Lone Star Academy preparing students for 21st-century jobs
By Amy Sorter
Special to the TJP
Staci Weaver was hired May 26, 2017, as principal and superintendent of Lone Star Language Academy, one of Dallas-Fort Worth’s newest charter schools. Three months later on Aug. 21, the new charter school in West Plano opened its doors for the first time to welcome 108 new students, from kindergarten through third grade.
According to Weaver, the school opening in that short span was nothing short of a miracle.
“We usually get a year to launch a charter school,” she said, with a laugh. But with assistance from another charter school, the Region 10 Educational Service Center, Academica Southwest and Priscila Carrera, the school’s office manager (“who is nothing short of amazing,” Weaver said), the school at 5301 Democracy Drive is now in the business of education. Furthermore, Weaver and the school have definite plans for growth and expansion.
Each day, students are immersed in science, technology, arts and math (STEAM/STEM) programs, along with English/language arts and social studies, as well as the ability to learn two languages: Hebrew and Spanish.
“The reality is that many of the STEM-related fields and jobs are international,” Weaver said, adding that being bilingual and trilingual ends up being a competitive advantage on the job market. Spanish is offered, as it is the second-most spoken language in the United States. The Hebrew component, in the meantime, ties into the Jewish community’s growth in Far North Dallas and Collin County, a natural fit for Weaver, who is also Jewish.
“We felt that the Jewish families would want their children to learn more Hebrew in school,” Weaver said. Future languages, such as French, are being considered; Weaver indicated she is soliciting feedback from parents.
Many of those parents have jobs in the area of Legacy West Plano, which is one reason why the school was conceived. Launched by a group that believed a charter school should be up and running near a major employment center, Lone Star Language Academy’s doors open as early as 6 a.m. to accommodate parents who work in and around the Legacy area. In addition to its being open to students attending school in the Plano Independent School District, families belonging to the Allen, Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Frisco and Richardson ISDs may apply as well.
In addition to learning about languages and an emphasis on STEAM/STEM curriculum, students will be armed with marketable skills by the time they graduate from high school, specifically, an associate’s degree. Weaver said Lone Star Language Academy will eventually offer a K-12th grade curriculum, with students obtaining high school credits while in middle school, and high school students ending up with college credits before they graduate. The plan is to add fourth- and fifth-grade levels for the 2018-2019 school year, have a middle school up and running the following year, then culminate the process with a high school component.
Weaver herself is no stranger to charter schools. An ex-police officer, she found a second passion as a teacher after retiring from the police force. Though she originally taught in Florida, her Texas teaching and administrative backgrounds include stints with the Comal ISD (near San Antonio) and two charter schools. One institution was New Frontiers Charter School in San Antonio; the other was Meadowland Charter School in Boerne, in the far northern reaches of the San Antonio area.
Weaver and her husband came to Dallas because her son and daughter-in-law live in the area. When she spotted a job ad for the Lone Star Language Academy leadership position, she applied, was hired — then opened the school’s doors in a little more than 90 days.
Though the rush toward the 2018-2019 school year won’t be quite so dramatic, Weaver is already discussing the application period, which begins Jan. 10, 2018. The period will be ongoing until all available spots are filled, after which applicants will be placed on a waiting list.
Meanwhile, she is enjoying the ride during Lone Star Language Academy’s first year.
“I love what I do, I love going to work and I love working with the children,” she said. “they are simply amazing.”
Lone Star Language Academy will host an open house next week for families interested in enrolling in the school. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10, at the school at 5301 Democracy Drive in Plano. For more information, log on to http://www.lonestartx.org/ or call 972-244-7220.
Anatomy of a Charter School
Charter schools in the state of Texas are considered public schools, and are funded as such. Such institutions, however, have a specific educational twist, or direction. According to the Texas Educational Agency (TEA), the mission of charter schools is to “cultivate innovative, high-quality learning opportunities, and to e
mpower the charter community through leadership, guidance and support.”
However, one doesn’t just simply find a vacant building and open a charter school. The path from concept to opening day can take up to two years. The basis is a small core team of founders who set a goal for the charter school, an additional group of people to get the whole process moving and a rigorous application and interview process with the TEA. The process of founding and opening a charter school can take up to two years.
Charter schools must be set up as nonprofits, and they aren’t allowed to charge tuition. Staci Weaver, Lone Star Language Academy’s superintendent and principal, indicated that the school gets funding from the state, but its income consists mostly of attendance dollars. As such, fundraising and donations are definitely encouraged.
For more information about charter schools in Texas, log on to https://tea.texas.gov/Texas_Schools/Charter_Schools/