Travis Heights Elementary’s Innovation School Project

Travis Heights Thunderbirds, with the support of Education Austin, Austin Interfaith and Austin ISD, are thinking outside the box when it comes to education by bringing it back to the “village”. Travis Heights Elementary School is now the first community based, campus-led public school in Austin!

For nearly two years, Travis Heights Elementary School parents, teachers, administrators and community members have been collaborating to make a great school even better. We spent over a year examining the specific needs of our school and developing a vision for a more holistic approach to our children’s education. In October 2012, over 90% of household and faculty voted in support of the proposed vision. In December 2012, Austin ISD school board trustees gave us their unanimous approval to move forward with a carefully crafted, and heavily-researched proposal, based on the ongoing feedback from our school community. So began the journey of Travis Heights Elementary School as the first grass-roots, community-led, “campus based in-district charter” school within AISD.

What does the vision for THES’s future look like?

  • We want to implement creative and relevant instruction based on our current TEKS curriculum, with more flexibility for how our teachers teach and when they teach certain topics in core subject areas in the classroom. Think more hands-on activities and meaningful projects to nourish critical and creative thinking skills. Think project-based and service learning activities that integrate math, language arts, science/social studies to create real-world connections and reinforce learning. The goal is to engage, motivate, and inspire all children to be lifelong learners in their community.
  • We want our teachers to receive specialized professional development that is currently not provided by the district.
  • We want to continue to provide exposure to foreign languages and culture (Korean/Spanish) and potentially grow our Dual Language program to include more students should interest, need, and resources allow.
  • We want to integrate technology to supplement learning for our students.
  • We want our children to have greater access to physical activity in the context of learning both inside and outside the classroom, and greater flexibility for teachers in using our outdoor resources for learning opportunities.
  • We want discretion over food served in the cafeteria. Think menu options, potentially locally sourced, that are both healthy and appealing to children on our campus – as opposed to our currently restrictive AISD menu provided to all elementary schools.
  • We want flexibility in how AISD funding is allocated based on our campus needs, and apply for additional state and national funding only accessible to innovative or “charter” programs and not available from AISD’s current budget.

What does it mean for THES to be a community-based, campus led school?

By becoming what’s called a “campus-based in-district charter” we can remain a public, neighborhood school that is part of Austin ISD while simultaneously having the authority and autonomy at the campus level to meet the unique needs of our community.

We will remain a part of AISD (i.e., same students – including those with special needs, same teachers, same salary ladder/benefits, same code of conduct, and same funding) and will not be run by any external “business”.

What about accountability?

As all AISD public schools do, Travis Heights will remain accountable for student success based on current state-mandated tests, such as the STARR. Attendance is another state-mandated success measure that will continue to be used.

How will decisions be made?

While AISD will continue to oversee our campus, a governance board will work collaboratively to make decisions about the school. This board will include our principal, teacher, parent, and student representatives, community members and our partners, Education Austin and Austin Interfaith. The decision-making model will include specific subcommittees developed based on campus priorities within our vision and resources available (e.g. Curriculum Committee, Technology Committee, Health & Well-Being Committee, etc.) Subcommittees will seek input from the community regarding direction.

Tell me more about Education Austin and Austin Interfaith?

Education Austin and Austin Interfaith have provided great support to THES over the past three years through the Innovation Grant. Austin Interfaith is a non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of 30+ congregations, public schools, and unions working together on public issues for the well being of families and neighborhoods in our community.

Education Austin is the labor union for certified and classified employees of Austin ISD, and a merged local of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

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