IDEA's Records Show Kids From Across District
Charter school says its fulfilling mission to serve the underserved
With the first class seated, IDEA Allan teachers know what kids they are teaching this year. New figures show that the campus is serving fewer East Austin students than planned, but the charter school group argues that it's bringing college opportunities to an underserved population.
The new in-district charter school, serving grades K-2 and 6, opened its doors oversubscribed but slightly underenrolled (see "IDEA Enrollment Numbers Fall Short," Sept. 21). In an October newsletter, IDEA staff released initial demographic figures, showing who the in-district charter is serving. Of 570 students, 82% are Hispanic and 9% are African-American. Moreover, 91% of the kids enrolled are economically disadvantaged. IDEA Public Schools Austin Executive Director Larkin Tackett said, "That's the demographic that we want to serve: students who are low-income, are Hispanic, African-American, most of whom will be the first generation in their families who go to college."
However, there are big questions about where those kids come from. In the newsletter, IDEA announced that "Former Allan Elementary students comprise the largest population of IDEA Allan students." That's true, but according to numbers obtained from Austin Independent School District under an open records request, only 61 of the 570 students live in the Allan attendance zone. Moreover, IDEA Allan is supposed to serve the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team – and, on a larger scale, all of East Austin – and not just the Allan neighborhood. Yet, according to IDEA's statement, just 148 – or 26% – of IDEA Allan students live in the vertical team assignment area.
It's a similar story if you drill down into the numbers for how many sixth-grade kids are from East Austin. Out of 215 students, 126 live in middle school attendance zones east of I-35. However, 87 live west of I-35 (there's one student from outside of the district, and one listed as having no address.) The single biggest source of students is the Martin attendance zone, with 43 sixth-graders, but close behind with 40 is Burnet, whose campus is 10 miles from Allan.
Vincent Tovar, spokesman for education activists PRIDE of the Eastside, continues to be critical of IDEA's districtwide recruitment strategy and fears that IDEA is skimming the best students from other neighborhood schools. He wrote, "How do we know those kids wouldn't have applied for diversity choice transfers to [Westside middle school] O. Henry, etc?"
However, Tackett argues that IDEA is still serving its core purpose by keeping minority and economically disadvantaged kids in an East Austin school. Preliminary discussions have already begun over the move to the Eastside Memorial campus in 2013, when IDEA College Prep will transfer its sixth- and new seventh-graders to attend the high school along with the existing student population. Tackett said, "We feel great about the fact that lots of families are choosing our school, as part of their hopes and dreams for their students to go to college."
Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 21, 2012
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