IDEA Public Schools: a growing success in San Antonio

IDEA Public Schools is a network of high-performing public charter schools based in the Rio Grande Valley, but with a growing presence in San Antonio. IDEA Public Schools continues to earn recognition for its success in helping students graduate from high school and go to college. Its success is especially remarkable considering that most of its students are Hispanic and from low-income families; see this earlier post about regional efforts to increase college completion among Hispanics.

IDEA Public Schools in San Antonio: A Growing Success | San Antonio Charter MomsGathered here are some recent stories spotlighting success at IDEA Public Schools:

  • Earning a spot on the AP District Honor Roll
  • Use of blended learning to get students ready for college
  • Visits from bloggers Brooke Meabon at Alamo City Moms Blog and Lori Stromberg of My Six Ring Circus

IDEA Public Schools recently earned a place on the College Board‘s AP District Honor Roll. “Southwest ISD, IDEA Public Schools honored for AP test progress”, Maria Luisa Cesar, San Antonio Express-News, November 7, 2013 (also posted at the IDEA Public School website); “IDEA Public Schools places on the College Board’s 4th Annual AP District Honor Roll”, IDEA Public Schools news release, November 6, 2013. The AP District Honor Roll recognizes districts in which more students are taking AP exams and earning higher scores (at least 3 out of 5).

October was Connected Educator Month, which put a spotlight on blended learning at IDEA Public Schools. Education thought leader Tom Vander Ark analyzed the ingredients for IDEA Public Schools’ success:

The secret sauce is equal parts expectations and execution. Banners in every school make explicit what you see in every classroom: closing the achievement gap, whatever it takes, team & family, sweating the small stuff, no excuses, and 100% every day.

“Big IDEA: Blending the Valley”, Tom Vander Ark, Vander Ark on Innovation (Education Week blog), September 30, 2013. Vander Ark details how blended learning is used in the elementary classes:

For the last three years, IDEA has been rotating elementary students through a computer lab at least three times a week to supplement core instruction and personalize learning. In math, students use DreamboxST MathReasoning Mind, and ThinkThroughMath. Core math instruction includes rotations of Khan Academy.

Vander Ark also praises the teacher training process and college preparation work.

A feature in a Rio Grade Valley newspaper looked at blended learning in more detail. “Valley becomes proving ground for innovation in educational programming”, Jacqueline Armendariz, Monitor, October 10, 2013.

Pablo Mejia, IDEA’s director of individualized learning, explained BetterIDEA aimed to personalize learning for elementary school students and has since spread to more than half of its middle schools. It uses a mix of Accelerated Reader zones, where students select books based on their reading levels averaging 25 minutes of time there, and rotate to an iLearning Hotspot — essentially a large computer lab stocked with software carefully selected by the district for math learning.

The program allows students to go at their own paces and detects if they need to work on previous lessons based on the answers they get wrong. Mejia said the district has grappled with teaching students who are at different levels in the same classroom and meeting state objectives. It’s a difficult task for teachers, who end up instructing to the middle, and that’s why iLearning Hotspots help, he said.

The blended learning programs also have the advantage of producing more data for tracking students’ progress.

Also in October, Education Commissioner Michael Williams visited IDEA Brownsville“Education commissioner visits Rio Grande Valley”, Gary Long, Brownsville Herald, October 3, 2013.

IDEA Public Schools has also been featured on local mom blogs. Brooke Meabon, blogger and co-founder of Alamo City Moms Blog, visited IDEA South Flores during their Community Open House. She wrote, “After this visit, I can comfortably say that, not only are these campuses a great addition to the San Antonio education portfolio, but I was blown away with the students I met while I was there.” Read more: “A Visit to IDEA Public Schools {Sponsored}”, Brooke Meabon, Alamo City Moms Blog, November 11, 2013.

Meabon attended the open house at IDEA South Flores; another campus, IDEA Carver, is hosting its Community Open House from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on December 12, 2013. RSVP to

Lori Stromberg blogs about family life at My Six Ring Circus and is also an IDEA South Flores mom. She attended the ribbon cutting ceremony and wrote about the sense of family and togetherness. “Ribbon Cutting @ IDEA South Flores”, Lori Stromberg, My Six Ring Circus, October 1, 2013 (also as a guest post at the IDEA Public School website).

I am so happy for the team and family at IDEA Public Schools that they are earning so much recognition—they deserve it. I am thankful to the San Antonio supporters of IDEA Public Schools, including Valerie and David Robinson and Choose to Succeed. I am excited to see what develops as the existing campuses expand in to high school and as they add more campuses in San Antonio. “SBOE Will No Longer Approve Charter Applicants”, Morgan Smith & KK Rebecca Lai, Texas Tribune, August 15, 2013 (noting that the state approved for four new IDEA Public School campuses in San Antonio and two in Austin).

Earlier posts:

What else do you want to know about IDEA Public Schools? Leave a comment, and maybe I can cover it in a future blog post.

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