Burke Bumblebees Celebrate Opening of Newest IDEA Public School

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Courtesy / IDEA Public Schools

(From left) Honorees Louise Burke and Michael Burke, IDEA Public Schools Founder and CEO Tom Torkelson, and IDEA Burke Founding Principal Ramon Gutierrez at the ribbon cutting for IDEA Burke on Nov. 15.

To borrow a phrase, “it is the best of times and the worst of times in Texas.” For those of us who live in “the bubble,” it is a very good time. If our state were a country it would have the 10th highest GDP in the world. The unemployment rate is 3.4 percent.

Unfortunately, when it comes to children’s health, education, and well-being, our “great state” ranks as one of the worst in the nation. The statistics are painful: nearly 60 percent are not enrolled in preschool and about 70 percent are not proficient in 4th grade reading or 7th grade math. More than 1.5 million of our children live in poverty. 

My wife Louise and I both grew up in poverty. Louise was a coal miner’s daughter in Pennsylvania with six siblings and wonderful parents. I grew up in a rundown shotgun house on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco. My mother was a saint; my father was not. Louise and I had little, but we both managed to receive very good elementary and secondary educations. Most importantly, we both at an early age were exposed to the fruits of hard work, the joy of learning, and the value of friendships.

During my corporate years, I had hundreds of conversations about the frustrations of our failing Pre-K-12 education system with no effective solutions in sight.

Meanwhile, back at home all was going well. Louise did a superb job of guiding and teaching our children Kendra and Michael from the day they were born. And she has been doing the same thing with our five grandchildren every chance she gets. There is great comfort and satisfaction in knowing that your children and your grandchildren will have a superb education in academics as well as a strong, Christian moral and ethical upbringing.

And you can react to that outcome in a couple of ways: Pat yourself on the back and say, “Wonderful job, our kids and grandkids are just fine thank you very much.” Or you can consider your family incredibly fortunate and wake up to the fact that the vast majority of children in our region and Texas desperately need help. And then do everything possible to provide that help.

Courtesy / IDEA Public Schools

(From left) David Robinson shakes the hands of IDEA Public Schools Founder and CEO Tom Torkelson and IDEA San Antonio Regional Superintendent Rolando Posada.

Twenty years ago, a young graduate of Teach for America was walking along the South Padre Island shoreline one evening. Earlier in the day, a severe storm had washed up thousands of now-stranded starfish on the beach. As he walked along he would pick up a starfish and throw it back into the ocean.

An elderly man came up behind him and said, “Son, your are wasting your time. You can’t possibly make a difference with these thousands of stranded starfish.”

The young man bent over, picked one up, and threw it into the gulf. He looked the old man in the eye and said, “Made a difference to that one.”

Two years later in 2001, that young man, Tom Torkelson, along with JoAnn Gama, launched the first IDEA Public School in a former church building in Donna, Texas. They heard similar remarks about their new school being insignificant.

Jump forward to today: IDEA is the fastest growing, large charter school system in the nation. In a little more than two years from now IDEA will serve ten regions in the U.S. with 200 schools and 100,000 students. That’s a lot of starfish!

More impressive than the staggering growth rate is IDEA’s superb results. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said recently, “The dramatic improvement in the K-12 education in the Rio Grande Valley is stunning, a wonderful example for all of Texas, and it has been led by IDEA schools.” Regional Superintendent of IDEA San Antonio Rolando Posada and his team are making similar transformational changes in the San Antonio Region.

For IDEA Burke, I had a number of mascot names that I liked: Tigers, Bears, Owls, Wolves, Eagles. But IDEA now has so many schools that all those names were already taken.

Louise and our grandchildren took up the task of finding an appropriate name not yet taken. They excelled in their choice: Burke Bumblebees. They explained how biologists proved it was impossible for the big bodied, little winged bumblebee to fly – yet these beautiful creatures defy logic and science. They are superb fliers.

Rolando’s daughter, E. Maria Posada, created a wonderful artist’s rendering of our mascot. Teachers and students composed their bumblebee song, and Bianca the Bumblebee came forth to tell her remarkable story in a new book, Bee All You Can Bee.

Our Burke IDEA scholars’ education, training and development lift them away from a future of poverty, substance abuse, crime, and incarceration

So, let’s all follow Bianca Bumblebee’s example and “Bee all we can bee!”

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