The head of the Amarillo Area Foundation says he is excited about all of the envisioned partners aligned with the Thrive Scholarship program. And he maintains there is a means of addressing concerns regarding the state test score provision included within the eligibility requirements.
Amarillo Area Foundation President Clay Stribling said in the wake of the Amarillo Independent School District voting last month to join Amarillo College, the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, the Amarillo Area Foundation and the community in being Thrive Scholarship partners, students will have an opportunity to fulfill their vast potential.
“All along we thought this partnership was strongest with all four of these organizations on board and a financial commitment from our community,” he said. “And I can’t wait to get started. I’m very excited about working with our partners and seeing how many students we can help with this program. I am optimistic about enrollment and can’t imagine that we would have fewer than 500 students that would take advantage of this. That just starts from the fact we have over 400 students that are ACE eligible that would be transitioning there anyway. The number is going to be north of 500 and certainly south of 1,000.”
Officials said the Thrive Scholarship initiative replaces the ACE Scholarship, noting Thrive Scholarship guidelines reflect students who graduate from any AISD high school can earn tuition, fees and book expenses for up to 60 hours of college credit at Amarillo College if the meet the prescribed requirements. To qualify for upcoming school years, officials said graduating seniors must meet enrollment, attendance and behavior requirements and earn a final GPA of 80 or higher or meet TSI college readiness standards in reading, writing and mathematics.
For the Class of 2021 and beyond, the academic piece of eligibility moves solely to TSI standards. That provision drew criticism during the public comments portion of the last month’s AISD board meeting.
“I know there is some concern in the community about the TSI testing and the great part about the program as it is structured now is that doesn’t kick in for two years,” Stribling said. “So we’re going to have the ability for two years of this program to see what the state testing looks like while there’s still an 80 percent grade point average requirement. In those two years if there are concerns that linger about the TSI requirement, we have the ability to go back to the organizations and make some changes. Since that’s something that’s not relevant until the Class of 2021, we can kind of move on the fly and make adjustments as needed. If it looks like the TSI test is going to be an inappropriate measuring stick for student readiness, we have the ability to change that.”
Amarillo Branch NAACP President Floyd Anthony was one of the voices seeking removal of the TSI provision before school board members voted on joining the partnership.
“I don’t think you all have the best interest of the minority and underserved students in mind,” Anthony said. “You say you do, but I don’t see any indication that’s been very positive when it comes to our kids and that worries me. Why would you put the TSI test scores in as a qualifier for this scholarship? Everyone knows the history of our students when it comes to these kind of tests. If you are sincere about the welfare of our kids, say yes to Thrive, but eliminate the TSI provision.”
Each partner pays one-fifth of the scholarships expenses, according to Stribling, who noted there would be a fundraising effort of $3.2 million over six years while noting large employers desirous of seeing a better trained workforce would be approached.
“We’re starting that piece from scratch,” he said. “The Area Foundation has chosen to use its existing ACE endowment to support those students who have signed the ACE pledge all the way through their academic trajectory. So we are going to use those funds to make sure those students have a four-year experience. We’ll be going back to fundraise for that community piece from the ground floor. I do have two very strong leads from organizations in the community who want to be a significant financial partner. The question comes down to their board’s appetite for participation.”