Category: urbanism

Golden Birthday Challenge: Days 5-9

It’s been a week, and we are on a roll with new things!

Day Five: Taking Moira to play at the Pearl Amphitheater 

We tacked this on to the end of a walk with a friend, and it was a great success. The rock seats are the perfect height for cruising, which is our favorite activity these days. And the dead grass was a perfect for eating. I was fishing leaves and debris out of her mouth all night.


Day Six: Not picking apart my body in our family photos

In early December, we had the special treat of a family photo session with Rachel Chaney. Rachel has photographed me seven times now in the last seven years. Sometimes they were photography jam sessions, where she was learning and experimenting. Other times they were life milestones, like my wedding. All of her work is fantastic and I love it. She’s technically on hiatus, but she graciously agreed to photograph our family in a lifestyle shoot.

We got the proof gallery on Tuesday, day six. The photos are everything I’d hoped they would be, largely thanks to my obliging and adorable daughter, and particularly photogenic husband.

If you read this blog at all, you know that the baby weight adventure has been a thing for me. I am ALWAYS hard on myself in photographs (no matter how good Rachel manages to make me look) and now there is simply more of me to be critical of.

But I tried something new. I decided to give thanks for my body, that carried and birthed a heathy baby and will one day be fitter and firmer, because I am running, cutting down on wheat and sugar, etc. But no matter how well I do, I know I’ll still pick myself apart. So on Day Six, I did not. I gave thanks instead for each beautiful image of our happy, smiling family who loves each other so much.

And you know what…the pictures got even more beautiful, and I enjoyed them more than any before.

Day Seven: Monitoring our energy usage and solar array production

We installed our solar panels just in time for a massive cold front and cloudy skies. So we’re not seeing the really cool potential of these things like we will in the sunny times, and when the heat doesn’t run all night.

But just watching how the wattage in your house spikes when the heater comes on is enough to make you layer up and cut the heater down to 65. Maybe that’s the true secret to how solar energy is going to cut carbon emissions.

I feel like I’m gaining points when I see the green part of the graph (meaning the sun peaked through the clouds and the heater wasn’t on).  Actually though, we’re gaining MONEY. How great is that. It’s a computer game where the earth wins.

This screen shot is from our monitoring of what happens when Lewis turns on the Vitamix. The big spikes, though, are the heater. The panels had been operational since 1pm that afternoon.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 8.22.55 PM

Day Eight: Eating at a Fruteria/Botanero

I’ve never eaten at Johnny Hernandez’s fruit infused snack bar. I liked it a lot. Fruit infusion lends itself to some killer cocktails. Also, guacamole with grapes. Who knew?

It’s a great spot for a date night too. Lewis, who has been several times, tells me it’s more whimsical by day. But by night, it’s pretty atmospheric.

Day Nine: Art-to-go at Landa Library (or, seeing if Moira is ready for crayons)

Our favorite branch of the San Antonio Library was not as crowded as usual, due to the freezing temperatures. So, Moira and I had all the attention, and allowed ourselves to be talked into an art project. Landa Library will sometimes set up a huge craft table with a simple, fun craft for kids to do at their leisure.

Moira is far too young for the painter’s tape/negative space project they had, but I was curious about having her color.

She is not ready for crayons. She just chewed on them while I made this:


Golden Birthday Challenge: Day 2-4

Day 2: Nail decals

I set the bar (no pun intended) pretty high on day one with the importance of the “new things” I am trying to experience every day until I turn 31. So today, I decided to adjust expectations. Lest anyone think that I have 31 truly significant ambitions in life, today I did my nails.

photo 1 (3)

Obviously, I have done my nails before, but this time, I used the sticker nail decals that my sister in law introduced me to about a year ago. I’ve been meaning to try them out, and today, for the first time ever in my life, I have fancy decal nails.

The process should have been simpler, but I used my complete ignorance of all things cosmetelogical to make it slightly more fumbling and awkward.

In the end…I have bold Golden Birthday Challenge nails.

photo 2 (3)

Day Three: Watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Lewis

Over time, I’ve seen pieces and parts of all the Indiana Jones movies. If you’ve ever killed time in a hotel room with basic cable, so have you. But I’d never seen 95% of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and when I confessed this to Lewis, he seemed genuinely wounded.

