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H-E-B CEO Charles Butt pledges $100 million to public schools nonprofit

Touting a $100 million investment from H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt, public school officials on Tuesday announced the creation of the Holdsworth Center, a nonprofit organization that will work with school districts.

Ruth Simmons, who will chair the board of the newly announced Holdsworth Center, meets with Garza High School students on Jan. 17, 2017.

H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt on Tuesday pledged $100 million toward a new institute designed to support Texas public school leaders and their development efforts.

Public school administrators, educators and board members gathered at Gonzalo Garza High School in East Austin on Tuesday morning to announce the creation of the Holdsworth Center, a nonprofit organization named after Butt's mother, philanthropist and educator Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt. Starting in June, the center will work with school districts across the state.

The program will use a three-part approach in school districts over a five-year period, according to Kate Rogers, H-E-B vice president of communication and health promotion. The center will start with a development program for superintendents, followed by similar training for school principals and their colleagues in the districts. Rogers said the center will provide ongoing support within the district afterward. 

The center invited about 20 school districts, including Austin ISD and Grand Prairie ISD, to apply, and six will be chosen by March to work with the institute this summer, Rogers said, adding that while the current application process is invite-only, it will be open to all Texas school districts in the future.

“So often today, we get involved with policies, curricula, buzzwords and ideas that have very little to do with the children sitting in the seats of our schools,” said Ruth Simmons, former president of Smith College and Brown University, who will chair the 17-member board for Holdsworth, during the announcement. “We need to come back to square one.”

“Mr. Butt is doing something ... that is enormously significant by endorsing the idea that our children matter, that we can do better for our public schools — and we all need to step up to assist in that,” Simmons said.

Texas has more than 1,200 school districts and 8,500 public schools. In 2016, the state ranked 42nd overall in the nation based on school finance, K-12 achievement and chances for success, according to a report by Education Week Research Center.

Dr. Shari Albright, an education chair at Trinity University who will assist with curriculum development efforts for the center, said the program aimed to “walk side-by-side” with districts to offer exceptional training and create the best “talent pipelines.”

“We have tons of good training programs for school leaders,” Albright said. “But what we haven’t seen is a comprehensive approach over time to build school districts' capacities toward becoming magnets for the best and brightest we can bring in."

Disclosure: H-E-B and Charles Butt have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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