With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:
Michael Hooten is the superintendent of Trinity Environmental Academy, an environmentally focused charter school set to launch next school year. He has worked in Dallas charter schools since 2003. During his instructional tenure, he led up to 60 teachers and staff in a TEA Exemplary Rated District. He also developed the programming for and was awarded an IB World School designation from the International Baccalaureate Organization.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Edu: How did this type of school come about?
Michael Hooten: The group of folks working on this have a background as science teachers, and are involved in the community with things like environmentalism and sustainability. It is a group of people who were friends, knew each other and thought it would be great if there was a school that could teach using the environment.
That was the first idea, and we realized that a charter school would be the best way to do it, because we were interested in working with underserved populations. South Dallas has one of the greatest natural resources in Texas, with the Great Trinity Forest. It is unused, untapped and the city is just now starting to realize the value. We thought if we opened a school near there, we could use the forest as a living laboratory.
Trib+Edu: How will the school center on the environment?
Hooten: It’s the ideas of sustainability and environmentalism. Teaching through an environmental lens is something that science teachers do really well. The idea of the environment itself has very familiar concepts, but students don’t understand it very well or the systems that are interdependent within it. Or how much we as humans are dependent on those systems in the environment.
That was the driving force of teaching through the environment along with the environment being relevant to people's lives. The next logical thing was incorporating community-based education, to use your community as a space to learn in through emergent curriculum.
Trib+Edu: How will the subjects beside science be taught with the same importance?
Hooten: That was a question posed to us by the State Board of Education. Math is the language of science. In English classes, the choices in our books could have an environmental slant to them or we could find the environmental pieces, and bring those to light. With history, a lot of that is environmental, with how societies develop themselves.
It is a lot about being cognizant of those pieces so that in our primary year, we are focused on the things that are contextually familiar with kids — with the forest or farm, along with water and recycling. Once we get into middle school, we would be focusing on things like engineering. In high school, we would move toward environmental technologies.
Our three strands for the career and technology state requirements are environmental technologies, agricultural and natural resources and biotech. We are taking this progression through the classes and teaching teachers to work through these lenses and make it relevant for the scholars. It is a lot like International Baccalaureate, where one of those lenses is an environmental lens.
Trib+Edu: What sort of parents or students do you expect to draw?
Hooten: Because of our name, people have a lot of questions about what the environmental piece is like. Really, it is a school of science and engineering. The types of students we’re expecting are those interested and having the choice want to pursue that.
We are actually opening our campus on a college campus, Paul Quinn College, on the edge of the Trinity forest. We are developing relationships and a support mechanism to do dual enrollment right there, to really get kids college ready to be able to roll right into Paul Quinn’s program, having already earned dual enrollment credit. We want to be a school that is out of the box a little bit, and teach in an interdisciplinary way.