CharterFolk X Vol 28 – Eddie Conger, Modeling How to Face Challenges by Putting Others Before Self

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our pleasure to recognize Eddie Conger, Founder and Superintendent of International Leadership Texas, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

Eddie is a self-described small-town farm boy who grew up in Hillsboro Texas, raised by a single mother. After taking every math class he could find in high school, he attended Texas A&M and then spent 20 years in the Marine Corps.

After his military service, he had contacts at Merrill Lynch who encouraged him to consider a second career in banking, but Eddie believed his higher calling was to make a contribution in education. So he became a teacher working in Dallas public schools and quickly progressed to school leadership, becoming the principal of a historically underperforming high school. Over four years, he helped that school greatly improve student outcomes. He also started a highly successful Mandarin program reflecting a belief he had picked up during his time in the military that young people benefit greatly from becoming multilingual. Soon Eddie was chosen to lead a large number of schools in Dallas ISD, but when he encountered widespread resistance to instructional approaches he knew would benefit students, he recognized it was time for a change.

So was born International Leadership Texas, a charter school organization that afforded Eddie the freedom he needed to create a program he knew would succeed with students.

IL Texas opened as a single site in 2013 with 2500 students – the largest first-year charter school in Texas history.

The school offered a program where all students learn English, Spanish and Mandarin and receive intensive leadership development training. All students also complete community service projects annually.

It is a mix that has proven incredibly popular with parents and students. Over the course of the past eight years, IL Texas has received permission to expand several times and has opened new schools …

… in many parts of the state …

… including seven campuses in Houston.

Today IL Texas serves approximately 21,000 students and has authorization to more than double that enrollment in the years ahead. As that remarkable growth has happened, Eddie has become a leader who is recognized for the support he provides to the broader charter school movement. In 2017, Eddie ran for and won an elected position on the Board of Directors for the Texas Public Charter Schools Association where he helps guide advocacy efforts affecting all Texas charter schools.

At the heart of everything Eddie does is a motto that you will find on display any time you come into contact with IL Texas …

… Others Before Self.

It is a statement that is not only lived out by the students and staff of the organization, but it has become so contagious that it has been adopted by parents and families connected to the school. I hope you might find 2 minutes and 45 seconds to review this video telling the story of an incredible gesture that one IL Texas parent made on behalf of another who was facing a grave health crisis.

Samantha and I went on a trip with our girls, Tatum and Jayden to New York, and we were roommates. And I saw everyday what she had to go through with her dialysis and found out she had been waiting for four years, and it just so burdened my heart that I decided to get tested. I was actually not a direct match, but they have a buddy pairing system which … promoted Samantha to first on the list. And we were able to get her a kidney, and get someone else a kidney too.

It’s an incredible testament to what IL Texas stands for:

Others Before Self.

Less than a month after the video above was posted, the United States entered the Covid crisis. As has been the case for countless public schools across the nation, the pandemic presented one of the greatest challenges ever confronted by IL Texas. But guided by Eddie’s leadership, the organization faced the challenge head on, providing distance learning as quickly and effectively as any school in Texas, earning broad recognition in the process.

But IL Texas’s leadership during the Covid challenge was just the beginning. Within weeks the organization announced its intent to reopen in the fall.

Come September, IL Texas was among the few public schools in the nation to offer an in-person program for the students and parents who wanted one. While the rest of the country held it’s breath …

… IL Texas calmly faced the new normal.

How normal?

In a new video profile about the organization released by a news organization just over a month ago, the journalists filmed IL Texas classrooms following Covid era protocols …

… without even mentioning that there is a pandemic happening!

It’s a new normal IL Texas faces with its age-old motto emblazoned across the very masks they wear …

… championed by a leader who models for the entire charter school movement how to face challenges by putting others in front of self.

It’s why we couldn’t be more honored than to recognize Eddie Conger today as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.