Soner Tarim (left) of Royal Public Schools and Lauren Lewis of Prelude Preparatory Charter School present to the State Board of Education.
Soner Tarim (left) of Royal Public Schools and Lauren Lewis of Prelude Preparatory Charter School present to the State Board of Education. Credit: Composite / Courtesy / TEA

The State Board of Education gave approval Friday to two new charter schools that plan to open campuses on San Antonio’s South Side.

The board took no action on Prelude Preparatory Charter School and Royal Public Schools, thereby giving them a go-ahead to open campuses in San Antonio as early as fall 2021.

The board considered eight new charters recommended by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and voted to veto three charters, including Clear Public Charter School, Rocketship Public Schools, and Heritage Classical Academy. Those school systems wanted to open campuses in San Marcos, Fort Worth, and Houston, respectively.

Royal Public Schools

Royal Public Schools plans to open four campuses serving students in grades kindergarten through 12 on San Antonio’s South Side, with aims to open a campus within the boundaries of Southside Independent School District. Last summer, the State board rejected Royal Public School’s application to open campuses in Austin and Houston.

The school is led by Soner Tarim, the founder and former CEO of Harmony Public Schools, which operates three charter campuses in San Antonio and 57 statewide. The portion of the charter network operating schools in San Antonio, Brownsville, and Laredo received an A grade from the State last year. The school has a heavy emphasis on STEM education, a Texas Education Agency official said. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Former South San Antonio ISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra sits on the board. Several state board members noted how unusual it was to have a former public school superintendent serving on a charter school’s governing board. Saavedra addressed the unique situation Thursday evening.

“I really support children more than I do institutions,” Saavedra said. “It makes little difference to me who provides that quality education as long as that quality education is available to children, especially children of poverty.”

Former South San Antonio ISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra speaks on behalf of Royal Public Schools. He is a member of the charter system’s board. Credit: Courtesy / Texas Education Agency

Saavedra noted a troubling trend of dysfunctional governance in traditional public school districts on San Antonio’s South Side. Since 2016, the State’s education agency has investigated Edgewood, Harlandale, South San, and Southside ISDs, choosing to replace elected leadership in Edgewood and Southside with a board of managers and place a conservator in Harlandale.

The former South San superintendent said that the academic struggles of the region could be attributed to district leadership who made it a challenge for teachers to maintain stability in their classrooms.

During a several-hour public comment period Thursday morning, some community members who live on the South Side spoke on behalf of Tarim or Harmony Public Schools, advocating for the new charter system.

However, not everyone was supportive. Kim Martinic, who works with the Texas State Teacher’s Association, asked the board to reject Royal’s application. Martinic noted that the charter school hoped to place a campus in the boundaries of Southside ISD, a district that is transitioning out of State oversight.

“Before throwing charters into the mix, allow Southside ISD an opportunity to heal, succeed, and persevere,” Martinic said.

The Royal Public Schools’ leader told the SBOE that there are five F-rated elementary schools in Southside ISD alone with a total of 18 F-rated campuses within 5 miles of RPS’s proposed campus. Asked about Martinic’s comment, Tarim said he didn’t think students learning in failing schools could wait for governance to shift.

Prelude Preparatory Charter School

With State board approval, Prelude Preparatory Charter School will open a prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade campus somewhere on San Antonio’s southwest side. Lauren Lewis plans to serve as the school’s superintendent and was a Building Excellent Schools, or BES, fellow.

Lewis told State board members Thursday that she grew up in San Antonio and attended local schools from kindergarten through college. In high school, she moved in with her grandparents to attend a school that best fit her needs.

“It is not right that so many students in San Antonio have their zip code determine their [quality of] education,” Lewis said.

Prelude’s proposed model has a special emphasis on civics education – students will grow food in a community garden, participate in quarterly service projects, and be active in a student government. The charter will also offer a social-emotional learning program that commits 40 minutes daily to help children build collaborative skills, Lewis said.

Last year, Prelude Preparatory’s team submitted an application but did not receive a high enough score to get an interview. On Thursday, Prelude’s leaders received no questions from any State board members after their presentation.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.