• November 20, 2019

IDEA fueled by donations - Odessa American: News

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IDEA fueled by donations

Ector, Midland counties contribute to start up in Permian Basin

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Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2019 6:15 am

A group of Permian Basin companies, foundations and individuals from Ector and Midland counties have contributed nearly $55 million in start-up funds for IDEA Public Schools to establish a presence in the region.

The Scharbauer Foundation donated $21 million; Abell-Hanger Foundation, $5.5 million; and The Henry Foundation, $2 million. Odessa businessman Collin Sewell is leading efforts to raise up to $10 million from individuals and organizations in Odessa, a news release said.

Permian Strategic Partnership, a group of 20 Permian energy companies, committed $16.5 million.

The funding will support the opening of 14 schools at seven sites across Midland and Odessa by the 2024-2025 school year, the release said.

Executive Director of IDEA Permian Basin Bethany Solis said the $55 million is essentially the schools’ start-up fund.

“Even though we receive public funds from the state, we’re funded a little bit differently than traditional ISDs and we don’t have access to the kind of facilities funding that they do. We don’t raise local bonds or property taxes. We don’t have access to that. By our fifth year of operation, we are self sustaining, meaning the revenue we get from the state covers all of our expenses. But to get to that point, we need some start-up money and that’s where the philanthropy comes in,” Solis said.

Solis said these relationships are built into all the IDEA sites.

“This is our first region where the entire sum of start-up money has been raised before we open the region. It just speaks a lot to the commitment of the community in this endeavor,” Solis said. She added that there is about $3 million to go.

IDEA will start with Midland first opening at Travis Elementary, set to open as an in-district charter school in August 2020. It will open with all the grade levels it currently has, prekindergarten through six. It is currently rated improvement required under state accountability standards.

“Every student that currently attends there will have enrollment preference, meaning if they choose to stay they are guaranteed a spot,” Solis said. “That’s something we haven’t done before and we’re very excited to do it.”

The 14 sites will be scaled at seven sites and the aim is for them to be as equitably distributed across both cities as possible, Solis said. Once the schools are fully scaled, they will serve about 10,000 students across both cities.

“… We start smaller in most cases. Our partnership school with MISD is a little unique, so aside from that, what we typically do is we open an elementary school that we refer to as the academy and we start with grades k, 1 and 2 and then we add a grade level each year until it becomes k through five. Then we simultaneously open a secondary school on the same site. We start with sixth grade and likewise add a grade level every year. At full scale, it is k through 12 — two schools on the same site so to families it feels and should feel like one school for all of their children, nieces and nephews, cousins. The whole family can be at the same school,” Solis said.

The grades she referred to are kindergarten, first and second.

Solis said Travis is a full-scale turnaround school, but IDEA coming in will keep it a neighborhood campus when it wouldn’t be able to stay that way.

“That’s first-of-its-kind for us, as well. I think what also makes all of this so unique is and is the No. 1 reason I’m here in my role is this comprehensive, community wide approach to finding and supporting a really transformational solution to a very real problem. I don’t know of another community that has been able to approach something like this in this way. I think it makes Midland and Odessa the Permian Basin as a whole incredibly unique and I really hope that what is about to happen will be a model in many ways for other communities seeking to solve really tough problems,” Solis said.

Solis said in an interview Tuesday that 30 staff members, leaders and teachers have been hired for Travis. She said they agreed to come on a year early and train at one of IDEA’s top schools in San Antonio.

“They’ve picked up their lives, in some cases their whole family, and have relocated for the year. They’re teaching IDEA’s curriculum, they’re leading and coaching IDEA staff. In the case of leaders, they’re learning the IDEA model by doing it and by being in the middle of it and they will all relocate a year from now and be a part of the broader IDEA Travis staff that helps lead the transformation there,” Solis said.

This is the format when IDEA starts in a region, but once they have a couple of schools going, people don’t need to relocate to train. They can observe and train at one of the existing schools closer to home.

Teachers who instruct at IDEA campuses don’t need to be state certified. Solis said there are districts that have exemptions for that. ECISD does for career and technical instructors through its District of Innovation designation from the state.

Solis said this gives IDEA access to a larger talent pool.

“We are extremely committed to very high quality, expert teachers, and so regardless of your certification coming in, we have a very intensive, robust training sequence throughout a teachers’ first year at IDEA,” Solis said.

And the training continues after that.

“You spend a lot of time in trainings that first year, but what continues beyond that is we have a very small leader-to-teacher ratio so that you have a coach that is in your classroom — sometimes every day — giving you feedback and helping you get better. That’s our core development model, whether you’re a first year teacher, or in your 10th year of teaching.

Class sizes are around 28 students per class. In the early grades, like kindergarten through second, most classrooms have a paraprofessional assistant to help teachers. She said the charter school is exempt from the state requirement of having a 22-to-one pupil to teacher ratio in grades kindergarten through second.

