Why did Robinson, a legendary player for the San Antonio Spurs, choose to commit to education? “I’m a teacher at heart,” he said. Years ago, Robinson set out to found Carver Academy, a private school on the east side. “I wanted to start young, and get kids excited about college.” Red McCombs discouraged Robinson, saying, “I’ve seen more money wasted on education than anything else.” Robinson was steadfast: “It’s what God’s placed on my heart.” He went back to McCombs, who wrote the first check for Carver Academy.
Robinson took a risk to form an alliance with IDEA, but he admitted, “I am not an educator”—he needed to find people who could help him execute. Carver Academy was already a successful private elementary school, but he wanted it to grow. “How do we increase our footprint? In order to keep raising money, you must have a vision for the future.”
Robinson recalled meeting with IDEA Public Schools co-founders Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama. He toured IDEA schools in the Rio Grande valley—an experience he described as “mind-boggling.” Forming a partnership with IDEA “made perfect sense for us.”
Robinson chose to turn Carver Academy into IDEA Carver Academy and College Prep, which began operating as a tuition-free public charter school in August 2012, as mentioned in this earlier post. This fall, the upper grades—IDEA Carver College Prep—move into their own building, featuring a David Robinson museum. “IDEA Carver Academy Breaks Ground on New Eastside Facility”, Katherine Nickas, Rivard Report, October 22, 2014; “Pair of champion athletes celebrate S.A. charter school expansions”, Alia Malik, San Antonio Express-News, October 22, 2014.
Robinson took a risk in joining with IDEA, but it has paid off through dramatic growth. IDEA South Flores opened in August 2013 (earlier post). IDEA Monterrey Park and IDEA Walzem in opened in August 2014 (earlier post). IDEA Eastside will open in August 2015, and more campuses are planned for the far west side, the northeast side, and beyond. As a private school, Carver Academy served about 300 students; by August 2015, the number of IDEA students in the San Antonio area will be over 3,600.
IDEA Carver will have the first high school graduating class in San Antonio, and someday they will hold their own College Signing Day. When you talk to an IDEA student, she is likely tell you what year she will graduate from IDEA, what year she will graduate from college, and what career she will have.
In addition to the campus growth, another sign of how IDEA Public Schools has become established in San Antonio is the team of community leaders who have rallied to Robinson’s side. These elected officials attended the luncheon: Mayor Ivy Taylor, City Councilmen Alan E. Warrick, Jr. (District 2) and Rey Saldaña (District 4), County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, Jr. (Precinct 4), State Board of Education members Marisa B. Perez (District 3) and Ruben Cortez, Jr. (District 2), and State Representative Rick Galindo (District 117). At the luncheon, IDEA leaders recognized gifts from the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, the Ewing Halsell Foundation (at $10 million, still the largest donation to date from San Antonio), Harvey Najim for the Najim Family Foundation, and Kathy Mays Johnson for the Mays Family Foundation.
IDEA has community support because the schools are successful. Since 2007, all of IDEA’s graduating classes have had 100 percent college attendance, except for one year at 99 percent. Read more about the 2015 IDEA graduating class being accepted to top tier colleges and universities at higher rates than ever before.
Change is necessary because there is a serious problem: the achievement gap between students who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are not. Torkelson referred to Texas Tribune data showing that among Bexar County students who started 8th grade in 2003, only 8.6 percent of the economically disadvantaged students went on to complete college degrees. (Only 41.7 percent of Bexar County’s economically disadvantaged students enrolled in college.) Among students who are not economically disadvantaged, 66.7 percent enrolled in college, and 29.1 percent completed college.
As Torkelson explained, the differences between college graduates and non-graduates are more than just high income versus low income. The unemployment rate is four times higher for people who have not earned a college degree. If at least one parent is a college graduate, it’s more likely that a child has two parents who are married, and is not obese. “A college degree means a better life.”
IDEA students are mostly from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and yet nearly all of them enroll in college. Torkelson said, “I want you to know this is possible. You don’t have to fix poverty before you can fix schools. In fact, you have to fix schools before you can fix poverty.”
Torkelson defended the goal of college for all: “For those who say, ‘A college degree is not for everyone,’ I say, let’s start with your kids or grandkids.” Also, he emphasized that “this is not about charter schools versus district schools; this is about San Antonio children competing with children around the world to get into college.”
To illustrate the connection between high goals and high achievement, Torkelson recognized a member of the audience, Amanda Wratten, who graduated from IDEA Donna, graduated from Grinnell College, and became a founding teacher at IDEA South Flores. Wratten helped 7th grade student Angelina Guzman to catch up to her reading level, and go beyond. Guzman spoke to the audience about how, for the first time in her life, she likes English class.
Guzman identifies herself as a member of the IDEA South Flores College Prep Class of 2020, college class of 2024, and a future neurosurgeon. She shared her worries about moving to a new school: her stepmom assured her that her true friends will still be your friends, even if you go to a different school.
Once Guzman made the decision to join IDEA’s Team and Family, she was nervous about the amount of homework. “At my old school, I had never done homework. One day, at IDEA, I didn’t do my homework. Then, I had to go to the West Wing. I learned that, like the West Wing at the White House, the West Wing does not close until all the work is done.”
Guzman has visited visited UT Austin, but thinks maybe it’s too big. She is looking forward to visiting several schools in Houston, including Rice University. She is also considering Grinnell, where Ms. Wratten went.
The success of IDEA Public Schools shows that we can make progress in closing the achievement gap, but we can’t wait for someone to swoop in and fix it: we have to fix it ourselves. Here in Bexar County, at places like IDEA, KIPP, BASIS, and Great Hearts, economically disadvantaged students are getting prepared to attend and graduate from college. This collaborative effort, soon to be joined by Carpe Diem (earlier post), has the potential to transform the employment landscape in San Antonio, as a new generation joins the workforce ready to do jobs that require critical thinking.
Robinson’s parting request to the audience was to please keep following IDEA as they grow. To stay connected to IDEA, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; also, learn more about giving to IDEA.