I’ve never seen a lot of classics. None of the Monty Pythons, the Exorcist, Robin Hood Men in Tights. I spent the 80s as a preschooler and the 90s begging to be allowed to watch Rugrats (occasionally) and Ren and Stimpy (never).  By then, everyone had already seen all the classics, and I was on to “serious” movies. I did manage to piece together the original Star Wars trilogy and Animal House. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of my family’s pop cultural heritage.

But, I married a movie buff. And Indiana Jones was a big deal to him at a formative time. So, we pulled out my MacBook Air, rented the movie from Amazon, and after only 30 minutes of reloading, updating, and hand-wringing, (“Have we been reduced to this?!?” (me) followed by a monotone, “Yes,” (Lewis)) we watched the great adventure classic in miniature.

Tiny or not, what a fun movie!

The fact that the final battle escalates into claymation is, quite simply, amazing. It made me wish CGI had never been invented.

Day Four: Go to a new grocery store to buy the week’s groceries

I think the success in this challenge is going to be not just finding extraordinary things to do, but doing my normal things in new ways. And few things are as alien and mind-blowing as an unfamiliar grocery store.

Years ago, my friend Rachel was trying to talk me into going to Sprouts, one of the few non-HEB grocery stores in San Antonio. Sprouts calls itself a farmer’s market, and it’s supposed to be a mysterious combination of fresh, organic, local food and low prices.


It’s a little far from my house, but so are all the decent HEB’s, so I went for it.

It was small, friendly, and had every single thing I needed. And I found a box of cereal that I can usually only find at Whole Foods for $5.99. The Sprouts price: $2.59 (it was on sale…but still).

It was packing up my Sprouts groceries that made me think that this Golden Birthday Challenge might lead to some more permanent life improvements.

Moira Brings the News: Secretary Castro

San Antonio’s Mayor Julián Castro is moving on up. We’re sad to see him go, as he has been a voice for progress in the city, ushering in the decade of downtown, SA202o, and other forward-thinking initiatives like Pre-K4SA.

Castro has been tapped for a position on President Obama’s cabinet as Housing and Urban Development Secretary. We’ll know he’ll do a fantastic job, and we hope to see him on another ballot someday so that we can, again cast our vote for him.

In the meantime, over to our junior correspondent, Moira Sage, who has some thoughts for the Mayor, as he joins Obama’s cabinet:

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Urban Baby: What we see on our walks

People told me that when I had a baby I would throw in the towel on the inner city, and head for the shady streets of suburbia. Good school districts. Safe strolling. Quiet nights.

I’m not going to lie, when my neighbor’s five pitbulls bark ALL NIGHT LONG, I do think about how nice it would be to have an HOA to tattle to, instead of just SAPD, which always feels extreme.

And yes, I have to stroll underneath 281 to get to our favorite walking path…but that walking path is the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, and I can get there in 5 minutes on foot. We take this walk almost every day.

Plus, for my first Mother’s Day, Lewis bought me a membership to the San Antonio Museum of Art, where Moira and I can stroll and take in all the air-conditioning and art we want.

Along the way we have epic adventures passing animals, vagrants, fancy parties, kickball games, and running into friends.

Right now Moira sleeps through most of the walk, but when she looks around, she sees…

A bridge overlooking downtown, smattered with cyclists, yogi’s, and, soon, brewery-goers.

Moira - May 4 148

Signs your local coffee shop is now managed by Christians

I sometimes work from coffee shops. Like when my house is being insulated and there’s drills and sawdust everywhere.

Starbucks in not my favorite, mostly because after 15 seconds inside, I smell like burned espresso for the rest of the day.

I don’t usually go for the ultra cuddly coffee shops with the overstuffed couches and “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” novelty signs on the wall, because they usually only have one plug and the internet doesn’t really work.

So yes. I go to the slightly pretentious, Creative Class joints where the baristas have amazing tattoos and the internet is fast, and everyone is on a Mac. (I’m not on a Mac these days, for the record).

Coffee Shop in Key West
Coffee Shop in Key West

I have three or four where I go regularly. One because Lewis loves it, once because it’s convenient, one because they have the comfiest chairs, and one because they have my favorite chai latte EVER.

I hadn’t been the Best Chai coffee shop in a while. And today when I came in, I noticed some subtle, but distinct changes. I worked for a few hours, noting little things that seemed oddly familiar, but out of place.

