Trinity University is designing an incubator and fellowship program charged with creating new innovative schools in San Antonio and training leaders to run them.

The design of the new initiative, which is being referred to as the new school incubation and principal fellowship program, is funded by a $429,000 design grant from the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization known for supporting the charter school movement.

The kind of innovative schools the new program may produce – in-district charters and new campuses operated by charter management organizations (CMOs)  have been the subject of debate in San Antonio in recent months. Education advocates have gone back and forth on the merits of charter school growth, and charter opponents contend that charter schools siphon students away from traditional public schools, thus making a bad public school finance situation worse.

In the midst of this debate, districts such the San Antonio Independent School District, have embraced the idea of choice schools, like the Advanced Learning Academy or CAST Tech High School, as a way to lure students back to the district.

Shari Albright, Trinity’s former education department chair, will help shape what the incubator will look like even after she departs the university to take a leadership role at Raise Your Hand Texas. She told the Rivard Report on Friday that the program is still in its design phase.

“We are right in the middle of putting together a planning team,” Albright said. “We are working between now and the end of January to fully design what the program will look like.”

Once the working group designs the program, Trinity will apply for further funding from the Walton Family Foundation to implement it. The goal is to start the program in June 2019 and run it for 14 months, Albright said.

If funded, the fellowship will likely include a cohort of five to seven people from San Antonio. Albright said that she envisions working with school districts and CMOs that are looking to rework existing campuses, create new academies or in-district charters, or open innovative new schools.

The application process for fellows would involve a co-nomination between Trinity and the districts or CMOs, she said.

“It [could be] a co-selection process with either the district or the charter organization because obviously we don’t want folks to spend a year in this fellowship creating schools [for which] there isn’t a process or way to actually [establish them],” Albright said, noting there may also be space in the program for participants to create independent schools without an existing district or CMO.

Shari Albright is leaving her position as Trinity University’s education department chair to join Austin-based education nonprofit Raise Your Hand Texas. Credit: Kathryn Boyd Batstone / San Antonio Report

There are few programs nationwide that resemble what Trinity is looking to accomplish with this new initiative, Albright said. She pointed to an internal design lab called the Imaginarium in Denver Public Schools as an example that Trinity’s program will look to for ideas.

Albright said that she believes Trinity is the right place for this incubator because of the philanthropic support in San Antonio dedicated to improving education.

The Walton Family Foundation previously announced San Antonio as one of the cities it is targeting for K-12 education improvement. The foundation’s website states it chose San Antonio because there are citywide opportunities for improvement.

“The Walton Family Foundation is committed to creating more high-performing schools for students and families who need them,” said Joanna Cannon, chief philanthropy officer for Alice Walton. “The planning grant to Trinity University will help university leaders develop the proposed school leadership and fellowship program, which would benefit students and families in public charter and district schools alike.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.