Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Beginning this year, Responsive Education Solutions (Responsive Ed) will provide Irving students with an alternative to traditional high school. The company is bringing two of their charter schools, Premier High Schools, to North Lake College campuses. The high school housed at the college’s South campus will allow students to complete their course work in a structured environment that is individualized to each student’s need. The high school housed at the college’s West campus will concentrate on helping students learn about construction trades while they earn their high school degrees.
“We provide students an option to help them accelerate the process towards graduation, or if they have fallen behind, we can help them catch up and get what they need in order to graduate,” said Thomas Terry, Responsive Ed’s Communications Director. “Premier High Schools provide individualized education. A lot of schools follow the traditional model with the teacher at the front teaching an entire class. Those lessons move at the pace of the class. If you miss part of a lesson, all future lessons build on that information. It is difficult to help one kid who missed something really important.
“Premier High Schools asses the students and understands where their depth and knowledge are and what they need. Then we are able to provide them an education that is uniquely tailored towards filling in the gaps and helping them move forward.
“We also offer flexibility. If someone is great at reading and math, but they are not good at science, we are able to help that kid with very specific attention in the subject they are not as good in and help then earn a high school diploma.
“Nowadays it is so important to have a high school diploma as a springboard to everything else whether college, military or a career. If a kid has had trouble, just getting a GED won’t open the same doors as a high school diploma.”
Premier High Schools have an impressive history in the state.
“Responsive Ed is the largest charter school system in the state of Texas,” Terry said. “As of last year, we had more than 50 schools. We serve between 7,000 and 10,000 students depending on whether or not you include our virtual schools.
“We have been very encouraged by the response from parents and students in Irving. It proves that families in Irving are really looking for another option. It overwhelming shows that there is a need.
“We are really excited for the opportunity to come into Irving and provide a new educational option that parents and students are hungry for.”
Lathan Watts will be the Campus Director for Premier High School’s West campus.
“We are 100 percent focused on the success of each individual student. This is not an incitement of Irving ISD. This is a problem that is systemic across Texas and the country. The one size fits all model of education is not working for a lot of people,” Watts said. “One third of public school students, 1.2 million will fail to graduate with their class. That averages one every 29 seconds. In Texas, almost 61 percent of high school students graduate in four years, so just over half. Texas is ranked 43 in the nation for high school graduation.
“Charter schools are public schools. We are funded directly from the state of Texas by TEA just the same way as Irving ISD is. We are funded by an average daily attendance model, so we are funded by having kids in school. We are a tuition free, open enrollment school. Parents and students should be able to select a school that best meets their educational needs rather than what zip code they live in.
“We break each course down into 10 to 12 units, which are typically anywhere from 40 to 60 pages. When you finish a book, you are 10 percent finished with the course. When you get through the fifth packet, you are half way through the course. When you finish the 10th one, you are finished with the course. It is not entirely self-paced. There are certain benchmarks you have to hit to complete the course on time. We have an accountability system to make sure students complete their courses. If students are completing five pages a day in the packet, they are on track to finish that course as they should.
“The West campus is the brain child of the commercial construction industry, because the industry is in dire need of a skilled workforce. The average of a skilled craftsman is 49 years old. There are not enough people entering those trades to fill the gap when those guys start retiring.
“The West campus will offer some special electives focused towards careers in architecture and construction. By 2020, 60 percent of the jobs will require either a college degree or a skilled certificate. Certificates are becoming stepping stones to college degrees. A lot of people get certified in a skill and continue working in field and use the money they earn to pay for college, so they don’t borrow money to go to college. The average student loan debt is $29,000 - with interest, it’s over $40,000.”
Premier High Schools are all about helping students be successful, according to Dave Sammons, Campus Director for Premier’s South campus.
“Our classes are geared towards the standard 26 credits the state of Texas requires to complete high school. We offer the recommended diploma that 90 percent of high schools will issue to students in Texas,” Sammons said. “It will work with military, Harvard, and the local community college. It will work everywhere.
“Our goal is to keep students in the seat, engaged, successful, and to get them a quality education as efficiently as we can, so they can go on about their life goals. If a child wants to be successful, we will craft a plan to make sure they are successful. If the need is material, attendance, scheduling, whatever it is, we are small enough and focused enough that we will tailor an educational plan to meet that need. Our goal is to get each child an education, not to get a child kicked out of school.”
Premier High School was a natural fit for North Lake College, according to Arthur James Executive Dean of North Lake’s North and South campuses.
“Premier High School will bring quality education which will go alongside the quality education students are already receiving through our partnership with Irving ISD,” James said. “They will give those parents and students who would like a different option a place that is established in the community to educate students. This partnership will also give students in Premier High School the opportunity to be exposed to the college environment.
“North Lake College is leasing space to Premier High School. We are not in a duel credit situation at this point, although we are looking at exploring that as a potential in the future. I think this is a win-win situation for the city of Irving, North Lake College and Responsive Ed.
“We are excited about them coming in. Responsive Ed has held a couple of interest meetings already, and the response has been very favorable.”