May 23, 2019 GMT

As the third-fastest growing economy in the nation, San Antonio is rising. It’s hardly coincidence that its schools are, too. Districts across the city rank among the best in the state. San Antonio Independent School District is one of the fastest improving in Texas.

To sustain this progress, we need to support the people who work day in and out to make it real. When it comes to opening and growing great schools, this means ensuring our educators and leaders have the skills and experience necessary to set clear and ambitious goals and overcome innumerable challenges.

That is why we are optimistic about the creation of the Trinity University School Design Network. This new fellowship and incubator program will give educators and leaders the training, skills and experience they need to successfully build and open innovative public schools. This network, which will launch with $5 million from the Walton Family Foundation, is the first incubator of its kind embedded in an accredited higher education institution.


Unlike other leadership development programs, the School Design Network will tailor resources and training to each phase of the school design and launch process. That is because, just like many of today’s students, modern school founders and leaders need something different. Texas education policy rightly pushes resources and autonomy to schools, leaving principals and founders responsible for tasks that were tied up in distant bureaucracies in years past. Bringing this work closer to the students is undoubtedly the right decision. But with this increased responsibility comes a rising need for a new kind of support system, from mentor and peer engagement to customized leadership development to all-too-precious time for ongoing reflection.

The more than 40 leaders selected for this program will share a commitment to ending the one-size-fits-all education model. Through mentoring and other expert counsel and resources from the network, leaders will design innovative schools that can support every learner, attract educators with a passion for what’s possible and prepare children regardless of background, for success in college, career and life.

In year one, participants will receive leadership training and coaching from experts as they conceptualize and build a school rooted in student and community need. School Design Network classes and projects on topics such as school culture, curriculum, operations and community engagement will be dynamic and customized to the needs of each school leader. Some program participants may focus initially on the school building itself — finding and designing an inviting space that facilitates learning. Others may spend more time on recruiting, hiring and training a cadre of passionate, dedicated educators who will work together to realize their dream school. Whatever path they choose, experts will provide future leaders with necessary training, skills and experience.


Participants then move into a two-month “boot camp” to ensure they are effectively reaching and engaging students, parents, educators and community partners. Coaching and peer engagement doesn’t stop when the school doors open. For two years, School Design Network participants collaborate with other school founders as they navigate growing pains and get on the path to growth and success.

The time for this program is now. As an example, in just its second year of operation, there are already two applicants for every available student seat at CAST Tech, an Innovation Partnership school where students are exposed to technology and entrepreneurial careers through curriculum rooted in real-world problem-solving, internships and mentorships. Just last month, San Antonio Independent School District trustees voted to allow the CAST Network to open three new schools.

Some network participants will assume leadership positions at public charter schools, where they will have control over essential elements of their school, such as staffing, scheduling, curriculum and culture. Others will collaborate with San Antonio districts to open new traditional district schools or create unique district-charter partnership schools.

For San Antonio to continue to rise, so must its schools. There is no shortage of local leaders with a passion for creating and running great schools. We are honored to launch the School Design Network to help them achieve their dreams — and, in doing so, unlock opportunities for young people throughout our great city.

Alice Walton is a board member of the Walton Family Foundation. Shari Albright is president of Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation.