When Cynthia Trigg’s application for Evolution Academy Charter School was granted by the State Board of Education (SBOE) some 20 years ago, the process was much simpler.
“The landscape for charter schools has changed vastly,” Trigg told The Dallas Express. “The data gathering and being able to tell the story of the business plan did increase. When we first got our start, our charter was centered on about 430 pages, while the initial charter was a two or three-pager. So, we were in that group where the transition took place. It was generation six and seven when we started to see more details and having to paint a stronger picture.”
Cynthia Trigg founded the Evolution Academy Charter Schools in Dallas, Houston, and Beaumont and is also the superintendent. She is a Texas Woman’s University graduate, has a master’s degree in education administration from Prairie View A&M University, and received a superintendent certification from the University of Texas at Tyler.
“We initially applied as what then was called a 75% rule charter where we were very intentional that our goal was to serve students who had either dropped out of school or were at risk of dropping out,” Trigg said in an interview. “There was a path that you could take at that time, but that did change, and all schools became open-enrollment charters, which subjected them to the same criteria. So, over the years, things evolved and changed.”
According to TEA data, some 5.3 million students attended public schools in Texas during the 2020-21 school year, compared to 336,900 students who attended charter schools, which accounts for 6.1% of the total public school population in Texas.
“The data suggests that charter schools are not as effective on the whole as public schools and that doesn’t mean that every single charter school is ineffective but, statistically, they don’t do as well as the public schools,” said Texas School Board Of Education (SBOE) member Rebecca Bell Metereau. “I know there are people who think charter schools are doing better, but the data does not support that idea.”
Rather than seeking to place their children in charter schools, Bell Metereau would like to see parents to launch a letter campaign to Gov. Greg Abbot and the Texas Legislature demanding that more money from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) be allocated to public schools for tutors, after-school programs, and to pay teachers higher salaries.
“The SBOE manages the Permanent School Fund, but its oversight of a fund that is managed by a professional company,” she said. “Allocation of funding comes from the governor, the Texas House of Representatives, and the Senate. They make those decisions on the budget.”
PSF is a $48.3 million endowment created for the benefit of public schools, according to Texas 2036, a nonprofit organization.
“It started out as oil money, but it’s now widely invested,” Bell Metereau told Dallas Express. “That money has just been accumulating and accumulating. Texas ranks 39th in per-pupil spending on public education, not including charter schools. That’s pretty pitiful when you think of what a huge permanent school fund we have. We have tons of money. We should be hiring the best teachers. We should be paying tutors to help kids in neighborhoods that need it.”
In June, Bell Metereau was among SBOE members who voted against four of the seven charter school applications that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) recommended. The three charter school applications that were approved include Rocketship, Thrive Center, and Essence.
“I know that the Commissioner [Mike Morath] along with the State Board of Education have been intentional about fulfilling the goals and the objectives of charter schools with an innovative approach,” said the Richardson-based Trigg. “They have really taken a very deep dive on the individuals and the institutions or organizations that are being admitted, and it’s a rigorous process. It’s centered around a scoring guide and really being able to meet the requirements of the rubric.”
Before founding Evolution Academy in 2002, Trigg worked as a former secondary school teacher, director of student activities, assistant principal, principal, and educational specialist in the Beaumont ISD, Aldine ISD, Fort Worth ISD, Wilmer Hutchins ISD, and Region V Education Service Center in Houston.
“We operated as a single charter campus for 13 years prior to expanding and opening up additional Evolution Academy campuses in 2013 and 2014,” Trigg said. “So, for us, we are now a three-campus school, which is considered small-to-medium size. The challenge is that the work has gotten increasingly a little bit more difficult in terms of the dynamics that we are addressing. Being able to multitask and have enough allocations to delegate responsibilities is a challenge.”
Cynthia Trigg was recently elected to the Texas Charter School Association’s (TCSA) Board of Directors as the Small School Representative beginning in January 2022 for three years.
“We do not have a role in the charter school approval process,” she said. “That is a separate entity. The Texas Charter School Association is there to support Texas charters and advocate on behalf of those Texas charters. That’s the official role.”
As a Small School Representative on the TCSA board, Trigg plans to be a voice.
“Drop-out recovery charter schools tend to be small and, in some instances, a little bit underrepresented,” she said. “We began to have dialogue more so with the Texas Charter School Association, along with TEA and the Commissioner and, it’s a space that I believe deserves to have a voice. The best way to be a change agent is to express that voice, and I feel extremely honored.”
An Intercultural Development Research Association study found that Texas public schools are losing one out of five students, which means that the state is failing to graduate one out of every five students. Texas high schools lost 86,789 students in 2019-20.
“What we leave the day with and what we wake up and start the day with is how can we challenge our students to finish what they start,” Cynthia Trigg added. “It may be that a student needs to fast track and is looking for a way to accelerate and still maintain the curriculum in its wholeness. So, we offer an array of programs and services to help students move in that direction with credit recovery or credit acceleration along with dual credit by being partnered with multiple community colleges and institutes of higher learning.”