Deep in the Heart of Excellence

Salsa secreta comes to San Antonio, Texas

By Didymath

Amigos: I am crestfallen to report that a scourge of bad schools has befallen my fair burg of San Antonio, Texas. You’d think that without those pesky unions to hold them back Texas schools would be free to excel. Alas, we Tejanos seem to be missing some salsa secreta. Fortunately a team of local visionaries has been working round the clock to solve this problema. The solution? Replace San Antonio’s existing public schools with charters that are más excelente.

Reader: I give you Choose to Succeed. Founded by the George W. Brackenridge Foundation, “Choose to Succeed is working to attract the nation’s highest performing charter networks to San Antonio and to help them grow to serve upward of 80,000 San Antonio public school students by 2026.” Note, dear reader, that crack team from Choose to Succeed includes not a single teacher. That’s how we know there is some serious disruptive innovation going on. But here is a pregunta for you: ¿Where, pray tell, will all of these students come from?

Since our education system is in crisis, we’ve got to do something. ¡Problema solved!  And class, remember to SLANT as I reveal the starting lineup for your San Antonio Charter Heroes!

BASIS Schools
Carpe Diem Schools
Great Hearts Academies
IDEA Public Schools
KIPP San Antonio
Rocketship Education

Booya! KIPP San Antonio has been in town for a decade and IDEA Public Schools just partnered with NBA legend David Robinson’s Carver Academy in 2012. But that alone was not enough firepower to take down the monster of mediocrity that is San Antonio’s inner city school districts.

The Good
We know all about those plucky KIPPsters, sitting up straight on their way to excellence. But maybe y’all yankees up north haven’t heard too much about IDEA Public Schools. Grab your wine boxes and take a shot every time you read something familiar:

During their stint as Teach For America corps members, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama founded the IDEA Academy as an after school program in Donna, TX in 1998. It was created as a way to help combat some of the major educational deficiencies they saw in their students, focusing the program on student achievement and college readiness.
With the motto of “No Excuses!” the program saw quick success, and the state granted a charter to IDEA in 2000. Beginning with only grades 4-8, the original flagship campus in Donna has expanded to become a K-12 campus.

TFA alumni as founders? Check. Conceived in the hotbed of educational superiority and innovation that is Texas? Check. Excuses? I better not see any check marks here, readers. Tuck in those shirts!

IDEA is poised to conquer a southside near you! Just don’t tell your neighbors about how they were kicked out of Austin up the road.

The Bad (as in Badass computer labs, brah)
Of course, charter schools can do more than foster the compliant 21st century workforce of the future. They can also equip los estudiantes with the cubicle-bound ennui of the late 20th century! That’s where Rocketship Education and Carpe Diem School come in. You take the firm opposition to excuses of KIPP or IDEA and you throw in a dash of call center workplace chic and you get….mmm: que sabrosa. That’s the salsa secreta we’ve been looking for.

Finally, we can get schools that are not bound by such loopy union-headed thinking like “you can’t have a 75-to-1 student to teacher ratio” and “kids need art and music.” The fools, don’t they know there’s an achievement gap out there to vanquish?

But, Didymath, I hear you asking, how do we know these schools are truly excellent? Thank you for raising your hands, dear readers, and that’s an excellent question. I am a firm believer in measuring people by the company they keep. Did you know visionary and misunderstood Chief 4 Change Tony Bennett was so impressed by Carpe Diem that he invited them to set up shop in Indiana? The man knows great schools. Or maybe you prefer the Rocketship student chant:

Maria Marcelo, a Washington parent, recalled how Rocketship children would tell Washington students, “’Rocketship, I’m the best!’ and “‘You’re the loser, loser, loser, Washington loser.’”

Who needs a music curriculum with a snappy tune like that?

The Ugly (as in “It’s so Ugly that suburban neighborhoods don’t have more charter schools!”)
Compadres, it’s not just low-income students of color who are in dire need of transformation. Public schools in general are lameness factories regardless of who attends. So it’s with great honor that we introduce our last two dancers: Great Hearts and BASIS Schools.

These two fellers are not class warriors. Don’t quote their demographic data to them: it’s not important in the unyielding quest for excellence. Didymath: I read that they ask for a donation of $1,500 for each student and in all but one of Great Hearts schools in Arizona, they serve a student body that is over 70% white or Asian. Readers, you did not raise your hands before speaking. That’s a demerit.

But Didymath: at BASIS Scottsdale, it’s even worse: 95% of the students are Asian or white and none of them receive special education services or receive free or reduced lunch. Reade:  get in the back of the room and sit on that milk crate! Anyway, finding that many white and Asian students might be difficult in a city that’s 63% Latino, but I’m confident that they will find a way.

Choo-Choo-Choose to Succeed
You hear that, readers?  Yes, that’s the train of excellence whistling by San Antonio. Wanna know how you can make this Dream Teams dreams come true?

First, get that wallet out! Donations to the High Performing Charter School Fund will not only “attract and grow high performing charter schools to serve students in the San Antonio area” but they also have an added bonus:

Distributions from the Fund may also be used to support Teach for America and other charter support organizations to the extent that they increase growth of high performing charter schools.

Two excellent donations in one! Our schools aren’t truly reformed until the freshest TFA corps members in the USA bring their talents to South Texas. Swish!

Now, curl into that easy chair and await your futures. It’s time to let the education experts at the George W. Brackenridge Foundation do their thang.

Didymath is a public sector leech and TFA alum who teaches math at a public high school on the west side of San Antonio. He lives with his wife, son, and two dogs. He writes too long here and too short here.


  1. Funny piece, but this stuff is truly terrifying. They’re coming for our schools, right?

    Also, is that an actual Rocketship classroom? What a grim, sad way to treat kids. How long do they sit isolated like that? Half the day? I’m in a juvenile detention center once or twice a week in the course of my work and the kids there have online instruction. Ten years ago they had actual human beings teaching them, but they went to online to cut costs.

    Does Rocketship know that “classrooms” in America’s juvenile detention centers look exactly like their charter chain? Take away the primary colors on the cubicles and it’s a perfect match. Good Lord.

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