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Grand Prairie ISD partners with charter operator to create new kind of campus
By Eva-Marie Ayala
Traditional public schools and charters often mix as poorly as oil and water. The last place you’d expect to see both is under the same roof.
But that’s what makes an innovative partnership between Grand Prairie ISD and charter school network Uplift Education so refreshing. The partnership, to be announced today, puts aside old canards and encourages cooperation over suspicion in a way that could become a template for modern education.
Beginning this fall, Grand Prairie parents can choose to enroll their children in Lee Elementary School’s traditional pre-K-5 setting or in Uplift Education’s K-2 elementary school program operated on the Lee campus. The traditional elementary school will provide dual-language instruction, while the charter school will have longer days and a more rigorous International Baccalaureate-directed program. There will be separate teaching and administrative staffs, and all of the students will be Grand Prairie ISD students for purposes of state accountability standards.
The collaboration also opens up other educational opportunities, such as joint field trips to colleges to encourage second-graders in both programs to pursue higher education. Joint task forces still have to work out many details, but the schools are expected to benefit from some shared services, possibly special education services, art, music and physical education programs.
“We are coming in to bring both of our respective strengths to the table,” said Yasmin Bhatia, Uplift’s chief executive officer.
Grand Prairie Superintendent Susan Simpson Hull calls it the “natural next step” for Grand Prairie, which despite a high-poverty, high-minority student body, is considered one of the more innovative districts in North Texas. While the district and Lee have struggled — and met — state accountability standards, there is clearly room for growth.
The hope is that the partnership will prompt both schools to raise their game and students will emerge more prepared for academic success. Rather than denigrating one another, Uplift and Grand Prairie ISD officials speak warmly of each other and the “coop-etition” they hope this arrangement will inspire. They are aggressively marketing the choice parents will have in the 2015-16 school year, especially among Lee parents.
“When parents and children choose their education, they are more vested, parent involvement is stronger and student achievement is more likely to continue to go in the right direction,” Hull said. “This is an exciting opportunity to breathe new life into accountability.’’
Breaking down educational silos isn’t easy. In Texas, Aldine and Spring Branch ISDs are the only other districts to have similar programs, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation backs a few public school-charter school collaborations across the country.
The foundation for success is poured in elementary school. Programs like this that put children at the forefront merit every opportunity to succeed.
Grand Prairie ISD
SOURCE: Texas Education Agency