Teach For America’s Texas Impact


Everything’s bigger in Texas. We’ve got 5.3 million students, which is one
out of every 10 public school students in America. We’ve got 350,000 teachers. We’ve got about 8,500 schools, and about 1,200 districts. We’re a majority-minority state. Over half of our students are low-income. One of the biggest challenges we face, as
a state, is how are we attracting the best and the brightest to teach? How are preparing them and how are we supporting
them in the classroom? The title I’m trying to live up to right now
is Deputy Commissioner at Texas Education Agency. I’ve been in the role for two and a half years. My role included a lot of travel, which is
a great thing. The commissioner said that I’ll get a chance
to see the whole state. I didn’t know it’d be every week. To get across a state this diverse, this big,
and to get opportunities to go into schools and hear people, share their perspectives,
share their experience, has been a great learning experience for me. Right now in my role, I’m taking a lot of
strategies out of the Teach For America playbook. One of those strategies is positioning the
professional teaching as entrepreneurial, as a huge opportunity to have a massive impact
on the current generation, future generations, and as one of the biggest challenges you can
tackle, and the civil rights issues of our time, that educational equity. One of the first regions Teach For America
came to in Texas was Houston. It is just so massive. It’s very densely populated. Teach America has been there going on 30 years. I grew up as a child of immigrants. My parents taught us that education is our
ticket to freedom. When I was a senior in high school, I walked
into the career office, and I saw the Teach For America vision. One day all children in this nation will have
the opportunity to attain an excellent education. I knew I had to do it. I started teaching for Teach For America in
Houston in 1998. In my first month of teach, I went to visit
one of the wealthiest middle schools in Houston. I realized that my students were just as smart,
and just as talented as all of these students in this wealthy school, but they lacked the
opportunity, and so for the last 20 years, I’ve been working to change that opportunity
gap for our students. KIPP stands for the Knowledge is Power program. KIPP’s mission is to provide our kids with
the academic and character skills to be able to thrive in college and lead lives of choice,
and make change in the world. I was a 2008 corps member, placed here in
Houston in the Houston Independent School District. I was a fifth grade bilingual teacher before
starting a program called Emerge, and then transitioning into central administration. I currently serve as the district’s Chief
Strategy and Innovation Officer. My grandfather was from Honduras, and actually
was the first person from that country to go off to Yale. He used his education career to work for the
United Stations, and to really dedicate his life to helping underserved communities. That played a big role in my belief in higher
education, in terms of opening doors, and expanding equity. Emerge is a college readiness and college
access program that connects high-achieving, low-income students with the nation’s top
colleges and universities. It helps make sure that kids are not just
getting into and attending top colleges, but are persisting graduating and then more importantly,
be in position for influence in their communities after they do so. My parents are immigrants from Mexico and
they don’t speak English. Emerge was the first group of people that
taught me that I had potential. They saw something in me and they knew that
hey, you have good grades, you’re doing well in school. You can do much more. I ended up going to Smith College. I still remember the day I was accepted. I was so nervous, but when I opened the email,
I just burst into tears. I went straight to my mom and was like, “Mommy,
we’re doing it. I’m going.” She was just in disbelief. Now, I am a 2018 corps member. I am currently teaching at Mitchell Elementary,
third grade, reading and writing. I think the moment that I realized what an
incredible network TFA had established, of people who are really driven by desire for
educational equity, was when I formed Emerge. The conduit for which we were able to expand
Emerge was actually corps members at other schools. Had it not been for that network, Emerge certainly
would not be where it is today. We serve approximately 215000 students across
285 schools. Our impact is very real both for students
and for the community here in the Houston region. Houston is the most diverse city in America,
and is actually what America is going to look like in a few decades. I think the work that we’re doing here is
even more relevant because the strategies and lessons learned are gonna be increasingly
relevant to all cities. Another region Teach For America went to is
Rio Grande Valley, and that is a unique and inspiring part of the state, very remote. The Rio Grande Valley is lots of green, lots
