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A North Texas First, Coming Soon: A Charter School Within The Walls Of A Public School

Bill Zeeble
Uplift CEO Yasmin Batia, at the lectern, has been talking with Grand Prairie Supterintendent Susan Hull for several years to plan a public school-charter school partnership.

The Grand Prairie school district and Uplift charter schools just announced a first in North Texas: A partnership that will put a charter school within a public school.


Beginning this fall, Grand Prairie ISD parents will have a new elementary school choice. As many as 300 kindergartners and first graders will not only have the option of Lee Elementary with its dual language program, but also Uplift at Lee.

The charter system, Uplift Education, with 13 North Texas campuses, will house a school in parts of Lee -- in the same building.

Many Texas school districts view charters as competition, the enemy. Not Grand Prairie Superintendent Susan Hull. She took a tip from Spring Branch, a Houston district that has partnered with two charters. Hull says her teachers can learn from Uplift and uses a term borrowed from those in Spring Branch.

“The benefit comes from what we’ve begun to call ‘cooper-etition,’" Hull says. “Cooperation and healthy competition. We know there’s a value in competition. There’s a lot of value in looking across the hall and wondering if I’m doing as good a job as that teacher.” 

Uplift CEO Yasmin Batia wants her teachers to learn how Grand Prairie instructors helped the district create specialty schools. One focuses on the environment, another fine arts. There’s a leadership campus and a STEM school. Uplift will bring its data know-how.

“We actually are able to do a more sophisticated analysis of our data to be able to understand how different groups of students are performing,” Batia says. “So that way when our teachers are pulling small groups, they’re able to be more effective in knowing which students to pull based on what standards those children have mastered or not mastered.”

But there’ll be financial benefits too, says former state Sen. Florence Shapiro. who led the Senate Education Committee. For years, she’s backed education reforms -- she likes this, too.  

“The high performing charters like Uplift are looking for opportunities to engage with public schools,” Shapiro says. “For varieties of reasons, facilities being one. We don’t pay for facilities in the state of Texas for charters.”

The financial details haven’t been worked out yet, but Uplift and Lee kids will all be considered Grand Prairie ISD students. The district will keep some money for facilities, and pass the rest to Uplift. The charter teachers will be paid by Uplift, while Grand Prairie teachers will be paid by the school district. They’ll copy the Spring Branch model.

Burke Hall, the Grand Prairie school board vice president, isn’t worried. He hasn’t heard complaints from constituents or district employees.

“For us, it was just recognizing their strong points; they recognize ours – the higher rigor, the staff development," Hall says. "It was just a good fit."

Grand Prairie parents get to find out more this Saturday. The district’s all-day program, the GPISD Experience, will explains its programs of choice schools. 

Learn more

Last year, KERA traveled to Spring Branch to get a closer look at that district's efforts to partner with a charter school. Read more about the partnership.But some teachers and teacher groups are leery of the experiment.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.