Charter Schools and Public Ones Align in Texas Valley
It was almost lunch time on the day before Thanksgiving break, but Gustavo Corrales, a math teacher, was not ready to let his students out the door at the San Juan campus of IDEA Public Schools, a network of charter schools in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I’m not going to pass you if you don’t know what to do — but it’s not because I’m being mean. I’m not being gacho,” he said, using a Mexican slang word for “unkind.” “It’s because I want you to learn.”
Earlier that same morning, across Highway 83 at Southwest High School in Pharr, Cindy Rivera, a language arts teacher, passed out copies of Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” to about 18 ninth graders. “This is a college level book, guys,” she said encouragingly, introducing a unit on classical gods and goddesses. “The material is perfect for high schoolers. You love violence, and you love romance.”
The two teachers are supposed to be rivals. Mr. Corrales works in a charter school that is publicly financed but operates independently of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, where Ms. Rivera teaches. Nationally, charter schools and traditional school districts battle for students and money, and trade claims about their relative success.
But here in the Valley, less than an hour from the Texas-Mexico border, the charter network and the district are working together. With IDEA in the lead, they are creating a training center for teachers and principals that will serve both charter schools and traditional ones. By doing so, the area is helping to write a new chapter in charter-district relations, one that replaces competition with collaboration to better serve the needs of students, regardless of which school they attend. Urban districts like New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans have already developed such partnerships.