The first week in November was my second anniversary of employment at the Texas Charter Schools Association. As the only full-time staff member in the Marketing “department”, I often joke that I am chained to my very messy desk. Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful to have meaningful work, and the view from my window is quite lovely. Unfortunately, this also means that I have limited time to spend “in the field” visiting with all of you and seeing the success of our charter students first hand inside your classrooms.
Over the past two years, I have had an opportunity to visit schools in Austin, Houston and San Antonio but had yet to make a trip to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. When not one, but two, charter events came up in Dallas on the same day, I jumped at the chance to accompany Denise Pierce, VP of Member Services, to double down in the Big D.
Our intentions were to fly in early to allow plenty of time to travel to a luncheon downtown hosted by Uplift Education. However, finding ourselves sitting in the Hertz lot at 9am with no immediate plans, we quickly began making presumptuous inquiries to nearby schools as to whether we could squeeze in a few campus tours before lunch. And, even though we know she was very busy finalizing Uplift’s lunch programs, Rosemary Perlmeter graciously arranged for a last minute visit at Williams Preparatory.
So, off we went, arriving unannounced a short time later at a totally different Uplift campus. A quick call to Rosemary confirmed that we had mistakenly entered the wrong address into our GPS and our current satellite location placed us at the North Hills Preparatory campus.
Undaunted, we upended the morning of another unsuspecting member of Uplift’s staff with our request for an impromptu tour. Maggie Stirton, Director’s Assistant, gave us an amazing look around and introduced us to the International Baccalaureate program that was to become the theme for the day (more on that later). We were most impressed with the student greeters in each classroom who shook our hands, welcomed us to their class and told us what they were currently studying.
Realizing that we were running short on time but not wanting to miss the opportunity to visit Williams Prep, we rushed over to the school – and we were so glad we did! KC Cox, Director of Operations, introduced us to a cafeteria full of enthusiastic students followed by a tour of the campus by two of their best students, Sharon Flores and Cecilia Garza. College was clearly the goal here and the young ladies were looking forward to visiting potential universities in Atlanta at the end of the school year.
We arrived just in time for the Uplift lunch held at the new Omni hotel in downtown Dallas. The announcement of Uplift’s intentions to open four schools and enroll 13,000 additional students by 2015 was made jointly at separate luncheons – one in Dallas and one in Fort Worth – and simulcast via video from both cities. Again, we were struck by the audacious spirit of the Uplift students we met. The high school student that thanked us for coming made sure to tell us her plans to become the first in her family to attend college, specifically, Yale University.
Next, we headed over to St. Anthony School where Laquise Bennett showed us their campus, introduced us to her staff, and proudly told us of their recent increase in enrollment. Another charter participating in the International Baccalaureate program, we saw similar evidence of the IB’s “recognizable common educational framework” at St. Anthony. The media room – a requirement of IB – incorporated the IB’s value system within their rapidly growing collection of books and media.
Finally, Denise and I made our way north to an empty field in McKinney, Texas. A tent, stage and mound of dirt with a row of shiny shovels marked the spot where the new Imagine Academy International of North Texas would soon be built. The weather had turned cold with a bitter wind but the collective enthusiasm of those who had worked for many years to bring an IB program to North Texas warmed our spirits. Active supporters came from as far as Florida and Ohio and included builders, bankers, board members, and politicians. State Representative Ken Paxton (R), McKinney, read a resolution from the State of Texas congratulating Imagine Academy on their achievement of breaking ground for the new charter school.
I’m so pleased that our “two event trip” evolved into so much more. Although unintentional, the deep dive into the International Baccalaureate program clearly exemplified consistent positive themes across grade levels and charters. It was evident at all the schools we visited that the values and ideals of the IB program encouraged the students we met to “develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.” Now, with new charter schools in Fort Worth (Uplift Education) and McKinney (Imagine Academy International), even more students will have the opportunity to benefit from the IB program and be prepared to achieve at the college or university of their choice (even Yale!).
Back at my desk now (it’s still a total mess), I am reenergized and inspired by the good work happening in charters in Dallas and Fort Worth. I look forward to continuing to support your missions from my post in Austin and to breaking my metaphorical chain to spend time with each of you at your schools in the upcoming year.