Then I put the pieces together. I could be wrong, but I think Best Chai coffee shop is now under the management of Christians. I thought of other Christian coffee shops I’ve been to. [Note: Christian ministries often run coffee shops as an outreach. I’m all for it. Giving people a place to gather is humane and generous, and coffee shops have been that place since the Belle Epoch, maybe earlier.]

Coffee shop in DC
Coffee shop in DC

Christian coffee shops are warm and welcoming. They are also usually a haven for neuvopuritans and emergent types. Emergent is probably the dated term, I don’t know what the anti-establishment Christians are called now. I’m out of the biz, so I’m losing my jargon. But they are the Christians who are doin’ their own thang with Jesus. I like them lots.

So yes, I like other Christians and their coffee shops. But I show my love by caricaturing and gently mocking, as my family and closest friends will tell you (go ahead and tell me how not okay that is). If we can’t laugh with ourselves, we’re doomed, folks.

These were my clues that Best Chai had been Christianized:

1) There were more lovely, benign, sepia tinted pictures of Italy on the wall. Before Christian Management Best Chai was more…starkly contemporary. Christian establishments don’t like stark. They are okay with sleek, industrial, etc. They don’t like stark. I have no idea why. So they will usually add something universally pleasant to the otherwise minimalist decor. And for people who have never driven in Italy, ridden the bus in Rome, or paid for a bottled water at the Vatican, Italy is the very definition of “Universally Pleasant.”

By comparison, at Comfy Chair coffee shop, the art on the wall is borderline disturbing (I love it). Lewis’s Favorite coffee shop is stark. Convenient Coffee doesn’t have any art. They have a chalkboard.

Coffee shop in Austin
Coffee shop in Austin

2)  There was a child screaming and throwing herself around on the floor while her mother had what appeared to be a meaningful conversation 10 feet away, ignoring the amazing volume of her child’s screams. This only happens in places where mom’s feel like families are valued enough that she won’t be judged for the absolute din her child is creating.

Sorry lady. I love families. I love kids. But my thought was most definitely, “Um…deal with that, please. It’s making my unborn child twitchy.”

3)  There’s a big note proclaiming that they will be closed Dec 25- Jan 1 because they value family and community and they want their staff to be able to participate. Every coffee shop I’ve know to be run by Christians has had weird hours. They take care of their employees, so no one has to work the weird hours, like, say, 3-5 pm on a Sunday or 1-4 on a Tuesday. I have absolutely no problem with this. Except on December 28 when I want a cup of Best Chai.

4) There is a man with a voice far too loud to be appropriate in doors, with a salt of the earth accent talking to the baristas and the people in line with him. Again, clearly he feels confident that he is not being judged, and the baristas are not simply tolerating him. They are engaging and smiling at him. This is welcome behavior here. I have to put in my earbuds because things he is saying keep working their way into my emails.

“Dear Client,

Just wanted to let you know that your wife’s mother’s scone recipe will arrive as scheduled to your hotel in Witchita Falls on December 25th.”

My client will be thrilled, as he actually requested a bottle of scotch delivered to his hotel in Buenos Aires for his anniversary on January 5th. (the details of this statement have been altered slightly to protect my client’s confidentiality)

Coffee shop inside Cloud in London.
Coffee shop inside Cloud in London.

5) The playlist is something like this:

“When We Were Young”- Lumineers

“Little Lion Man” – Mumford and Sons

“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – Sufjan Stevens

“Timshel”- Mumford and Sons

“Brackett, WI”  – Bon Iver

Something else by Sufjan Stevens

“Big Parade” – Lumineers

“Hallelujah” – the Jeff Buckley version

“Awake my Soul”  Mumford and Sons

Something explicitly Christian that I’ve never heard before

Something by Derek Webb

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” – performed by the giant Hawaiian guy with the lovely voice.

And finally the entire Babel album.

First off, I have zero complaints. I like almost all of those songs. As my co-worker so aptly worded it, I’m into “folk revival” music. However, almost the whole playlist has this heavily emotive anthemic quality that ranges from the vaguely spiritual (Mumford) to the overtly Christian (Come Thou Fount is a hymn…like from a hymnal). Christians love that stuff! Give me something I can FEEL!!! Better yet, give me something I can analyze.  I’m not sure how the Lumineers and Bon  Iver ended up on the list, except that I have to assume that the list was made by someone with similar taste in music to me…and I would totally put them on the list.

