IDEA executive director going to national post

Bethany Solis

After six years of being executive director of the Permian Basin for IDEA Public Schools and one of the driving forces behind getting IDEA schools established in the area, Bethany Solis is moving up to become IDEA’s vice president of college completion.

Solis will be leading the national team involved in everything that happens once seniors graduate and head to college.

“Our goal is to support them through completion of their degree,” Solis said in a phone interview.

Having finished out her tenure in the Permian Basin, where IDEA Yukon in Odessa and IDEA Travis in Midland, were established, Solis has now moved to the Rio Grande Valley where IDEA began. She’s been with IDEA since 2005, except for a couple of years consulting for early college high schools.

“Upon college graduation, I really wanted to teach, so I moved to the Rio Grande Valley. I was part of Teach for America, which is an organization that recruits college grads to go teach in particularly underserved communities. I taught for two years in Mercedes ISD, which is right in the middle of the Rio Grande Valley. This was just a couple of years after IDEA had begun. It was just one school in Donna, Texas. I heard that there was a school that was working to prepare all kids for college success. That was an incredibly novel idea in education back then in the early 2000s and it really inspired me as an elementary school teacher to think that I could contribute to a really big, transformational goal like my second graders one day going to college and completing college. I love the idea of being a part of that where everyone K-12 was rowing in the same direction,” Solis said.

At first, Solis had no desire to become an administrator.

“When as a teacher you start to realize there’s so much you can do in one year and yet there’s so much you can’t do in just one year but when you have a really fantastic principal, then your one year contributes to a much larger year after year transformation. I realized if I was really serious about making sure that every child that walked through our school doors had an excellent education that would put them on the path to college, no matter their background then I knew that you have to have really good principals that make that happen year after year,” Solis said.

She became the founding elementary principal of IDEA Mission and, after two years consulting and coaching with Educate Texas, returned to IDEA in 2012 to design and launch their Principals in Residence program. As Vice President of Leader Development, Solis led the training and development of over 100 aspiring and new principals as well as other organization-wide leader development programs, the IDEA website said.

What drew her to the Basin initially was seeing community leaders who saw the need for dramatic change in the education options in the community and who were willing to roll up their sleeves and give of their time, talent and resources to make that happen, Solis said.

In five or six years, the number of IDEA alumni is going to grow exponentially.

“Our schools scale, so at Yukon we started with just k-2 and then six. Every year we’re adding more grade levels. … Now lots of those schools are going to be hitting their senior year of expansion and so every year we’re going to have hundreds, and some years thousands, more graduate and head to college. It’s really kind of a next-level era for us in terms of alumni support,” Solis said. “Right now, IDEA generally sees about 50 percent of our alumni complete college in four to six years.”

“That’s pretty remarkable because it’s about five times the average for Hispanic students, which the vast majority of our students are. However, if you grow up in the richest communities in America, you’re completing college at rates that are more like 60 and 70 percent. Our goal is by 2030 is to increase our college completion rate from 50 percent to 70 percent. That’s going to take doing things differently to get a really different outcome,” Solis added.

How that gets done is her job to figure out, she said.

The Permian Basin campuses in Odessa and Midland are going in the right direction.

“It’s been a really hard four years. Even though I’ve been in the position for six years we’ve had schools in operation for four years. It’s been a really challenging landscape between COVID and the challenges during COVID; the attendance challenges post COVID; school finance — schools are severely underfunded in the state of Texas and we’re not alone in that. That’s all public schools throughout the community having to make budget cuts and get really creative with the limited resources we have, so it has been a really difficult four years. But I’m really excited about where we’re headed. I think IDEA Yukon, especially at the middle school level has performed really well. IDEA Travis made some huge gains their first year. We’re waiting for results for this year, so I don’t know exactly how things are looking but we have just three years to go until we graduate our first senior class at IDEA Travis and then in four years our first senior class at IDEA Yukon,” Solis said.

She added that IDEA does its best work in those final years of high school when students start getting accepted and matriculating into college. Solis said they are proud of their college, career and military readiness, or CCMR, numbers.

“We were recently notified that (of) larger districts with 60 percent or more economically disadvantaged students, we have the highest CCMR results in the state of Texas. That just speaks to what IDEA is capable of and what our schools in the Permian Basin are year by year pushing towards,” she said.

Solis said IDEA has an amazing team.

“The fact that we are already consistently around 50 percent college completion for each of our graduating classes, it speaks to their incredible performance. Just for comparison, if you grow up in the bottom income quartile of the United States of America you’re statistically completing college at anywhere from a 10 to 20 percent rate. (For) our students, the vast majority of whom are economically disadvantaged to be completing at 50 percent rate year after year is incredible. They’re a very high-performing team and I’m really excited to lead that,” she added.

Sometimes people ask her why there is so much emphasis on a four-year college degree at IDEA.

“I think it’s important to note that not only does the attainment of a college degree dramatically increase your average lifetime earning potential by about $1.5 million, but there’s just really remarkable individual and social benefits that accompany college degrees. Incarceration rates drop tremendously, your likelihood of being in poverty or unemployed decreases,” Solis said.

It also doubles or event triples the likelihood that you’ll vote, volunteer and be engaged civically.

“These are things that we believe every individual, every family, every community could have equal access to, and unfortunately, right now it is much easier to obtain those benefits if you come from a wealthy family and it is statistically very difficult to achieve a college degree if you come from one of the poorest families or communities,” Solis said.

“We exist because we firmly believe that access to college and all the benefits that come with it should be very equal, no matter what side of the tracks you grow up on and no matter what your ZIP code is; no matter how much your family makes. I think it’s really important to emphasize that that is why IDEA exists so that every child, every family has equal opportunity to pursue that path,” she added.

The Permian Strategic Partnership was one of the original funders that helped the IDEA campuses in Odessa and Midland get started. PSP President and CEO Tracee Bentley called Solis a “tremendous leader in education for our region.”

“Her dedication and commitment to ensuring educational excellence in the Permian Basin through opening several IDEA schools has left an indelible mark on our community. We are incredibly grateful for her leadership and the lasting legacy she leaves behind as she moves on to her new role with the national IDEA organization,” Bentley said.

Solis has a double major in American studies and Spanish from Brigham Young University and a master’s in education administration from Sam Houston State University.

She and her husband Sergio have three children. He supervises and teaches high school and college religious education.

On her last day in the Permian job, Solis said she was looking forward to her next step although it was bittersweet.

“I loved my time in the Permian, but my husband was a stay-at-home dad during my time there and my no. 1 cheerleader and supporter. Now it’s my turn for the next little while to support him. He got his dream job here in the Rio Grande Valley and so that’s part of the reason that we’re moving. I’m really proud to support him in his career the same way he has supported me.”