The Stop Six neighborhood, a historic African American community in Fort Worth, will soon have its first charter elementary school offering specialized and personalized learning.
“Stop Six has seen its glory days upon inception, but it was also the murder capital of the United States in the 1990s when my mother was a police officer working the beat in the community,” said SaJade Miller, superintendent of the Rocketship charter elementary school that will open in August. “It’s had its share of transitions.”
Last year, the Cavile Place public housing projects closed to make way for the neighborhood’s revitalization, according to media reports.
“They are replacing them with some mixed-income development and shopping centers,” Miller told The Dallas Express. “There’s no grocery store. It’s a food desert, which is one of my biggest environmental issues. There’s only fast food, convenience stores, and dollar stores. There’s no fresh food or produce anywhere in the community, so we still have a long way to go, but Stop Six does remain a hub for Fort Worth and for African American community pride.”
Growing the community’s resources includes the establishment of the first Rocketship charter elementary school in Texas, though there are already five elementary schools in the Stop Six area.
“The difference is the academic model of personalized learning that’s specialized, which means ensuring students engage in rigorous instruction as opposed to the same elementary teacher teaching math, reading, science, and social studies,” Miller said in an interview. “Our teachers specialize in a subject matter, so they have deep content knowledge as well as the pedagogy necessary for critical instructional delivery.”
Despite its location in an area where the population is predominantly black and hispanic, one subject matter that students attending the Rocketship charter school will not be learning is critical race theory (CRT).
As previously reported in The Dallas Express, CRT curriculum, prohibited by HB 3979, includes teaching students that the history of America began with the arrival of enslaved African people in 1619, and not with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
“We were made to give assurances as a part of our approval regarding adherence to all current and future legislation regarding CRT,” Miller said. “We’re going to follow the letter of the law. We will not be distracted by trendy discussions that distract us from the business of ensuring all students, regardless of their economic, social, or racial background, are reading at or above grade level every single year.”
One educational approach that will be featured in the school, Miller says, is a plan to facilitate parent power in an open campus.
“We want parents not only to drop their kids off but to walk into the building,” he said. “We want them to go to the class. We actually encourage parents to complete 20 volunteer hours at some point throughout the year, and teachers are evaluated based on completing at least three annual conferences with parents as well as going to see every single student in their home with their parents before the first day of instruction.”
Applications are open for the 2022-23 academic year, and all students are encouraged to apply for admission to the new school. However, only some 400 seats are available, and they will be selected by lottery.
“We’ve had a huge response,” Miller added. “Once we identify who’s going to be in those seats, the other students are added to a waitlist so that if a place becomes available, we can then invite them to enroll in the order of their application. The number of seats is based off the number of classes and grade level configuration.”
Another difference between the new charter and other schools, according to Miller, is that the Rocketship school will be small and nimble.
“It’s not a big bureaucracy, so we can allocate resources on the spot to ensure that whatever the deficits are from an instructional resource perspective or a skill acquisition perspective, we can make the adjustments to meet the needs of both the educators and the learners,” he said.
Originally founded in California, Rocketship has established charter schools in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, and Nashville, and nine were recognized as among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
However, the Stop Six charter elementary school in Fort Worth might not have come to fruition without the support of State Board of Education (SBOE) member Pat Hardy.
“In that region, there were no passing schools, and now we have two Rocketship campuses trying to go in there and meet the needs of those children,” Hardy told The Dallas Express. “I will be working with them because I want to make sure they do really well. My reputation is on the line with it.”
The Rocketship charter school was narrowly approved by the SBOE in June 2021 with an 8-7 vote.
“To a certain extent, [some of] those kids are a lot more difficult to teach because they come from single-parent homes and they haven’t been read to when they were little, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t learn and that they can’t be successful,” Hardy added. “They can be.”
Although the SBOE approved two Rocketship charter schools, only one is launching this year.
“We want to do very well with the first one,” Miller said. “We’re talking to parents and cultivating parent relationships to ensure that the demand we have is true, and we want to ensure that we grow responsibly. We want to be great on this first site before opening the second location.”
The second Rocketship charter school will also be an elementary school located in Fort Worth.
However, Michelle Beckley, who represents District 65 in the Texas House of Representatives and is campaigning to be elected Lieutenant Governor of Texas as a Democrat, is not fully convinced of charter schools’ benefits, and wants to hold off on opening any further campuses.
“It was supposed to be a test program,” Beckley told The Dallas Express. “It was never re-evaluated, and they are not showing to have any greater success than public schools.”