Sometimes kids just don’t want to leave school – at least, that’s what Clint Riley says of the students attending the Texas Center for Arts and Academics (TXCAA). The president and CEO of the educational organization that runs the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and the Texas School of the Arts says students are heavily involved in the schools’ music, theater, dance and visual arts programs, spending at least two hours in the arts each day. The mother of one student who does behind-the-scenes work for the theater department once said her daughter enjoys the program so much, it’s hard to tell her it’s time to go home, Riley said.
“We do have to kind of kick them out sometimes,” he said.
There’s just one problem – the program is short on space. The current enrollment is about 570 students at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and about 330 students at Texas School of the Arts, with wait lists reaching the hundreds.
“In all our programs, we have extensive wait lists,” he said. “There’s a high demand in our community for this type of program and a specialized mission to serve both the academic needs of a family, but also the creative instincts that most children have.”
So TXCAA is making plans to expand the Texas School of the Arts. After completing a strategic plan last summer, the organization is talking with local chambers of commerce and other community members to gather support, as well as looking at options for additional space. Currently the plan is to partner with other schools or churches and rent out its facilities for the use of TXCAA. The organization plans to open one expanded program by fall 2018 and another in fall 2019.
But along the way, there are a lot of logistics to take care of, Riley said. TXCAA is working to figure out the ideal size of its expansion, look at possible facilities to use and create a financial model for the project.
Since both the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and the Texas School of the Arts are charter schools and don’t receive as much funding as public schools do (Riley says public schools typically receive about $1,400 more per student), Riley says TXCAA also needs people who can “champion the cause.”
“The demand is high, but we still need good community partners because we don’t get the same type of funding for facilities and things that traditional public schools do,” he said.
There’s a lot of work to do, but Riley says he’s excited to see where TXCAA is headed. The program started about 71 years ago in North Texas as the Texas Boys Choir, later expanding to become a school that specializes in both arts and academics, open to boys and girls. Today, the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts serves grades 3-12, and the Texas School of the Arts serves kindergarten through sixth grade. Students audition to get in and are placed in programs that integrate the arts with academic subjects like math and science.
“We engage their passions in order to engage them in the classroom,” Riley said. “By finding the things that appeal to them, and that typically is arts for our students, we’re able to make connections and contextualize the rest of what we do.”
It’s a concept that, for some students, makes school a bit more fun, Riley said.
“My passion growing up was the arts,” he said. “If I had a school experience like this available to me, it would’ve been right up my alley. For me, to create this space for students, it’s very powerful and very exciting.”