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IDEA Enrollment Numbers Fall Short

Charter school sits at 93% capacity

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 21, 2012

PRIDE of the Eastside's Vincent Tovar (l) with other Allan Elementary supporters
PRIDE of the Eastside's Vincent Tovar (l) with other Allan Elementary supporters
Photo by Jana Birchum

IDEA Allan, the Austin Independent School District's controversial in-district charter school, has failed to reach its enrollment target for the first year, though the school is still treating its numbers as a success.

In May, district partner IDEA Public Schools announced that it had 675 applications for 600 seats across four grades – 125 each in kindergarten through second grade, and 225 in sixth grade. But on the fifth day of the new school year, only 557 students were registered. The figures are worst in first grade, which is only at 86% of capacity, while second grade leads the pack with 96% of seats filled. But even though the school missed its target, IDEA's Austin Executive Director Larkin Tackett said he is "thrilled that more than 550 students and families chose IDEA Allan to support them on their path to college."

He notes that it's a dramatic improvement over enrollment on the campus last year when it was still Allan Elementary. Back then, when it was a regular pre-K through fifth elementary, it only had 389 students registered. But those raw numbers mask a pivotal difference: Allan was a neighborhood elementary school, but IDEA Allan is the first component of an in-district charter that will eventually take over Eastside Memorial High School, and has aggressively recruited from across AISD. Tackett told the Chronicle that his office is still compiling numbers on where exactly each student comes from. Consid­er­ing IDEA was sold to the board not as a magnet school, but as a way to further revive the Eastside Memorial attendance zone, those numbers will come under deep scrutiny.

AISD Trustee Sam Guzmán was one of the biggest advocates for IDEA Allan, but has already voiced concerns that its districtwide recruitment policy undermines that core mission. However, he has placed some of the blame for low neighborhood numbers on PRIDE of the Eastside, the newly formed community group that has led the charge against IDEA in East Austin. PRIDE spokesman Vincent Tovar rejected that claim, and countered that AISD and IDEA are trying to blame others for their failed project. While some East Austin residents called for a boycott, IDEA was running TV and radio ads, and buying billboards. Tovar said, "How much money was spent to get 93% capacity? Way more than AISD could spend on any public school." He was also doubtful over the delay in finding out whose kids are being educated at IDEA Allan. He said: "When they seemingly have great numbers, it's in the press. When those numbers are more questionable, they're difficult to obtain."

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