When school resumes for the 2020 fall semester, three new charter schools plan to begin instructing students in San Antonio: Promesa Academy, The Gathering Place, and San Antonio Preparatory Charter School.

The three schools went through a lengthy state application process, getting permission to open new charter school campuses in Bexar County for the 2020-21 school year. Four charter school applicants are undergoing the same steps with the Texas Education Agency, hoping to gain permission to open as soon as the 2021-22 school year.

Charters preparing to open in 2020-21

Promesa Academy first gained state approval in 2018 but delayed opening by a year because of problems with finding in the location its operators wanted on San Antonio’s West Side. Now, the elementary charter school plans to open with spots in kindergarten and first and second grades at a campus off South Zarzamora Street, just north of U.S. Highway 90, CEO and Superintendent Ambika Dani said.

Promesa’s model is different from that of the average elementary school, where students stay with one teacher for most of the day. At the new charter, teachers will be subject experts, specializing in specific areas like social studies, math and science, and English language arts, and students will rotate through different teachers for studies in different subjects.

“We want teachers in front of them who are deeply passionate and knowledgeable about what they are teaching,” Dani said. “A lot of families recognize that is not the case in most elementary schools.”

Dani said the school’s facilities are still in the works. The biggest part of the campus, a facility containing 12 classrooms, is prefabricated and will be delivered to Promesa’s property sometime this summer. Extra administration space, classrooms, an outdoor pavilion, and cafeteria also will be built.

An outdoor rendering of Promesa Academy. Credit: Courtesy / Promesa Academy

On the Northwest Side, The Gathering Place will open this fall to students in kindergarten and first and second grades, with more grades added in subsequent years until the school reaches 12th grade.

The new school’s model centers on art and social justice. School co-founders Joanna Klekowicz and Ryan York outlined the academic model, saying learning would focus on social-emotional curriculum and projects designed to incorporate every subject into real-world ideas.

Students in every grade level will participate in arts education. Depending on the student’s age, they may engage in immersion art, performance art, modern art, or original art.

The Gathering Place is located on several acres inside Loop 410 near Bandera Road and will look different from a typical school building, Klekowicz said.

“You’re going to see space for outdoor learning, visual representations of art – because we see the power of art as an expression of identity,” she said. “You won’t see desks in rows or lines indicating students should be walking in such a way. It is going to be all about lots of access to materials that brings students ideas.”

In far Northeast San Antonio, San Antonio Preparatory Charter School will open this fall for students in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. At full capacity, the school will serve both middle and high school students, although school founder Stephanie Hall Powell said she is considering expanding to elementary grades.

SA Prep’s campus is near Wagner High School in the Judson Independent School District and Hall Powell said most of its students who already registered came from Judson schools. The school model is different from most in that SA Prep puts two teachers in each classroom. Students remain with the same core teachers through most of the day until they go to fine arts and physical education class, Hall Powell said.

SA Prep operates on an extended day schedule, allowing students to take 75 to 90 minutes of fine arts. Hall Powell said her school will train educators to be sensitive to student trauma and focus on restorative justice, a method of disciplining students that focuses on addressing underlying reasons behind disruptive behavior rather than being punitive.

“We’re designed for brown and black students,” Hall Powell said. “What we are trying to do is create a different environment for our students … so it is not them walking into school, being seen a certain way, valued a certain way, and being told they are X, Y, and Z.”

Charters seeking approval

Four charter applications remain under review by the Texas Education Agency and external reviewers: 7Cs Academy, Prelude Preparatory Charter School, Royal Public Schools, and Silicon Hill Academy Charter School.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is expected to recommend applications for approval in August. The State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to meet in September to vote.

7Cs Academy seeks to open two elementary schools with classes from prekindergarten through fifth grade. The prospective school is led by Nathan Balasubramanian, who previously worked in Manor ISD near Austin, and several former South San Antonio ISD board members, including Angelina Osteguin, Elda Flores, and Edward Mungia.

Prelude Preparatory Charter School would open a prekindergarten through eighth grade campus somewhere on San Antonio’s Southwest Side. Lauren Lewis would serve as the school’s superintendent and is currently a Building Excellent Schools, or BES, fellow.

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An SBOE member previously criticized BES as being financially backed by the Walton Family Foundation, which has been linked to funding groups advocating the use of school vouchers. Dani and Hall Powell are also BES fellows.

Last year, Prelude Preparatory’s team submitted an application but did not receive a high enough score to get an interview. Prelude submitted a new application this year and remains in the running to open a charter.

Royal Public Schools‘ leaders seek to open four campuses serving students in grades kindergarten through 12. Royal Public Schools plans to place schools on the South Side of San Antonio, specifically south of U.S. Highway 90.

The school’s founding team 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. Former South San Antonio ISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra sits on the board.

Last summer, the SBOE rejected Royal Public School’s application to open campuses in Austin and Houston.

If given state approval, Silicon Hill Academy Charter School would open campuses with grades 6 through 12 in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, specifically in the Northwest part of the city. Last, year Silicon Hill Academy’s team submitted an application but did not receive a high enough score to get an interview.

The applicants that advance beyond the current stage of the state application process will participate in interviews with TEA officials in July, a TEA official said in April.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.