Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash

Innovative School Models That Empower Students

By Megan Whalon

Ryan transferred to CAST Tech from out-of-district in 2017, the year our San Antonio ISD Innovation School opened. He arrived as a 9th grader, almost unable to read. My fellow teachers and I worked with him to get him up to grade level and he has thrived in our school. “When I got here, I didn’t know anything, and now I’m getting introduced to everything,” he said to me recently. But our school has done more than help Ryan understand and appreciate the importance of learning; it has also inspired him to want to give back. He now wants to become a teacher or a mentor for young people and help others realize how critical education is.

There are many benefits that make CAST Tech a unique place for a teacher like me to work, the most important of which are our autonomy and our industry partners. Our school was created to grow the tech industry in San Antonio so that our city can have high quality tech workers and compete with cities like Austin. To me, CAST Tech feels like a community school for the tech industry of San Antonio. In our first year alone, we had over 2,000 visitors and speakers from politicians to people in industry-specific roles to the CEO of USAA to the former Spurs coyote. Many of these speakers share similar backgrounds with our students and showed them that you can overcome any circumstance.

Moreover, almost all of the teachers at our school are part of the San Antonio ISD Master Teacher program, chosen for our passion, our knowledge, and our drive to change education. We have used the autonomy we are given to prepare our students to develop user-friendly websites and apps, to incorporate augmented and virtual reality technology while networking via social media, and to be the first school in Texas to pilot Tri Federation, a brand new sport within physical education. And this is just the beginning. Our computer science pathway offers students a Red Hat certification, the only one in the state of Texas. As a foreign language teacher, I am given the freedom to throw the textbook away and teach using research-based methods to help my students develop real language proficiency. I have created a library of Spanish books written for novice to intermediate language learners that take place in Spanish-speaking countries and help students learn about the Spanish-speaking world.

Innovative schools like CAST Tech offer exciting opportunities for students and teachers. These opportunities have been made possible by the flexibility and funding offered by SB 1882, a piece of legislation passed during the last legislative session.

I love teaching at CAST Tech. But as outstanding as my school is, it should not be exactly replicated. In order to benefit from the autonomies provided by SB 1882, each community needs to do an assessment to see what needs they have and then work on creating a school around that need. The community needs to choose skilled, experienced, passionate teachers and let them do the job they are paying them to do. If they choose the right people, they will guide the vision of the school and do what’s best for the kids. The most important aspect of a school of innovation like CAST Tech is the voices of the community and its teachers.

As the years go on, I hope that CAST Tech becomes known for preparing students for rewarding careers in the tech industry in San Antonio. I also hope that it will be known for empowering students like Ryan on the road to success and long-term achievement, regardless of where they come from or where they want to go.

Megan Whalon teaches Spanish at CAST Tech High School in San Antonio. She is a 2018–19 Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellow.