Monday was the first day of the school year for the San Antonio Independent School District and several area charter school networks.
Two of SAISD’s schools are new this year: CAST Med High School on the South Side and Young Women’s Leadership Academy Primary just east of downtown.
CAST Med is for students interested in medical careers; YWLA Primary is an all-girls elementary school. They’re the latest in a series of new schools with specialized curriculum opened by SAISD in recent years as part of a strategy to improve academic outcomes and attract more students.
With the addition of CAST Med and YWLA Primary, the district now has a dozen charter-like specialty schools with no assigned students. Families across Bexar County apply to the schools and are admitted based on a lottery.
At a meet-the-teacher event at YWLA Primary on Friday, Stacey Leal said she knew she wanted her daughter Autumn to go to the all-girls school as soon as she found out it was opening.
“We actually have a family friend, she was one of the very first to graduate from (Young Women's Leadership Academy), the original high school. She’s done wonderful, she’s talked about the academics, she’s gone a long way and we’re very proud of her,” Leal said. “It’s a plus because when I was growing up it just wasn’t really an option (to go to a public all-girls school).”
While waiting in line to pick up her daughter Iliana’s uniform, Kimberly Tobias said she was attracted to the school because of its focus on science and girls’ empowerment.
“I want (Iliana) to do something with her life, to change people’s lives, to show other girls they can be just as strong and just as powerful as she can be,” Tobias said.
After meeting his daughter’s Kindergarten science teacher, Christopher Wagner said he and his wife chose YWLA Primary because they wanted their daughter Arianna in a specialty school with strong academics.
“She loves art, she loves art, she loves to draw, she loves to do all type of just little crafts and stuff — cut paper, make dolls — and she has a really kind heart so she’s always liked really pretty things like giving hugs, things like that,” Wagner said. “So it was important to get her into one of the STEAM schools, which the A is for art.”
YWLA Primary Principal Andrea Pitts said being in a single-gender school helps girls feel comfortable in who they are, and that helps them excel academically.
“We focus on fields of study that really are male-dominated, so science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” Pitts said. “And we want our girls to be able to come in, explore in their learning and then become the problem solvers and critical thinkers.”
Pitts said that she believes in the school model so much that she applied for her 6-year-old daughter Jordyn to attend.
“I would not do that lightly,” Pitts said. “I’ve taught and I’ve worked in a lot of different schools, and this is the first school that I’ve ever put my daughter in that I’ve been employed at.”
Most San Antonio school districts start on August 19 or 26.
SAISD spokesperson Leslie Price said the district starts the school year early to reduce the amount of learning lost over the summer.