It’s the end of the school day at the Not Your Ordinary School in North Austin and students in Melissa Hefner’s fourth-grade class are sitting in a circle.
“Today what I’d like for you to share is something you did with a learning partner,” Hefner says. “With a learning partner I worked on math power points,” one student responded.
This charter school opened 18 years ago. Today, it has 950 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Kathleen Zimmermann is the school’s executive director. She says parents are attracted to the small class sizes at NYOS.
“We have some innovations, too, like a year-round calendar and looping where kids keep the same teacher for multiple years to help build those relationships between students and teachers,” she says. “And that kind of connection and closeness, helping teachers to understand what students need specifically is really is a draw for parents.”
More parents want in. Zimmermann says there are about 3,000 kids on a waitlist to attend the school.
Charter schools have been in Texas for 20 years now and the number of students in charter schools has grown—from around 4,000 in the mid-’90s – 0.01 percent of the Texas student population – to more than 200,000 students in recent years – 4 percent.