6) The guy  working at the table next to me keeps referring to people on the phone as “Brother” and embraces both people who come to sit with him for a meeting. He’s also white and over 25. Very very white. Very over 25. The only white men I know who refer to each other as “brother” and openly embrace in public are employed by the church or in a fraternity. (no comment on the amazing similarity in some cases)

I must say that the presence of clergy is not an immediate sign that a place is managed by Christians. Clergy love coffee.

7) The barista is someone who once, in a former life, invited me to church.

So, here’s to you, Best Chai coffee shop, and your new Christian management. You’re doing a great job. It’s good to know that when I have a screaming two year old, there will still be somewhere for me to grab my favorite chai and a deep conversation.

Beer Journal: Local watering holes

Some people have wine journals. Liz James told me about beer journals. Mine will double as a travel journal. More than wine, when I travel, I find beer. Not haute beer. Everyman beer. Beer I can order in any restaurant. And these stories are not the stories of the most amazing places I’ve seen. They are about the times when I had a beer, and the people I was with.

These are our local watering holes.

The Friendly Spot - King William
The Friendly Spot – King William

Here is Lewis at the The Friendly Spot, which has apparently been around longer than I thought. It can be hard to find a seat, but when you do, it’s about as simple a place as ever did grace the hip side of town. And it is oh so hip.That’s why my bike helmet it here. Because we’re trying to be hip like the Southtowners.

We often meet our Southtown friends there.

I was particularly thrilled to see it mentioned in the biography of Ann Richards.

The Granary - Pearl
The Granary – Pearl

The brewmaster at The Granary went to high school with my sister, and the beer is worth a mention. The Root Beer is worth some sort of award.This flight of beers was shared with a group of Australian travel professionals visiting for a conference. More proof that Australians know how to have a good time.

The Granary is not a bar. It’s a restaurant, serving an elevated twist on Texas smoked meets and their accouterments. I, for one, am not a die-hard purist about Texas beer and bbq. People rail about the inherent evils of “high end” bbq and beer flights, but this is good food and good beer. What could be more purist than that?

The Esquire Tavern - Downtown/Riverwalk
The Esquire Tavern – Downtown/Riverwalk

There’s not any beer in the is picture, but Esquire Tavern is simultaneously 1) home to the longest bar in Texas, and 2) the only place downtowners go on the Riverwalk. History and relevance. Some other organizations I know of should take note. The food is all heavy duty, and the drinks are delicious. I’ve had more than one beer here.

On the night this picture was taken, I was with Liz James. We had just left a jazz concert and the Spurs were in the final round of the NBA championship. Liz is committing the crime of getting us to be very attached to her before she leaves us (probably for Boulder, like everyone else). But we’ll forgive her and have a few more beers before she’s gone.

The Luxury - River North
The Luxury – River North

We can reach The Luxury on our bikes, without peddling. We can leave our home, lift our feet, and roll the 7 blocks to this table right here.

You know  the beer in the picture is not actually mine because it’s opaque.

All seating is outside, and I love it. Large plastic animal toys substitute for numbers. In this picture, we are with our friends, the Sedgwicks who pointed out that Lewis’s pants match the saurolophus and the table. It’s cool to have people around who notice that sort of thing.

Blue Box - The Pearl
Blue Box – The Pearl

Blue Box has become a pretty common happy hour spot for me. It’s incredibly hard to find the first time, as there’s no sign out front, and it’s under the Pearl parking garage. But that doesn’t seem to stop it from filling up. People have a thing for places where you have to know. They serve fun cocktails and beer. These pictured were both recommendations of their incredibly knowledgeable head bar tender (who may be the owner, I’m not sure.)

I am here drinking with Haley, my primary happy hour companion for the last three-or-so years. Haley is that person who understands that some days happy hour needs to start at 2pm on a Tuesday, as well as the many reasons that someone might drink most of the bottle of wine in the course of a weeknight. Because, in the words of Haley, “I’m a grown-ass woman.”

Dallas or (Mega)bust! A play in 3 acts

Prologue: I consider myself a pretty intrepid traveler. I have yet to meet a mode of transportation I can’t endure.

