Despite the bumps that come with opening a new school, the first school year has been relatively smooth according to the head of the newest charter school in Odessa, Compass Academy.
Debra Stewart, superintendent/principal at Compass Academy, said since it was the first year for the school to be open there were a lot of things the entire school had to learn while teaching three grades of students. She said there were a few challenges getting everyone on the same page, but expects the second year to be even smoother.
“The beauty is we already know our areas of weakness – it gives us more of a purpose,” Stewart said.
Since its inception, Stewart said the plan has been for the public charter school to expand all the up to 12th grade. Next year the school is adding some portables. Stewart said they can stay at their current building until eighth-grade, but eventually they will have to find another location.
“Right now we’re in talks for our five-year plan,” Stewart said. “We can’t stay here forever.”
As the school grows, Stewart said they plan on expanding on some of the best practices used in education. This first year the school has been teaching through a lot of project based learning, Rosetta Stone and a lot of incorporation of technology.
“We are a public school,” Stewart said. “The design of a charter school is to color outside the box.”
And that type of coloring is attracting several interested parents from the area.
The school started with 245 students in grades kindergarten through second. Stewart said they were just a few students short of being full last year, but next year the school is adding third grade and is already completely full with 375 students, plus a waiting list of 75 students.
“We’re very pleased that we have a waiting list,” Stewart said.
Priscilla Aguilar, a mother whose daughter will attend kindergarten at the school, said she is excited for her daughter to start school. She said there were a lot of things about the school that were appealing to her.
“We just wanted her to be somewhere she would have a chance to grow,” Aguilar said.
And the format of Compass Academy was very appealing, Aguilar said, so much so that Aguilar is leaving ECISD after eight years to teach third grade at Compass Academy.
“I’m really looking forward to all of the parent involvement,” Aguilar said. “This just seems like an opportunity to grow.”
Candy Sinar, whose 8-year-old daughter attended Compass Academy last year, also understands the interest in going to the school. She said her family has had a wonderful experience at the school. She said her daughter, Emily, will be in third grade in the fall and has no plans to leave anytime soon. Sinar said she has been impressed with some technological skills and life lessons her daughter has learned through the projects at the school.
“It’s been great,” Sinar said. “She’s having fun.”
Sinar jokingly added that her daughter even said once that she wants to graduate from the school, go to college and come back to be the principal at the school. Sinar said her daughter was always been one to enjoy school while in the Ector County Independent School District, but now it’s even more enjoyable for her.
“She really looks forward to going to school every day,” Sinar said.
But keeping the school running every day for the students without local tax revenue coming in can be a challenge for charter schools getting started.
Stewart said the school operates almost entirely on Average Daily Attendance funding from the state. Last year the school operated on a budget of $1.8 million and next year, since enrollment increased, the budget will grow to about $2.4 million.
Stewart said the first year the school did “feel the initial growing pains” of having to supply and stock a new building. She said as time goes on those costs will be lower. Additionally, she said the school is operated on small staff of 21 teachers, two administrators, and three support staff members.
“We can wear many hats, so we can save money that way,” Stewart said.
Another hat some of the teachers wear is managing any discipline problems that may arise within the school on a committee. The teachers create ideas and communicate a solution with parents to solve a problem teachers may be having in the classroom.
Angela Mathis, a returning teacher who teaches second grade at Compass Academy, said collaboration among teachers and involvement among parents has made her experience at Compass Academy an enjoyable one.
“It feels like I could stay there for years,” Mathis said.
Mathis said at the school the parental participation is almost double what she was used to at a more traditional school. But on top of the parents, Mathis said she has enjoyed the teaching experience and that she feels valued.
“I really have enjoyed it,” Mathis said.