College leases Koehler grounds as playground

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Fifth grade students from Great Hearts Monte Vista play during recess today at Koehler. Teacher Rose Sweeney said the school has a deal with this college to use the playground. Photo by Neven Jones

Fifth grade students from Great Hearts Monte Vista play during recess today at Koehler. Teacher Rose Sweeney said the school has a deal with this college to use the playground. Photo by Neven Jones

Charter school pays $9,000 a year to use Koehler grounds for recess.

By Nathalie Mora

Members of the college community leaving the campus in mid-afternoon may have noticed increased traffic along Belknap and Courtland places.

Midday, some might have noticed the daily presence of elementary school children on the grounds of the turn-of-the-century Koehler Cultural Center, 310 W Ashby Place.

Lines of parents are waiting to pick up their children from a charter school housed in the facilities of Temple Beth-el at Ashby and Belknap places.

The Koehler grounds are serving as a playground for recess.

David Mrizek, vice president of college services, said Great Hearts Monte Vista has been leasing the grounds from this college since August.

“A total of $9,000 is paid to the college for a full school year,” Mrizek said.

That money goes directly to a Koehler account and the money is used to maintain the house grounds, according to Mrizek’s office.

Great Hearts also leases all of the classrooms at Temple Beth-El to operate as a public charter school, said Andrea Perez, the school’s office manager.

Great Hearts will be neighbors of this college for at least the next five years when the lease ends in 2019.

The first group of students begins recess at 10 a.m. and the last at 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, Perez said.

About 75 students are in the playground at a time with supervision of at least three teachers, Perez said.

The grounds offer no playground equipment, but the teachers bring out balls for the students, who also like to run around the large, grassy slope.

Students from this college are allowed to be on the Koehler grounds while students from Great Hearts are having recess, but they are not allowed to interact with each other.

“We have to follow certain state laws that require us to keep the kids separate from visitors unless they’ve had their IDs scanned.” Perez said. “But SAC students are welcomed to sit in the area.”

Perez said they haven’t experienced any problems.

“Students have always kept a respectable distance from the kids,” Perez said. “It’s been a great experience so far.”

Perez said campus police have only been called once when teachers found raccoons in the fountains.

“SAC police were very fast to respond to that call,” she said.

If a child happened to be injured during recess on the Koehler grounds, Great Hearts’ insurance would be responsible for any medical coverage, Perez said.

Great Hearts Monte Vista is a public, independently operated charter school for kindergarten through ninth grade.

Kinder through fifth grades are taught at Temple Beth-el, and grades sixth through ninth are taught at Trinity Baptist Church, 319 E. Mulberry Ave.

These two operations are the first in Texas from the Great Heart charter school program established in Arizona.

“Every year, we’ll be adding a grade, so next year we’ll be teaching 10th grade at Trinity Baptist Church,” she said.

The space leased at Temple Beth-el is the first campus in Texas, and two more campuses are expected to be established by next year, Perez said.

Great Heart has 408 students enrolled adjacent to this campus and 166 students housed at Trinity Baptist Church.

Great Hearts employs a blind lottery process for admission, Perez said.

The school typically receives eight to 10 applications for every available spot, she said.

Great Hearts originated in the Phoenix metropolitan area 12 years ago.

Since then it has established 15 schools with over 6,500 students in grades K-12 and plans to open up to 17 schools in Texas, according to

The charter school is not the college’s first cooperative agreement with its neighbors.

The college and the temple share use of Lots 1 and 2. Weekdays the college has access, and on weekends, high holy days and for funerals, Lot 1 is restricted for temple use.


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