IDEA Public Schools
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IDEA Public Schools, a Texas-based nonprofit that serves more than 63,000 students in 120 schools across Texas and Louisiana, is set to bring its award-winning college preparatory program to the Sunshine State in 2021 with the opening of two campuses in Hillsborough County.
In their first year, the Tampa “schools of hope” will be open to students in kindergarten through second grade as well as sixth grade, with additional grades added each year until the schools are fully scaled with K-12 campuses. Building on its reputation as the nation’s fastest-growing network of tuition-free, Pre-K-12 public charter schools, IDEA, which stands for Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement, plans to have four schools in the Tampa Bay area by 2023 and aims to grow that number to 20 by 2026.
IDEA Tampa Bay already has begun recruiting students and principals, including Emily Carlisle, who has been tapped as principal in residence at IDEA Hope College Preparatory School. redefinED reached out to Carlisle to learn more about how her school will offer additional education options to families. Our interview follows, edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
A. Being raised in a faith tradition that encourages love and the pursuit of justice and restoration, as a teenager I recognized the disparate educational opportunities afforded to the magnet and neighborhood student populations at my high school in Tampa. Desiring to be a teacher from a young age, I committed in college to pursuing a career seeking to change the educational trajectory of students from underserved communities. It is my ever-evolving faith that guides my attempts to love those around me well, both inside and outside the schoolhouse. Having labored relentlessly for seven years at my alma mater in Tampa to provide quality educational opportunity, I am thrilled to embark upon this new journey with the IDEA team and family to prepare all students to go to and through college so that they can live choice-filled lives that positively impact our world.
Q. What is a principal in residence and what does that role involve?
A. The Principal in Residence (PIR) program is a rigorous training program aimed at honing educators’ instructional leadership skills so that they are ready to take on the challenges and joys of successfully founding and growing an IDEA school. The program affords tremendous growth opportunity for educators. Principals in residence work to support teachers, leaders, students, and families while sharing responsibility for critical school achievement goals at an IDEA campus. The personalized coaching and feedback principals in residence receive as a part of the residency is invaluable as they prepare to launch schools.
Q. Tell us a little about your background, education and previous experience and explain how that prepared for you for your new role at IDEA Public Schools in Tampa.
A. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Florida prior to joining Teach For America as a 2007 Mississippi Delta corps member. After meeting my commitment, I completed a master’s degree in social work with a concentration in social and economic development from Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating, I moved back to my hometown of Tampa and taught high school social studies for eight years. During that time, my students achieved some of the highest Advanced Placement pass rates in the district. I also served as a social studies department chair for four and a half years, operationally and instructionally supporting a 17-member team. I believe my education and 10 years of experience in the classroom have fully prepared me to take on the role of founding principal at IDEA Hope College Preparatory School.
Q. Tell us about the mission of IDEA Public Schools as it relates to Florida.
A. IDEA believes that no student’s potential should be limited by the color of their skin, where they live, or household income. IDEA Public Schools is committed to a vision of college for all children. Through our curriculum and college support model, we are closing the opportunity gap and increasing levels of achievement by preparing students from underserved communities for success in college and citizenship. In 2017, the Florida Legislature passed Schools of Hope legislation to help high-performing charter school districts, including IDEA, expand in neighborhoods with a concentration of persistently low-performing schools. Our staff members are out in the broader East Tampa community five days a week, introducing themselves to families, and spreading the word about the two new high-quality schooling options, IDEA Hope and IDEA Victory.
Q. What distinguishes IDEA from other charter schools and from traditional district schools?
A. IDEA Public Schools has a long track record of success. For the last 14 years, 100% of our high school graduates were accepted to college. Additionally, in the latest rankings of the most challenging high schools in the nation by the Jay Mathews Challenge Index published in the Washington Post, all 15 eligible IDEA college preparatory schools were ranked among the top 1%. Looking past the sheer numbers, every adult I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside at IDEA has an unwavering belief in the potential of all children and works relentlessly day in and day out to prepare our scholars for college. Lastly, as an organization, IDEA values feedback and considers it a gift. This pervasive mindset is interwoven into the fabric of our operating mechanisms and helps cultivate improvement in every area of the school district.
Q. What should IDEA families expect on the first day of school?
A. Imagine a hot, muggy morning in early August 2021. As students arrive, they recognize the principal, Ms. Carlisle, from when she made a home visit in the spring to welcome their family to IDEA. She greets them by name, and a tiny bit of nervousness dissipates as they feel seen in that moment. Stepping across the threshold, they enter the building and are welcomed by other smiling Hope staff members who usher sixth graders to their homerooms. As the school day begins, homeroom teachers facilitate opportunities for community and culture building. Students are served breakfast in homeroom while they listen to morning announcements. The closing lines of this daily ritual will quickly become a comforting and inspiring refrain: “At IDEA Hope we are BOLD members of our community. We are BRILLIANT lifelong scholars. We are BECOMING more of our truest, fullest selves. With all the knowledge you are sure to acquire today, dear ones, may this remain top of mind: You. Are. Beloved. Rays of Hope, may you shine bright, today and every day!” Once homeroom ends, students transition through their schedule, where each teacher embeds culture building opportunities into their lessons, ensuring all scholars have a strong start to the year.
Q. Where do you see IDEA’s Florida schools in the next several years?
A. IDEA Jacksonville will be the next IDEA Florida region with its first two schools launching in 2022. Meanwhile, IDEA Tampa Bay plans to open 20 schools by 2026. I am confident that as IDEA expands its reach throughout the Tampa Bay area and Jacksonville, thousands of scholars will be put on the path to and through college while partaking in a joyful and rigorous elementary and secondary school environment.
Q. How do interested families find out more?
A. We are currently accepting applications for scholars entering kindergarten, first, second, and sixth grades in fall 2021. Our IDEA Hope and IDEA Victory student lotteries are occurring on Nov. 14, Jan. 16, and Feb. 20 for the 2021-2022 school year.
For more information, visit https://ideapublicschools.org/apply/.
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A not-for-profit Texas-based charter school company that plans to expand to Florida has received national recognition for 15 of its high schools.
IDEA Public Schools, which is scheduled to open four schools in Hillsborough County next year and four in Jacksonville in 2022, announced that 15 of its college preparatory schools were ranked among the top 1 percent of the most challenging high schools in the nation by the Jay Matthews Challenge Index high school rankings. The index ranks public and private high schools by their ratio of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests given in a school year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. (The list is intended to rank schools that serve average students; those that serve elite students are ranked separately.)
The index included 11 IDEA schools among the top 25 of all high schools nationwide. Additionally, IDEA schools ranked in the top 25 percent of charter schools nationwide, with eight schools ranked among the top 10 in Texas. IDEA schools also ranked in the top 25 among Texas charter schools; IDEA College Preparatory McAllen was named the top high school in Texas and was ranked third in the nation.
The charter school company, which primarily serves students from low-income families, also was recognized by U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best High Schools. Two of its schools were among the top 25 percent of charter schools nationally and nine were among the top 10 percent of high schools in Texas overall. The U.S. News rankings are based on college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth and graduation rates.
“IDEA believes deeply that every child can and will succeed if given the opportunity, and we provide our students with an enriching, nurturing and high-expectations educational experience,” said Adam Miller, vice president of advancement for the nonprofit company, which operates 96 schools in Texas and Louisiana. “We know that if we challenge our students with rigorous content delivered by exceptional teachers, our students will succeed.”
IDEA schools require each student to take at least 11 Advanced Placement courses, a contributing factor, Miller says, in the schools’ 100 percent college admission rate. Miller said the requirement also has helped boost IDEA graduates’ rate of college completion. Fifty percent of the class of 2012 earned bachelor’s degrees within six years, compared with 11 percent of low-income students nationwide who earn four-year degrees by age 24, according to the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.
Nine out of 10 IDEA students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, generally an indicator of poverty. The company typically operates campuses located near traditional schools rated as failing.
When governors in Texas and Louisiana closed school campuses due to the coronavirus pandemic, IDEA quickly pivoted to distance learning for its 52,000 students and distributed more than 12,000 laptops to students in need. IDEA also provided wireless routers and mobile hotspots. Teachers have kept students up to speed with a combination of live instruction, recorded instruction and work packets.
In addition, the company has provided mobile meals to students younger than 18 who live in communities where IDEA schools are located.
“While this has been a new experience for most of us, our students, teachers and families have risen to the challenge,” Miller said.
The coronavirus hasn’t delayed the company’s plans to expand to Florida.
“IDEA is on track to open our first four schools in Tampa in 2021 and Jacksonville in 2022,” Miller said. “Over the next six years we will open 32 schools across Florida, creating 25,000 high-quality seats for kids in neighborhoods with persistently low-performing public schools.”