Round Rock ISD probes early college high school

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Round Rock ISD is exploring a way to let students graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

Michelle Swain, director of Gifted and Advanced Academic Services, and Rebecca Donald, executive director of Secondary Schools, presented an early college high school proposal to the RRISD Board of Trustees at its Sept. 17 meeting.

Swain said the school would allow students who were unlikely to attend college after high school or those who wanted to get a head start to earn a higher education degree at no cost to the student.

“It’s very rigorous instruction,” Swain said.

The program would provide academic and social support to the students who were accepted, she added. Freshmen in the program would take mostly high school courses with one college preparatory course; sophomores would have a mix of high school and college classes, and juniors and seniors would spend most of the school day on an Austin Community College campus, Swain said.

She said the program would be capped at 100-120 students. Those accepted into the program would be reflective of the district’s demographics, and a student who is economically disadvantaged could be just as likely to get in as a student with higher test scores.

Most trustees expressed interest in moving the program forward. Swain said she and Donald planned to continue negotiations with ACC and visit other early college high schools in Bastrop ISD, Houston ISD and Ysleta ISD.

Trustee Terri Romere was the only trustee to speak against the proposal.

“They’re going to be missing a big social part of high school,” she said. “Socially and emotionally, I don’t think the kids are ready for it.”

Romere also said she worried about what the program would cost RRISD.

Swain said only the 11th and 12th grade students would be socializing on the college campus, and many are already doing so in other programs offered to RRISD high school students. She also said the program appeals to students who are not interested in joining the school band or after school clubs.

Students in the cohort would also have the opportunity to create their own organizations or play intramural sports at ACC, she said.

“They will have a student council,” Swain said. “It’s different opportunities, but it’s still opportunities.”

Board President Charles Chadwell said he would like to move forward with the proposal.

“Round Rock has always been very progressive,” he said. “It’s not a replacement…it’s an addition to.”

Board Secretary Paul Tisch said an early college high school was an opportunity to make RRISD a destination district.

Trustee Suzi David said she has seen this type of program succeed, especially with students who are the first in their family to attend college.

“It’s not just about the student…it’s about the families that are involved in it,” she said. “The parents are so proud.”

Superintendent Steve Flores said the district was losing students who want this type of opportunity.

“There’s excitement from ACC, and there’s excitement from the district,” he said. “I need to give our students the choice.”

Romere said she still had some concerns about the program.

“I just want to protect the kids and let them be kids for as long as they can,” she said.

Swain said she and Donald hoped to hire staff for the school by February and begin recruiting 8th grade students into the program by spring 2016.

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Kara covers Northwest Austin, Round Rock ISD and health care in the greater Austin area.

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