Trinity University is creating a school incubator program with the potential to launch five new charter schools — or charter-like district schools — a year.
The program joins a growing list of initiatives that has the potential to foster charter/district collaboration in San Antonio.
The incubator is still in the planning phase, but as it stands now it will offer a 14 month fellowship on school design and leadership.
If the university is able to secure enough funding, it will start accepting applications in March and start its first fellowship the summer of 2019. The goal is for participants to launch their first schools in the fall of 2020.
“Our hope is that we would partner with school districts, that we would partner with charter management organizations, and that we might even partner with individuals who are looking to come in and try to start a school in this community,” said Shari Albright, the chair of the education department at Trinity.
Albright is leaving Trinity at the end of the month to take charge of the education nonprofit Raise Your Hand Texas, but will continue to lead the incubator program.
“I think that anybody would tell you that if you are remaining static you are falling behind, and I think that all of our public school partners know that, and so everyone is pushing for innovation,” Albright said.
Trinity is developing the school incubator with the help of a $429,000 planning grant from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports groups that want school boards to move away from making policy.
Instead, school boards that embrace the “portfolio” or “21st Century” model would hold schools accountable by closing low performers.
But Albright said she’s not pushing for school boards to take that step.
“It’s not that I’m not a supporter. It’s just that’s not my decision to make,” she said. “I’m going to straddle that line because I think it can be a supportive issue in the community and it can be a divisive issue and I think we would like to stand in a space that is one of support across communities that make that decision or don’t.”
However, she does see the incubator as a way to tear down some of the walls between charter schools and traditional public schools.
“Sometimes I think the rhetoric in this community can get very heated around us versus them and we hope that this will be a place that people can come together across those different sectors in our educational community,” Albright said.
Some of the lines between charter schools and traditional public schools are already blurred in Texas, thanks in part to state-sponsored initiatives like Districts of Innovation.
When districts open schools of innovation they’re exempt from some regulations, just as charter schools are.
Three San Antonio school districts are now part of the Texas Education Agency’s System of Great Schools, which has a lot in common with the portfolio model.
The idea is that school quality improves when campuses are given more autonomy and parents have more options. But uproar surrounding Antonio ISD turning an elementary school over to an outside charter management operator shows that strong divisions remain.