Business Engagement Key in Supporting Schools
The state of public education in the Dallas Region is strengthening, but to build upon those improvements and successes, businesses leaders, residents, and government will need to continue and grow engagement, leaders said recently at a Dallas Regional Chamber event.
More than 500 business, community, and education leaders attended the DRC’s State of Public Education event Sept. 30 at the Hyatt Regency at Reunion Tower in Downtown Dallas.
“It takes investment, but it also takes rolling up your sleeves and volunteering,” said Dr. Peter Balyta, President of Education Technology, and Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Academic Engagement at Texas Instruments.
Balyta was joined on the panel by Frito-Lay North America Vice President of Communications Joan Cetera, Richardson Independent School District (RISD) Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone, and Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa. Their discussion followed an address by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.
Both Balyta and Cetera said it’s in their best interests to support public education because their companies’ success depends on a well-educated workforce. Balyta said that the Texas Instruments Foundation is pouring $4.6 million and $8 million into Richardson ISD and Dallas ISD, respectively, to boost project-based teaching and hands-on learning.
“What I’m most proud of is that this year, we are on track for 200,000 volunteer hours, and the majority of that is in education,” Balyta said. “The majority of that is in classrooms helping with afterschool programs like robotics, Girl Scouts, etc.”
Cetera said Frito-Lay and its parent company, PepsiCo, views aiding public education as a means to ending economic disparity, rather than charity. The company has been increasing its focus on improving Southern Dallas over the past 18 months, she said.
“Some of you have heard about our initiative called Southern Dallas Thrives, where we really are focusing our energy on that part of the city,” she said, “so that we can make really lasting, impactful change.”
That initiative includes helping 85 percent of South Oak Cliff High School students graduate college, or prepare to be career-ready through tutoring and mentoring efforts at South Oak Cliff P-TECH, which is located within South Oak Cliff High School in Southern Dallas. Frito-Lay employees are also volunteering at early childhood centers in Southern Dallas, where their involvement has increased school readiness by 10 percent.
Frito-Lay, Texas Instruments, and 75 other DRC partners are also participating in 22 Dallas ISD Pathways to Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH), which incorporates selected career pathways and sought-after job skills in areas including technology, health care, construction, manufacturing, business, education, mechatronics and engineering into Dallas ISD high-school curricula.
Aside from receiving industry and skill-specific training, the students also work with industry mentors and earn associates’ degrees and industry certificates in career paths they’ve chosen.
Stone said her district has developed two P-TECH academies, where they’re emphasizing architecture, teaching, marketing, robotics, and hopes to soon offer mechatronics, which focuses on both electrical and mechanical engineering used in robotics, computers, and other devices.
“All of the things are getting kids to see that what they’re learning connected to a career someday,” Stone said.
Hinojosa said in the four years since his district became the first to launch P-TECH in Texas, it now has most academies of any school district in the country, and it’s only lost one industry partner.
“It’s been amazing, and it’s low risk and high reward for the industry partners,” he said, adding that all P-TECH high schools have workplace coordinators engaging with industry partners. According to Hinojosa, the system helps connect Dallas ISD students with workplace visits, mentoring, internships and taking classes to give them relevant skills and a better idea of what to expect in corporate America.
“At the end, if we don’t develop a good product, you don’t have to hire them – just give them an interview,” he said. “But, if you’ve been that invested, that long, we believe you’re going to fall in love with our kids, like we have. And that’s just what’s happening.”
Morath used his keynote speech to discuss the state’s strategies to improving public education in Texas, and to highlight the transformative changes and opportunities that Texas House Bill 3 and the new $11 billion state investment – passed in the last legislative session – creates.
He also underscored the challenges that Texas faces educating the state’s 5.4 million pre-K-12 students, roughly 3 million of whom qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Morath said that while test scores are up across the state, largely due to the work of hundreds of thousands of teachers, there’s still much to be learned from successful schools and districts.
“We have 296 campuses in the state of Texas where more than 80 percent of the children need some kind of subsidized support just to eat during the day. Yet in that environment … educators are delivering excellence. The cycle of poverty is ending at these schools,” Morath said. “The question is, ‘What we do to spread the practices that are happening in those schools so that they are not an abnormality, they become average.”
Morath said as a result, the state is stepping up its game in recruiting and retaining effective teachers, and – through HB3 – is funding strategic initiatives, such as:
- Paying higher-performing teachers more;
- Increasing funding and directing more effective administrators and teachers to lower-performing schools; and
- Providing increased funding to schools with advanced teaching programs, such as P-TECH.
Morath said public schools play a crucial role in providing a solid education, effectively preserving our Republic.
“We know we live in a country that says that ‘All men are created equal,’ that we’re endowed with certain rights, the right to happiness, being chief among them,” he said. “If you are not equipped with a rigorous education, modern America can be very difficult. Just separating fact from fiction on Twitter is, in fact, a high-order skill.”
Also at the event, attendees were encouraged to volunteer for the DRC’s October 10 Principal for a Day event. To learn more, click here.
Presenting sponsors were Texas Instruments and Toyota Motor North America; gold sponsor was Thomson Reuters; silver sponsors included Communities Foundation of Texas, Ernst & Young LLP, International Leadership of Texas, Networking Results Inc., and Oncor.