AUSTIN — Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams approved an Arizona-based charter school’s application Friday to operate a network of five charter schools in San Antonio.
Carpe Diem Schools, which has campuses in Yuma, Ariz., and in the Midwest, wants to establish five San Antonio locations, each accommodating about 300 students in grades six through 12.
“Strengthening the network of charter schools across our state is a critical component to providing greater parental choice,” Williams said in a press release.
If the State Board of Education does not veto the application at its November meeting, Carpe Diem is expected to open its first campus in fall 2014.
Carpe Diem is known for its “blended learning” model, which combines online instruction designed to allow students to control their learning pace, along with group instruction and one-on-one instruction.
It is one of six charter organizations courted by Choose to Succeed, a San Antonio coalition that has raised private funding to recruit high-performing charter schools to set up in the city.
Carpe Diem students’ performance on Arizona state exams has declined since 2010, according to the Arizona Department of Education. That year, 89 percent of students passed the math portion of Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test. In 2013, 67 percent passed, compared with the state median of 78 percent.
Students had a 96 percent passing rate in reading in 2010 but that fell to 79 percent in 2013, still higher than the state norm of 66 percent.
Choose to Succeed has raised about $30 million to help foster charters’ growth, about a third of its fundraising goal, saidMatthew Randazzo, its president & CEO.
Almost $1.5 million of those funds have gone to Carpe Diem. The group has committed $7 million to KIPP San Antonio and $13 million to IDEA Public Schools, which are expanding in San Antonio.
Randazzo said his organization will mobilize more fundraising efforts as Carpe Diem begins operating.
Some have expressed concern about the school’s blended learning model. Karen Miller, a former leader in the Texas PTA, said the program’s focus on online learning may deprive students of the social skills adopted when learning in groups and with teachers.
She said she would like to see the program piloted first before it expands to all five of the school’s planned campuses.
“We don’t have sufficient information on blended learning to open the door to a massive program by an out-of-state company,” Miller said.
Out of 11 charter applications statewide, Williams approved only three others: El Paso Leadership Academy; Great Hearts Academies Dallas; and Magnolia and Redbud Montessori for All.