Round Rock ISD hosts info sessions on early college high school

Round Rock ISD seniors would be able to graduate with a high school diploma and a two-year college degree under the early college high school program.

Round Rock ISD seniors would be able to graduate with a high school diploma and a two-year college degree under the early college high school program.

Round Rock ISD officials are touring district middle schools to spread the word about an early college high school set to welcome its first class this fall.

Students accepted into the school have the ability to graduate high school with 60 hours of college credit, which is equivalent to an Associate of Arts degree.

More than 100 parents and their children attended a Feb. 16 session at Canyon Vista Middle School in Northwest Austin to hear more about the ECHS.

Corey Ryan, RRISD executive director of communications and community relations, said the ECHS is designed to cater to first-generation college-goers.

“However, this is a school that will benefit students of all different backgrounds,” he said.

Michelle Swain, RRISD director of gifted and advanced academic services, said the 60 credit hours obtained through Austin Community College would transfer to any public Texas university. She said students should research four-year institutions they would like to attend before applying to the ECHS. Ivy League schools, for instance, may not accept all the credits, she said.

Swain said the school’s first class, set to graduate in 2020, would include 125 students districtwide. If students who are accepted into the ECHS decide in their freshman or sophomore year that they would rather attend a tradition high school, they can drop out and open a spot at the ECHS for a student on the waiting list, she said.

Swain said if the student wants to play in the high school band or join the football team, ECHS is not the best option.

“It’s not for every child,” she said. “It is going to be up there in terms of rigor.”

Ryan said freshmen and sophomores would attend classes on a portable campus outside of any of the district's high schools until a permanent facility is built on the ACC campus in Round Rock in about three years. Juniors and seniors will likely have a full schedule of college courses at ACC, Swain said.

“It’s a gradual progression,” she said.

Many parents who attended the event wanted to know if their child could take classes besides those in the core curriculum, such as classes that would lead to nursing or computer science degrees.

“The initial focus is on the Associate of Arts,” Swain said.

Shasta Buchanan, ACC executive director of college and high school relations, said the ECHS focuses on allowing students to complete core curriculum classes that are largely applicable to both four-year arts and science degrees.

Swain said students could use the summer semester at ACC to finish their 60 credit hours early and take classes outside of the core curriculum their senior year. She said students must pay tuition to take classes that are not included in the core curriculum, but the cost would be less than it would be at a four-year institution.

Although RRISD has not yet received approval from the Texas Education Association to open the ECHS, Swain said officials are 99.9 percent sure it will be approved.

Ryan said when the district receives approval, parents will be notified via email, social media and through the district website. Students can then begin the application process for the ECHS, Ryan said.