Closing Gaps in Achievement and in the Digital Divide are Keys to Building a Stronger Texas Workforce, Nonprofit Leader Says

According to Reo Pruiett, the Senior Director of Programs at Educate Texas, economic security is a direct result of better education.

Reo D. Pruiett
Senior Director of Programs
Educate Texas at Communities Foundation of Texas

Despite the global pandemic, Pruiett and her organization continued to help students in underserved areas make gains in STEM.

Gap Closer

Reo D. Pruiett

Through a partnership with Texas Instruments Foundation, they saw students in Lancaster ISD increase Algebra 1 proficiency by 51 percent compared to 2012. They also saw African American students in LISD start to close the achievement gap in math. As COVID highlighted the digital divide in low-income urban and rural areas in Texas, the nonprofit supported efforts for increased internet connectivity for communities that lack digital resources. It also launched the Texas Learning Exchange to help educators deliver effective instruction online, in person, or in a hybrid system. A thriving workforce brings economic security, Pruiett says, and the organization aims to increase the number of degrees and certificates earned by Texas students in the future. In the wake of COVID-related shutdowns. She says CFT also helped create a new funder collaborative called North Texas Cares, which awarded over $40 million in grants to 630 North Texas nonprofits.

Meet the innovator

Reo Pruiett was featured in Dallas Innovates’ Future 50 in Dallas-Fort Worth in the 2021 edition of our annual magazine. We talk with Pruiett about the importance of closing achievement gaps, how her organization has responded to the dual challenges of COVID-19 and social injustice, and improving the state’s workforce. Here’s a takeaway:

On the most notable recent development at Educate Texas:

We have been rooted in the movement to integrate STEM more effectively across Texas, in DISD and notably in the Southern sector. Our work in partnership with Texas Instruments Foundation in the southern sector, specifically Lancaster ISD, has had real impact, that ultimately changes the community in ways that have lasting results. Our work started in 2012, but this last year, we were able to see the significant increases and improvement leading us to the opportunity to further our work in the southern sector and beyond. Some of those results, Lancaster ISD Has Increased Algebra 1 Proficiency by 51 percent since 2012. It was previously trailing the state results by 24 percent. LISD Increased Grades 3-8 Math Proficiency by 26 percent, effectively eliminating its 13 percent gap with the State and LISD Increased 3rd Grade Reading Proficiency by 12 percent. Maybe even more important has been the incredible achievements of our African American students in the district. Particularly in math, we have effectively closed the achievement gap for black students and that is notable and promising.

On the importance of closing achievement gaps:

If we can close these achievement gaps, it is the beginning of creating more equitable opportunities for our brown and black students as well as other underserved and underrepresented populations. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the disparities in our education system, my hope is that others will join us in the fight to provide all of our students with an opportunity to succeed and have a better future.            

On the response of Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) to the pandemic and social injustice:

North Texas Cares – In March, CFT helped create, launch, and lead a funder collaborative called North Texas Cares to help streamline the process for nonprofits applying for COVID 19-related emergency funding, through the creation of a shared online grant application with more than 30 participating funders.

Between April and July 2020, 1,400 grants totaling over $40 million were awarded to 630 area nonprofits through the North Texas Cares application process. This success inspired a second-phase in August that launched with 35 funders and closed in October, to support nonprofits supporting individuals and families across the focus areas of health, economic security, safety and wellbeing, education, and social justice. The funders are now reviewing an additional $100 million in funding requests from nearly 800 nonprofits.

In addition, North Texas Giving Tuesday Now in May and our annual North Texas Giving Day in September raised nearly $80 million for local nonprofits.

As I’ve already mentioned, the social injustice and racial disparities are seen most acutely throughout our education system. As schools and districts have been working on the safe and effective reopening of schools, Educate Texas has supported three critical efforts desperately needed during this pandemic, which has exacerbated the racial and economic disparities evident in our public school systems. These critical efforts include closing the digital divide, delivering effective teaching and learning – both on campus and remotely – and creating the workforce of today and tomorrow.

On closing the digital divide:

A digital divide runs through Texas – the challenges in urban and rural contexts are different, but the underlying need is the same: access to high-quality broadband for students to learn and participate in the 21st century. Educate Texas has been supporting statewide efforts with the Governor’s Operation Connectivity and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Locally, we have supported the North Texas Internet for All Coalition, San Antonio’s Digital Inclusion Alliance, and the Texas Rural Funders Collaborative on strategies for rural communities.

On delivering effective teaching and learning on campus and remotely

With schools navigating students alternating between on-campus and remote instruction throughout the academic year, Educate Texas launched the Texas Learning Exchange to help equip administrators and teachers with guidelines and support for safe, effective teaching, whether that be in person or in a virtual or hybrid format.

On creating the workforce of today and tomorrow:

The future of work has long been a frequently discussed concept, but it has become a reality over the past year. Employers have had to adapt and retool their business models, creating a need for new skills and jobs. To fill these roles, Educate Texas has focused on reimagining how our education and training systems work to create a skilled Texas workforce now and for the future. Through purposeful local, regional, and state collaborations, we are developing strategies and models (e.g., career pathways, apprenticeships, and certificate programs) to ensure all Texas students have the ability to earn a living wage and contribute to a thriving Texas.

On teamwork in challenging times:

During these difficult times, my team requires a leader to listen, maintain a collaborative work environment, and create a safe and trusting environment.  I have been able to maintain a highly effective team by being transparent and allowing for individual and team needs while maintaining high standards.  It is helpful to always give people grace and space in the midst of a crisis and the pandemic has certainly called for both. 

On what’s next for Educate Texas:

As we look to 2025, our goal is to significantly increase the number of degrees and certificates earned by Texas students. This is an important benchmark for the progression of our workforce. Focusing on a thriving workforce strategy lies at the intersection of economic security and Educate Texas and is necessary to prepare our region for continued and more widespread success.

There is much work to be done in regard to systemic racism and reconciliation of our country’s past. CFT does not have the answers but prides itself on being a convener and a catalyst for change and collaborative solutions. These issues and impacts will not go away on their own and we hope as we come out of the pandemic to bring collective leaders together to begin conversations and develop pathways to the healing that is necessary as well as a blueprint for a more equitable future and thriving communities for all.

A version of this story was originally published in Dallas Innovates 2021: The Resilience Issue.

Read it online

Our fourth annual magazine, Dallas Innovates 2021: The Resilience Issue, highlights Dallas-Fort Worth as a hub for innovation. The collective strength of the innovation ecosystem and intellectual capital in Dallas-Fort Worth is a force to be reckoned with.

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