Leadership ISD: Advocating for Texas’ Educational Future
Each year between the start of February and the end of April, Leadership ISD recruits community leaders for their next cohort of fellows. These people will become involved in LISD’s mission of educational equity across the state of Texas.
LISD Executive Director Patricia Arvanitis explains the organization’s philosophy. “When civic leaders understand issues, are equipped with the skills to advocate, and are connected to a mission-driven community, we believe they promote policies and practices that can eliminate disparities within our schools and ensure those we elect make the best decisions for kids.” The emphasis on diversity in every dimension creates a richer learning environment for the Fellows and produces a more representative sense of advocacy.
Erika Beltran, Regional Director for LISD Tarrant County, describes the ideal candidate. “The profile for Fellows starts with the belief that all kids can learn. Those who take ownership of education and want to get involved over the long-term; we are looking for folks to jump in and roll up their sleeves.”
Word-of-mouth recommendations drive their recruitment strategies, allowing Leadership ISD to build an impressive statewide network of advocates currently working in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston.
Beltran continues, “Pervasive low achievement is the most significant challenge we face with public education in Tarrant County. We have to ask ourselves how else we can be effective.” LISD’s advocacy extends outward, addressing specific campus problems, increasing student and parent engagement as well as bolstering literacy initiatives, STEM, and STEAM programs.
Leadership ISD’s collective alumni function as a resource for developing practical applications of educational policy initiatives. One example, the 100×25 program aims to have 100% of Texas third-graders reading on grade level by 2025 by engaging volunteers of all walks of life.
“Currently, Texas is 47th out of 50 states in per student funding we provide our schools,” Patricia Arvanitis explains further, “The first thing our legislature needs to determine is just how much it costs to educate a child. We haven’t attempted to address this disparity since the 80’s, which is reflected in the stagnate spending we see for public schools.”
As part of their education, fellows participate in seminars on school finance with individuals from the University of Houston’s Center for Public Policy. As Erika Beltran explains, “School finance is a complex issue most people don’t understand. Things are easier to ignore if they don’t seem to affect us.” This deliberate focus clarifies how local governance ultimately impacts teachers and students in the classroom.
Patricia Arvanitis emphasizes, “Teachers are still our best bet for improving literacy and learning, which means exploring innovative ways to evaluate them, support their growth, and [do] everything possible to retain them.”
As soon as Erika Beltran met current fellow Reggie Robinson, she wanted to get him involved with Leadership ISD. Robinson loved teaching physics and often works it into conversation. “You can shine a light on an issue, but if you focus it, you’ve got a laser, and you can burn through anything.”
Robinson is the Director of Green Revolution, a youth-development program providing environmental education operated in conjunction with BRIT and supported by partnerships with Texas Parks and Wildlife, Rainwater Charitable Foundation, and Blue Zones. “I’m horrible at growing things, but I grow people. To catch them up with exposure and experience, we network with quality people and get out of their zip code.”
Starting his career as a science teacher, Robinson was also Vice Principal and a specialist in curriculum development, but LISD changed his perspective. “It has unveiled layers around education I didn’t realize were there. An administrator’s concerns are student safety and making teachers more effective, not thinking about school finance and governance. My educational prowess definitely has more swagger now.”
Leadership ISD demystifies the process of educational policy, intensifying Robinson’s desire “to advance the competitive advantage of underserved and underrepresented students by identifying allies and building a cadre of like-minded advocates.” This year, Tarrant County’s LISD is focusing their resources on the Dunbar pyramid of schools in the Stop 6 neighborhood, working alongside Fellow Q. Phillips’s outstanding CommUnity Frontline organization.
In March, a state-wide network of 50 local Fellows will convene in Austin to define the three main issues for Leadership ISD moving forward. With attention to every level from policy to the classroom, they will continue to push to make public education more efficient and inclusive. As this alignment of energy solidifies, all Texas students will have the advocates they deserve.
An Austin native, Lyle Brooks relocated to Fort Worth in order to immerse himself in the burgeoning music scene and the city’s rich cultural history, which has allowed him to cover everything from Free Jazz to folk singers. He’s collaborated as a ghostwriter on projects focusing on Health Optimization, Roman Lawyers, and an assortment of intriguing subjects requiring his research.