Oscar Dunn: Free, focused on college, and for all children

IDEA Public Schools boasts an exceptionally strong focus on college readiness, defending its 12-year record with a 100% college acceptance rate in its founding state of Texas. The institution prides itself on being free to attend, focused on college, and accessible for all children.

Breeding a team of people who have long served the New Orleans educational community, the organization has officially expanded to Louisiana with locations up and running in Baton Rouge and soon to open in New Orleans.

IDEA’s New Orleans location, Oscar Dunn, will launch in August 2019 as a K-5 school and will aggressively evolve towards a future K-12 status over the course of several years. The school will be located in New Orleans East (former Gaudet Elementary building) and can be found now on OneApp for admission into the August 2019 school season.

Monica Jackson, IDEA’s Regional Director of Operations, discusses in the following interview the values for IDEA Oscar Dunn, the plan for growth, and the expectations for parents who make the commitment to IDEA’s educational system.

Ms. Jackson is a mother and near 20-year resident of New Orleans. She has a passion for seeing excellence exhibited throughout the city and wants students in New Orleans to excel as she does her own daughter. Monica Jackson has been in education over a decade, spending the last two years serving with IDEA Public Schools. She provides a brief history of IDEA expanding into New Orleans:

“One of the things that really stood out for me, and I have been in education for 12 years, is the amount of time IDEA puts into every aspect of the organization – from instructional to operational. It was the first time that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. There were already strong systems in place and a lot of support from our Headquarter partners in Texas that helped to really drive what we needed to do here in New Orleans.

Essential personnel was on board a full year before the school [Oscar Dunn] ever opened. Time was spent in the community, letting people know who we were, having recruitment events and town hall meetings with everyone from politicians to parents. That [town hall meetings] actually started happening 3 to 4 years before IDEA signed on any paperwork to be here. Conversations and groundwork had already begun.”

Although IDEA Public Schools has an impeccable record in Texas, it takes considerable effort to connect with a new community. Ms. Jackson addresses a few of the challenges faced with the expansion into a brand new city, such as New Orleans:

“There is limited control with the OneApp system. From a personal and a parent perspective, I like the concept behind OneApp because it does break down…where all schools are located, the grades that are served, who the leaders are and how the school is performing.

The tough part is there are far too many underperforming schools, which may reduce your options because most of the higher performing schools have waiting lists and it is very challenging to get in.

With that being said, I feel like IDEA is on track to continue their success from Texas and also do those same things here – become a high performing school. We don’t have a reputation here yet and we don’t have a landscape where people know who we are.

Like anything else, you have to show and prove. We are still in the window where we are showing, and in the first year, we will be able to prove.

There are so many charters that have come and gone; some are still here, but they are underperforming. They have made promises to parents who have dealt with charters who have not honored their promises. Parents feel a little leary, as a result – understandably so.”

IDEA is typically broken down into two campuses: the Academy (PK – 5) and College Prep (6 – 12). Based on statistical data of children ages and grades, the IDEA Oscar Dunn will start as a K – 5 model and add a grade every year up to grade 12. No matter where a child starts, they will be able to graduate with IDEA, avoiding the process of having to readmit the student for a new high school. Ms. Jackson elaborates with an example of Alice Harte and Edna Karr:

“Alice Harte is a highly rated school that implements great instruction from K-8, but then after 8th grade, parents were trying to figure out, ‘where am I going to send my kid to school now? Where can I send my kid that there will be the same type of rigor that they received up until 8th grade?’

Most often, there are quite a few underperforming high schools in New Orleans. If you have one or two great schools, like your Edna Karr’s, not all kids can get into that school because there is only space for so many.

IDEA cannot start out as a K – 12 because it is very difficult to do that. So we start at a smaller scale…and every year we add a grade so those kids will continue to matriculate on in the same school and finish high school.”

From tracking the data regarding average daily attendance to monitoring performance on baseline test scores – IDEA heavily collects and references data to drive their results. They are also serious about working in collaboration with parents in order to achieve results for students. Ms. Jackson discusses IDEA’s partnership with parents:

“We set the bar very high but we let parents know that up front. We let parents know: your kids are going to have homework. This is a partnership. We have what we do at the school level but we also have what we expect of parents to do at home. This is why enrollment and our recruitment process is rigorous too.

It is bigger than selecting us as number one on OneApp.  We want to make sure parents are fully on board, fully understand what it is that we do, why we do it, and the expectations that we have of them before they sign on with us.  It is a commitment.”

While IDEA is new and evolving in Louisiana, parents are encouraged to take advantage of all benefits – be forward thinking as their kids develop through IDEA’s school system. Monica Jackson advises parents of academic strategies their kids can use while attending IDEA that can save college money and decrease overall college hours. She explains:

“Once our kids get into the high school model, they have the ability to take AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate Diploma) courses. Which means, when they graduate from high school, they already have college credit. This saves parents money; it saves kids time because these are courses they have already taken and can get college credit for.

We have had instances where our kids [enter] college with one to two years of college courses behind them. That shortens the length of the time they have to stay which also [decreases] the amount of money if they’re not on full scholarship.”

It is important for parents to also understand that IDEA Oscar Dunn is not “a school from Texas.”  While IDEA Public Schools originated out of Texas, the New Orleans team has worked hard and with the intention to make the Oscar Dunn campus truly a local school.  Through town hall meetings, parent input, the study of New Orleans economic history, and personal experience as long term residents – IDEA’s New Orleans team is ready for the challenges that are unique to NOLA’s culture. As Regional Director, Ms. Jackson and her team fully understand the differences per region.  The team honors cultural differences on behalf of students and families. Ms. Jackson says:

“The economic needs here versus what they are facing in Rio Grande Valley (where IDEA started)…there is a higher population of Latinos, some who are immigrants. So those challenges look different than the challenges that we face here.

A study was completed on kids and what trauma looked like. In the Valley, trauma looks like domestic abuse or kids being brought over to the United States with one parent or with older siblings and parents who had to be left behind.

Trauma here looks like death and gun violence and drug violence; older siblings having to watch younger siblings because parents are making decisions of whether or not to stay with kids or go to work and earn a living. It is very different.

But the one thing we all [IDEA as an organization] align on is that education is the way out of poverty. I strongly believe that. My colleagues strongly believe that.”

For more information about IDEA Oscar Dunn, click here.

Nicole Nixon is a dedicated wife and mother who values leadership and business. Motivated by her husband and her son, she is vested in the empowerment and positive commercialization of black men in America.

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