The Texas Public Charter Schools Association, which represents 180 charter districts and more than 700 campuses, today announced the organization’s Education Advocates of the Year. The awards honor parents, teachers, and school leaders who are leading the charge toward a stronger public education system for all Texas students.
TPCSA unveiled the winners as part of National Charter Schools Week, a celebration of the high-performing, tuition-free public schools that have changed the landscape of public education across the nation. In Texas, public charter schools educate approximately 337,000 students -- a majority of whom have been traditionally underserved -- and employ 20,000 educators.
Governor Greg Abbott recently proclaimed the week of May 9 to May 15 as National Charter Schools Week in Texas. He wrote: “Texans know that every child has unique gifts and talents, and that they should each have access to the education of the highest quality.” TPCSA honored three advocates who are working tirelessly to make that vision a reality:
Parent Advocate of the Year: Gregory Harrington
Gregory Harrington is a champion for the diverse needs of schools and families in Central Texas. He serves on the advisory board for Harmony Science Academy, a public charter school district, as well as the Strategic Planning Committee of Pflugerville ISD. His daughter Madison is a fourth grader at Harmony School of Science in Austin.
Mr. Harrington founded the Back to School Parade, a celebration and fundraiser that has supplied thousands of students with backpacks full of school supplies since 2008. He is also a leader and past president of the Austin Alumni Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, a role Mr. Harrington has used to broaden awareness of STEM fields for local students.
He regularly meets with lawmakers on behalf of Central Texas parents and has recently testified before the House Public Education Committee and the State Board of Education. As a member of the Texas Charter Parent Council, Mr. Harrington motivates his fellow parents to speak out -- including by addressing hundreds of attendees at the TPCSA Parent Pep Rally earlier this year.
Harrington advocates because he understands firsthand the value of different kinds of opportunities within the public education system. He believes in the impact of parents' stories on lawmakers and wants to make sure more of those stories are told. "One thing that I’ve noticed is that the opposition is present and accounted for... and they are getting the attention of the policymakers. I also noticed that families who have lots to lose if charter schools are hindered or closed or stifled in success … are NOT 'making noise' to support the charter schools that our children and families are benefitting from."
Teacher Advocate of the Year: Judy Moore
Judy Moore, a middle school teacher at Austin Achieve Public Schools, isn't just helping the students in her classroom excel. She's also helping other educators get involved in Texas education policy and speak out for their students.
Moore serves as a coach and mentor to Central Texas fellows in the Teacher Advocacy Leadership Institute. She helps them share their experiences and priorities with local and state lawmakers. Earlier this year, Ms. Moore helped organize a virtual Teacher Rally, helping to facilitate dialogue among hundreds of educators statewide.
The threats facing Texas public charter schools drive Judy in her advocacy. "One thing that sparks my passion is when things are unfair. I could not be content in my role as a teacher, looking my scholars in the face everyday, knowing that opportunities and access to high-quality education for them and 50,000 others is being withheld -- and not just withheld, but threatened with policies that restrict the liberties we currently have."
As a first-generation college graduate, Ms. Moore understands the power of public education in unlocking students' potential -- and the power of teacher voices in leading communities forward. After the pandemic began, Ms. Moore and her students met virtually with a state lawmaker. She has also been featured in media outlets such as Reform Austin, where she explained how she and her colleagues were adapting to virtual instruction.
School Leader Advocate of the Year: Dr. Narciso Garcia
Dr. Narciso Garcia is the superintendent of Vanguard Academy Charter Schools, a district whose seven campuses near the US-Mexico border are among the highest-performing in all of Texas.
"Charter schools like Vanguard Academy get to work collaboratively with parents to make sure ALL students and young people get out of poverty," Dr. Garcia said. "We place children, young people, and families first."
Dr. Garcia is a champion for creativity and excellence in education -- the kind that helps traditionally underserved students thrive in college and access skilled, high-paying jobs. Vanguard’s blended learning approach to math has been so successful that the Texas Education Agency awarded the district a Math Innovation Zone grant.
This legislative session, Garcia spearheaded a bill -- passed recently by both chambers of the Texas Legislature -- that would give charter schools access to the Jobs & Education for Texans (JET) grant program, which funds equipment for career and technical education courses.
Vanguard also serves its community. The schools have distributed hundreds of thousands of meals since the pandemic began in March 2020 to local families, forming partnerships with the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and H-E-B. The City of Pharr recently honored Dr. Garcia as "Citizen of the Year."