FAQ

Do you have questions about The Innovation School Project? You may find the answers in the FAQ below. If not please send us your question and we will answer it for you.

NEW! Updated FAQ Questions Below

What is the Innovation Grant?
The American Federation of Teacher’s Innovation Fund awarded a grant to Education Austin (our local teacher’s union) to partner with Austin Interfaith and work with Austin ISD to engage teachers, parents, administrators and community in the creation of the first community-based, campus-led, in-district charter school in Austin. The Innovation Grant is providing funding for organizer support, stipends for leaders, funding for teacher training, funding for research trips to innovative schools (such as Magellan International School, Austin Discovery School, Spicewood Elementary and schools in San Antonio and Houston) and more.
What is the Innovation School Project (ISP)?
The Innovation School Project (ISP) is an initiative fueled by the community to determine how our students might learn and how our educators might teach within the context of our neighborhood resources, values and character. In our initiative, the school’s stakeholders – parents, administrators, teachers, students and staff – will be empowered to take their own innovative approach to school reform, and will be held accountable for our school’s success. Our goal for the Innovation School Project is for the school and community to come together to drive change to enhance both the educational experience of students and their educational outcomes; while reinforcing teacher, parent and community commitment to the educational process.
Why does Travis Heights Elementary want to be an Innovation School?
The THES community has been envisioning what the school should and could grow into in the next few years. With the Innovation Grant, THES can further these initiatives by becoming a community-based, campus-led school and push the envelope even further by allowing all stakeholders to team up and optimize efforts. While THES would remain an AISD school, we would benefit from autonomy and extra resources to propel education forward more quickly and dynamically.
Why is Travis Heights Elementary leading the Innovation School Project?
Because Thunderbirds Rock!

We are Innovative and Influential: THES has a long history of being a leader in South Austin and an innovator in education with programs such as Dual Language, Korean studies, Technology and Fine Arts. A shining example is the THES Media Program, which was the direct inspiration for the future district signature program in digital media that is currently being developed by additional AISD campuses.

We are Hungry and Ambitious: THES administration has sought out the best programs offered by AISD and parent/teacher initiatives, such as Prime Time, Writer’s Workshop, Science Day, Engineering Day, and brought them to our campus.

We believe Every Student Matters: THES has worked with the District head of Gifted and Talent to ensure that all of our students are challenged in the classroom through differentiation by ability. This program helps raise the achievement of every student, not those just designated at GT.

We say, “Oh, Behave!”: Our campus also brought in the district’s Positive Behavior System which you can see every day when you walk through the halls of our school.

We are Great Teachers and Parents: Our school has talented teachers and engaged parents that have built a collaborative culture.  Given resources and flexibility, we know that we can discover innovative and imaginative ways to enhance our school.

In short, THES consistently seeks and implements successful strategies that make a difference for all of our students, ensure college readiness and bring together our diverse community.

What is AISD’s position on the Innovation School Project?
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen visited our campus, sent a letter of support and has expressed enthusiasm about the project. The THES team has found her to be extremely responsive to our ideas and the grant.
What is Austin Interfaith?
Travis Heights is a long time member of Austin Interfaith. Austin Interfaith is a coalition of over 30 schools, congregations and workers’ associations that work together to address issues facing families – creating strong public schools, good paying jobs, access to health care, fair immigration policy and more. Using the organizing techniques Austin Interfaith teaches, we build strong relationships within and around our school.
How do we know that our school community is interested in the Innovation School Project?
Over the past year, Travis Heights Elementary has been working with Education Austin and Austin Interfaith as part of the Innovation Grant Development Team to determine if a community-based, campus-led, in-district charter school would be an appropriate undertaking. After hundreds of one-on-one meetings, small group conversations (house meetings) and a neighborhood walk through Travis Heights involving staff, teachers, parents, and neighbors, the conclusion is clear: Our THES community shows great interest in pursuing the Innovation School Project.
What was the result of all of these interactions and meetings?
Hopes, dreams and ideas were wide ranging. Here is a summary of some of the areas of interest:

Curriculum:  Central idea-based, student goal centered, hands-on learning activities to engage and foster critical thinking skills; and, assigning quality homework that effectively advances student learning while discouraging worksheet-heavy learning.

