The news has not been good for schools in North Texas. According to one press report, seventy-six campuses in this part of the state have failed for the second year in a row or more to meet standards set by No Child Left Behind legislation. Still there are bright lights in spite of everything, and they emanate from individuals — bold, imaginative, persistent and steady — who have started programs drenched in clarity, unburdened by ambiguity and dazzling in their results. Here are a few of them.
Uplift Education. Run by Rosemary Perlmeter, a former attorney and executive at Zale Corporation, and spearheaded by people like businessman Phil Montgomery and educator Alice Brown, this is a truly independent district with five charter schools currently in operation.
These are not flaky charter schools. They are built around a single purpose — prepare their students for college. One of them, North Hills in Irving, has been named the 12th best public high school in the nation, based on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests. Managed on a first-come, first-served basis, North Hills had 1,350 applicants for 200 slots this fall. Students were chosen by lottery.
Uplift Education also operates Peak Preparatory in East Dallas, serving 520 children, primarily Hispanic, in four grades with more to follow. This year students from Peak ranked in the top six percent in Texas in science and in the top nine percent in math. Routinely they outperform their counterparts in the Dallas Independent School District. Yet in 2004-2005, Uplift received $6,482 per student in state funding while at DISD it was $11,934. Sen. Florence Shapiro carried a bill in the last session of the Legislature to remedy this, but it died in late May, killed by advocates of failing charter schools who could not bear to see them closed and the money allocated to efforts that are working.
This summer, Uplift opened Hampton Preparatory in South Dallas, Williams Prep near Southwestern Medical School and Summit International Prep in Arlington. It is now discussing the possibility of another campus with the Museum of Nature and Science. This August Uplift also received an investment-grade rating from Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s for $10 million in bonds to double the size of Peak. Legislators, are you listening?
The Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School at Fair Park. This too is an institution that’s tightly concentrated on getting its students ready for college. Inspired by Ann Tisch, who has started four all-girls schools in New York with spectacular success, Lee Posey, founder and now chairman emeritus of Palm Harbor Homes, worked with his wife Sally and DISD to create this campus for girls.
In operation four years, Rangel ranks among the top two percent in Texas as an exemplary school. With an emphasis on math, science and technology, Rangel is looking for girls with at least a C average and a good command of reading and writing, whose parents really want) their daughters to go to college.
The idea is that if you get girls away from boys and drugs long enough, they can flourish and bloom. And that is exactly what is happening. This fall, Lee Posey is opening the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin, with San Antonio and Lubbock next on his list, along with Juarez and maybe Houston.
The International Education Initiative. Launched two years ago by Patricia Patterson, chairman, and Jim Falk, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/ Fort Worth, this is a program to bring the world and the issues that threaten it to the classrooms of North Texas. Directed by Loretta Garcia Williams, formerly with Plano schools, IEI immerses teachers at two-day workshops in highly praised materials developed by the Southern Center for International Studies in Atlanta. Thus far, those teachers have reached 62,000 students, who also can enter an annual essay contest on foreign relations; compete in WorldQuest, a quiz whose winners go to Washington for the national competition; or join a junior World Affairs Council, currently at ten high schools.
So while education in North Texas has many discontents, still there are areas of real accomplishment, often as not fostered by interested and energetic people acting on their own, making it count and playing for keeps.