Further, I’ve gotten pretty city-savvy. I enjoy making the most of the latest fad in transportation.

Mostly though, I’m a sucker for a good deal. I’m the girl who plans my vacations around flash sales.

So naturally, hearing that Megabus was coming to town was the kind of good news that could only be topped if RyanAir or EasyJet decided to hop the pond and start offering 15-cent flights to Los Angeles. I took the Megabus to Austin back in December for a lunch date, and it was perfect. On time, low-key, seat to myself, read the whole way. So I didn’t even hesitate to book a trip to Houston for Monday-Tuesday, and a trip to Dallas for Friday-Sunday last week.

Sitting in the parking lot of Katy Mills for an hour with no sign of the 7pm Megabus, I should have seen the writing on the wall. As I griped about the lack of communication, my gracious ride (who was waiting with me so that I could stay in an airconditioned car, instead of sitting on the pavement) said,

“Yeah, I’d pay at least $4 per trip if they would be on time.”

Right. You get what you pay for.

Tickets were already booked for Dallas though. So Haley (who, in all fairness, would never have hazarded such an obviously fallible plan had I not been so exuberant about Megabus) and I boarded in San Antonio at 4:30 pm, and headed for Dallas. You can read Haley’s account of the trip here.

Act One: Austin. Where after seeing a pretty convincing Chris Farley double…


we backed up right into the spot where he had been sitting, and felt an ominous bump. Followed by an announcement that we would be staying in Austin for an hour to address a “safety concern.”  They also told us to be back on the bus in one hour because they were leaving “regardless of whether or not we were on the bus.”

Though needlessly stern, that’s about as helpful as the Megabus people would be throughout the hours that followed. Also, we saw Chris Farley again, so I don’t know what the bump was, but it was not him.

We were in Austin, on Guadalupe street, though. I’ve been stranded worse places (Ljubljana, for instance). So we made the most of it and had Pho for dinner.



Better than organic funyuns and dried cherries, which was what I had packed. We also had two bottles of wine and no corkscrew. Little did we know by the end of the evening we’d be willing to claw through and drink whatever cork bits fell into the wine.

The bus left at precisely 7:20. I don’t know how I feel about that kind of punctuality. What kind of safety issue is resolved in exactly one hour as scheduled? How well can you really fix something in an hour? I mean, I was ready to get to Dallas, but I also believe in the importance of actually fixing things.

Because if you don’t, you end up exactly where we were 1.5 hours later.

Act Two: After crawling along in the predictable North Austin/Temple/Belton traffic jam, we realized that while the rest of traffic was speeding up, we were still going about 5-10 miles per hour. Cars whizzing by, efficiently making their way north. No announcement, no explanation.

One concerned passenger jumped up and rushed down the stairs to check on the driver.

“Well, he’s still alive.”

Suddenly, we sped up. A collective sigh of relief. But wait…we were just going down hill. Once the road leveled out, we slowed to a stop.

Still no word from the driver. It should be noted that Haley and I were giggling like idiots the whole time, because we were neither hungry nor alone, and so this was all very entertaining. (The people in the Group Messages are Haley, me, and Amanda Brack, whom I still have listed under her maiden last name…we’ve been friends for a while!)


Policeman #1 boarded the bus, asking us to please get off the highway. That’s when we got the first and only piece of true information we would get.  We peered down the stairwell, listening to the driver explain that our transmission was out. (the video Haley mentions is of this conversation)


Policeman #1 explained that there was another southbound Megabus a few miles ahead…also stranded. Then he left.

Policeman #2 appeared about five minutes later, and the scene repeated itself. This is also about the point when our chronical of the trip on social media started generating some worried phone calls and messages from friends.


“We’re going to die on this bus,” one particularly hopeless passenger said, as the clock neared 9:45.

“We’ve got wine!” Haley and I announced.

“It’s my 21st birthday at midnight!” another passenger exclaimed.

We felt like we’d saved the day. Even though we were still sitting on a bus on the side I-35, and no one from Megabus had spoken up to inform us of our fate.

Finally, another bus, Coach USA, pulled up, and we walked along the grass median to board the smaller vehicle.


Haley and I could not find seats together, which is when this conversation happened:


Act Three: The remaining 1.5 hours were uneventful. Over the course of the journey I listened to a confident young man tell his cute seatmate the following (which I relayed by text to Haley and Amanda).