Media and Technology:  Advance our program development and improve and increase student-centric technology instruction so children can adapt and succeed in a technological society.

International Studies Program:  Advance program development in both our Korean Culture and Language Studies and our Spanish/English Dual Language Program to help all children gain a broader understanding of their world.

Professional Development:  Promote teacher professional autonomy by encouraging and funding professional growth studies based on teachers’ interests, and creating more time for teacher planning; and allowing more independence from AISD curriculum timelines based on classroom needs and student engagement.

Health and Well-Being:  Promote healthy lifestyles by increasing physical activity for students within the school day, and encourage healthy offerings in the school cafeteria.

Parent/Community Involvement:  Foster open relationship to promote involvement, communication, and commitment for the benefit of our school community.

School Pride:  Promote a community that incorporates environmental consciousness and character building projects to cultivate a sense of worth, belonging, and an overall unified sense of school identity.

These ideas and hopes emerged from the conversations we had in school. They are not necessarily the exact changes that will happen.

What are the educational and curriculum goals of the Innovation School Project, aside from altering school schedule and having more flexibility outside of AISD’s curriculum?

Our mission as the learning community at Travis Heights Elementary is to cultivate inquisitive learning that ensures students are successful in the continuing education of their choice, in preparation for living in our ever-changing world.

Goals

    • Students will perform above grade level in reading, writing, math and science as measured by state mandated assessments and rubrics created for student-generated service learning projects.
    • Students will actively engage in and develop an appreciation for the arts and creative endeavors.
    • Students will use technology to  research, plan, and acquire new knowledge.
    • Students will be guided to set goals and take the steps necessary to achieve those goals. The process will be measured by a variety of evaluation and observation measures and will be monitored  through the institution of annual goal setting and revision conferences with parents, student, and teachers.
    • Every student will successfully complete their 5 to 7 year program at Travis Heights and exit as a proficient bilingual learners with second language acquisition skills sufficient to communicate and learn in a non-native language.
What will the work relationship to the district look like? How will the governance work? Will the current Code of Conduct and standardized relationship with AISD continue to function as they do currently?
The staff of THES will remain employees of AISD and will work collaboratively on issues or concerns as they arise, consistent with the policies of both organizations.  Formal complaints from students and/or parents at THES will be handled in accordance with AISD District Policy. Travis Heights Elementary School will be governed by the Travis Heights Governance Board which will serve as the primary governance and decision-making body for campus based instructional programming.  Teachers, parents, and representatives from collaborating institutions will be partners in creating shared accountability and a culture of high expectations. This community governance structure assumes that the responsibility for education lies in shared accountability to ensure equity and excellence for all children regardless of economic status or ethnicity.
Will THES be self-governing (i.e., will it govern outside of AISD’s oversight)?Does this charter plan allow the district to no longer be accountable or provide oversight to the school?
THES will remain a public school. That means we will still operate in the district as a public school under the oversight of the AISD.  THES is will be held accountable to ensure that students are successful under the charter.  But the district is a key player in providing oversight as we maintain our relationship as a public school under the AISD.  So, like in other AISD public schools, there will be a system of oversight.  AISD will continue to provide oversight for our school and, although we will be held accountable for student success, AISD will ultimately be held accountability in this charter’s endeavor.
How will the Innovation School Project affect teachers’ benefits and rights?
Travis Heights Elementary staff will continue to receive the same salary, benefits and rights as they do under current AISD policies.
If the school is semi-autonomous, what will be the protocol for disputes or allegations of misconduct?
AISD Human Resource policies, including the grievance process, will continue to apply to our school.
How will the Innovation School Project affect the special needs population at THES?
Because the THES ISP will maintain itself as part of the AISD, we will continue to serve our attendance zone (i.e., all students living in the area zoned for THES will maintain THES as their home school unless they request a transfer to go to another public school), regardless of special needs.  Children with special needs and/or children who are eligible for Special Education services will continue to be served at THES and we will be obligated to maintain all state and federal requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the American’s with Disability Act under Section 504. Exclusion of children with special needs would be both illegal and unethical in our charter. As an in-district charter school, we will still be held to state and federal accountability as all public schools.  Our student population will continue to take the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STARR) exam, which begins in 3rd grade, (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/staar/) and THES will be evaluated by the district based on testing results.
What is the benefit to AISD in allowing THES to be an in-district charter school? Is it a cost-saving measure?
While we can’t speak for the district, we can address the benefits for our school community. At THES, we envision our school as a student-centered learning community where all children succeed, feel safe, and engage in challenging and delightful lessons in which their interests are cultivated.  To realize this vision, through our programs, people, and practices, we will ensure that students:

