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Walton Family Foundation Announces Efforts to Grow and Diversify the Teacher Pipeline in the Houston Region

March 5, 2018
$790,000 grant will enable YES Prep Public Schools to train and support more than 600 educators for both public charter and district schools

HOUSTON, March 5, 2018 - Today, the Walton Family Foundation announced plans to invest $790,000 to grow and diversify the teaching profession in Houston, Texas, by supporting the expansion of Teaching Excellence, an innovative teacher training program run by YES Prep Public Schools.

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With foundation support, Teaching Excellence will train and support at least 620 educators, 70 percent of whom will identify as people of color, between 2018 and 2020. Teaching Excellence educators will eventually serve Houston students across 15 charter organizations and school districts.

"Great teachers are an essential component of any great school," said Walton Family Foundation K-12 Education Director Marc Sternberg. "Through the expansion of the successful Teaching Excellence program, more Houston students in all types of schools will learn from high-quality, passionate educators. We commend YES Prep's commitment to growing and diversifying the teacher pipeline, which will benefit students for decades to come."

Founded in 2004, the Teaching Excellence program has trained more than 2,450 teachers. Current Teaching Excellence alumni serve Houston students across five charter organizations and school districts: Baker-Ripley Neighborhood center, KIPP Houston, Raul Yzaguirre Schools for Success, Spring Branch Independent School District and YES Prep and one Dallas-Ft. Worth-based partner, Uplift Education. For example, more than 100 alumni currently teach in Spring Branch Independent School District schools.

This grant will enable YES Prep to foster a teaching workforce that is over three times as diverse as the national average. Additionally, Teaching Excellence will offer 220 scholarships, 80 percent of which will support people of color. In the science, technology, engineering and math subjects, collectively referred to as STEM, the lack of teacher diversity is even more pronounced.

"The nation faces serious challenges to achieving equity and excellence in its STEM workforce, and the importance of fostering diversity in STEM teaching and teacher education is fundamental to this success," noted Dr. Carol O'Donnell, Director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center. "The Smithsonian is honored to partner with school systems like YES Prep Public Schools and their Teaching Excellence program as one of 21 leadership teams attending this year's Teacher Leadership Summit to attract, retain, and develop a diverse STEM teaching workforce."

The Teaching Excellence program leverages nationally proven best practices around teacher training and individualized support to accelerate the development of new teachers in this innovative pathway into the profession. Teaching Excellence is one of the only teacher training programs in the country, and the only program in Texas, run by a charter operator that also trains educators for nearby district schools.

"School systems that prioritize student achievement are coming together to ensure that they have the best teachers possible. Regardless of structure or geography, committed school systems understand that teacher quality is paramount to student achievement. Teaching Excellence seeks partnerships with organizations that share this value so that every classroom in Houston is led by a highly effective teacher," said Teaching Excellence's Managing Director Carlos Villagrana.

On average, Teaching Excellence educators remain in the classroom longer than their Texas counterparts in district or charter schools. In addition, when compared with teachers in nearby districts, students with Teaching Excellence educators score significantly higher on the STAAR English I, English II and Algebra I exams.

Lawrence Battle is a Teaching Excellence graduate who is now in his third year as a YES Prep social studies teacher. Battle, who is African American, grew up watching his mother and grandmother teach in Houston public schools. After working on education issues from a policy perspective, Battle realized he could have an even greater impact in the classroom. Battle entered the Teaching Excellence program and today assumes multiple leadership roles at YES Prep, including those of grade level chair and diversity ambassador. In the latter role, Battle works with teachers across Houston to implement innovative ways to integrate diversity initiatives across schools.

"Being an educator was always in my DNA," said Battle. "My mother and grandmother each taught for 30-plus years right here in Houston. Seeing how they impacted student lives inspired me to begin my own journey in education. My participation in Teaching Excellence provided me with the necessary skills and values to be successful in the classroom."

About the Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. The children and grandchildren of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. In 2016, the foundation awarded more than $454 million in grants in support of these initiatives. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About YES Prep Public Schools

For 20 years, YES Prep has increased the number of students from underserved communities who graduate from college prepared to lead. With 17 schools serving 12,600 students, YES Prep leads Houston forward by redefining what is possible in public education when children have access to excellent schools. YES Prep received the inaugural Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, is nationally ranked by the U.S. News and World Report, The Washington Post, and others, and has consistently been named one of Houston's "Best Places to Work" by the Houston Business Journal. The Teaching Excellence program provides transformational support through proven coaching strategies, impactful professional learning, and a streamlined Alternative Certification Pathway (ACP) for all teachers new to YES Prep and to partner school systems.