Palestine's University Academy charter school started fresh last week, when classes began in a new modular building with 12 additional classrooms – including, for the first time, kindergarten and first-grade.
With more classrooms, the Academy's Palestine campus increased enrollment to 240 students this fall, an increase of 80 students over spring's enrollment.
New digs for the local campus of the University of Texas at Tyler's K-12 has not only accommodated more grades but also created a more stable environment for teachers and students, school officials and parents say.
“Teachers are excited to have a classroom of their own,” said Candy Bowman, Parent-Teacher Organization president. Previously, when classes were offered in Mathis Hall, some teachers had to rotate rooms.
Superintendent JoAnn Simmons said Kindergarten, first-, and second-grade classes are full; some other grades have waiting lists.
Previous estimates put construction costs for the new building at more than $1 million.
When asked by the Herald-Press last week, school officials didn’t provide an updated figure.
Two groups are collaborating to raise funds to create a more attractive campus with more amenities, including a playground: the Development Council, a community foundation; and the Parent Council, roughly 20 parents who contribute their money and persuade others to donate.
David Barnard, leader of the Development Council, announced in February that about $250,000 would be needed for improvements.
Bowman, a member of the parent council, cited a new playground, a permanent front porch and entryway, a brick facade, a covering for the outdoor deck behind the school, student gathering areas, improvements to the employee parking area, and a new circular driveway for student drop-off and pick-up.
Andrea Ivins, parent of an eighth-grade student and a member of the Parent Council, said parents want to improve the building's exterior to reflect the school's education quality.
In June, the school was named an Honor Roll School by Educational Results Partnership, an honor received by 855 Texas public schools, for achievement in students' success.
“The Honor Roll is part of a national effort to identify higher-performing schools and highlight successful practices that improve outcomes for students,” a press release stated.
Formerly known as Innovation Academy, the school, which opened seven years ago at 1820 West Spring St., was deemed unsafe by the state Fire Marshal in 2017. After abruptly relocating in August 2017 to Mathis Hall, the Academy's future became uncertain in early 2018.
UT Tyler officials originally announced they would begin construction in the fall of 2018, but the start date was delayed until June of this year. A groundbreaking ceremony in February was attended by more than 100 people from Palestine and UT Tyler, including President Michael Tidwell.
Parents can learn more at the PTO's first meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 5:30 p.m.
Donations can be made as a continuous withdrawal or a one-time contribution.
For information on how to contribute to campus improvements, call East Texas Communities Foundation at 903-533-0208. The online link is https://tinyurl. com/yyq45sfm.