of culture, lots of bright colored houses, a lot of families, we’ve had a lot of family
outings. It’s what you would think Mexico would look
like, but in Texas. One of the biggest challenges that we face
here in the Rio Grande Valley is that over 90% of our population is low-income. My parents were both migrant workers on the
strawberry fields. From someone who understands that children
that come from Mexico, an American high school diploma is the ticket to college, was the
ticket to money, which is the ticket to success. When I got to Teach For America, that was
the first time I realized that there really were two different Americas. There was an America where you went to public
schools or private schools, and you were challenged, and you were pushed, and you were encouraged,
and you were motivated. Then there was this other set of schools that
was serving low-income children, and the expectations often were minimal. The quality and the qualifications and the
preparation of those teachers was often minimal. That was kind of a wake up call for me. What I really began to see, is that the number
one factor that was going to make the difference in the life of a student, was the quality
of the teacher, and that if you could string together, four, five, six, seven consecutive
years where low-income kids had really exceptional teachers, that would put them on a whole different
trajectory for success. Our TFA teachers were usually our AP teachers. They were usually our teachers that assigned
the homework. They were the teachers that made us do the
projects, that didn’t take no for an answer, handled the class very well. When I launched IDEA in 2000, with my colleague
JoAnn Gama, we had 150 students on the second floor of the First Baptist Church in downtown
Donna, Texas. Today, that one school has turned into 79
schools. Those 150 students are now 45000 students
across the Rio Grande Valley, but also 22 schools in San Antonio, and a dozen schools
in Austin, and schools in El Paso. We are being propelled forward because of
the power of the alumni within Teach For America. I’m gonna fight until all our children have
access to that equal education. I told my kids, “You will have it.” They’re like, “No, sir. We’re not gonna have it because we’re from
Roma.” We are gonna have it because we’re from Roma. The Rio Grande Valley is home to the first
and third Horris Counties in the United States in terms of per capita wealth. I’m very convinced that if we can figure out
how to solve the problems facing schools here, we can solve problems facing schools anywhere
in the United States. Dallas ISD has really opened itself up to
the Teach For America presence, and keep positions such as human resources or school leadership. I am a school board member on the Dallas Independent
School District Board of Trustees, and I am a 2009 Teach For America charter corps member,
for the Dallas Fort-Worth region. The Dallas Fort-Worth region is serving nearly
400000 students. With 10s of thousands of employees, and an
extremely diverse set of students, and a diverse set of challenges. Perhaps the biggest one is childhood poverty,
exacerbated by a lack of early childhood education opportunities, or our inability to pay teachers
the way they need to be paid. I served in the greatest corps region, which
is DFW, and I served specifically in Oak Cliff, where I’m from, at WW Bushman Elementary School
corps year 2014, and I taught fourth grade. I am the founder and the executive director
of For Oak Cliff, community non-profit based here in the heart of Dallas. For Oak Cliff has three pillars to where I
work. Education, advocacy and community-building. I read the article titled The Cradle to Prison
Pipeline, that was published by Stanford children. That article had the amount of inmates broken
down in the city of Dallas per zip code, compared to the amount of college-ready graduates. I saw Oak Cliff’s zip code at the top was
681 inmates, and only 2% college-ready graduates. At that moment, I knew that it was a major
issue, so I began to dig deeper into education, and start figuring out what is the problem. This organization for Oak Cliff that has affected
thousands of people within our community, doesn’t exist without my time in the classroom. I’m a 2013 Teach For America GFW alum. I taught fifth grade in Fort Worth, Texas,
and now I’m an impact manager at Education Opens Doors. The incredible thing about the Teach For America
network, is that although we recognize from our classroom experience that there is several
societal programs, which are inhibiting students access to opportunities, our mindsets as a
community ensure that we also recognize that there are solutions. Jayda Batchelder recognized a problem in her
community where she worked, and banded together a group of alumni to create a solution to
ensure that all students have access to opportunity. Education Opens Doors is currently supporting
11,700 students. Since 2012, we’ve supported 44,000 students
and nearly 800 teachers. Our students are often in schools where a
guidance counselor might have less than 40 minutes over the course of four years to speak