He then went on to explain that he was classically trained, but just had a knack for rhythm. And he’s an amateur mechanic. “I don’t know, I’m just good at that kind of thing. I’m good with my hands.”

The cute girl relayed her woes of car trouble, and the confident fellow offered to take a look at her car for free when they were back in Austin.

I wanted to take the girl by the shoulders, shake her, and say, “If there is one thing you have learned from this trip: when it comes to transportation, you get what you pay for.”

Epilogue: Our return trip was 2 hours late presumably due to traffic…which is always present…but not accounted for in the eta. If you plan to take the Megabus between San Antonio and Austin, just be advised, it’s a seven hour trip. You could literally fly to Peru.

The Curious Urbanite learns about Bike Commuting

The best Christmas present I got last year was my Trek hybrid 7.1. I, as a curious urbanite, had long been envious of those hip, healthy people navigating traffic on their bicycles, faster than pedestrians and more agile than cars. Locking up the bike and waiting at the table while the rest of us circled downtown looking for parking.

Not to mention my growing concern about carbon emissions.

I knew how to ride a bike…but I wanted to use it as a mode of transportation. Not a vacation novelty.

Finally, equipped with my sturdy, versatile bicycle, I have been slowly venturing into the world of commuter biking, photographing the ways that riding has changed my surroundings.

1)  My question is no longer, “is there parking?” It’s “is there railing?”

IPhone photos feb272013 034 iPhone upload May 23 2013 072

iPhone upload May 23 2013 010

2) Without a place to lock it up, you have to just take it inside. If the establishment has a problem with it, they need to get a bike rack. We have a bike rack inside.

On the other hand, while you have to valet a car, you can coat check a bike.

iPhone Jan 22, 2013 032

3) Narrow stairwells + doors that open outward = problematic.

IPhone photos feb272013 035

4) I bought the most obnoxious helmet I could find, to compensate for my sensible bike.


5) There are definitely types of cyclists. You can guess which one I am (this is Lewis’s bike, but it illustrates a broader truth):

Yuppie bike

6) Unfortunately I got a flat tire once. Fortunately Lewis was around. Unfortunately he was in the Jeep. Fortunately we were  at the Pearl.

iPhone upload May 23 2013 015 iPhone upload May 23 2013 0167) And while it has solved many of my transit woes…riding a bike did little to alleviate the transit woe that is Fiesta.

iPhone upload May 23 2013 066

8) This is always sort of in flux, but really bike commuting changed how I believe tax dollars should be spent. I’m more aware of a lot of things: bad roads, incomplete removal of train tracks, bad drivers, smelly dumpsters, litter, dangerous intersections, and the dead-zones created by overpasses.

 It should be noted that my little reflective velcro strap that keeps my pant legs out of the gears was given to me by the MPO, who is in charge of all kinds of transportation…I mean, it says something when the people who’s salaries are paid by gas taxes are promoting biking. The people who look at transit alternatives all day.

Also, the MPO’s bike motto includes “Be Predictable.” I love when engineers take on marketing.



Fiesta Time!

Fiesta is here! Never mind that downtown is about to become an absurd gridlock of bleachers, confetti, and carnival food. I love this time of year!

I love color. I love revelry. I love living downtown.

Viva Fiesta!

Houston and Alamo
Houston and Alamo

The Fiesta Store on Main
On Broadway, heading into downtown

Little House on the Eastside gets dressed for the party!
Even Emma likes Fiesta


Wiley oversees "Natural Fiesta" in the back yard.
Wiley oversees “Natural Fiesta” in the back yard.

The Curious Urbanite Learns about School Choice

There’s a new pro-choice movement in town. Instead of clinics and doctors, this time it’s about schools and teachers. Particularly in areas with above average high school drop our rates, like inner-city San Antonio.  The curious urbanite will be curious about what this means for any children she needs to be educating in the future…

School choice is the term used to refer to a movement that includes everything from vouchers to homeschooling, as well as public charter schools. It is based on the assertion that parents who find themselves in failing schools should be given options to look elsewhere for their children’s education.

On March 26, Texas Senate Bill 2 is scheduled for public hearing. This bill will, among other things increases support for charter schools, including those not incorporated by the school districts in which they reside, like IDEA and KIPP. It will also establish a Charter Schools Authorizing Authority.

