In southwest Arlington, new charter school buildings to welcome students in August

Posted Monday, Jul. 21, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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With its white-columned facade topped by a classic cupola, the International Leadership of Texas charter school evokes the feel of a college campus.

That’s exactly why Superintendent Eddie Conger selected that design for the new $20 million Arlington campus that will open Aug. 21 with about 1,200 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade.

“I wanted it to have more of a collegiate feel,” he said of the school, an 83,000-square-foot building on 40 acres at Bowen and Bardin roads in southwest Arlington. “We chose that design so the kids will see that and think to themselves, ‘This is like going to college.’ 

The charter school is being eagerly anticipated by students who spent the campus’ inaugural 2013-14 school year in church buildings. But some nearby residents worry about the school generating traffic and noise, especially since there is another charter school, Arlington Classics Academy, on Bowen just a half mile to the south.

Conger, 55, a former Marine who was an administrator in the Dallas school district until he left to start International Leadership of Texas, is thrilled with the new campus, which is a look-alike to ILT’s Garland campus and another one that is also opening next month in Keller. He described the International Leadership of Texas campuses as college preparatory schools that emphasize three key areas.

“It’s the mind, the body, the character — three overarching components,” he said.

Parents are also excited about the new building. While they appreciated the use of the church facilities, it was logistically difficult to share space, said Kari Garcia, ILT-Arlington’s Parent Teacher Organization president.

“I think that is one of the things that everybody is really looking forward to,” she said of the new building, which is expected to be complete Aug. 1. “There were challenges in not having our own space.”

ILT curriculum

Charters receive public funding and are held to the same accountability standards as public schools. They cannot charge tuition and must be open to all students. However, charter schools have more flexibility in the way they achieve standards, are privately operated and often have a special curriculum.

At ILT — one of 204 charter operators in Texas —one of the most unique aspects of the curriculum is that all students learn Spanish and Mandarin Chinese in addition to English. English, Spanish and Chinese are the most widely spoken languages and prepare students for the global marketplace, Conger said.

Even kindergarten students have classes in Chinese, although the exposure to that language gradually increases as the child grows older. Garcia said she was impressed when her daughter, who was in kindergarten last year, learned to speak some simple Chinese phrases.

The curriculum also includes daily physical fitness classes through the Athlos program, which develops leadership traits such as grit and courage through athletic conditioning.

“They have character day once a week. My kindergartner came home and she would say, ‘Today we talked about having humility and not being prideful,’ ” Garcia said.

ILT, which requires uniforms, stresses servant leadership, and the phrase “Others Before Self” is etched in large letters in the foyer of each school. Each class participates in a community service project such as helping out at animal shelters, collecting money for charitable organizations and visiting nursing homes, Conger said.

The student body, which is ethnically and economically diverse, also has plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning. Seventh-graders take a five-day Texas history trip that includes stops at major universities, eighth-graders visit Williamsburg, Va., Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., on a U.S. history tour, and high school students are encouraged to spend a month of study in China over the summer. ILT also hosts Chinese students at the high school level.

High school juniors and seniors are expected to enroll in community colleges and to earn an associate degree by the time they graduate high school, Conger said. For that reason, his goal is to locate the high schools, which are separate from the K-8 campuses, near community colleges.

Tracy Young, a spokeswoman for the Texas Charter Schools Association, said her organization is proud that ILT is among their members. She characterized ILT in an email as “innovative, creative and providing students an education that leads them into a global world beyond state borders.”

Traffic travails

Some residents who live near the school have expressed concerns about the additional traffic ILT may generate on Bowen, which already gets congested with Arlington Classics’ drop-offs and pickups. Because of that, some area residents opposed the ILT campus when city officials were considering the zoning change that allowed the school to be built.

Gary Newton, whose home is among the closest to the school, said he anticipates additional traffic and noise from the school. He said he plans to move out of his home and rent out the property because of the expected problems.

“You look out there right now,” he said, standing on his front lawn on Saturday and watching the cars pass by on Bowen. “That is only going to get worse.”

Other nearby residents, such as Jasper and Kathy Ellis, said they aren’t opposed to the school and will take a wait-and-see attitude on traffic. Kathy Ellis said she prefers the school over other plans considered for the property.

“I’ve always heard it’s good to be in neighborhoods with schools,” she said. “I’m more happy with that than I was the big gas well they were going to put up there.”

City and school officials have worked together on ways to address traffic. Northbound turn lanes on Bowen are being extended to provide access to the school, and Bardin is being extended west of Bowen with a signal so traffic can flow in and out of the school, David Wynn, assistant director of public works and transportation, said in an email. A one-lane road from Quail Creek Drive to the school’s western driveway will give residential traffic access to Bowen at the signalized Bardin intersection, he said, adding that he does not anticipate residents having any more trouble leaving their subdivisions than they now have.

Conger said the road improvements are being paid for by the school’s owner and developer, The Charter School Fund, a Boise, Idaho-based company that helps charters by financing the purchase of land and the construction of school buildings. The school is being leased back to ILT, he said.

The school also has other traffic solutions, including the use of special software that accelerates student pickups. Parents hang cards in their car indicating who they are picking up, and a staff member enters the family’s ID into an electronic device, which allows the children’s names to be displayed inside the school and directs them to meet their vehicle, Conger said.

There is also over a mile of drive space on the school’s property for the cars to line up, and the school will try to keep the traffic confined to its property instead of the street, Conger said. The schools is open to students across the Metroplex, so most are driven to school.

Conger frets about whether the road improvements, specifically the Bardin extension, will be complete by the time school opens. The building has been developed on a fast track, with construction beginning in February and now nearly finished.

“As superintendent, I want to make sure we have everything completed so we can have a smooth first week of school,” Conger said.

Arlington Classics Academy

Arlington Classics Academy also will begin the school year with a new structure. The 10-classroom addition will house third- through fifth-graders, said Craig Sims, director of academic services.

ACA has two campuses: the Bowen site, which houses third- through eighth-grades, and another on Arkansas Lane for kindergarten through second grade. About 1,400 students are expected to attend both campuses when school begins Aug. 12, said Mia Russo, coordinator of fundraising and development.

ACA also has taken steps to ease traffic flow, such as additional space to line up cars around the school. It will continue an initiative started last year, when about 100 students, escorted by school officials and police, walk south down Bowen to The Church on Rush Creek, which has a large parking lot where parents pick up children, Sims said.

ACA and ILT also are trying to work out their start and dismissal times so students won’t be transported to both schools all at once.

Even with their proximity, both schools said they don’t expect much impact to their enrollment numbers and want to be collaborators rather than competitors. Both schools have long waiting lists: ILT lists more than 2,000 waiting to enter the Arlington campus.

“Both schools want the same thing,” Russo said. “We’re here to provide a quality public school alternative. Clearly there is a demand for it.”

Conger said he wants to have a neighborly relationship with ACA.

“ACA is a great charter school,” he said. “I have nothing but great respect for them.”

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