A $2.2 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to further collaboration in the SKY Partnership between Spring Branch ISD and charter schools KIPP and YES Prep. The grant was one of seven awarded by the Gates Foundation to cities that have signed District-Charter Collaboration Compacts. The grants totaled nearly $25 million.

Spring Branch ISD Superintendent Duncan Klussmann said that augmenting the SKY Partnership is a critical step towards reaching the district’s T-2-4 goal of doubling students’ post-secondary success in five years.

“Collaboration is very important (in reaching the goal),” Klussmann said. “We have to accelerate culture change in our system. We have great teachers, but we have to adjust the culture.”

He said the district’s Teach for America teachers go through YES Prep’s teacher training program, and that school leaders will go through KIPP’s leadership program.

Together, the charters enroll 245 students. Each charter will add a grade level each year as students advance, with an eventual YES Prep high school program opening at Northbrook High School, serving some 1,200 students. Klussmann said that while Spring Branch ISD is learning from its charter partners, so too are those charters learning from Spring Branch.

“The charters are looking at expanding rapidly,” he said, “and they’re looking at how a successful system operates.” While collaboration is the goal of the district-charter compacts, it’s not an easy thing to accomplish, said Vicki Phillips, director of education, college ready, at the Gates Foundation.

“Collaboration is usually highly productive,” said Phillips, “but a struggle.” She said the grants would be used by recipients to help teachers be more effective, integrate core standards into curriculums, integrate technology into classrooms, and improve the use of data and evidence-based instruction, among other uses.

The district-charter collaboration compacts were designed to “address issues that have often led to tension between public charter and traditional schools,” according to a release from the Gates Foundation, issues such as equitable funding and facilities, and whether charters are open to all students, including special needs students and English language learners. Klussmann said charter schools were created to develop innovative methods of teaching, and that there are as many ways to learn as there are students.

“We want to provide as many options for as many kids as possible,” he said.

– Rusty Graham — Memorial Examiner