“We have a governing board at the state level that governs all of the IDEA schools in Texas. Then we have regional advisory boards that don’t have governing authority, but they are important community-level partners that help make sure that our model is sensitive to the community,” Solis said. And they offer feedback.

She added that they like to think of what happens when IDEA, or something new in education, comes in and disrupts the status quo, it’s coopetition, as opposed to competition.

Solis said student outcomes in the traditional districts improve and outcomes at the charter school accelerates greatly.

“It really is this case of all (boats) rise, even though at first there is some pressure and there is a pinch on the system. But overall, the long-term outcome for all children is better than it was before the disruption to the system,” Solis said.

IDEA ended the last school year thousands of students on combined waiting lists, she said.

“That is the No. 1 reason that we are growing so rapidly. We’re opening almost 25 new schools just this August alone across multiple regions and it’s fueled by the demand from students and families,” Solis said.

The schools are open enrollment and Solis said there are no admission requirements.

“That’s an important part of our mission. Any student, no matter how accelerated or behind they may be academically, when you come to IDEA and you make the choice to come to IDEA we are making a promise to you that we will prepare you for college success and beyond. I think that’s one of the things that’s most exciting to parents. I’m a parent myself and can’t wait for my children to have this experience here in our community because every child, regardless of background, regardless of where they come in academically, deserves a joyful, rigorous, excellent education,” she said.

IDEA is starting with Midland ISD because they were ready to move forward, she added. The original plan was to open the Permian Basin region in 2021. MISD Superintendent Orlando Riddick, Scharbauer Foundation Executive Director Grant Billingsley and other community leaders said “we have this need; we have this opportunity,” Solis said.

“State Commissioner of Ed(ucation) Mike Morath gave us a call said would you consider starting sooner, and so after lots of discussion and negotiations we said we can do this and we’ll start a year sooner so we’re excited that will be happening a year earlier than planned and then we’re excited that the following year we’ll be opening two sites, four schools in Odessa, so we’ll be there very soon,” Solis added.

The plan is for the Odessa schools to be freestanding.

“We hope for a partnership with ECISD, but it’s very early in the process,” Solis said.

She noted that new Superintendent Scott Muri needs time to determine what’s right for him and the district.

“I have met with him,” Solis said. “I think ECISD is in wonderful hands. I’m really excited to work with him on what Odessa needs.”

Permian Strategic Partnership Chief Executive Officer Tracee Bentley said the group she leads is looking at the Basin holistically in terms of needs for roads, schools, housing, healthcare and workforce.

Bentley said she hopes PSP’s other projects look like the one with IDEA. And thanks to its experience with IDEA and as they look at other projects to consider, they are looking forward to future endeavors. She added that partnerships are critical.

“… The school district obviously has been involved and a key partner, along with the business community and many others who really made this happen. And we came in, I don’t want to say last minute, and filled a gap so most of the hard work was done not by PSP but by other folks in the community and we’re just thrilled to be a part of it,” Bentley said.

ECISD and MISD represent half the student population of the Permian Basin, she noted.

“That’s another reason for this being an amazing project is the reach that these schools will have for the entire Basin and it really demonstrates our regional approach to how we, again, look at projects and this serves as a model in that it does serve so many families and so many kids,” Bentley said.  

Billingsley said this goes beyond what was achieved in funding and building the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center. At the time, the Wagner Noel was the first of its kind and “it was big.”

“But this is even bigger. This is even bigger both in dollars and in scope. What Tracee said is exactly right. The impact that this can have on these two communities and the children and families it can’t be overstated with what we’re looking for,” Billingsley said.

“A lot of us have been working with IDEA for a long time and some of us had to be convinced, including me, that it was the right thing to do and they were the right partner. Just almost without exception did we find that the answer to both those questions was yes,” Billingsley added.

“We’re hopeful that our two communities can embrace this and see the opportunity that this can have for years to come. It’s bigger that I dreamed, really; kind of like the Wagner Noel. … This so far eclipses that in terms of impact and potential that it just gives me chills to think what could happen,” he said.

Campuses get state funding. All charter schools are publicly funded they are a public school that is afforded certain innovative freedoms to kind of try new things in return for that we have heightened accountability with the state.

Asked what happens if the IDEA campus doesn’t work in Odessa or Midland, or both, Solis was confident it would.

“While we started in the Valley, we have seven or eight years now of being in very diverse communities. We have over 20 schools in San Antonio; close to 15 schools in Austin. We’re now in Baton Rouge, La., El Paso, so we’re in a variety of communities with a really a wide variety of student backgrounds that make up our student population so we actually don’t have any doubts that our program won’t work here because it’s worked in so many other communities that are unique from each other,” Solis said.

One of the first questions companies ask when they move to an area is what are the schools like, Bentley acknowledged. She said the group is interested in having families move to the Basin to make it their home.

“… We view this certainly as good for industry, good for families who want to move here, but it’s much more than that for the entire community,” Bentley said.



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