    • engage in rigorous, relevant, curriculum
    • employ critical and creative thinking
    • demonstrate habits of lifelong learning
    • collaborate with one another in the school community
    • develop a sense of citizenship, cultural appreciation, and global awareness

Our charter is being created based on ample research and does not look to integrate drastic changes. The district is supporting our grass-roots endeavor knowing that the THES ISP’s success will be a reflection of the district’s success in allowing schools greater autonomy in their teaching approach at the goal of increasing student success, not balancing budgets. We still will maintain our public funding as a school within the AISD.

What will happen to the school if these changes cause the school to fail to meet state and federal standards? Is our school at risk of being shuttered?
Becoming an in-district charter places us at no greater risk of being closed than any other school. Current AISD policy places schools failing to meet state and federal standards on probation for the course of x months/years.  Thus, we would fall under the same guidelines.  Again, this policy places us at no greater risk than any other public school in the AISD.
How do I get more involved?
Come talk with us and work with us! Your input and collaboration is key! You can talk to a innovation school project team memberor call our organizer: (512) 916-0100. Currently, we need people

    • who would be willing to host informal information sessions with community members, especially needed are Spanish speakers who can host an info session for our Spanish speaking community members.
    • who can research grants.
    • who can translate documents (including this website) from English to Spanish. Parts of this website are, by necessity, translated with Google Translate. As human translations are preferred any help translating would be greatly appreciated. Find out more on the translation form page.

If you can assist in any of these areas or if you have another idea of how you can help or get involved, please use this contact form, email us, or come by the office at Travis Heights Elementary School.

How will the governance board be selected? What will be representation from various constituents (teachers, parents, etc.)?
 Our school will be run by a volunteer Governance Board made up of five teachers, five parents, two community members, and the principal.  Members will serve a 2 year term.  THES will design an annual end-of-year survey.  The information gathered from this survey will be used to revise programs and develop our annual plan. We will still be an AISD school and many district policies will remain the same such as the Student Code of Conduct, Attendance Requirements, and Dress Code.
What will change?

The number one difference for our school is that we will have a campus-led governance, flexibility in how we want to teach our children, and a shared responsibility for student achievement.

The ability for teachers, parents, and community members to participate in defining attributes of the school they want is another big change. We will have the ability to alter staff and student schedules, provide grade-level planning times, voice what food we would like to serve in the cafeteria, add culture and language enrichment programs if interest and resources allow, and finally decide how we want to spend the funding appropriated to us.

How will the curriculum be created? Will it follow TEKS? Will we still have to participate in ‘high-stakes’ state-wide testing?
We will be creating our lessons and projects based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum. Our students will still take the state mandated STAAR tests.
What happens as kids move up vertically from our elementary school?
We will continue proactive conversations with both Fulmore Middle School and Travis High School. Our Service Learning component will allow us to make connections that specifically align with the Fulmore magnet programs and projects. Our focus on digital media and technology aligns perfectly with our vertical teams’ signature digital media program through Travis High School. This year our Korean initiative has expanded to us sharing our Korean teacher with Travis High School. In short, we have and will continue to initiate and continue ongoing collaborations with our neighborhood middle and high schools.
Are we at risk of losing time in ART, MUSIC, AND PE? I WANT MORE of those instead of less!
We are not losing time in our Special Areas. We will keep Art, Music, and PE as they stand, and will pursue adding additional time by integrating Art, Music, and PE/Movement into Service Learning Projects through the Expeditionary Learning method.
What is Service Learning?
Service learning is education in action. A way for youth to gain knowledge and develop skills while meeting real community needs. After identifying and examining local issues, students agree on a plan, take action, and evaluate results.

