UTSA launches education initiative

Utsa launches new program (courtesy of joanne jones)

This past Friday, Jan. 31, UTSA became a National Center for Accelerated Schools. During the official ribbon cutting ceremony, President Ricardo Romo remarked that he “never dreamed (UTSA) would be a national center,” and that “we aim to do a great job and work hard as this is just one more pillar toward our Tier One vision.“

Dr. Henry Levin founded the Center for Accelerated Schools program in 1986 with the intention of helping low-income schools access the same quality education found in affluent neighborhoods.

The program’s focus is “to bring culture and climate to a higher level involving all stakeholders of parents, staff and students,” explained Assistant Director for the NCAS Sandra Mendoza, and “extract things that are working in (affluent) environments and apply them to your more at-risk environments.”

Doing so requires the implementation of what the program calls “best practices.” These best practices are the NCAS’s foundation and include learner-centered, authentic instruction, inclusiveness, interactive and continuous learning.

Instruction will focus on students’ interests and is intended to promote discussion and input from every student and to create self-generated motivation to learn. Moreover, teaching methods will use practical examples and intertwine subjects so that learning material is one continuous stream instead of multiple subjects conflicting with one another.

Likewise, centers provide experienced educators, principals and trainers who coach and help schools become quality institutions. In his speech, Levin addressed dropout rates putting emphasis on high school reform so that “students feel they are part of their school community, that if they’re not there someone notices.”

Levin noted that increases in high school completion are crucial in order to reverse the negative costs linked to dropout rates such as crime, health risks, lack of opportunity for dropouts, tax-payer cost and greater government spending.

However, creating significant improvements in educational quality requires schools to acknowledge change, and the NCAS assists in this endeavor through three core principles: empowerment with responsibility, building on strengths and having a unity of purpose.

“In a regular school, everybody is pointing a different way,” says Assistant Director Sandra Mendoza, “(But) in an accelerated school we’re all pointing toward the student (and) instead of a top-down approach to leadership we flatten it so everyone has a shared vision.” The NCAS’s principles regard the students as key components toward success and acknowledge improvement of strengths rather than identifying weaknesses.

Currently, the NCAS has developed relationships with 11 charter schools in the San Antonio community and works with pre-K through twelfth-grade. Complications with state standardized tests and strict educational curriculum requirements could pose significant hurdles for the NCAS. “We need a vision. Not a vision statement,” said Dr. Levin. “(And) I’m not arguing that the state doesn’t have a right to do whatever it does, but beyond that we can’t say that’s good education simply because it’s required.”

Levin suggests certain improvements for institutions, such as active student participation, allowing students to interpret primary sources of literature rather than absorb watered down versions and peer-to-peer interaction. So, what specific goals are set for San Antonio?

“The impact we would like to make is for every school in San Antonio to be an accelerated school, instead of remediation acceleration,” says Mendoza, “(because) the traditional school says we test you and if you qualify we put you over here and apply GT strategies; we’re saying apply those strategies to all kids so that all kids can reach unlimited potential.”