to a student about their options after high school. At Education Opens Doors, we make sure that
our students have that information prior to even getting to high school, so that they’re
able to make those personal choices. Inherent to Teach For America’s mission is
this ethos of idealism, that you made a difference in the lives of others, and to work to pursue
those ideals in trying to move forward, the goal of a better education for all students. “High five. Why? High five. Down low.” The San Antonio Teach For America has been
very impressive. I’ve met a lot of corps members and alums
who are from that area, and joined to make an impact in their community, and I’ve seen
that as a growing trend in the organization which is very inspiring. The south side of San Antonio is at the corps
community’s family. You don’t just take care of your own family. You don’t just worry about your own kids,
but you worry about your kid’s friends and the school that they go to. I am
the principal at Bonham Academy, and I was a 2010 San Antonio charter corps member. My parents actually immigrated here from Mexico. My mom crossed the border when she was pregnant
with me, and made sure that I was born in America. I was a really quite kid growing up. My whole experience was Spanish. I went into an education system, unfortunately
in California, that didn’t really appreciate bilingual education. If you would have told me when I first joined
Teach For America that one day I would be a school leader, I would have never belied
you. I am a 2017 San Antonio corps member. I was born and raised on the south side of
San Antonio and now I teach at Graebner Elementary. My grandparents came here. Being able to teach at the school that generations
of my family came to, has been a neat experience. “Take a look at your situations. Understanding what the situation is, is going
to help you understand whether you need to add or subtract.” At Bonham, we serve almost 600 students across
the kindergarten through eighth grade continuum. If our kids have the opportunity to go to
college, that we basically get to impact them for over half of their educational career. It’s such a tremendous responsibility, but
it’s also something that gives us so much hope. Every single day that I walk the halls and
I see those kindergartners waving to me, I just see the immense potential that our kids
have to be the leaders that we need them to be in the world that we live in today. I remember always feeling, in a room full
of people who are very capable, that at some point, they were going to realize that I didn’t
belong there. I think that probably wouldn’t have been as
deep, if we had a woman president, if we had more women on the Supreme Court, or just women
in leadership positions. “Alright girls, here’s what I want you to
do. Delilah, go ahead and you’re gonna be our
line leader, okay? If you can start the line right there, and
show us how to stand in straight line, because you’re leading the line, okay? Just start it right there.” Now, in my position as a teacher, I feel like
I have this really great opportunity to be able to expose our young girls to women leaders
in our community, and what can be accomplished when we come together. She Is really was started because of that. “It is an honor for She Is to present to you
our first guest speaker of the year, Fatema.” “I’m really, really excited to be here with
all of you today.” She Is club is a perfect opportunity to talk
to girls about how to deal with dilemmas that life brings you. How to deal with emotions. How to communicate with other people. Hopefully through that, our girls can see
that you can’t do it alone. You have to use each other, use your network,
use your resources to make this collective impact. What Teach For America has done over the past
25 years is they’ve just created this leadership culture, where you’re just so motivated to
want to do more, because you’re seeing what everybody else is doing. You’re seeing the different ways that they’re
attacking very challenging problems, and overcoming those challenges. So many of the large charter management organizations,
so many of the now associate superintendents in large district systems, board members on
school boards, are Teach For America alumni, continuing to have an impact. I’ve got Teach For America people who are
leaving IDEA public schools, and they’re planting the seeds of this next generation of organizations,
that I think, are gonna help us solve the challenge of educational reform in the United
States, and accelerate change at a rate that is needed. When I take my experience here in San Antonio
and I look at it both statewide and also nationally, there are people all across the state of Texas
that I really respect and admire, who I knew when I was a corps member, when I worked on
staff. Whether I’m in the classroom, or running for
office one day, my fight is always going to be for equity, and I’m always going to tie
it back to my experiences in the classroom, because of Teach For America.

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