Live Oak Leadership Academy, which has a campus in Marble Falls, follows a teaching philosophy focused on project-based learning and collaboration among students. Courtesy photos
With 25 years in public education, including a stint as a superintendent, Amy Jacobs saw when students learned the best and grew the most. She took that knowledge and created a private school based on it: Live Oak Leadership Academy, which has campuses in Marble Falls and Dripping Springs.
“It’s a model school that teaches students the skills they need through the activities they enjoy,” Jacobs said.
The Marble Falls campus, which opened in fall 2020, currently offers first though fifth grades, while the Dripping Springs site offers kindergarten through sixth grade. The plan is to expand both campuses through the eighth grade, but not beyond. LOLA staff will help families connect with a high school campus.
Along with providing a learning environment for students, LOLA and the nonprofit under which it operates, Hill Country Educational Leadership, lets educators from across the state see best practices in action. This year, HCEL will host teacher training programs to share what LOLA does. Educators will observe the academy’s classes, students, and teachers and take what they learn back to their own schools.
LOLA is not in competition with public schools, Jacobs said. In fact, with more than two decades in public education, she is an advocate for it.
The academy limits student enrollment to 2-3 percent of the school district in which the campus is located and follows Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the same standards public schools utilize. The difference is in how LOLA students master the TEKS.
Jacobs served as the Coahoma Independent School District superintendent from 2012-19. Before that, she was at Marble Falls ISD for 11 years, including a stint as assistant superintendent.
“When I was superintendent at Coahoma, we instituted a program that was very hands-on, and it changed the trajectory of the kids and the school,” Jacobs said.
The concept used project-based learning, problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking spread across the curriculum. This type of learning is more commonly found on the high school level, especially in career, technical, science, and technology classes.
Jacobs and her staff focus on the four Cs of 21st century learning: communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.
“As we go through the TEKS, we look through it with the lens of those four things,” she said.
LOLA’s classes, which cover the gamut of traditional elementary learning, don’t operate independently of each other. The teachers incorporate the various areas of study across the board. So during math, students might use literacy and writing skills as they work through problems. If they’re studying history, the teacher might use art to teach a topic.
Students also collaborate with each other.
“It’s very much like an adult job in a school setting,” Jacobs explained. “When you’re at work, you don’t just use one skill but utilize several. And you’re often working with several people on a project or a team.
“We attach everything to real world situations,” she added.
LOLA also offers a number of elective courses, including robotics, yoga, Spanish, coding, financial literacy, and community service.
“We continue to teach all the basic skills throughout the elective classes,” Jacobs said. “Everything is integrated. What we have found is when learning isn’t a chore and it’s connected to something they enjoy, we see them show a lot of (academic) growth.”
LOLA’s mission is to teach students skills they can use throughout life.
“Instead of training them to be students, we are guiding them to be citizens,” Jacobs said.