Teachers plan lessons around a theme, such as water conservation. Students then investigate water conservation in Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts. Students work and interact outside the classroom, in real world situationsthat apply to water conservation.

What is Blended Learning? I don’t want my child to ever feel he has to rely on technology to learn, and I want him to ALWAYS know his brain is more powerful than an iPhone. I don’t want technology to replace being taught by people. Isn’t that what Blended Learning is all about?
Blended learning at Travis Heights will emphasize the teacher as the focus of direct, interactive instruction with the use of technology as a tool to enhance and improve the learning experience for children.

Blended Learning is about using technology to emphasize creative and critical-thinking skills through student collaboration and project-based learning. Blended learning incorporates face-to-face learning, self-paced learning and online learning. Our technology program aims to incorporate a range of technology ‘tools’ (computers, iPads, cameras) for differentiated instruction across a variety of instructional environments (computer lab, classroom, home, online, real-world environments).

Blended Learning is about using technology in the classroom to provide immediate and corrective feedback to students as they practice specific skills. For example, Achieve 3000 (a reading computer program) allows students access to nonfiction news articles and measures their comprehension. It provides the teacher with lexile scores based on fluency and comprehension. This allows for teachers to provide the same article at different reading levels thus meeting the individual needs of every student in the class by allowing every child to read the same article but at a differentiated level based on their skills. The ability for every child to read at his/her level allows our talented teacher to now have that classroom discussion using critical analysis with all students, regardless of their reading level. So your lowest readers and your highest readers experience the same material which provides high-level interest and engagement for all learners.

What is Expeditionary Learning (EL)? Is Expeditionary Learning an organization or a concept? Does their (EL) expertise give them prominence over THES?
Expeditionary Learning (EL) is a non-profit organization that provides professional development, curriculum resources, and organizational support to boost student engagement, character and achievement. The EL organization could provide a framework for THES to implement our Dual Language, Service Learning, and Blended Learning program. They focus on professional development for teachers to build an instructional program that is reflective of our school community and needs. EL is not a business nor is it an organization that dictates what we do at our school. It merely is a successful organization that has helped reform schools across the nation to:

  • Transforms schools into places where students and adults become leaders of their own learning.
  • Challenges students – of all levels – with high-level tasks and roles in the classroom.
  • Provides curriculum support to insure our students are prepared for the Texas state-mandated STAAR tests during our transition period.
I’m concerned that the DL program has kinks that need to be worked out before the whole school becomes dual language! Will the whole school be dual language and will families be able to opt out?
While ideally we would like to develop a campus where all children are bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural, our current plans are to expand Dual Language step-by-step based on parent/teacher/community interest and resources available (i.e., materials, staff, students) and to evaluate the program annually through our Governance Board. At this time, we will continue to improve our current Dual Language program as is until interest and resources allow for growth. We recognize that the Dual Language program may not be appropriate for all students but we believe that foreign language enrichment is invaluable and we want to create avenues for that.
Are the teachers going to be re-trained for this Innovation School Project?
Yes. Teachers and staff will receive training for this new way of planning and delivering instruction. At this time, we are consulting with Expeditionary Learning with the goal of pursuing their support four our teachers’ professional development
What will the classrooms look like? I would like to see specific examples of how this Innovation School Project actually works.
Currently, a teacher may focus on a unit for two weeks regarding the simple life cycle of a chicken. This unit is TEKS aligned and targets specific concepts and objectives relative to the instructional unit. There is ‘breadth’ in that the life cycle of the chicken is explored, but there isn’t much time for ‘depth’ or the ability to go deeper into the understanding.

Under the Innovation School Project, a teacher will spend more time on a unit and bring into the same type unit, the life cycle of a chicken, more ‘depth’ in that other required areas of the TEKS curriculum can be explored. Across the same lesson, student will be able to incorporate more depth and relevance in learning by incorporating measurement, culture, scientific process, mathematics, and other instructional components.