On February 24, 2016, at the annual IDEA Public Schools San Antonio luncheon, school leaders presented San Antonio Mayor Ivy R. Taylor with the Closing the Achievement Gap Award. Mayor Taylor’s vision and attention to detail have helped Rio Grande Valley-based IDEA Public Schools to grow rapidly in San Antonio, starting in 2012 with one campus, IDEA Carver—where Taylor’s daughter, Morgan, went to elementary school.
The IDEA Carver campus was donated by legendary San Antonio Spurs player David Robinson, who now serves on IDEA Public Schools’ San Antonio regional board. Robinson’s leadership has inspired other community members to give generously to IDEA Public Schools. In the near future, new IDEA campuses will be named in honor of the Mays family (opening August 2016), as well as the Najim family, the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, and the Ewing Halsell Foundation (all opening August 2017). IDEA Public Schools in the San Antonio region will grow to 14 schools in 2016–17, including seven Academy schools (for grades K–5) and seven College Prep schools (for grades 6–12). In 2016–17, IDEA Carver will serve students from Kindergarten all the way up to 10th grade.
The luncheon celebrated these leaders’ generosity by focusing on the students who benefit from a great education. IDEA Public Schools serve a population of students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to go to college. More than 90 percent of the students Hispanic; one third of them are still becoming proficient in speaking, reading, and writing in English. Nevertheless, IDEA Public Schools’ graduating seniors have achieved 100 percent college acceptance for 10 consecutive years.
A group of ambassadors, led by Nathan Hinojosa, an eighth-grader at IDEA South Flores, welcomed guests to the luncheon and led the Pledge of Allegiance. But the highlight of the luncheon was hearing from Abcde Martinez, a ninth-grade student at IDEA Carver College Prep. (Yes, Abcde is a lovely girls’ name, pronounced “AHB-suh-dee.”)
Abcde’s father attended the luncheon, too. I happened to be sitting at the same table with him, so I could see the love, pride, and respect on his face as his daughter thanked him for enrolling her at IDEA Public Schools. She said she was not being challenged at her neighborhood school, and she resisted the change to a new school. In hindsight, she said, “attending IDEA Public Schools is the best thing that has happened to me.”
Abcde’s father gave her the gift of high expectations. She is working hard, learning a lot, and will be ready for college when she graduates. That’s the kind of effort it takes to close the achievement gap.
Tom Torkelson, founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools, talked about what it was like having Taylor, then a San Antonio city council member, as an IDEA Carver parent. He described Taylor as a “discerning consumer of education” and learned to expect to see her caller ID on his phone, telling him about an issue that needed to be addressed. Taylor and her husband, Rodney, hosted Torkelson for dinner at their home. Even now that Morgan goes to a different charter school, Torkelson still gets calls from Taylor wanting to talk about IDEA Carver, since it is in Taylor’s neighborhood and she wants the best for her community. As Torkelson said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
The San Antonio education landscape has come a long way since 2012. Torkelson noted that San Antonio is now known as an epicenter of new school growth, and other cities in Texas and beyond want to emulate what San Antonio is doing.
Keynote speaker George P. Bush currently serves as Texas Land Commissioner, but is involved in education issues. Bush taught high school in Florida and has served on a charter school board in the Fort Worth area. He believes that every child deserves a chance, regardless of their income, race or ethnicity, or language. It’s not a zero sum game between different types of schools; as Bush put it, “The only scorecard is our children.”
Taylor supports IDEA Public School because it raises the bar: “We are still dealing with the soft bigotry of low expectations in our schools.” IDEA Public Schools San Antonio Executive Director Rolando Posada put it a different way: “We want to keep kids out of orange jumpsuits and get them into caps and gowns.” (Posada’s shared his personal journey at a School Choice Week event.)
In a video tribute to Taylor, IDEA Monterrey Park College Prep Principal Curtis Lawrence shared a story about a middle school student who was years behind in reading and math, but gained years of learning in one year at IDEA. That’s the kind of learning that Abcde’s father wanted for her. Spread across the city and the region, that kind of change will close the achievement gap for a generation of students. Learn about how to enroll your child at IDEA Public Schools and how to support the IDEA Public School goal of college for all children.