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ResponsiveEd brings classical education to underserved communities in Dallas

DALLAS, TEXAS, Aug. 27, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- On August 24, 580 students arrived for the first day of classes at two new Responsive Education Solutions (ResponsiveEd) classical schools in east Dallas.

The two new Founders Classical Academies campuses, run in partnership with Hillsdale College, serve primarily low income, Spanish-speaking communities in east Dallas and Mesquite. ResponsiveEd has invested nearly $300,000 launching the two schools in areas where on average 90 percent of the students are considered low income.

Scott Davis, ResponsiveEd's national director of classical schools, believes offering classical schools in the Dallas and Mesquite community is important.

"While we know we will face new challenges, a rigorous classical education is not just for a certain group of kids. The classical education has proven itself through history, and we believe every family should have the choice available regardless of socio-economic or language background," said Davis.

The Dallas schools in the area around of the Founders Classical Academy in Dallas report an average 96 percent economically disadvantaged and 43 percent English Language Learners (ELL) in their 2013-2014 Texas Education Agency (TEA) report card. In Mesquite, the neighboring schools reported an average of 85 percent economically disadvantaged and 26 percent ELL students in their 2013-2014 TEA report card. This places both new schools in a demographic above the state and district percentages in both categories.

The Founders Classical Academies are the result of collaboration between ResponsiveEd and Hillsdale College's Barney Charter School Initiative. Through this initiative, Hillsdale, a liberal arts college in Michigan, supports the launch of K-12 classical schools across the country. ResponsiveEd is Hillsdale's largest partner.

Director of the Barney Charter School Initiative Phillip Kilgore said making a classical education accessible to all families is essential to fostering responsible citizens.

"The idea is that a classical education is the kind of education needed by the citizenry of a republic if that republic is to function properly. Classics focus on what it means to be a good and educated human being and what it means to be a free person, someone who understands their liberty as well as their responsibilities," said Kilgore.

John Heitzenrater and Shannon Nason, the headmasters at Founders Classical Academies in Mesquite and Dallas, both believe a classical education grounds students in history and a universal understanding of what it means to be human.

"Classical education is really about mastering core things that every person should know and understand. Our students should be learning about our common tradition, whether they are a native English speaker or a Spanish speaker," said Heitzenrater.

Nason and Heitzenrater have spent the summer devising procedures and structures that will help their Spanish-speaking students and families transition into the new schools.

Nason says two primary challenges that keep him up at night: helping students adjust to the rigors of classical education and the large number of students for whom English is not their first language.

Regardless of their student's first language, Nason and Heitzenrater are determined to ensure each student receives a classical education with history, Latin, explicit Riggs phonics and the arts.

"My students have always thrived in a classical environment and I believe my students in east Dallas are no different. Whether they speak English or Spanish at home, they will benefit from the education and focused attention of our teachers," said Heitzenrater.

Classical education also emphasizes discipline and order. While Nason has been drafting policies, he plans to be flexible as they learn what works best.

Heitzenrater said that the discipline in the school is part of forming virtuous character. "Discipline should never be demoralizing, but it should always aid in virtue. You can correct a child and show them what they have done is wrong, and then show them what virtue should have been present," he said.

Nason and Heitzenrater are confident that their diverse staff will aid in success of the venture. The staff is a combination of seasoned public school teachers with teachers from classical backgrounds. All of the teachers are receiving extensive training to help them understand the purpose and background of classical education as well as practices for teaching their specific classes.

"All of them are very excited for this new venture. The idea of being part of a founding year has really excited all of my teachers. They recognize the importance of what we are doing and the challenges involved," said Nason.

The focus of a classical education expands beyond test scores, but measuring student advancement is the important for assessing the progress of the schools. The schools will be implementing Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress (MAPP) tests to track student advancement in key areas assessed by the STAAR test.

"While we will be using the MAPP tests to track our students' growth, we won't sacrifice history, science, the arts and character development. We focus first on the educating the whole person and believe the statistics will follow. We hope to see this verified in our MAPP results," said Davis.

CONTACT: Bridget Weisenburger Communications Coordinator ResponsiveEd Lewisville, TX 972-316-3663 x 290Source: Responsive Ed/Responsive Education Solutions