In advance of that hearing, Texans Deserve Great Schools held a press conference on March 22 at IDEA Carver, formerly The Carver Academy, on Hackberry Street.

Speaking at the press conference was Sen. Dan Patrick, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, author of the TX SB 2, and advocate of school choice.

Perhaps the strongest argument for school choice, one made by Patrick, is that it has always existed for those wealthy enough for private school and mobile enough to shift school districts. However, for those bound by income and geography to struggling school districts, there is little that they can do, however much they might want more opportunity for their child.

Texas Senator Dan Patrick at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation
Texas Senator Dan Patrick at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation

“Just because you are poor, in the valley, or in the inner city doesn’t mean you don’t care about your child…” Patrick said. He also pointed out that it was misguided to think that one educational approach would work for 5 million students saying, “Anyone who has more than one child knows that in the same family with the same upbringing, children learn differently.”

A key element of school choice, the one addressed by TX SB 2 is the availablility of charter schools.

“There are some that resist innovation, transparency, and rigor,” he said. Which is what Texans Deserves Great Schools proposes to bring to table.

He argued that with 5 million students in public schools, the idea that charter schools represent a serious threat to public school enrollment (and funding) is simply unrealistic. Right now, with approximately 150,000 students enrolled, charter schools account for the smallest portion of the pupil share in the state.  With and 80,000/year growth rate, it is likely that 95% of all Texas students will continue to be enrolled in public schools.

Victoria Branton Rico at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation
Victoria Branton Rico at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation

Patrick, along with Victoria Branton Rico, Chairwoman of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, made the case that adding options for families and students would not hurt existing public schools. On the contrary, they cited research showing how competition strengthens public school performance, which only bodes well for public school funding.

“Being pro-charter is not being anti-public schools,” Patrick said.

Branton Rico reiterated some of the challenges facing public schools, and celebrated advances in research that have allowed policy to move forward addressing the issues.

“A few years ago this was a policy dead end,” she said, going on to reference studies by MIT, Harvard, and others about the effectiveness of the high performing charter schools. The most compelling statistic being that students in charter schools receive an average of four more years of education than students in traditional public schools – which basically means that their drop-out rate is drastically lower. Dropping out of high school has a high statistical correlation to going to prison, Branton Rico pointed out.

Branton Rico highlighted Texans Deserve Great School’s four core principles to transform Texas schools (more in-depth explanations of the policies can be found here):

1) Implement proven education technologies and teaching innovation – these include blended learning, online classes, vocational training classes, allowing students to test for credit in classes without “seat time,” and innovation waivers for schools looking to pilot new program.

2) Make high-performing school options available to every Texas family – most notably by removing the cap on charter schools, allowing families to choose any public school they wish (while giving priority to the school’s local residents when a school reaches capacity), equitable funding and facility access for charter and traditional public schools, and increasing principals’ control over vital areas that affect campus effectiveness and efficiency.

3) Invest in the best teachers and teaching policies to improve student learning – which would increase rigor and flexibility on everything from teacher training, to pay-scales, to giving teachers full use of the grading scale (even zero) to evaluate student work.

4) Integrate an emergency, expedited fix for any failing Texas public school – the main point of which is to allow for more accessible ratings (such as an A-F scale) and swifter intervention for failing schools.

The final speaker at the press conference was Rolando Posada, executive director of San Antonio IDEA public schools.

Rolando Posada at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation
Rolando Posada at a press conference on Policy Recommendations for Texas Education System Transformation

He heralded a 100% increase in IDEA schools in Texas over the next five years, from 28 to 56, which proposes to increase college graduates in Central Texas and the Rio Grande Valley by 50%.

“Solving the education problem means that we are creating people who can solve the other problems our country faces,” Posada said.

IDEA embraces blended learning and the other innovative techniques promoted by Texans Deserve Great Schools. He referred to his students as young readers and mathematicians, emphasizing their potential to achieve.

“We focus on character, and acheivement remarkable and naturally follows,” Posada said.

He went on to praise the efforts of Sen. Patrick for moving past lip service and into action saying, “The time has come to replace cliche’s with actual transformation.”

For those seeking transformation on both sides of the school choice movement, TX SB 2 will be important to watch.