Executive Director of Permian Basin Bethany Solis, didn’t always plan on having a career in education, the calling eventually found her. As a young adult living in New York City, Bethany spent time with families in the local community through volunteer work. She experienced the systemic inequities that kept excellent schools out of reach for children, she knew she had to make a change. Bethany graduated from Brigham Young University and immediately started her career in education as a bilingual elementary teacher in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Every career decision I make is informed and inspired by my experiences with students as a classroom teacher,” Bethany said. “I wanted to be a part of a K-12 system that obsessed over great teaching in every classroom every year.”
Bethany taught in Mercedes and Donna, Texas for four years before becoming the founding principal of IDEA Mission Academy. She was then a consultant for Educate Texas, where she helped local school districts implement the Early College High School model. Bethany returned to IDEA to lead the organization’s leadership development programs as VP of Leader Development for the past 6 years.
Let’s hear more from Bethany:
Can you share a little bit about your journey to become an Executive Director with IDEA?
A: My first principal at IDEA was a fantastic model of great leadership, and I lived what most teachers across the country experience—your decision to stay at a school rests primarily on the experience you have with your principal. I wanted to stay! In fact, not only did I want to stay, but I soon decided I wanted to follow in her footsteps as a principal.
However, my jump from teacher to principal was not an easy one—principalship can be hard! So, when I had the opportunity to launch the Principal in Residence Program in 2012, I jumped at it, hoping that I could help future leaders to be better prepared for the challenges of principalship.
Why Permian Basin – what are the benefits of moving and growing your career in this new region?
A: Much of my later childhood was spent in rural Northern California, in a community where life is slower paced, where drivers wave at each other as they pass by, and where neighbors rally together for each other. My dad, the local school district psychologist, would often travel out to far flung reaches of the district to visit children in their homes or teach parenting classes for families. My mom worked hard to help open the town’s self-funded library and to make sure a small food bank could support the many local families in need. I watched my parents and neighbors roll up their sleeves and go to work when the community had a true need. And when I first visited the Permian Basin, I met similarly committed people ready to roll up their sleeves and give their time, talents, and money to help transform their local education system.
I’ve learned quickly that this is a region where people are willing to take risks and try new things—there’s a contagious “can-do” spirit of adventure that is energizing and exciting. The Midland/Odessa area is one of the fastest growing regions of the country. Civic and business leaders are working hard to invest in parks, recreation, the arts, and other amenities that help a boom town become a destination people want to stay in. There is no shortage of jobs in all industries—as IDEA grows its presence here, there will continue to be plenty of good, well-paying jobs for our employees’ spouses and other family members.
What has been the highlight of your career? Why do you do what you do every day?
A: My “why” is rooted squarely in my experiences with students as a teacher. I think often of Jesse and Ramon, two of my students that proved just what children are capable of achieving when a team of adults believe in them and both inspire and support them. Jesse came to my third grade classroom unable to read in either English or Spanish, his home language. And yet Jesse, as all our students are, was brilliant. He was witty and curious and determined. He worked harder than any 8-year-old should have to work to catch up academically, but by the end of the year he’d grown almost 3 grade levels in reading and met grade level expectations on the state assessment. He literally jumped for joy upon the good news.
Ramon was similarly behind when he arrived in second grade, struggling to navigate school with learning disabilities and the challenges that often come with learning English. He was experiencing the trauma of poverty and of his father being incarcerated. Luckily, I was blessed to have Ramon for two years—second and third grade—and experienced a similarly joyful moment when Ramon found out that he’d passed multiple state assessments, forever changing his perception of himself as a failure to someone who, with hard work, could reach ambitious goals.
Ramon and his family moved out of the area years ago, so you can imagine my surprise and excitement when just a few weeks ago his mom contacted me to let me know that he AND she were enrolled in college in Houston. These moments are my career highlights above all others. They remind me what all children—no matter what challenges they might be facing—are capable of. They are the reason I do what I do every day.
Who do you need to join you in Permian Basin? What kind of team are you trying to build?
A: We plan to do something in the Permian Basin that IDEA hasn’t really done before—several of our schools will be turning around existing schools that are chronic underperformers and will be creating new proof points of what all children are capable of.
This means we need teachers and leaders who are risk takers, who want to be where the need is great. We need team members who can lead powerfully and personally toward our mission of college for all. We need leaders who are passionate and creative about hiring, developing, and retaining great talent and who get excited about the challenge of attracting top talent to a community not currently known as a talent destination. With the help of our exceptional future principals, we intend to become a highly coveted talent destination within IDEA by building a region-wide team culture of both rigor and joy and by creating undeniable proof points of what students are capable of achieving from day one—in any community.
What advice would you give to other leaders debating on making this jump with you?
A: Come visit the region! I bet many of you are thinking (like I did!), “I just don’t think that’s the place for me” but just come out and see for yourself and let me introduce you to the community! I’m hosting a “Day in the Permian Basin” for prospective PIRs on November 9th. Sign up to get more information here.
What are your goals for the children in Midland/Odessa? How do you plan to promote change and success in a new region?
A: One of the best ways we can support the Permian Basin community is opening exemplary schools that put all children on the path to college from day one. Our goal is to make sure that every school is an A school, a place where we as staff members would want our own children. We look to the amazing proof points already being created in other regions in Texas and Louisiana and we will be working to create similarly strong proof points of our own. However, we are not the only one nor the first ones to have this goal! The local school districts are taking major steps to increase choice and quality and have asked us to join them in this transformation. We consider it a true privilege to be a trusted partner in this movement for change!