Choose to Succeed is an organization dedicated to expanding the opportunities for students in San Antonio to attend high quality charter schools. Since 2012, they have made grants and served as an advisor and ally to help successful charter schools to grow and to plant promising new charter schools. I’ve had a front row seat to this adventure, as a friend and, since 2017, as the manager of a grantee organization, San Antonio Charter Moms. Because I’ve been so close to the work, I have not taken enough time to share with the Charter Moms community about the work that Choose to Succeed is doing. Since their founding, they have dramatically increased the number of students attending high performing charter schools in San Antonio, and they continue to grow and attract exciting new schools.
High Quality Education
Working with a limited amount of resources, what can a dedicated group of philanthropists do to improve the quality of education in San Antonio? If the goal is to have a workforce with higher educational attainment—more college degrees and career certifications—then what intervention would make the most difference? Looking at studies like a 2011 Mathematica paper looking at the first national randomized study of the impacts of charter schools on student achievement, a group of leaders came together in 2012 to form Choose to Succeed with a strategy of attracting high-performing charter schools to San Antonio.
The initial group of partner schools included BASIS Charter Schools, Great Hearts Texas, IDEA Public Schools, and KIPP Texas—San Antonio. The number of students served by this set of schools grew from 800 students to over 25,500 for the 2019-2020 school year. Choose to Succeed has added more schools to its portfolio, including Compass Rose Public Schools, Promesa Academy Charter School, School of Science and Technology, The Gathering Place, and San Antonio Preparatory Community School. By the 2026–27 school year, this group will serve over 60,000 students.
The Choose to Succeed portfolio schools are showing impressive results. Among the seven rated districts in the portfolio, six are outperforming the vast majority of Bexar County districts. 29 out of 37 rated schools are A or B campuses.
A Future of Excellence
At a recent downtown gathering—outdoors and socially distanced—the new CEO of Choose to Succeed, Tom Torkelson, spoke to a group of leaders and founders of established, new, and proposed charter schools. Tom called them “freedom fighters” because they are working to offer a high quality education to every student in San Antonio, not just the ones whose families can afford to move to the suburbs or pay tuition.
Choose to Succeed wants to keep adding promising new charter schools to its portfolio. The meeting included leaders of soon-to-open schools like Royal Public Schools and Prelude Prep. Also present were the four members of City Education Partners School Launch Fellowship and a BES Fellow. Tom explained how it’s important to listen to what the community wants and to bring those kinds of schools to San Antonio—either by incubating new school leaders or by attracting successful charter schools from outside of San Antonio.
Tom encouraged the high performing charter schools to work as a team, whether for training and recruiting talented teachers and principals, or getting the word out to families that these schools can get their kids ready for college. As this graph shows, high performing charter schools are offering something different and better.
Since 2012, the education landscape in San Antonio has changed dramatically. When I was doing a school search for my young son in 2011, the options for high performing charter elementary schools were limited. We enrolled him in a private preschool, then PPCD at a highly rated ISD, and homeschooled for a year. Eventually, my son was waitlisted at Great Hearts Monte Vista before being admitted in August 2014.
Now, families have more abundant high quality charter school options. They are more likely to find good charter schools near their neighborhoods, and be able to apply to multiple schools to reduce the chance of being waitlisted and receiving no offers. The challenge is helping families make informed choices among all these options, which is why San Antonio Charter Moms offers a school guide, an app, and a discussion group on Facebook.
Tom referred to the Ben Franklin quote, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” He implored the charter schools to work together as a team to continue to grow the number of students being educated at high performing charter schools in San Antonio. This applies to charter school parents as well: We must be active and engaged, and speak up as advocates for high quality education.
Charter Moms Chats
Upon graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in economics in 1997, Tom joined Teach For America and taught fourth grade in Donna, Texas for three years, after which he successfully launched the IDEA Academy in 2000, serving as the first board president and founding principal. The IDEA Public Schools network has since grown to 53,000 students at 96 schools. In 2018, Tom was inducted into the National Charter School Hall of Fame. Tom is often called upon to provide expert testimony to state and local officials on issues of education policy and school choice. An avid runner and frequent Ironman triathlon competitor, Tom and his wife, Dr. Nina Lee Torkelson, live in the Rio Grande Valley with their three children, Lincoln, Liam, and Gwendolyn. After 22 years leading IDEA, Tom left his post in April of 2020 and began as CEO of Choose to Succeed in July.
Choose to Succeed is a financial supporter of San Antonio Charter Moms. Read more about San Antonio Charter Moms.
Read More about Choose to Succeed
- “Former IDEA leader wants 150,000 charter students in San Antonio by 2030,” Alia Malik, San Antonio Express-News, September 6, 2020
- “Charter Schools Show Steeper Upward Trend in Student Achievement than District Schools,” M. Danish Shakeel and Paul E. Peterson, Education Next, Fall 2020
- “Ex-IDEA CEO Tom Torkelson Takes New Role Promoting Charters in San Antonio Region,” Emily Donaldson, San Antonio Report, July 2, 2020
- “New charter school hopefuls eye San Antonio for expansion,” Liz Teitz, San Antonio Express-News, February 2, 2019
- “San Antonio benefits from school choice,” Chip Haass, San Antonio Express-News, November 12, 2018
- “Panelists spar over state of public schools in San Antonio and the state,” Silvia Foster-Frau, San Antonio Express-News, April 17, 2017
- “KIPP San Antonio snags $5 million gift,” Lindsay Kastner, San Antonio Express-News, February 23, 2013