Naval Academy graduate and NBA star David Robinson wanted to share his bounty with poor children in his home city of San Antonio, so in 2001 he founded Carver Academy as a high-aspiration Christian private school for low-income kids, giving more than $11 million to launch it and keep it going. When he decided in 2011 to transfer the operation to IDEA Public Schools, a top-ranked network of 30 charter schools that has grown up across south Texas, many wondered about the decision. People asked him, “How can you let your baby go?” But Robinson explained, “I didn’t see it that way.” In fact, making Carver a part of IDEA has allowed Robinson to come closer to his original dream of bringing a better education to poor kids throughout Texas.
When he started Carver with 60 students, they were performing an average of one or two grade levels ahead in math, English, and science by the end of their first year. They were exposed to foreign languages, athletics, music, and the arts. They worked on service projects too. But, Robinson laments, “despite my best efforts, we were still a small school with the capacity to graduate just 15 students a year.” And “the yearly fundraising onus became a major challenge.” Robinson realized that he needed a partner—“an organization that could use the investment that I made in Carver to reach far more children. One that was run by like-minded people who were as committed to excellent education as I was.”
IDEA turned out to be the perfect partner. The charter network currently educates more than 15,000 students, 85 percent of whom come from low-income families and 95 percent of whom are Hispanic. As charters, IDEA schools are eligible for public funding (though they receive on average $1,500 less per pupil than a district school), so they don’t have the same fundraising challenges that private schools do.
Like the students at the original Carver Academy, IDEA students are performing far beyond their peers at traditional neighborhood public schools. All classes are at or above grade level in reading, and, so far, 100 percent of graduates have enrolled in college. U.S. News & World Report placed three of the IDEA schools in the top 1 percent of all high schools in the country. IDEA was recently named one of three finalists for the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools.
Carver Academy, now IDEA Carver, opened in 2012 with five times the number of students it once had and a higher percentage of students from low-income homes. Currently serving grades K-6, the school is on track to become a K-12 facility. Robinson’s model is thus helping IDEA transform the experience of San Antonio’s disadvantaged kids—who currently have a 10 percent on-time graduation rate citywide. By the 2017-18 school year, IDEA is expecting to have 20 schools open in the city, serving more than 27,000 students.
“So, no, it is not hard to let Carver go,” Robinson has stated. “From my perspective, I am letting Carver grow—doing what’s best for the students that currently attend Carver and the students across the city of San Antonio that deserve access to a superior education. I am using my talents and influence to support a thoughtful and highly successful organization. I am excited about this partnership and eager to see the impact this shift will have on the educational landscape of my city. I will forever be grateful to the parents that entrusted us with the education of their children and to the students of Carver who brought so much joy and fulfillment to my life. Because of them I am even more committed to seeing the educational landscape change in our country, and excited to take on a new role in this work.”