By Alex Jimenez, Public Schools Supporter – Former TXU Corp Vice President; Past Chairman of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber and the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Former Fort Worth Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Chairman
Many of the values our families instill in us in childhood carry into adulthood, shaping our aspirations, careers and social environment. As a child growing up in a large Hispanic family in Eastland, Texas, the most important value our father, and later my older siblings, instilled in me was ensuring a love of reading and learning. In our family, we were taught to do our best in school and respect everyone.
Learning to read at a very young age not only equipped me with the reading comprehension skills to remember and understand what I was consuming, but it also provided me a foundation to build confidence in my opinions and have the courage to speak up for the less fortunate in our community.
This passion for reading and cultivating a love of learning led to my involvement in the education sector in Fort Worth. I observed a disconnect between some of our kids and their respective reading levels, particularly among our communities of color.
I wanted to play a part in strengthening the learning environment for students across Fort Worth. Like many others, I thought charter schools only recruited students who were performing at their grade level and from affluent neighborhoods. Well, I was wrong. That impression completely changed a few years ago when I toured an Uplift Education campus. Most of the kids were from communities of color and were on the free and reduced lunch program. I learned that charter schools are open to all students who apply, and overall, they mirror the demographics of traditional ISDs like FWISD, including the percentage of special needs and English as a second language students. These students were excited about their teachers and what they were learning.
The charter school environment has grown substantially in Tarrant County over the last few years with the entrance of networks such as IDEA Public Schools, and most recently, Rocketship Texas. These schools are entering low-income neighborhoods and communities of need where students aren’t performing at their grade level, offering another choice in obtaining a free, quality education. I support all public schools, but I believe charter schools have a unique culture that focuses on the kids to ensure each student is learning to the best of their ability and is equipped with the skills they need to succeed. This starts with proficiency in reading and writing and ends with making sure no student is left behind in the learning process. The results of this learning culture speak for themselves – for the last 15 years, 100 percent of IDEA graduates across the state of Texas have been accepted to college. I adamantly believe that all kids can learn. A strong charter school system contributes to a healthy public school system and community.
I’ve seen many of the values of my upbringing reflected in the charter school model: put the child first and champion their success and education. This is the culture I see in the halls of IDEA Public Schools in Tarrant County, and one of the many reasons why I serve on its Advisory Board. I am proud to use my voice to advocate for our students of all backgrounds, contribute positively to the conversation and encourage our focus to return to the fundamental question: how can we help our kids succeed? The future of our city, especially the central city, depends on it.