The number of tuition-free, public charter schools has spiraled upward in recent years as parents demand more accountability and flexibility from their local school districts. Westchase District is served by two school districts. Students who live north of Westheimer attend schools from the Houston Independent School District while students living south of Westheimer attend Alief ISD schools. Now, for the first time, families living in Westchase District have the option of two public charter schools as well.
Now serving kinder and first grade
Westchase Classical Academy welcomed its first two classes of new students this past August on the campus of First Methodist Houston Westchase. Operating under the ResponsiveEd charter, Westchase Classical Academy seeks to provide hope to students through educational options that promote a free society and cultivate moral and academic excellence.
School Director Diana Castillo knows first-hand how educational opportunity can bring hope and change. Born in Mexico, Castillo moved to the United States with her family at the age of three. Enrolled in Kindergarten a few years later, Castillo struggled in class until her mother, concerned about her lack of progress, moved her to a different school. With only two months until summer and under the guidance of an excellent teacher, Castillo quickly became the top reader in her class. She transferred to KIPP Academy in the 5th grade and continued to excel. “My mother knew education was something she could offer us in the United States,” said Castillo. “But the system seemed complicated and, at times, hopeless. Without the help of my teachers and administrators to navigate my educational options, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Ultimately, she graduated with a degree in Spanish Literature from Cornell University and returned to Houston to work for Teach for America, simultaneously obtaining her teaching certificate and instructing both 1st and 2nd grade classrooms for 10 years.
Two classrooms and growing
Westchase Classical Academy’s program is based on the belief that successful students become successful adults. The curriculum emphasizes American civics, arts, phonics, and blended learning math curriculum. Classroom size is limited to 25 students and all students have access to technology. Scholars are required to take weekly art and physical education classes, and lower school students have two, 20- minute recesses daily.
Westchase Classical Academy currently serves students in Kindergarten and 1st grade, but plans to increase its offerings up to 8th grade. When asked where she’d like Westchase Classical to be in five years, Castillo expressed her desire for a neighborhood school that people see as a resource, one that reaches into the community to offer hope and assistance, creating scholars who are kind, compassionate and looking to impact the community in a positive way.
STEM and character-based learning
Tucked away on a quiet Westchase cul-de-sac, the School of Science and Technology’s exterior does not reveal the magnitude of all it has to offer its students. SST is a Pre-K through 8th grade college preparatory charter school focusing on math, science, engineering and computer technologies. In only its third year in Westchase District, the School of Science and Technology is bursting at its seams with 382 students. Principal Matt Dilli is proud of all the students have accomplished in such a short time, including all possible state Texas Education Agency (TEA) distinctions, and their most recent honor as a National School of Character and TEA A-Rated School.
The mission of the School of Science and Technology is to drive academic and socio-emotional development through a college prep, STEM-based learning model. This model is anchored in 21st century skills, embraced by a character-building approach delivered in an enriching, safe and student-centered learning environment. Throughout the hallways of SST, there is evidence of how much the teachers and students love their school. Bulletin boards boasting desired character traits, hallways marked with street signs named for pathways to success, and get-to-know-you questions answered by all teachers enable students and staff to make relationships a priority for a healthy learning environment. Fifth grade ELA teacher Courtney Rosok said her class makes a covenant at the start of each school year. “Not only does this enable the students to be part of making class rules they think are important, it also helps them to understand that we are all in this together, invested in each other’s success, both emotionally and academically,” said Rosok.
Display cases in the lobby showcase the many awards SST students have received. From poetry and fine arts competitions to robotics, math and science olympiads, students are encouraged to compete, not only to build character, but to stretch the limits of what they think is possible.
SST enrolls students through a lottery system. Classroom size is limited to approximately 25 and all classrooms have access to technology. Dilli says what makes the School of Science and Technology different from other public charter schools are the relationships between teachers, parents, students and staff. “We want students to feel safe and cared for at school so their level of academic success rises,” said Dilli.
In the next 5 years, Dilli sees the School of Science and Technology expanding to approximately 700 students, necessitating a move to a new school building. Construction is already underway, and SST hopes to open these doors as early as next fall.