The School of Science and Technology’s new campus on Culebra Road past Loop 1604 doesn’t look like much from the outside – the 164-student school is currently housed in a double portable building at the edge of a dirt lot.
A scrap wooden board spray painted with numbers denotes the school’s address and an 8-acre field sits bare, waiting for construction to begin on a $14 million campus, scheduled to open by spring break.
Principal Abel Deleon, who has worked for the School of Science and Technology for the past decade, said this is one of the best facilities in which he has worked. Other SST campuses, strapped by limited facility funding, have opened in a variety of buildings, including a shuttered grocery store.
“When I saw it from the inside, I thought this is one of the nicer buildings I’ve worked in,” Deleon said, referencing the portables. “I always tell parents please don’t judge us by the school. Think of us more as that hole in the wall restaurant that when you walk in you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to end up with scabies,’ but everyone is just completely silent, that’s how into the food they are.”
The School of Science and Technology has four campuses in the San Antonio area, with the newest one, SST-Northwest, the first to open beyond Loop 1604. Schools have a special focus on science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum.
The new school signifies the charter’s first steps toward establishing a wider San Antonio footprint. SST plans to make further progress in the area in the next few years when it opens a high school to serve the same set of children currently attending the campus on Culebra.
“We want to make sure that wherever you are in San Antonio, there is going to be a School of Science and Technology school that is going to be convenient for you to go to and to feed into the others as well,” Deleon said. “The northwest side of town is one that we are completely absent in, so we are coming in to kind of help produce better coverage over the San Antonio map and produce high-quality seats for all the kids of the city.”
Nearby school districts have been critical of charter school growth. Northside Independent School District Superintendent Brian Woods previously said he doesn’t believe charter schools are the solution for Bexar County students who often experience a segregated education system based on economic conditions.
Many San Antonio districts have been hurt by a shrinking student enrollment, and as a result, superintendents often characterize charters as stealing students, and funding, from public school districts.
In 2017-18, Northside ISD, where SST-Northwest is located, had close to 400 students living in district boundaries who attended a SST campus. North East ISD had the most students who attended an SST school in San Antonio last school year.
Most of the students at SST-Northwest hail from the nearby area in North and West San Antonio, with just a few traveling from further distances in Leon Springs and Live Oak. Deleon said his campus is different from the other San Antonio SST schools, given that more of his students come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Out here the schools are already pretty great, they have a strong education, and I think a lot of people might say they don’t need charter schools in this area,” Deleon said. “If all the schools here are good, and let’s say some of the best n San Antonio, which we know to be true that a lot of the best schools are here in Northside ISD, then we look at the school report cards that just came out from the [Texas Education Agency]. You can see that [Northside is] rated a B, whereas both of the SST districts are rated an A.”
While SST-Northwest has a small student body in grades pre-kindergarten through sixth, the opening of a new facility in the spring will allow the school to grow from close to 170 students to about 400.
The $14 million building will feature a larger campus, including a 3,000 square-foot “makers’ space” that will contain ten 3D printers, a computer lab to teach coding and design, a tank to build submersible robots, and green screens to film videos.
After moving into the new space, Deleon predicts students will notice a “much more beautiful environment,” but teachers will experience the biggest change. SST-Northwest educators often spend hours preparing for activities and setting out tools to complete projects. With the “makers’ space” readily available, Deleon hopes teachers will be able to free up time for other endeavors.
“Even though there is a great education already happening out here, it is the job of charter schools to promulgate the betterment,” Deleon said. “We are the laboratories of education, and the things that we do shouldn’t stop here. The things that we do should be shared with ISDs so that they can capacity build as well, and the rising tide will lift all boats.”