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MAKING MOVES The idea: Make a great public charter school bigger to give more students the opportunity to attend. The inspiration: Showing detractors that done right, a high-quality education is possible for all students The St. Edward’s edge: “At St. Edward’s, I realized that going to school isn’t just about learning something. It’s about taking that knowledge and using it to give back to a community. We should expect to give as much as we get.” Like many teachers, Matt Abbott ’03 was frustrated by the negative rhetoric that surrounded teachers and students. But he never believed it. “I was so tired of people saying what students couldn’t do,” he says. “I don’t care if kids come from the worst educational background or lower on the socioeconomic [ladder]. I really believe if you give them the right tools, you show them that you care and you’re 100 percent dedicated, they will be successful.” He saw that truth when he stepped into his first classroom in 2005 as a high-school social studies teacher. A few years later, Abbott became the director of training services for the Texas Charter Schools Association. His experiences as a teacher and administrator made him believe he could do better by students — and he could do it bigger. He took note of the high test scores and parent-engagement level at Wayside Schools, formerly known as Eden Park Academy Charter School District, an elementary and middle school in South Austin. In Abbott’s eyes, the school was doing everything right, but he thought he could take the high-performing school to scale. “If we could serve 1,500 students and expand to serve high-school students, we could make a greater impact on the local community,” he says. When he and a colleague presented the idea to the school board, they loved it and eventually appointed Abbott as CEO to lead the transition. Since he took the helm at Wayside in June 2012, he’s added a second campus and tripled the student body to a total of 750 students. He achieved a big part of the growth by going door-todoor selling the school’s message and convincing parents to take a risk, albeit a calculated one, with his school. He’s sharpened the mission and its message, both of which excited him about the school in the first place. “Our goal is to create college-ready, communityengaged global citizens,” he says. In the next year, he’ll lead the continuing expansion of the district, which now consists of two elementary schools and one middle­­and high school. “It’s not just about taking the school to the next level,” he says. “It’s about taking students to the next level.” 19

St. Edward’s University Magazine Fall 2013

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