Aristoi: A History
Aristoi Classical Academy in Katy, Texas is a first-generation public charter school. The school opened in 1996 as West Houston Charter School, with an emphasis on fine arts. By 2006, the school’s Kindergarten through 8th-grade enrollment was well under 200 and falling. After careful deliberation, the school’s board of directors voted to transition to a classical school model, an educational option previously available only in area private schools. Enrollment began to increase immediately as new families recognized the value of a tuition-free classical education.
In 2010, the K-8th-grade charter school was renamed Aristoi Classical Academy. “Aristoi” is a Greek term which means, “the best, noble character, and a right nature.” The school’s mission is to provide students with an academically challenging Classical Liberal Arts education that encourages them to develop a passion for learning and that gives them the means to become responsible citizens of virtuous character. Aristoi’s aim, to develop each student’s heart and intellect through the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, makes it an extraordinary educational option.
Aristoi uses “the trivium” to organize the stages of learning based on a child’s natural stages of intellectual development. The grammar stage (K-4th grades) provides a thorough foundation in phonics, spelling, grammar, literature, vocabulary, history, biology, and basic mathematics. The logic stage (5th-8th grades) focuses on higher mathematics and the application of logic to all subjects (e.g., paragraph construction, thesis writing, textual analyses, the scientific method, and historical questions). In addition, beginning skills in logical argument and debate are fostered in this stage. In the rhetoric stage (9th-12th grades), students learn to write at a collegiate level, speak eloquently, and defend original ideas. Public speaking becomes second nature. Seniors present and defend a thesis prior to graduation.
This open-enrollment charter school has become enormously popular in the Katy community. In 2014, the school opened its first high school class with the addition of 9th grade. In 2018, the school celebrated its first graduating class. Aristoi is serving over 900 students in the 2018-19 school year.
Aristoi’s high school students outperformed other Texas students on the STAAR English I and II exams and the U.S. History EOC exam. 100% of Aristoi students met standards on the U.S. History exam, compared to 72% statewide, with 80% of Aristoi students achieving mastery compared to 42% statewide. On a national level, the PSAT/NMSQT test was administered to juniors in the fall of 2017. Aristoi’s juniors’ average score was 1134, over 150 points above the state average. According to The College Board, juniors across the state scored an average of 963 out of a possible 1600 on the test.
In 2017, the school outgrew its original small campus in historic Katy. Aristoi moved the 5th-12th-grade students to its new 22-acre campus just north of the Elementary School at 5610 Morton Road (Katy). The first phase of the new campus construction was completed in early 2018 and includes a multipurpose facility with a gymnasium, stage, offices, restrooms, locker rooms, an adjacent kitchen and service area, and three modular buildings with space for twelve classrooms each. The construction of an athletic field on the northeast corner of the property will begin this fall. When complete, the field will be used for Aristoi’s flag football and soccer teams.
Limitations of charter school funding create financial challenges that traditional public schools do not face. For example, charter schools receive less funding per student from the state-funded allotment. In addition, charters are ineligible to raise local tax revenue, which is the source of facilities funding for most traditional school districts. With all funding taken into account, Aristoi has received about $3000 less per student than local school districts in recent years. Thus, ACA must rely on philanthropic support in its ambitious efforts to provide children in Katy and West Houston with an excellent classical education in a suitable learning environment.