The first campus in a new tuition-free public charter school network is about to lay down roots in South Austin.
Aimed at harnessing "the best of classical traditions and contemporary educational practices," Valor Public Schools' curriculum will feature science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as well as humanities, according to Superintendent Steve Gordon.
"Part of the classical approach is to educate the whole person," Gordon said. "Elements of the program include Socratic discussions of classic literature, advanced STEM coursework, and the study of Latin; students will also cultivate a school garden and engage in community service."
Gordon and Chief Operating Officer Jesse Bates said they chose South Austin for the location of the school network's first campus due to the community's "high level of interest" gauged through community engagement and parent surveys.
"There aren’t any other charters offering a classical education in South Austin," Gordon said. "That is one of the things parents have said is appealing to them, as well as the emphasis on a strong school culture."
The curriculum at Valor Public Schools will blend elements used in other classical programs found nationwide, as well as curriculum developed in-house, Gordon said, such as a classical writing program, garden-based education and discovery science.
In its first year, the campus at 220 Foremost Drive, Austin, will accept students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Bates said. The grade levels will then matriculate through high school, over time creating a 9-12 grade component.
The new campus' building currently houses the charter school Altamira Academy, a Wayside Schools campus, which will relocate to the Onion Creek neighborhood in time for the fall 2018 semester.
Classes at the South Austin campus will range in size from 20-24 students, Bates said. Sections per grade will vary from one to three based on grade level, he said, and target enrollment for the first year is 475 students.
As part of the charter system, Valor Public Schools has no admission requirements. Students of all academic and socioeconomic backgrounds are encouraged to apply, Gordon said.
Prospective students who apply between before January will be entered into a lottery for admission. Once those students are randomly chosen, siblings of admitted students will have priority on the school's waitlist.
"We’ve chosen the [South Austin] area because there is a strong parent interest and it is accessible for a wide variety of families," Gordon said. "Our emphasis has been getting the word out there as widely as possible and we anticipate a diverse group of families will be interested."
Valor Public Schools was approved by the Texas Education Agency to open two additional campuses over the next five years, Bates said, one of which will be located in North Austin. The third campus' location has yet to be determined.