How San Antonio is reinventing its charter school system

Trinity University is launching a unique higher education-leadership program and school incubator.
By: | May 31, 2019
charter school

To meet the demand for quality charter schools in San Antonio, local Trinity University has launched a fellowship and incubator program that will support 40 educators and entrepreneurs in developing traditional district, autonomous district and charter schools over five years.

The program, Trinity School Design Network, is supported by a $5 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

Demand for three charter school networks in the greater San Antonio region—GreatHearts Texas Academies, KIPP San Antonio Public Schools and IDEA Public Schools—exceeds capacity. In the 2017-18 school year, charters received more than 39,000 applications. Families Empowered, an advocacy group, reports that total applications to these schools alone would make up the fourth-largest district in San Antonio.

The Texas Legislature signed Senate Bill 1882 in 2017, incentivizing public school districts to collaborate with other entities, including charter networks, to expand school options. This resulted in a lot of restructuring of schools in the San Antonio area to try to give students more choice, says Linda Mora, interim executive director for the Trinity School Design Network.

“Some of us are still in the industrial age, and we need to move away from that,” says Mora, the retired deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Northside ISD in San Antonio.

Program structure

Mora says few local pathways exist to support educators interested in transitioning from teacher or principal to school founder. The network will begin this summer with up to five participants.

To be considered, candidates must be current principals, who are endorsed by a supervisor and superintendent and are willing to take risks, she adds.

The network will offer programming and supports in three phases:

  • Phase 1: rigorous school design training, personalized leadership development and coaching
  • Phase 2: a school launch boot camp to prepare fellows to open a school
  • Phase 3: engagement with mentors, instructors and peers over the next two years through a networked community of practice

“We will also look at what the research says about building a culture of support and a culture of high expectations for students, and if you were to open a new school, what would change in your curriculum, the physical structure, supplies and technology,” Mora says. “All of that plays into how you would run your school.”

Other school incubators in the U.S. may exist, says Vanessa Descalzi, a spokesperson for the Walton Family Foundation, but this is believed to be the first of its kind that is embedded in a higher education institution.