Beeville, a small rural community in south Texas, changed dramatically in the early 1990’s when the area’s major employer, the Chase Field Naval Air Station, closed. Five area prisons became Beeville’s major employer; newcomers included prison staff, inmates, and their families. Faced with a funding gap, the Catholic dioceses threatened to close the Catholic schools in the area; local educators reopened St. Mary’s as a charter school with 196 students.
Children who applied to St. Mary’s Academy Charter School were among the most disenfranchised of the existing public school system; many entered St. Mary’s three or more years below grade level. One-quarter of current students have a family member in prison, and many students are in foster care or live with relatives. Seventy-eight per cent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
To meet the challenges its students face, St. Mary’s instituted wrap-around support services, with before- and after-school tutorial and enrichment programs; Saturday, holiday and summer educational programs; classroom math and reading interventionists; and a licensed professional counselor who provides individual play therapy and group counseling. Students at St. Mary’s achieved high math and reading scores on the 2009 TAKS, the state-mandated test: More than 90% of students in all grades scored proficient in reading and math, and more than 50% of students in many grades scored commended. All grade six students scored proficient in Science in 2009.
|St. Mary’s Charter School Story. Threatened by school closings in 2001, a group of dedicated educators and community members applied for and received charter approval quickly. A Board of Directors provides fiscal and program oversight, relying on committed administrators to implement the academic program. A fiscally astute principal and business manager raise money through grants to supplement the state allotment, providing necessary curriculum materials, funding for before-, after-, and summer school programs and counseling services, and expanding the physical plant. Read the transcript of “St. Mary’s Charter School Story.”|
|Extended Learning Time. “Wrap-around services”–before, after, and summer school programs–help allay concerns for parents with heavy work schedules and transportation constraints. Teachers staff the wrap-around services because they see the results in the classroom. Students receive homework help or targeted tutoring, followed by enrichment activities. “So many students stay after school and come during the summer, even the ones that do not have to,” a teacher noted. Funded initially through a 21st Century grant, the administration pieces together small grants and Title I monies to sustain these essential programs. Read the transcript of “Extended Learning Time.”|
|Counseling for Students. Many St. Mary’s students come from families that face multiple challenges. The principal and several teachers have dual certification as school guidance counselors. However, recognizing that some students require professional counseling in order to focus on academics, and given pressures on parents’ time and resources, the Board and administration arranged to locate a professional counselor from a local agency on site. The agency bills insurance and Medicaid when possible; St. Mary’s funds what parents cannot pay. Teachers and parents have seen remarkable results. Read the transcript of “Counseling for Students.”|
|Innovative Staffing. St. Mary’s teachers are drawn less by money than dedication to students and the school’s collaborative culture. Beginning teachers are paid on par with the public schools but the salary scale for veteran (more than 10 years) teachers is at least 20% lower. St. Mary’s employs highly qualified veteran teachers part-time through a uniquely flexible schedule—a bookkeeping nightmare, but an asset to students. Professional development is highly valued at St. Mary’s, especially for paraprofessionals. Asked if teachers and paraprofessionals leave for higher paying jobs after receiving training at St. Mary’s, the principal notes, “They never have.” Read the transcript of “Innovative Staffing.”|
|Reading. Administrators remain committed to keeping their two reading interventionists and K – 3 reading coach, despite funding challenges. The three-tiered reading program meets students where they are, adding as many as 30 minutes of reading a day. Students are comfortable being pulled out for small groups by the interventionists or for tutoring by a paraprofessional and appreciate the personal attention. The commitment to a strong reading foundation has resulted in exemplary test scores in reading and writing. Read the transcript of “Reading.”|
St. Mary’s Academy Charter School
507 North Filmore
Beeville, TX 78102-5000
(361) 358-5601 Fax: (361) 358-5704
2009-2010 Academic Year
|Number of Students K-6||319|
|Students eligible for subsidized meals||78%|
|Limited English proficient students||1%|
|Students receiving special education services||10%|
|African American students||4%|
|Average teacher turnover rate, last 5 years||5%|