit. University faculty members provide the proven research and methods of instruction that we implement in practice on our campus. Faculty and graduate students at UT Austin often use our campus as a research site. In addition, UT Elementary helps to train future educators: students who are studying to become classroom teachers, health teachers, counselors, speech therapists, administrators, nurses, school social workers, and school psychologists. Each semester you will find more interns and student teachers on our campus than staff.
UT Elementary School’s master teachers often serve as advisors for curriculum and/or guest speakers for courses taught in the Urban Education Program at the UT Austin College of Education, and have often collaborated on research papers with university faculty to national educational research conferences. Executive director Melissa Chavez serves as clinical faculty for courses within the Urban Education Program, and a teachers manual written by UT Elementary School faculty is used as course material.
What does it mean to be a “model demonstration school,” and what is your evidence of how you do this?
We strive to not only implement effective educational methods but also to share them with any members of the community who are interested. Our master teachers train and mentor aspiring educators, primarily students from UT, and spread effective teaching methods to educators across the city, state and nation; through the Austin District-Charter Collaborative, a group of school leaders that meets monthly to share best practices in effective teaching, planning, and efficient operations. UT Elementary’s Director of Academic Programming is leading professional development efforts for this group which includes Austin ISD and seven other charter operations in central Texas.
Our teachers also regularly write articles and books, attend national and regional education conferences to present their methods, and make their resources and knowledge available online through blogging and posting articles about pedagogy. They often provide professional development for other schools and districts. Our classrooms are always open for observation and we strive to be a good neighbor and collaborator with our partner schools.
• Our fifth-grade social studies teacher has several articles in national publications and professional development courses regarding: the integration of social studies and language arts with Social and Emotional Learning and service learning, use of artifacts in teaching history, and use of technology in the classroom for maximum student engagement. She was recently named National Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year.
• Two teachers have now presented at the international SxSW Edu conference.
• Two principals and 21 teachers in local partner schools on the integration of Repsonse to Intervention (RTI) and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into elementary curriculum.
• A cohort of practicing teachers and three cohorts of 21 to 25 pre-service teachers each in the integration of RTI and SEL into elementary curriculum, with an option to focus on specific areas such as math and science.
• A cohort of Region XIII teachers on the application of RTI into elementary science curriculum.
• A cohort of education professionals in The University of Texas at Austin principalship program on school-wide implementation of SEL.
• Forty-one teachers in Tyler ISD on the integration of Social Studies, Language Arts, SEL, and Service Learning.
• Advice and counsel to leadership in the creation and expansion of charter schools across the state of Texas, including Stephen F. Austin charter and East Austin Prep School.
• A large group of member professionals in the Austin Area Speech and Language Pathologist Association.