The University of Texas-University Charter School (UT-UCS) was originally named the University Charter School (UCS). It opened in the second year of charter schools in Texas which makes it a second generation charter school. UT-UCS (and UCS) is a public charter school funded by the State of Texas through the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
The following information was taken from the original charter application submitted to the TEA on January 9, 1998 as well as other documents and communications with current and former employees.
The application for the original charter school was submitted to the TEA by Judy C. Ashcroft, Ph.D., the Director of EIMC: A Distance Education Center. UCS was originally designed as a distance education program. The initial enrollment was anticipated to be forty students with an eventual maximum enrollment of two hundred students. Coursework would be built on long-standing secondary and college credit courses that were offered on a fee basis by the Division of Continuing Education and Extension, of which EIMC was a unit. A wide variety of delivery options were proposed including:
• “Correspondence model: All courses are provided in the traditional paper-and-pencil correspondence format. The student receives textbook, study guide, other needed materials, and envelopes. The study guide contains all the information the student needs to complete the courses. The study guide has an introduction with policies and procedures; lessons with objectives, lecture notes, examples, and assignments; and practice tests. Students complete their assignments, mail them in for grading, and receive by return mail the corrected lesson with written comments from their teacher. This tried-and-true delivery is still the most portable and the most accessible. … . These courses are enhanced with telephony [sic], e-mail, toll-free phone calls, and Web sites. If the student wants to get immediate feedback on an exercise, phones are ubiquitous. By calling a toll free number, the student can punch in the course and her identification number, the computer and the phone then give her feedback on her lesson and record her score. The telephone is also a way to stay in touch with the principal, instructors, and staff. If the office is closed, then the voice mail system keeps the message and the question is answered first thing the next working day. The student who is taking a pencil-and-paper course may choose to send questions and comments to the staff and instructor by e-mail; she may also choose to submit a lesson that way. When she has access to the World Wide Web, she can answer some questions there and receive immediate feedback. Also, she will find course enrichment materials on the Web. The important concept here is that the electronic enhancements are extras for the student; she is able to get a complete course without these by sending her lessons through the mail.
• Correspondence model plus telephone: In this delivery model,, the student receives textbooks, a study guide, and envelopes for returning lessons. Some of the lessons are objective questions, and for these the student does not need to send the answer sheet through the mail. The student calls the 800 or 888 toll-free number and through telephony, the interaction of the telephone and the computer, learns immediately which answers are correct, which answers are incorrect, and how to find the correct answers. The advantage is that this method gives the students faster feedback and eliminates the paper and postage of mailing the lesson to Austin. The telephone is also a means for the student to call and talk with the principal, the student development specialists, the testing staff, and the instructors. Voice mail boxes receive student inquiries at any time of the day or night, and staff then returns the call the following work day. Finally, the telephone is used with the correspondence course for an audioconference. [sic] The instructor can bring together students for a real-time discussion. The student phones into the audiobridge [sic], or the instructor calls the student from the bridge.
• Correspondence model plus e-mail: This delivery is the present favorite for students and faculty. The student receives textbooks and a study guide. When the student is ready to submit the first lesson, the essay is written on the computer and sent as an e-mail message. The instructor receives it almost instantaneously and responds as soon as possible, often the same day. The student also e-mails the instructor with questions during the progress of the course. Students who have e-mail capabilities can receive e-mail newsletters and announcements from the school. We include students on listservs. [sic]
• Correspondence model plus disk: This delivery, introduced just this year by UT Extensions Independent and Distance Learning program, is gaining national attention. The student receives a textbook, a study guide, and a disk for either a Mac or a PC computer. All the directions that the student needs are on the disk. Each lesson on the disk tells the student what the objectives are, which chapter to read in the textbook, gives the instructor's "lecture," and includes evaluation in two to three different activities per lesson. Each assessment activity gives immediate feedback to the student For correct answers the student is reinforced; for incorrect answers, the student is guided with explanations and "Hints" which direct the student to the appropriate section of the text. The exercises give the student a score at the conclusion of the exercise; the disk is designed so that the student may work the exercises as many times needed. Depending on the course requirements, the student may need to send research or projects to the teacher through the mail.
• Correspondence model plus World Wide Web: For students who have access to the World Wide Web, this model is one of the richest learning environments. The student receives textbooks and a study guide. Lessons are submitted by e-mail through the Web. The Web site for the course has additional materials, color illustrations, links to primary sites, and a chat room for students to talk with one another.
• Paper-free courses: The UCS anticipates that within the first two years, some courses will be provided completely on the Web. These courses will have a textbook which the student receives; however, there will be no study guide and no lessons mailed to the instructor.
• Audioconferencing courses: Courses by audioconference are synchronous courses; the students and the instructor are united by the audiobridge at UT Austin. Extension's Telelearning Center has successfully offered high school language courses, health occupation courses, and algebra courses for many years. This delivery method requires that the students dial in at a designated time to participate in the course. In addition to being an active participant in the discussion and answering questions which the instructor asks during the phone class, students arc [sic] asked to submit written projects.
• Blended technology: The UCS will match the delivery technology to the demands of the curriculum and the needs of the student. At no time will the delivery mode be more important than the subject matter or the needs of the students. Consequently, blending technologies, using the best method for each lesson objective, is an important teaching concept of the UCS. For example, a psychology class might use a disk for drill and assessment on terminology, an audioconference for a guest speaker, a Web site for links to research primary work and reports of experiments, and e-mail or mail for sending student journals.
• Credit-by-Exam and Examination for Acceleration: Calling upon the expertise of our Independent and Distance Learning program, the UCS will have a full complement of Credit-by-Exam and Examination for Acceleration tests to assess students.”
Two letters of support were submitted with the application. One was from The Austin Academy, a non-profit adult educational services center. The other was from Jeff Rhodes, a part-time employee in EIMC and a middle school principal in Round Rock ISD. This was the beginning of a long relationship between Mr. Rhodes and UCS/UT-UCS. In August 1998, Mr. Rhodes began working half-time for the charter school as the principal. He continued as the lead administrator with the charter school for ten years, until August 2008, when he retired as superintendent.
Notice of approval of the award of an open enrollment charter school was provided in a letter to Yvonne Murray, in the Office of Sponsored Projects at The University of Texas at Austin, by Brooks Flemister, Senior Director for Charter Schools, in a letter dated June 16, 1998. The school was approved to
open in the fall of 1999.
An amendment to the original charter was approved by the Texas State Board of Education on July 27, 1998. The amendment approved UCS to begin providing educational services during the 1998-1999 school year rather than the 1999-2000 school year. It was also noted in the discussion that “when this charter was
originally granted, there was to be a distance learning facility and there were some issues on enrollment accounting. He (Mr. Watson) said that the charter was going to establish two sites in Austin, that the average daily attendance (ADA) would be counted, and that there would be instructors on site.”